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Week 12 di Michele and Starnino

November 26th, 2012 by Colin Martin

In a sense, we could call this “Italian-Canadian” week, with attention to poems by Mary di Michele and Carmine Starnino, both of whom currently live in Montreal. What differences do you see in their works? What similarities? To what do you attribute these?

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  • 28-Nov

    As far as I can tell, Mary di Michele’s poems How To Kill Your Father and Benvenuto are written from experiences in Italy. They describe a foreign(not Canada) place but have a strangely familiar feel to them. There is no foreign language in poetry (other than the pomegranates “Benvenuto”). The place names “Firenze…Tuscan” are obviously Italian and she herself is Italian (Born in Lanciano, Italy), but it seems like she has a very impersonal relationship with the country and feels “alone” because of her “wanting a life for yourself” and pursuing a North American education. She emphasizes that many things are the “same”, in Benvenuto. I’m not sure if she is saying that they haven’t changed since her childhood or is drawing on the universality of things like wind, light and stucco houses. Either way, she seems to identify herself through her “Canadian feet formed of prairie wheat” and feels detached from her Italian heritage.
    In the poem On The Obsolescence Of Caphone, Carmine Starnino is also dealing with identity issues. He is surrounded by Italian relatives and sub-culture in Canada, but struggles to feel like he is a part of it. Unlike Michele’s poems, Starnino’s poems are filled with dialogue in Italian. Starnino admits “I want / a homemade vocabulary, tough-vowelled and fierce / for the sheetrock they shoveled, and the steel / the bolted”. He wants to pay tribute to the hard work and sacrifices of his forefathers and carry on the Italian traditions. But he doesn’t fit in with his inherited culture. He is considered “a bit faggoty” because of all his reading and poetry and has “careful, English talk” and he fears that “when the Italian in me is done” the last remaining threads of connection to his family and community will gone as well. So he sets out to save himself and his poetry and have his “language / bashed to flinders and I will rummage among / its bits and scraps…toting up the reusable versus the gone-for-good”.

    Justin Neufeld

  • Despite Starnino aiming poetry for everyone thing, I found Mary di Michele’s poems easier to read and understand. Starnino poem was not overly complicated or overly sophisticated, but the poem contained many slangs and contexts distinct to the time and place of the poem. And I do not know what it was like in Montreal at that time, so it was harder to understand. Both poets have Italian contents in their poems, but I think that they were very different. I felt that Mary di Michel’s poems were about “Italian” who experienced Canada. I felt that Starnino’s poem was about “Italian-Canadian” in the Italian-Canadian area. Although in the lectures, we talked that the immigrant cultures preserved its origins and unchanged, but in my opinion, not changing when everything else, the environment, the original nation were changing is a kind of a distortion. The many xxxx-Canadian I see or hear in Canada are different than what I hear about the original nation. Italian-Canadian is not same as Italian, and that difference makes them too unique and hard to comprehend. Maybe, for I’m Korean, a nation that is sometimes referred as Italy in Asia for many similarities, I found Mary di Michel’s Italian content much easier to comprehend.

    Kihyun Rah

  • Although Starnino uses Italian words and phrases in his work I still find it easy to read. In the poem On the Obolescence of Caphone he uses words such as: “capish”, “‘nu minute”, “moosho-moosh” and “femminiello”. Although I don’t speak any Italian I can still for the most part make out the meanings for the words. Some of the words are easy to grasp because of their placement in the poem, they are put in a spot where you are expecting an English word. Because of the position in the sentence and what meaning or tone you are expecting in the sentence you can often make out the meaning of the word. Other words like “capish” are easy, they are often said in movies and so their meaning is already known. Mary di Michele however does not have this in her poems. The Italian words are harder to grasp, as well there are far less Italian words used in her poetry. Most of the Italian words used in her poems are names of people or towns. I think the fact that there are less Italian words that and phrases helps makes Mary di Michele’s poems easier to understand.

  • I enjoyed reading the poems by both Italian-Canadian authors, Mary di Michele and Carmine Starnino. I liked each author for very different reasons and noticed some similarities and differences in their works.
    As far as similarities go, both author’s Italian background is evident I their writing. In “Born in August,” Mary di Michele talks about being in Italy. She recalls anecdotes of her family history and a mother pregnant while in a concentration camp and surviving. Then in “How to Kill Your Father” she describes the conflict of having a North American education but still maintaining her Italian heritage. Her poems remind me most of the authors we studies at the beginning of the term. Starnino’s Italian heritage is very evident in “On the Obsolescence of Caphone” because he uses the Italian language frequently.
    For differences, the main thing I noticed was their writing styles. Mary di Michele has a very formal and elegant touch to her poetry, its very intelligently thought out. Starnino on the other hand has a more laid back style of poetry, and is more “fun” to read. As we talked about in class, unlike many poets Starnino is not a teacher or professor of any sort, I believe this is why his writing style lacks the elegance that Michele’s poetry has.

  • Dec 2nd, 2012.
    I will like to reflects on “Born In August” and How To kill your Father”. First, I find “Born In August” to be the biography of Michele which shows more detail on how she was born and what circumtances that surrounded her.She says “And so my mother lost her teeth while i grew miniature bones”. I interpreted this statement as mother being sick while she gave birth to this wonderful poet(Michele) in a concentration camp that lacks good hygiene.I think Michele probably write this poem to show a deep appreciation for her parent. I am pretty sure, some women would have get rid of the baby especially when their health is affected, but Mama cares for this wonder politisize star.This is the reason why Michele can not forget about Italy.
    Furthermore, I found “How to kill Your Father” to be a metaphoric words or symbolic statement because the poem is full of images and synecdoche. The word father in this poem represent a native land of Michele which is Italy. However, Michele has forgotten her father’s land custom that is the culture in Italy. This actually speaks to me because after been in this country for more than a decade, i have forgotten somethings and modified some things in my culture because i now see the world as a global village.The promise of being loyal to one country is compromise because of my citizenship and the reponsibility of pledging allegiance to this great country Canada.Therefore, i found that Michele was faced with the same situation because she had adopted the North American style while the Italian was not in her . i guess this how some of us break our father’s heart(Native Land).

    God Bless

  • Starnino’s poem gave me flashbacks of living in Toronto. The immense Italian population of that city had changed forever the culture. Everywhere there were little cappuccino bars, and in some areas (College St.) the only language heard is Italian. “Stugatze di mange-cae” the slang term for all non Italians, “cake eater” when translated. All these things are now but a memory. I am once again in the west. The land of Mccans, Mcallisters, MacHenry’s. There are no communities here, just giant houses with small windows. Streets with no sidewalks. Entire neighborhoods full of strangers. City parks, all empty. People in the west make themselves prisoners in their own homes. Even though I am still in Canada, I feel like a foreigner. Alone while surrounded by people, people shut into their homes with the curtains drawn. I’m outside, looking in.

  • Being part Italian, I took a very keen interest in the Italian Canadian poets. As I read Mary di Michele’s “Born in August”, I am reminded of my grandfather who came to Canada from Venice, Italy when he was 15 years old during world war two. When I have my weekly phone call with him, that unmistakable italian accent is ever present and is a reminder of what he had accomplished. Much like di Michele, he remembers the guns and the danger in front of him and what he had to do in order to get to this place.

    The differences I see between di Michele and Carmine Starnino is that di Michele captures the essence of old Italy with her references to her grandmother’s orchard and having old dreams under the pomegranate tree. Whereas with Carmine Starnino I get the sense of an Americanized Italian. Makes me think of my home town in Ontario where everyone was italian. Every neighbourhood was like the one described in Starnino’s poem. It’s not the authentic Italian, but more of an adopted and changed italian. There is a lot of slang words like “capish”. He mixes his English with his Italian throughout his poem where as di Michele used very little Italian other than her name and where she was born. The similarities are obvious to me in the sense that they are both very proud of their home country and their new country as they both reference Italy and the Italian customs they love.

  • I don’t know about the rest of you, but when I think of the stereotype of Canadian I do not see one face, language, or identity. I see Canadian as a mix of all different kinds of people coming together to form one nation, I see all these different people coming together to form one big melting pot of identities. One question arises in my mind however, and that question is ” How do you connect to where you are from originally while being part of this great big melting pot?”. I believe that this is an issue that both Mary Di Michele and Carmine Stranino dealt with. I focused mainly on Mary Di Michele’s poem ‘Benvenuto’ and Carmine Stranino’s poem ‘On The Obsolescence Of Caphone’. What I drew from these poems was the connection between them of this idea of an individual who lives in one place but who’s thoughts and mind is still set in another in a certain way. Michele’s line in the poem ‘Benvenuto’ “can run ahead while my thoughts seem to resist”. I see this idea both in Michele and in Stranino’s work where they speak of living on one place but it seems that their minds and thoughts are in a whole other world. I think the reason that I see this in their poetry is due to the fact that it is something that i can easily relate to. As someone who was raised in several other places so vastly different from Canada and then being brought to this nation, I can relate to that feeling of one’s mind being in another place.

  • December 4, 2012

    Mary di Michele’s poem “Born in August” shows both personality and the idea of identity. Although it is not completely clear on who is speaking in the poem, an identity is being shown. There is no speech but the story is shown through imagery. In the poem, Mary di Michele is talking about the re-birth of Christ. The first part of the poem uses imagery that is not Italian but as the poem progresses the Italian imagery is listed. She talks about her family and mother’s time in the concentration camp. The people she talks about in the poem are introduced as tense but they remain silent throughout the poem. Her other poems also use a lot of imagery to tell the story instead of speech. Through her poems, you are able to see her love for Italy and the proud Italian she is. Mary di Michele does not use a lot of Italian in her poems. In “How to Kill Your Father”, she uses the Italian word ‘via’ and in “Benvenuto” she uses the title in the last line of the poem. I found her poems easier to read and even though the poetry itself is more formally written.

    On the other hand, Carmine Starnino’s poems take a more informal approach. He uses a lot of slang in his poetry and uses certain words that have a big impact but may be controversial in some ways. In the second last stanza, he is talking about translations and in the third line he says, “(And futtiti? It means ef-you-see-kay-e-dee).” Earlier in the poem he said that futtiti would be a good word for the situation he was talking about. Using this language, allows the reader better understand where the author is coming from. Starnino also uses metaphoric language in the poetry, which gives it a more “poetic” feel since the language is so informal. Although Starnino does use imagery, he also uses dialect and is talking about himself. He goes into detail and is very descriptive in talking about certain objects and specific things. I really enjoy the way Starnino uses words to bring the poems to life. Although the slang can be challenging to understand, it allows you to think about what the author is trying to say. The use of slang is brilliant in the poetry because it makes it memorable.

  • My dad has wonderfully colourful language when he gets upset, or even when he is having the most cheerful time. I think it runs in his family. Cantonese is a language full of idioms and loads of irrational phrases that I can’t remotely understand.
    As I was reading through Carmine Starnino’s poem, I really enjoyed the ideas he was exposing. It is one thing to be able to speech a language, but it is definitely another to be able to identify with one. In saying that, Starnino proposes something I was able to relate to in “On the Obsolescence of Caphone” when he says “… old expressions marked down\ to near-nothing and preserved past all value,\ spoken but never found on a page.” Cantonese is infamous for expressions that are never actually written. Even simple words like “mo” (do not have) is so consistently written as “moot yaow.” My Cantonese teachers would never have their students recognized in the annual essay competitions because the Mandarin teachers did not have the detriment of disparities in speech and writing.
    Mary di Michele gives us another view of the italian identity through her poetry. I was intrigued by the ideas attached to the absence of dialect in contrast Starnino’s work. If I learned anything this semeter, silence is not neutral, and di Michele embraced this feature of her heritage in her poetry.
    With only the one poem of Carmine Starnino, it’s really hard to talk about the over-arching dissimilarities in the work he and Mary di Michele have produced. I would say I could never have explored this side of Italy from any textbook.

    Raymond Luong

  • December 5, 2012

    In comparing Michele and Starnino, I came upon a theme that is commonly associated with, and ingrained in Italian culture: that being the virtue of family. I found the poems to be engaging because all together they were more than a simple telling of Italian tradition; they introduce the speakers’ individual identities and juxtapose them against the norms of their social heritage. There is a sense of closeness to family that is visible in Michele’s Poems “Born in August” and “Benvenuto”. The first starts with a specific and personalized description of Maria di Michele, but ultimately leads to a very intimate and direct transcription of lineage between her mother and her: “and so my mother lost her teeth/ while I grew miniature bones/ like pearls in an oyster mouth.” The latter reinforces the familiarity and comfort of personal origins, despite having “Canadian feet… of prairie wheat” as a two decade long identity. While having a seemingly close proximity to her Italian background and family, she also writes about being at odds with them in “How To Kill Your Father”. At the end of this poem the speaker experiences a family vs. self conflict with (excuse the hee shee overkill) his/her father, claiming he/she is committing the ultimate betrayal by opting for a personally suited life over a traditional one.

    From the way that I read “On the Obsolescence of Caphone”, Starnino seems to come at it the other way. He reveres the crude Italian slang and men who speak it, but does not feel an overwhelming innateness with it. He proclaims it as “banked-up bales [he] was never born to,” but simultaneously fears that without the language and the demeanor and the customs, he does lack wholeness in his identity (and his poetry). To answer his desire for “homemade vocabulary” and culture, he embodies and implements portions of his family’s nature. And in what I think is a pretty insightful conclusion, he reconciles his individual person with his heritage and declares, “I’m whatever comes across in the translation.”

  • In Mary di Michele poem “Benvenuto,” which means welcome in English describes the transition of moving from Italy to Canada. Di Michele uses imagery when she sees “The same chickens are scratching in the yard” suggest that even though she is in a different continent she finds thing familiar such as “the same wind is beating its head against the stucco.” In the second stanza of the poem, She has spent more than 20 years in Canada she feels that even though she lives in Canada and is a Canadian citizen she feels at home suggesting her home in Italy and how similar it is to Canada.

    Daniel Feng

  • After the background information that was given about Carmine Starnino, I expected not to like his work, but I actually found it quite interesting. The words “I’m whatever comes across in the translation” really explain his feeling of marginalization and limitation.

    For instance, there are some expressions I have grown up hearing my parents use, but when I try to replicate them in English, they either make no sense, or simply cannot be translated or described, so I end up gesticulating profusely to no avail. I also don’t think that the meaning of my name can be fully understood outside the context of my language, and find it hard to explain to anyone what it really means. However, that a person feels this way about their entire existence is something I never even considered. I can’t figure out who is to blame or if anyone is to blame, but language- though an avenue for communication- can also bring up new barriers between people and within the individual. It limits the individual’s mind because language determines how we think, so adjusting to one that is new and unfamiliar would severely limit a person’s ability to think, and all they can communicate to others is whatever is left of the translations.

  • Both di Michele and Starnino use language in their poems but unlike di Michele, Starnino uses slang Italian language; some words are even made up and do not fit with the general idea of the poem.

    As was discussed in class, Starnino’s use of slang language is sort of implying the poet’s liminality because they try to say what they cannot say. Having said that, Starnino’s poem was, in a way, easier to grasp because some of the Italian slang he uses were explained and from that, I could relate it to the context of the poem.

    Mary di Michele’s poem on the other hand was fairly easy to understand as well. Her poems, put together seem to form a story from when she was born to how she created her own identity as a Canadian. I felt there was somewhat a sense of negative nostalgia, if that even exists, as she describes the place she was born. She was “born in the wake of World War Two / in the green, though scarred, hills of Abruzzo” (23). Without any other information, one can imagine growing up in the middle of the war. Then, di Michele, in “Benvenuto”, seems to be back to that place with her Canadian feet that are still familiar with the place although having gone through a lot of changes.

  • For this week’s blog entry I’ll be discussing Mary di Michele’s “Benvenuto”.

    Michele writes of going back home to Italy. She describes the scenery at her house and how it has all remained the same. “The same chickens, the same light, the same wind”; She still feels a strong familiarity at home in Italy. Although she has lived in Canada for 20 years and her feet “formed by prairie wheat can still find their own way”, she feels a strong sense of nostalgia. She goes straight for the pomegranate tree and eats one. Even the pomegranate recognizes her. This poem explains how these “hyphen” people, as Fred Wah describes, can still be at home when they return years later. Michele is probably very much Canadian, but still even more so Italian,

    Graeme Howard