25th Trillium Award

By Available Light: Carol Lipszyc speaks with Michael Carrino

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By Available Light

In this interview, Carol Lipszyc (Singing Me Home, Inanna Publications) speaks with Michael Carrino about the connection between visual art and writing, his latest book, By Available Light (Guernica Editions), and his relationship with Montreal.

Carol Lipszyc:

On what basis did you select the poems for your most recently published work, By Available Light?

Michael Carrino:

My goal was to choose poems from my previously published books that represent my effort to explore and evoke the affect of memory and place on the meaning of experience. As with most books that include selected work and new poems, you hope to choose successful poems that entice and inform through the use of image, form and meaning.


In reading over this arc of writing experience, what do you note about the progression of your work?


While choosing and arranging the poems, it was clear to me that my earliest work focused on family and my cultural heritage. My later work focuses on intimate relationships. I’ve tried, in all my work, to explore how memory and sensual images can evoke meaning.


Can you speak about the connections between your artful work as a photographer and poet? What might those inherent connections be and how do they interact with one another?


Poetry and photography complement each other. Photographs do not have a written explanation of their meaning attached to them. I believe a good poem should also not overtly explain. What you see in the juxtaposition of images, what is shaded and lit, what is denotative and connotative should evoke meaning. I consider myself a poet who predominantly uses the visual to entice and inform my writing and my photography.


This question is related. When I read so many of your poems, I think of you as a kind of a cinematographer — can you comment?


Yes, this question is related. I believe cinema, at its best, is a cooperative art form. The best films use dialogue in subtle ways, but let body language and facial expression, along with the visual aspects of setting, evoke meaning in much the same way as in poetry. When I write a poem, I try to concentrate on the visual to make meaning.


Like many poets, there is an autobiographical slant to the poems. You work with your past like a kind of archeologist — extracting moments, events. In reference to that past, has your Italian cultural heritage impacted your work, and if so, how?


I think my Italian heritage has had an impact on my work, on what I believe, how I perceive and make sense of life. And so, I’ve always tried to be conscious of my heritage by letting the pulse, the beat of my southern Italian culture resonate in a mix with other cultures, whose unique values also interest me. My heritage certainly informs some of the themes of my poems both through evocative imagery, as well as the pace and tone of the words I choose.


In light of your professional practice, I first came to know you as a teacher and editor. I recall, for instance, how you suggested in my manuscript that I frame some of the poems with a title that directs the reader to a place, and I note that your work too evokes that same sense of place. How, then, have those two practices of teaching and editing informed your work?


My experiences as a teacher of writing and a writer complement each other. I believe all good artists are teachers in the best sense of the word. Both writers and teachers search for meaning, entertain to inform and entice the reader/learner, question and support the pursuit of critical thinking. Editing and critiquing others’ writing helps me see the potential flaws in my own writing.


I mentioned place. You still reside and have taught in an American town that is very close to the Quebec border. In the book of poems, the city of Montreal, some 65 miles away, certainly emerges as a focal point in the travelogue of your life. And so you bring a part of Canada into this collection. Can you speak about that?


Since the late 1980s, I’ve spent considerable time in Montreal. I live, as you mention, an hour away in Plattsburgh NY, and I would be remiss not to avail myself of Montreal’s European flavor. I find it an exotic, diverse cultural center. The rhythms of Montreal have, over the years, inspired me to write about my experiences there and reconstruct scenes/settings from the lives of people who live there.  Montreal is a sensual city with a long and unique history. I find the people, more often than not, interested in exchanging feelings, ideas and experiences with me.  This makes it fertile ground for my poetic sensibility. Poems I’ve written that are set in Montreal are among my favorite poems. They arrive on the page close to complete. I still worry over them, and revise, and revise them again, but I have clear, direct insight into what triggered their writing and what they want to be about. Many are the poems are love letters to the city, or thank you notes for the rich joy of living I find there.


Michael, though you are American, why do you think Guernica Editions was the right publisher for your book?


Over the years, I’ve had many poems published in Canadian Lit. Journals. As well, there are many Canadian poets and fiction writers I admire — too many to mention. I have also read  manuscripts by many Canadians in my role as an editor for the Saranac Review, the Lit. journal out of SUNY Plattsburgh we both continue to work on. So, I’m familiar with writers' journals and book publishers in Canada.
Guernica has always been a house I hoped might someday publish a manuscript of mine. My admiration for Guernica stems from its editorial commitment to publish writers from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Whether Canadian writers are born or bred in Canada, or are older or more recent immigrants, to me, they embrace the diversity that is the Canadian experience. They cherish and are grounded by their ethnic roots, while maintaining pride in being Canadian. When I decided to write my book, By Available Light, in which I included many Italian-American poems as well as many poems set in Canada, I  believed I had a manuscript worthy of Guernica’s mission. Happily, I have been welcomed into their family. I’m not a Canadian, but I like to think my worldview connects with that of most Canadians.


What are future goals you set for yourself? What are you currently working on?


I rarely set specific goals. When I can find the time to sit down and write, I take it. I keep a writer’s journal that allows me to pick and choose ideas that interest me while life is in motion. Lately, I’ve become enticed by Sijo, a classical Korean form of poetry that is more ancient than haiku but shares a common ancestry with haiku, tanka and similar Japanese genres — all evolving from more ancient Chinese patterns. I like the quiet, specific imagery of the ancient Asian forms that, at their best, evoke meaning with few words.


Thank you, Michael. We've ended on a similar note to where we began — to the meaning poets make through their condensed and visual form of art. I’ll leave the readers of Open Book: Toronto now with one of your evocative Montreal-set poems, so that they may linger over it in their own time and space.

Full Moon in Montreal


Please forgive

my exhausted, unrepentant

memory.  We are not only,  

only what occurs in reverie,

but muscular, taut

bodies inspired and in flux,

one old mysterious

theater, stage for all exchange,

every touch and murmur

connecting youth with age.

One warm breath

along your bare shoulder,

gloss of moisture

down your pale neck,

scent of jasmine

dabbed on your thin wrist.

— Michael Carrino

Born in New York City, Michael Carrino has been an adjunct instructor as well as a lecturer of composition and poetry at SUNY Plattsburgh since 1987.  He was a co-founder and poetry editor of SUNY Plattsburgh’s literary journal, the Saranac Review from 2005 to 2010 and continues to act as an associate editor for that journal.  In addition to publishing poems in numerous literary journals throughout the United States and Canada, he has written five books of poetry:  Some Rescues, Under This Combustible Sky, Café Sonata, Autumn’s Return to the Maple Pavilion and By Available Light, New and Selected Poems, the latter of which was published this fall by Guernica Editions.

For more information about By Available Light please visit the Guernica website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

Carol Lipszyc is a Toronto-born poet whose book of poetry, Singing Me Home, was published by Inanna Publications in 2010. Currently, Carol is as an Assistant Professor at SUNY (State University of New York) Plattsburg's English Department. There, she teaches English teacher education and creative writing. Carol first met Michael Carrino at SUNY, when they worked together on the Department's literary journal, the Saranac Review. Carol was responsible for soliciting the works of Canadian poets for the journal, including those by David Reibetanz, Karen Shenfeld and Baila Ellenbogen.

For more information about Singing Me Home please visit the Inanna Publications website.

Buy this book at your local independent bookstore or online at Chapters/Indigo or Amazon.

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