[Interview] Alessio Zanelli

Alessio Zanelli is a private financial adviser and a poet.

He was born in 1963 in Cremona, a small town in Lombardy, northern Italy, where he still lives and works.

He began writing poetry in 1985, at first in both English and Italian and then exclusively in English, a language he has been learning on his own.

He has published four poetry collections.

Loose Sheets (UpFront Publishing, 2002); Small Press Verse & Poeticonjectures (Xlibris, USA, 2003) and Straight Astray (Troubador Publishing, UK, 2005) are in English while 33 Poesie/33 Poems (Starrylink, ITA, 2004) is in both English and Italian.

His poems have also appeared in a range of literary magazines and journals that include Potomac Review, Möbius, Skyline Literary Magazine, The Journal and Freexpression.

In a recent interview, Alessio Zanelli spoke about his writing.

When did you start writing?

In 1985. At first I simply wrote lyrics for a couple of local rock bands, then I began writing poems. I abandoned my mother tongue (Italian) very soon and English has been my literary language ever since.

How and when did decide you wanted to be a published writer?

After collecting dozens of poems, I think anybody would feel the need of being published.

Poems may remain in the drawer for a very long time, but they have to come to light eventually, whether worth much or nothing, which only readers (and, unfortunately, editors) have the power to decide on. As George Bernard Shaw neatly put it: 'What's the point of writing if not that of being read?'

I began submitting my works to magazines only in 2000 and, for several months, all I got were rejection slips but I never despaired. So far I have over 200 poems published (or forthcoming) in nearly 100 literary magazines from 10 countries, even though most acceptances come from the USA and the U.K. I have also published three full collections, the first two through [print on demand] POD publishers and the last one with a small independent publisher.

Here's my advice: read, read, read what other poets write; then write, write, write, and revise. In the end submit, submit, submit, and never despair. Listen to what editors may advise about your poetry but never pervert the nature of your writing, your style, your voice in order to simply gratify them. Simple, isn't it?

How would you describe your own writing?

Difficult, laborious (also because I write in a foreign language), but almost always gratifying.

I constantly try to write something which may help, intrigue, amuse or in someway interest the reader.

Who is your target audience?

I don't have any target audience. Only, I hope other poets may be among my readers.

Poetry is most problematic ('it doesn't sell', the publishers would say), therefore I think that when a poet arouses the curiosity of other poets, he's actually writing something worth reading.

In the writing that you are doing, who would you say has influenced you most?

Oh, so many! An exhaustive answer would take pages, so I only name the ones I regard as my favorite poets ever: William Blake, Edgar Allan Poe and Emily Dickinson. Among the old ones, W. H. Auden and William Carlos Williams. Among the contemporary ones, Carol Ann Duffy, Paul Muldoon and Mario Petrucci among the living ones.

As to the poets of other languages (my own one included) I like Pablo Neruda, Giuseppe Ungaretti and Rainer Maria Rilke above all.

What are your main concerns as a writer?

My greatest concern is not to make linguistic errors whatsoever and not to misuse the English language.

I'd like to write as well as not be recognized as a non-mother-tongue poet, but that's quite a tough assignment. Modern usage and idioms are difficult to retain and use properly when you don't speak a language in everyday life.

I try to write the best possible written-English poetry by referring to many linguistic tools such as dictionaries, thesauruses, style handbooks etc. (I own nearly 100 English reference volumes, many on CD/DVD). Above all, I keep on reading others' poetry, and all the latest collections of the most-read living poets.

Have your personal experiences influenced your writing?

From rejection to rejection, as well as from acceptance to acceptance, I've been slightly changing my stance on poetry writing.

A poet should never disavow his artistic beliefs to please editors, nonetheless small and gradual shifts in style, diction and even subject-matters are inevitable. Also personal experiences can influence the way a poet writes, but what he reads and hears around himself is also a powerful determining factor.

What are the biggest challenges that you face?

The biggest challenge I face is my constant effort to write a good literary English, as to poetic diction and command of all the linguistic tools. That said, the other big challenge is that of captivating the reader, of keeping him hooked from the first to the last line of the poem, which is really difficult, especially when you think that your very first reader is (almost invariably) the editor of the magazine you've submitted your poem to.

In the end, what one says and how one says it is of the greatest importance in grabbing attention: saying something useful or saying the truth may be the secret, but that doesn't mean the poet always has to speak of real facts. Good poetry can be also fictive (and I know many poets don't agree on this issue, since they believe a poet must be absolutely 'honest'), provided that what the poet imagines and pictures is of service to the truth and what he really believes in. This is another big challenge.

Do you write everyday?

No, I don't write everyday. My job and other occupations require pretty much of my time. On an average, I write about 10 hours a week, which is not much, but can be a huge amount of time for a poet. Moreover, I think everybody understands that a poet can't be forced to write, not even by himself! That is, I write only when I feel like writing, and inspiration, after all, still is the most important element.

Once a poem is started, I usually tend to finish it on the very same day, but sometimes it takes more days and, in a few cases, I have written poems whose construction has taken weeks, or months.

The revising process never ends. I have poems published in two or three different magazines, each time in a different version. Let me say: a poem is really, definitively finished only when the poet is dead.

How did you chose a publisher for your latest poetry collection?

My latest book is the collection Straight Astray. Over 90 percent of the poems included first appeared in literary magazine such as Aesthetica, California Quarterly, Dream Catcher, Italian Americana, Orbis, Other Poetry, Paris/Atlantic and Poetry Salzburg Review.

It was published in the U.K. by Troubador Publishing.

The time required to find a traditional mainstream publisher willing to publish (or even only consider) my manuscript could have taken ages, therefore I opted for a small POD publisher, which many consider as a discrediting option. I don't think so, since I'm perfectly aware that I'll never be able to earn my living from poetry. I prefer to have my book neatly produced in a reasonable time and at a reasonable expense. After all, nearly all of the poems had already been accepted for publication by literary magazines and that's enough for me to be sure that what I wrote is worth reading.

A full collection is a higher-grade need for a poet, but there are thousands of poets in the world and so few poetry readers! As a consequence, only a very small percentage of poets can attain the services of mainstream publishers such as Faber & Faber, Cape Poetry, Bloodaxe, etc. All the others have to make do with self-publishing and POD services.

Which aspects of the work you put into the book did you find most difficult?

Apart from what I have already said about the proper use of the language as an Italian-native, I think that the process of revising is what can most worry a poet. You never actually know if the latest version of a poem will really satisfy you forever. The 'perfection' and the 'persistence' of a poem are the real poet's torment.

The only virtues needed to deal with such problem are patience and belief. Sooner or later, every poet will run into the definitive version of a poem, the 'perfect draft'.

Which aspects of the work did you enjoy most?

What follows applies to all my books, not to one in particular. I enjoyed most having to deal with a foreign tongue. I really like the exploring of the language. I have so much to learn from the works of other authors as well as from all sorts of reference books while writing and revising. There's nothing more pleasant and intriguing for one who likes a language not his own.

What sets the Straight Astray apart from the other things you've written?

I think the poems in Straight Astray are way better than the ones in my previous books.

In what way is it similar?

Again, like its predecessors my last collection shows how a foreigner can use the English language for literary purposes. I think it can be really interesting also for English-native writers. A review I've had maybe can better explain this point: 'We can learn a lot about ourselves from how others use our language. Alessio Zanelli has paid our language, Edward Thomas' English Words, a rare compliment. In turn we should take the time to read what he has to say.' (John Plevin -- Pulsar Poetry Magazine, U.K.)

What will your next book be about?

Poetry, of course, The new collection has many tentative titles, among them are: Hand of Sand; Over Misty Plains; In The Middle Of The Ford.

I hope it will see the light in 2008 or 2009; for sure it will include poems first published in magazines and anthologies around the world.

What would you say has been your most significant achievement as a writer?

Being published in literary magazines and anthologies in the English language along with English-native poets, some of whom are really famous, such as Rita Dove, Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Mario Petrucci. And having being published there as an Italian who has been learning English completely as an autodidact.

How did you get there?

With much reading and studying, patience, humbleness, and a little savoir-faire.

This article was first published by OhmyNews International.


Unknown said…
Very helpful post, thankyou!

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