Michelle Reale interviews Alessandra Bava, author of Love and Other Demons:
MR: The title of the collection struck me. Is love a demon? Or does it have the potential to be?
AB: The title is a tribute to a novelist I deeply love, Gabriel García Márquez and to his dark and haunting work Del amor y otros demonios (Of Love and Other Demons) that deals with an impossible love, passion, madness and beauty. A book that left me with a few a scars. I guess I have been writing about love just to heal from those scars. And yes, love can be a daimon as philosopher James Hillman states: “the daimon does not go away.”
MR: Your language is so lush and rich as in the first poem "Pan in Disguise" and then plain and staccato as in the last poem "Bukowskifest"----was it intentional to begin and end in such a way---because the effect really works!
AB: I so wanted “Pan in Disguise” to open the chapbook. It is one of my best poems, or so I believe. There is a strength that reveals what love is to me. It is the longing for one’s lover, the passion that makes love almost unbearable, carnivorous: this is what I hint to with the act of stealing away the red with one’s teeth from the robins’ chests. It is a very physical poem. I initially thought I would close the chapbook with “Eternal Debauchery” in which I feel like Psyche craving the white kiss. But, this work is not about mythology. It is rather about love in its various facets. This is why I chose to end it with “Bukowskifest,” a more prosaic poem in a way, but so meaningful to me. I turn to Bukowski, because he was a brilliant poet, someone who appears “rough” but who ultimately loved women and drinking as much as Mahler, Dostoevsky and Dante’s Inferno. Deep down his poetry elevates me. I was happy to hear that, for a lot of those who have read the chapbook, this is the poem that sticks more with them. Perhaps I’ve captured the essence of what poetry is, something earthly but also lofty.
MR: This small collection is steeped in other characters, from another time. You are influenced by great Art and Literature. Please speak about these influences and how they make their way in the poems. I would imagine that living in the Eternal City has something to do with this!
AB: Rome always has a lot to do with what I write. And, so does its Art. It cannot be helped, as it runs in my veins! Therefore, you find references to Caravaggio or to Bernini in these poems. But other artists too have influenced this chapbook: Kahlo, Wyeth, Pollock. I’m often driven to write a poem influenced by something I’ve read, e.g. the polar bear hair in one of Pollock’s paintings, the Helga paintings by Wyeth and the absolute secrecy surrounding them, the beauty and intricacy of the “Two Fridas” painting by Kahlo that I saw in an exhibition here in Rome in the 90s. Literature too inspires me as does History. My interests, my studies, have shaped me. I write who I am, often through the voices of those I love. Art, Literature and History are three of my daimons.
MR: Tell me about the process, actually, your process of writing a poem.
AB: I write whenever I am gifted with the spark by the “Muse,” as I often say. Writing has never been a daily task for me. When the “fiery particle” seizes me, I sit at my desk and the poem pours out from beginning to end. I almost never edit. I feel this is a blessing but also a limit in many ways.
MR: You imagine lives within the poetry. How did you come to write poems of the love lives of Dylan Thomas, Frida Kahlo and the strange obsessive love of Queen Juana l? Which details do you decide to illuminate, leave out?
AB: Thomas and Kahlo are two of my spirit guides. I’ve read so much about their lives, that I feel I’m their sibling sometimes! The two poems about them in this chapbook probably reveal a lot about my character too. Thomas was a beautifully torn soul. Kahlo when painting the “Two Fridas” was divorcing from Diego. I suppose that I can relate to some of their feelings and hardships, because it’s places that I’ve had to -- unwillingly at times --visit. Queen Juana I’s poem is inspired by a biography I read. Her love for her husband was almost morbid and his death accentuated even more her morbidity. This is probably the most morbid poem about love and death I will ever write. I’ve concentrated on the physicality here as much as I could and did not shy away from mentioning that Juana seemed to love even the worms that were feeding on her husband’s corpse.
MR: One of my favorite images in the collection (but really, there are so many!) is " Later, in the left ajar shed, his/drunken hands will gallop over/the hills to milk the woods for her." This was from the poem "Caitlin and Dylan" and as the notation tells us, was influenced by a photograph. Milking the woods! That line has stayed with me. Please tell me about it.
AB: The love between Caitlin and Dylan Thomas was amazingly strong. Their Welsh origin makes them two very earthly people. The poem is imbued in the Welsh landscape, e.g. the “heron-battered shores” of Boathouse in Laugharne. I loved playing with one of Thomas’s well-known works, whose title is Under Milk Wood. All throughout the poem I mention the word “milk” several times (milk pail, milky skin, a milk-white horse) and compare Thomas’s hair to fleece. In the last line, I imagine him “milking the woods” to feed Caitlin with their very sap. It is a very Panic image.
MR: You are very busy on the poetry scene in Rome. Is being a good literary citizen important to you?
I’m less busy than I would love to be on the Roman poetry scene, lately. But, I’m always happy to read my work or my work in translation at readings. Being a good poetry citizen can only improve the community, this is why I feel it is important. Shelley wrote that “poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world,” it may sound pretentious, but I could not agree more!
MR: What are you working on now?
AB: I’m currently translating and editing an Anthology of Contemporary American Women Poets. It is a work I’m thrilled about. The hardest thing I had to cope with was the limited number of poets I could include. I’m fond of so many contemporary American women poets, that the choice left me bleeding. Truly!
MR: Tell me about your choice of art for the cover!
The work depicted in the cover is a painting by Italian artist Selena Leardini. It is called “The Wolf’s Heart” and it shows Little Red Riding Hood holding the wolf’s heart in her hands. The blood on her hand and chin proves that she has been feeding on his heart. It is a powerful image and not far from my own in “Pan in Disguise:” “You offer robins to my teeth. I steal/ away their red.” Love can be ravenous!
MR: Thank you for a wonderful interview, Alessandra!
Love and Other Demons
Dancing Girl Pres, 2017