Interview by Bob Williams
Winnipeg viewed superficially seems isolated, perhaps even provincial. It is also a city with a very high crime rate. Do these two characteristics – and if so, in what ways – make Winnipeg especially compatible as a background to your work?
Well, first of all the idea that Winnipeg is provincial (“provincial” meaning unsophisticated) is a partial truth, at best… it does have a “salt of the earth” thing going on, which makes it endearing, but it’s actually a very liberal city, the people habitually vote in left-wing, liberal politicians, there’s an incredible arts community with the ballet and symphony leading the bunch… it’s a hard drinking rock and roll town with extreme weather, which in my opinion breeds extreme personalities…. how do you deal with –30 Celsius in January and + 40 in June?…. the winter can tear the flesh off your face, and the summer can turn you into an afternoon sizzle, and the f-ucking crime will drive you dizzy, perfect backdrop for a writer, wouldn’t you say?… so to your question, is Winnipeg compatible as a background to my work? – it’s not only compatible, it is THE major character of my work, it moves and slides and carries words and ideas all the way through anything and everything I’ve ever written…. which doesn’t mean it’s the ONLY influence, Italian culture and art and many other things, many, have their say…. … keeping in topic (I hope), about Winnipeg, and what/how do we write, and what makes us write, I’ve always seen two very polarized types of artists – the write and do-everything-see-everything type, like Kerouac, Henry Miller, Hemingway, Orwell, Dumas – and the stick-to-the-streets-i-know type like Bukowski, Woody Allen, Raymond Chandler, the “do-nothing” crowd… I relate to the latter… and Winnipeg, for now, makes me feel…. we all want to be free, right?
Italy has been an intermittent experience in your life. What periods of your life were spent in Italy and what was the longest period of time that you spent there?
TN – Ahhhh, Italy…. in my memory, a place of beauty and sunshine and liberal thinking, and also chaos, and traffic, and smog and f-ucked-up day-to-day existence and political violence… I was born there, came to Canada at the age of three, moved back at the age of 6, back to Canada at the age of 7, … stayed in the ‘Peg for a long time, in my mind, and perhaps the biggest influence in my life were those years in Winnipeg, age 7 to about 11 or 12… you’ll notice in my writing, I’m always mentioning “under the trees”, you know, that was my neighborhood, an arc of trees covered the streets, we were in the shadows continually, or at least it seemed that way…. but after that we moved back to Italy and I spent another couple of years there, junior high school, or part of it… and even though the absolute easiest thing in the world for me to do has always been to make a friend, I never particularly enjoyed being dragged away from the people I knew and cared about… to this day, I hate to travel…. so I spent maybe 7 or 8 years in Italy in total, the rest is Canada…
Except for Fellini, no Italian appears on your list of favorites. What about the Italian novelists of the twentieth century? Italo Calvino, for example.
TN – I have read Calvino and I dug him, but my Italian artistic influence, beyond that “dolce vita” lifestyle, is the cinema, not the literature (although everyone should read Giovanni Boccaccio)…man, from that crazy neo-realism of the 50’s and 60’s, De Sica, Antonioni, those early Fellini films….then you have movies like “The Bicycle Thief”, “La ciocara”, “Roma citta aperta”, on and on… to the later italian cinema, “Cinema paradiso” “Mediterraneo”, begnini’s films, and one of my personal favorites “Il postino” (can anyone watch Massimo Troisi’s masterpiece without a lump in their throat?) , that’s my Italian love affair, the cinema…
Screamin’ Skull Press so far as I can tell exists solely for the publication of your works. If this is not correct, what is the nature of this publisher?
Screamin’ Skull Press is a fictional publishing company, just a name I came up that I thought sounded rock and roll cool to publish my own work… ha ha ha ha, I get a lot of writers sending their stuff to me thinking I’m a publisher…
Influences don’t seem to be a major factor in your work although there is a similarity of objectives between you and Jack Kerouac. Would you agree and what are your comments?
I would strongly disagree… I am heavily influenced by many writers, I make no bullshit apologies for it…. and when I say writers, I don’t just mean just the literary types, Huxley, Lawrence, Dante Alighieri, Percy Shelley, I also mean the singer-songwriters, right? Lou Reed, Tom Waits, Frank Black, Joe Strummer, hmmmm, John Lennon, pretension not pretty man… The Clash, The Rezillos, Kafka, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but nothing , and I mean nothing, affected me like Tropic of Cancer, the great Henry Miller book, hmmmmmmm.
You are the author of many books in a very short period of time. Are you satisfied with an incidental achievement of quality and is there any plan to produce more disciplined work on a larger scale and greater complexity?
Incidental achievement of quality? Ain’t nothing incidental about it man….and “disciplined” is not the right word when it comes to art…there’s nothing worse than a very carefully carved out piece of work…that dull working over and over of an idea and a sentence and a painting, that insecurity, that insistence that repetition and revision somehow make it right…so do i plan to do more disciplined work?…. like I said, wrong word…as far as complexity goes, I always thought my work was very complex emotionally, artistically, stylistically, take the money and run baby…. my writing, in all its grim fashion, is about one thing – listen to Django Reinhardt play guitar, listen to Sydney Bechet blow the alto sax, read Carl Jung as he muses about the collective unconscious, it’s all music, it is “WORD MUSIC”…a reader of mine, several years ago, called my poetry “word music”, and it has stuck in my mind ever since… that is the best definition of my writing … whatever the f-uck that means….
Among the list of writers that you list as favorites, I see a wide range of interests and broad capacities. I note however the absence of some names that I would have expected to find, like James Joyce. Comment?
It is very funny that no one has ever mentioned Joyce to me as an influence, I dig him, I think Ulysses is one of the great books of the 20th century, and I’ve read lots of Joyce, but I can’t say that he influenced my writing at all, not at all actually… I like Joyce for many reasons, but the main reason is that he doesn’t write “normally”, whenever you give me flat, conventional, definition of sentence structure, you lose me…
Your work is too individual for the conventional publisher. What has been your experience with traditional publishing and what are your thoughts on the subject?
Traditional publishing?… man… I sent one short story after another from 1994 to 2000 with much feedback (misconception – they will get back to you, but f-uck them) – ummmm, well, most conventional publishers, most conventional writers really s-uck….I have letters from publishers telling me, “I LOVE IT BUT IT WON’T SELL!”, which is pretty much the general message…. what the hell can we say?… except that it’s a sad state of affairs, not because I’m a writer of any importance, which I am not, but because this society refuses, categorically, to recognize outside thinking…
Do you feel that the general and unjust neglect of your work is more your individuality as a writer or more that you are a Canadian writer, many of whom are unjustly neglected by the critics?
Both, of course…and I AM unjustly ignored ha ha ha ha ha ha…it f-ucking pains me that Canadian writers like Mordecai Richler, Robertson Davies, Michael Turner (certainly the greatest living Canadian writer) Margaret Atwood, Eveiln Lau, are ignored… I sit and think about it, and I don’t understand why they aren’t considered among the great writers…why? … as far as my writing being ignored, I’ve always believed that there is a large audience for it, the same crowd that digs Joe Strummer, the same crowd that digs Dylan Thomas, the same crowd that digs Henry Miller, Anais Nin, Bob Marley, Carl Jung, Sid Vicious, Lord Byron and Kurt Vonnegut, burn your toast in the morning, smoke your pipe at night, kiss your lover goodbye, sit and watch television, just DO IT…
So to answer your question, and to thank you for your time, listen to a song called “Redemption Song” by Bob Marley
…ain’t it beautifuL?…
(The Joe Strummer version of “Redemption’ is also very good,
Come check me out on MySpace at www.myspace.com/tnesca
About the Reviewer: Bob Williams is retired and lives in a small town with his wife, dogs and a cat. He has been collecting books all his life, and has done freelance writing, mostly on classical music. His principal interests are James Joyce, Jane Austen and Homer. His writings, two books and a number of short articles on Joyce, can be accessed at: http://www.grand-teton.com/service/Persons_Places