In Conversation with Poet Sonia Di Placido

“I found myself in an Akashic Wood.” 

Sonia Di Placido's poems, essays, and other writings have appeared in blogs, literary print and online journals such as The Toronto Quarterly, Carousel, The Puritan, The White Wall Review 38, Jacket2, The California Journal of Women Writers, and the Canthius Journal. Two anthologies worthy of mention: Walk Myself Home, An Anthology of Violence Against Women (Caitlin Press), and The Poet to Poet Anthology (Guernica Editions). Sonia’s first full-length collection of poetry, Exaltation in Cadmium Red, launched in 2012 with Guernica Editions. Her second book of poems with Guernica Editions is forthcoming in 2018. Sonia's also currently working on an epistolary series about poetry and writing. 

Sonia's latest chapbook, The Akashic Woodwas published this past spring by LyricalMyrical Press. The opening quote by Emily Dickinson (from the poem “My Life had stood – a Loaded Gun”) sets the fiery and dangerous tone for this collection. This is not going to be a nature walk through the forest. Themes of The Akashic Wood include the hunter and the hunted, as well as the power of words and gut instinct as weapons against alienation and domination. The lyrical poems sing with a beauty reminiscent of Gwendolyn MacEwen’s “Dark Pines Under Water,” while the post-modern/experimental poems disorient and intoxicate. This mix of poetic styles adds to the overall impression of multiplicity and lushness in The Akashic Wood. There are no page numbers, no table of contents, and not all of the sections are titled, as if the book itself will not be constrained or confined by conventions. In The Akashic Wood, the forest and its inhabitants have been taken over and claimed by “the father” and/or “hunter.” The poems are not only a lament against this takeover, full of warnings not to misuse and appropriate what craves to be wild and free, but an act of reclamation, a reclaiming of the essential self.

(On initiating the) Doe

I am learning to hide
the hairs of this Language
By losing [an] other.

I give you words in all of my skins—
Moistened, tanned, stained/stamped
Leather    Patent or Pleather

unplastic patented.
Suede—each one kneaded to still
my style of perfection’s needs.

You shall wear these
and them
afraid             friendless.

LY: What led you to write this particular book, The Akashic Wood?

Sonia Di Placido: Once I’d published Exaltation In Cadmium Red, I felt a cathartic completion in my poetic sensibilities of or relating to the first ideologies I had with becoming a writer, a poet, a Canadian artist with Italian roots of migration. Things birthed and erased in memory led to eventual trajectories, which opened and closed within. The more familiar I became with my own poetic license, the more places I wanted to go, the more I extended my reach further. This first book was dedicated to my mother and there was much in the work and its process of writing that I identified with, specific contexts and concepts of my person, upbringing, voice. And it felt in alignment with the ‘mother’ figure, one could refer to it as Freudian, but I saw...whatever. I’m a poet and I’m not sure that means only the ‘Matriarch’ in the English intellectual sense of the word and its English (sic) meaning.

However, from that exegesis of the book coming forth, I felt the surge of new places, next places, the resurgence of familiar spaces within, that I wanted to explore through language. I was taking poetry workshops, learning about American poets of which I hadn’t explored with such depth as to write by way of exchanging a dialogue with Modern America post-Dickinson and Whitman, and also leaving behind some of the more well-known deemed ‘confessional’ poets such as Parker, Plath and Sexton, who I was more familiar with—some would reference the typical White American Canon. Again, whatever. It’s a process, for every poet. There’s a process, going in, going out and reading what and who you know and what or who comes next.

My Canadian poetry influences: MacEwen, Purdy, Lowther, Layton, Acorn—all of the Modern context in our literary ‘Canadiana’ were a point of departure here. I could meld my voice with theirs: share our stories, thoughts, poetic languages. However, the subjects they wrote about—their landscapes were still foreign to me. I could return to the ‘Cypress’ trees but had never actually written about MacEwen’s or Purdy’s Pines. Thompson’s Pines, Lowther’s creeks and swamps. I wanted to write about my own Wood. My woods. Not the woods I knew in some far off distant dream-like nostalgic past-life memory of Molise Italy. I felt it was time and I was ready to write about my wood, the wood my father shared with me. The wood and the ground on which I trod every day to school in Toronto. The wood that took me to Manitoulin, to Thunder Bay, Vancouver Island and Quebec. How this vast ‘North’ Americas territory speaks to me. I came to understand the relationship I had, with a ‘coming-forth’ clarity, to this terrain that is my Canada. The one my father gave me, shared with me and also imprinted on me. So, I went into my own Wood with him behind me, with everything that I knew of Canada as someone born here.

The only poetry we can write is our own, not anyone else’s despite the varying trends and ideas in poetry based on the nationalities, and times one writes in. Ultimately, one can recall, recalibrate and return to oneself. I found myself in an Akashic Wood. From my fascination with Blavatsky’s western Spiritualism to my father’s embrace of ‘the Frontier’ to watching a suburban Toronto of the early 1980s become an urban Global city 35 years later by 2015. There’s a history there, there’s a lineage and my own poetic ethos. And that is where and how I began.

LY: Was there one idea that inspired you and if so, what was it and where did it lead you?

Sonia Di Placido: I'd say there were a number of poets who brought about an idea or inner episodic transformation that allowed an opening for poems to come through. For example, I found that in Workshop ideas and themes came through working with American poets such as Lorine Niedecker, her poems about Wisconsin, Lake Superior. The Great Lakes as an idea led me to explore that further—go into my own experience of the Canadian landscape. A Poetry trip to Cobalt in 2013 in physical stasis and association to place also allowed for an opening space for dialogue in poetry.

LY: The first and last poems in a collection are often the hardest to choose. How did you go about choosing “A Poet Makes Noise” for the first poem and “A Golden Hunger Trails The Emerald City” for the last one?

Sonia Di Placido: Actually, I didn’t feel that choice was a part of the first poem. “A Poet Makes Noise” really ties in with a few truths in tandem with my creation of the title. The Akashic Wood is presumed to be somewhat of an ethereal natural habitat, something silent, on the whole a passive place: a quiet introspective area that persists in a netherworld of sorts. A Wood that is not of earth and yet is made up of Forest. I worked with instinct and felt my way through the opening poem. Somehow, I found that this piece required something akin to a bird’s song that opens the book, the poet and the reader into this ‘otherworld’ of a unique Wood. A veil gets lifted as one enters, takes sensory notes, whether they be apparitions or echoed sounds, voices of a journey. There’s an ecosystem to the poet’s attempt, welcoming the reader into the book as she works with pencil and passion. The noise is released from disrupting the Wood’s language through her activity rather than passivity. The poet wants to share with the reader her journey into the Wood, but she knows that in so doing there’s an active disruption, a possible corruption of the Wood no longer existing as one with the Akashic dimension. The work of a poet to reform a wood into words, thereby making it ‘her’ Wood. There’s an indication of lead as being the greater part of noise, both the potential damaging effects of writing Poetry by using a lead pencil as the conduit of disruption. The ‘lead’, a substance from earth, which is reformed and molded to become part of a refined wood mix compressed by humans to create the Poet’s ultimate writing tool. The sound of the lead against paper as they become one ‘noise’ among The Akashic Wood is also about the creation of a subtle, sometimes resolute voice, that comes from writing by hand. Though the process is expected to resonate softly, noiselessly, without clumsiness, it is a difficult phenomenon in The Akashic Wood.

A connection between this first poem and the last has a lot to do with the unconscious in a process of becoming conscious—a common place and/or space that came to my thoughts was Vancouver Island. From the large old Milling zone north of Cowichan Bay, among various lakes, mountain regions, ferries and thicker wooded areas. Thoughtful sensibilities of the ‘Grist of the Mill’ from pulp to paper to pencils became the eventual opening poem for the book as one uniting body for a series of pieces made up of separate components to the larger body. The final poem speaks about Emily Carr, her home in Victoria. This is a return to Vancouver Island’s lush greening woodsy terrain. The poet revisits her initiation by looking down and away from a gigantic broader perspective. The piece is part of the final section in the book called ‘Greener’. The final section and the choice of “A Golden Hunger Trails The Emerald City” closes the book with the circular return toward urbanity. The poet directs the reader toward a cityscape coming out of the Wood and the city is Emerald much like the various green tones of Carr’s paintings of her Vancouver Island forests. Leaving The Akashic Wood to find something rich, alive, refreshing and of ‘Greener’ being. Gold is also referenced as the sun indicating that by leaving the Akashic Wood behind, the returned is in a different place bearing more light. Tall trees, greenery, large brown stumps and the intertwining of tree branches above tend to keep the light out.

The opening poem begins with the entrance of the voice into the Akashic Wood and the closing poem is a reflection of an exit from this Akashic Wood.

LY: Although you embrace beauty and light in this chapbook, you also don't shy away from the messy or darker side of human nature. What does it take to delve so deeply into what essentially wants to remain hidden?

Sonia Di Placido: It's easy to say/write/think that I've always been someone who wanted to be political in the face of darkness in life, existence, 'the world' ... maybe all it really has to do with is the fact that I was born under the Scorpio Sun sign. Ha!

I am very shy about certain types or kinds of inner darkness. I avoid writing poems about love and relationships emotionally/directly like the plague. The "Green Trousers" poem is one of the first and closest I've come to do so in many years. It was inspired by working with some exercises from reading the poet Joanne Kyger. Ironically, her voice is light and playful, but that made room for my poems to delve into a certain darker nature of love, sex, mixing with self and other, the stuff of being ‘In Love’. I continually struggle with some poems, even if I know they feel complete. I fear it's being harshly judged because I judge it. Something in there keeps a heightened vulnerability and demands humility within, even though the poem may not come across that way by language as in using the words ‘fuck’ ‘shit’ etc. It’s still raw. It’s also still delicate. It’s both. I have worried that it's somehow shallow, evasive and not enough. And yet, I still love it for what it is, as it is.

I have evaded an inner language of darkness that ought to be translated through poetry (my own) that is sex or sexuality. In this chapbook, the subtleties are there. Sort of hanging out in the soil at the root of the trees or looming like breath in the 'SKY' 'Akash' that keeps the Wood alive. And for this book, I can answer the latter half of your question by saying that there is a lot that does want to remain hidden here. That wants to be revealed but some kind of 'hide and seek' is happening as the book moves through all sorts of themes, images, ideas, categories about 'being with' my gender, being hetero female, struggling with parental archetypes, my male other, what is passive, what is aggressive action and what does it really have to do with human sentience? To me, there's sexuality, oppression, questions about what or who is really feminine/female in this book. What is mothering? What is fathering? For example in "Advice From A Crying Bear", I didn't write the piece asking these questions. I felt my way through to meet the wood with an animal that, for me, embodies the sensibility of an Akashic place and the Woods space. As I wrote, the piece started to fold and unfold, essentially becoming like Origami of the Bear. Then after some revisions it made sense. What and who is the Crying Bear? What does she want? What is she feeling? Where are her cubs? Where is the mate? Why isn’t this a man or the male bear? Crying doesn't always manifest itself by tears, a runny nose and a red face. It’s so much more than that.

For me, I write about things that hurt or piss me off when I'm ready, which is, for any writer, I believe, part of the great secretive process. That opens up the portal to more easily delve deep into the bowels or tissue matter, unleash the veins and reach into the through-thoughts that make up and create the poem. The work of writing poetry cannot manifest until it’s ripe to be writ. The apple has to be picked or drop from the tree with a light hand, then it’s most succulent. You won't get a good apple if you yank it off its branch. It's just not ready. It's got to be felt with the thought, and knowing this I can enter the right spaces at their most coherent and lock in the moments, sensations, imagery.

I try to be honest with my creative work, as much as possible. That doesn't mean I don't manipulate, play or cheat here, there with language, communication, poetics—technique. What I aim to be honest for are the emotional truths I want to convey and share. Not only general truths of big vague concepts like Beauty, Death, Love, Money, Cities, Technology, Home. To be true, however obscure a poem can be, about the narratives and stories that carry out such truths. That requires an insurmountable depth of sensibilities and feelings. How to convey confusion in a poem? Can we give it sides? Good and/or a bad? A weakness and/or a strength? If I am to do this effectively then I must strive to know “How to make the blindness shine? How to make a beautiful shadow? How to cause a shining darkness? Where’s the black light?”

To order a copy of The Akashic Wood, visit Sonia’s website. 

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