Friday, February 06, 2009

Reader's Diary #448- Domenico Capilongo: I thought elvis was italian

My only issue with Domenico Capilongo's I thought Elvis was italian is the cover. Something about the quirkiness of the title and the 4 velvet Elvises in karate stances led me to believe it would be a collection of funny poems. While there are witty poems, and a few smiles here and there, they are generally more contemplative than quirky. However, there are a lot of poems about Italians and karate, so it's not entirely a false impression.

One of the first things that struck me about Capilongo's poetry is the amount of body imagery he uses. I can pretty much open the book at random and find references to some body part:

"like the hands of a roman caligrapher"

"the pain shooting from my calves"

"your chest heaving"

It was a welcome sensation, sort of allowing me to "feel" the poem rather than simply visualizing it. I was curious as to where it came from. Perhaps, as a karate student, Capilongo is more in tune with the body. Or maybe it's something in his Italian-Canadian heritage. He does mention something about Italians talking with their hands. Though I admit I know very little about Italian culture. Growing up in outport Newfoundland, the only Italians I knew liked to jump on turtles and throw barrels at gorillas.

There's a vein of humility, curiosity, imagination and discovery that runs through the book and it's all quite charming.

One of my favourites from the book is the title poem. To me, it speaks of the power of belief:

I Thought Elvis Was Italian
by Domenico Capilongo

pictures of my father slick-haired & sideburned
my uncles had all his albums
older cousins played the hawaii concert
whenever I was over
thought he had to change his name
like dean martin did

the leather
the rings & gold chains
the way he moved his hips
his lips
the leather
the sicilian black of his hair
the way he borrowed the tune of “o sole mio”
for his song “it’s now or never”
his best friend named esposito
the leather
his fixation with cars
the way he looked at women
the way he put on weight
how close he was to his mother
the leather
the black velvet posters in everyone’s basement
movies dubbed in italian
he was played at weddings after tarantellas
the leather
the rings
gold chains

if he’s still alive he’s in his 70s
eyeing his blood pressure
sitting in the courtyard of his villa
in some tiny southern italian village
deserted by emigration
a new graceland

talking sideways since the stroke
he sometimes plays the mandolin
sings in an ancient dialect
known only to farmers
he smiles at chickens
who peck at his feet
cats dance in the shade
his eyes moving slowly
under a mediterranean sun

2008, Domenico Capilongo
published by Wolsak and Wynn
Used with permission


Anonymous said...

I love this picture of Elvis in his 70s in Italy. The last stanzas move the poem from the humdrum of life experience into a kind of magical realism.
I don't know about that repetition of "leather"--but I don't know much about Italian culture, either.

John Mutford said...

Jennifer: It's interesting that you'd mention "leather." I hadn't noticed it's repetition until I started posting it here. I wondered why as well.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

I love this poem! I am a sucker for poetry that tells a story.

John Mutford said...

Barbara: It might also interest you to know that there are not one, but TWO poems about Radiohead in there...

Wanda said...

lol, The Mario Brothers...

I like the way this poem gives a glimpse into Capilongo's past while offering an imagined futre for 'the King', especially,
"tiny southern italian village
deserted by emigration
a new graceland"

very nice!

Just suggested this as a purchase for my library--thanks for the review, John.

Interestingly enough, another 2008 Canadian release Mostly Happy by Pam Bustin, also makes mention of a velvet Elvis painting within its storyline.

Wanda said...

Thanks for reviewing this one, John! It finally came in at the library earlier this week and my teenage children and I quite like these poems. My son's favourite is the title poem you've highlighted but the females are going with 'alone in Japan' as our top pick.