CHRIS RICE COOPER is a newspaper/fiction writer, poet, photographer, painter. CRC Blog is an INCLUSIVE & NON-PROFIT BLOG acknowledging ALL voices, ALL individuals, ALL political views, ALL philosophies, ALL religions including Islamism, Hinduism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, Judaism, Agnosticism, Atheism. She has a B.S. in Criminal Justice & completed her workshops required for her Master’s in Creative Writing. She lives in St. Louis.
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***This is #163 in the never-ending series called BACKSTORY OF THE POEM where the Chris Rice Cooper Blog (CRC) focuses on one specific poem and how the poet wrote that specific poem. All BACKSTORY OF THE POEM links are at the end of this piece.
Below Right: Carmelo Militano in September of 2019
#163 Backstory of the Poem
by Carmelo Militano
Can you go through the step-by-step process of writing this poem from the moment the idea was first conceived in your brain until final form?
The poem emerged from something I had been thinking about for a long time. I wanted to write a long poem about the city but I was not sure how to approach such a big topic. The eureka moment- or the answer- came to me when I was viewing an exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (Left) and saw a painting by a First Nation’s painter that included images of a people in a forest on a riverbank sitting near a fire.
So, I began with that image and included it in the first few lines of the poem. Part one more or less just poured out of me and it is a mash-up of what I had been reading before I sat down to write the poem as well as images, I pulled out from my adolescences . Part Two & Three I tried to use images from what I have seen and felt in the city at different times in my life. I sat down every day I tried to continue to pile images and to say something new and fresh. I wanted the poem to be a visual feast and thoughtful and skillfully down at the same time.(Above Left: Winter in Winnipeg)
Where were you when you started to actually write the poem? And please describe the place in great detail. I wrote the poem in the basement bedroom of the house I used to live. I converted the room into my study. It was a big room with two bookshelves on my right filled to the brim with a vast and varied range of poetry, ancient and modern history, erotica, fiction, and essays. On my left was a low long table with shelves. On the top was a bunch of collected bric-a-brac: seashells, my mother’s prayer books, framed erotic post-cards, toy helicopter that could actually fly, two copies of ancient Greek sculptor, an African mask, and a pile of ceramic Greek drink coasters. (Above Right Carmelo Militano's writing space today)
What month and year did you start writing this poem? I wrote this poem a few years ago now
How many drafts of this poem did you write before going to the final? It went through several drafts before I was finished. I don’t recall the exact amount of time it took. But, it did take a few months. However, I should say I never feel a poem is complete. I continue to tinker with some poems even after they have been published.
Were there any lines in any of your rough drafts of this poem that were not in the final version? And can you share them with us? I don’t have any copies of my earlier drafts, alas.
What do you want readers of this poem to take from this poem? I want my readers to see the city through this poem; the poem is cinematic. I also hope they catch the irony, grit, and complexity of the city all filtered through the consciousness of a kid growing up in a Southern Italian family.
Winnipeg Noir: a suite of poems at the intersection of who we were and who we are.
Winnipeg Night: Part I
“ Paris is an older woman loved by a young man.”
“Winnipeg is a middle-aged woman longing to dance burlesque. “
Marco Magani, The Gentleman’s Club
Pulchritudinous night: beautiful night
And the ancient silver sea salt stars watch over us at night
Unable to identify the cause and effect of our lives, our streets
When we belonged to the music and the mod clothes we could not afford
Unable, confused, we were orphaned by our longing
Orphaned by our friendly city that lay on the backs of the Red and Assiniboine
where the ghostly native fires split night like a lit match
We read fashionable poetry and avoided the meat and potatoes view
Stretched instead towards the silent blue Mediterranean and the cities of the coast
Alexandria once wounded by war where Cavafy used to sit in a cane chair at dawn
and watch the light gather in the dust-mooted room while his lover slept
The image later recalled by Durrell she was Clea
thin as a lily silhouetted against the pink broken morning sky.
Our city a broken ashtray in the grey black earth
stolen from a three-star hotel on the coast of the Italian Riviera over-looking the sea
Our city where the green brown rivers link and the mons banks
are thick with Elm, Oak, and Red Juniper, an arbor Arch de Triomphe.
We leaned towards the wind and the early poems of Pessoa
sad consciousness and will of a materialist poet in winter
who walked the rain-soaked streets of Lisbon without an umbrella
his Macintosh stained with rain but not yet famous or torn at the shoulder
City where the streets are shiny with pools of wet light.
City where a cat slips under a fence at midnight
City of broken streets, big box stores, and broken houses
beside the red-wheel barrel Williams insisted we see for the first time
City where you find yourself and lose yourself over and over again
City that urges you to be dissatisfied with the life you are living
where your girl friend drifted away
City of wind older and colder than the ice-caps on a dead January night
where you never became someone else
City of flat wide empty streets and green Rocco treetops
City of a big dark velvet sky empty of angels
where orange-lit street-lamps push back a rare Rome inspired summer night
City still and silent at 4:00 a.m.
Oh silent city and nights full of the secret life of a nun at prayer
City after all the people have left the court spectacles, coffee shops, bars, and
the stage we call night
What remains is the Holy Trinity of coffee, fries and burgers hissing like lovers
Buona notte ragazzi. Good night Moon
It is already morning on the rogue streets of the Latin Quarter.
“ ...There should be no distinction between what we write down and what
we really know.”
‘The Paris Review.’
Alan Ginsberg. The Art of Poetry. No.37, Spring, 1966
Black-winged night and its face of a thousands stars
Lemon-wedge moon in a blue cocktail sky
summer evenings tipped off the lip of jazz
smooth edges of buildings and chiaroscuro faces
throaty laughter outside a bar
and sculpted legs made in stiletto heels
a sky that opens like a suitcase
drinks long or squat and in disarray on the tables
a Bukowski night without honesty or directness.
City night is a nymph in summer,
cold crone in winter who sits in an Arts Space office on Arthur Street
and spits poetry in the eye
a modern Southern belle posing as an editor
she calculates how to best hack off the fingers of poets, the head of desire
in the best romantic tradition when pausing to look out the window
before writing in her journal
she has a theory polished and bright (but not fingernails)
to carry the present into the future
guided by the beauty of the night and the fact she is right.
Oh, almost perfect city protected by our lady of winter
your statue in grottos scattered all over the city underneath bridges
under the cafes and restaurants on Corydon Avenue
on the long November sidewalks
first snow fall slow and indifferent as the trapped snow inside a snow globe
lit by the all night floral shops in Rome.
City a lover you had to kill before you left town
without any clues or sense of urban planning
Noir city a film where no one ever sees a trench coat at four in the morning
and streets never lead to the Forum
what is a grey winter sky
bare trees etched like careless scars hold the empty night
Cut to the poem without images. Roll credits. Fade to silence.
The white blank screen is winter.
Carmelo Militano began his writing career as a freelance journalist and broadcaster for CBC Radio One in Winnipeg. (Right: Carmelo Militano in 2017)
He currently is a poet, writer, editor, teacher, and radio broadcaster.
Militano's poetry, fiction, and non-fiction explores the intersection and meeting of a dual consciousness–Italian & English Canadian–in History, classical myth, family, identity and the erotic.
Carmelo Militano hosted a weekly poetry show at CKUW FM 95.9 (Winnipeg), called the P.I. (Left: May of 2016) New Poetry Show, where he interviewed poets and writers. Podcasts can be found at Programs and Archives, CKUW, P.I. New Poetry Show.
His poems, fiction, reviews and essays, and literary interviews have been published in a wide range of publications: Accenti, CV2, Italian Canadiana, La Macchina Sognante (Italy), Lemon Hound, Northern Poetry Review, Quebec Poetry Review, Sangara (Italy), The Lonely Offices, The Pacific Rim Review of Books, The Toronto Quarterly, PopMatters, and Prairie Fire.
Militano is also a member of the Association of Italian-Canadian Writers, League of Canadian Poets, The Writers' Union of Canada, and The National Book Critics Circle (USA).