Tuesday May 21

RealeMichelle Michelle Reale is an Assistant Professor at Arcadia University in the suburbs of Philadelphia.  She is the author of four collections of fiction and prose poems and has been published in a wide variety of publications both online and in print. She has twice been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. She does ethnography among African refugees in Sicily and blogs about some of her experiences here.

Michelle Reale interview with Meg Tuite

There is always deep water and power in your words, Michelle. I have loved your work from the first poetic prose piece I read of your’s online. Here are a few quotes from the three beauties we are publishing, “And Thus Began the Cycle,” “The Italian Divorce Lawyer Tells You to be a Good Wife and Just Go Home,” and “Sour Fruit”:

“The grinding that you might have heard was not the cooling of the ship’s engines, but the teeth of someone with a firm resolve.”

“Everything is hanging.”

“I was once married to a man who said that a sigh was evil, an omen of bad intent.”

Are these three part of a collection?

Yes, these prose poems are part of a collection to be published by Aldrich Press in November 2014. The title of the collection is called “The Legacy of the Sidelong Glance.”

I cannot wait for the collection! You pack your sentences like a cannon. Each line holds so much weight. Can you tell me how a story comes to you?

These prose poems are based on the life of my paternal grandmother. There is a mystery on my father’s side of the family—a few of them, actually. One involves my grandmother’s marriage to my grandfather and their lives’ together. She died right before I was born and memories of her are like hagiography----I have never, ever heard a bad thing about her but, truly, her life was one of misery. The collection is nuanced in a very ethnic way. I come from an Italian family, and tried to stay true to both the details that I know, and those that I imagine.

I know you go to Sicily quite often. Can you tell me about those trips?

I have been interested in “outsider” status my entire life. I do ethnography among African refugees in Sicily. I go to Sicily about five times a year. I teach a class called Immigration, Migration and Social Justice in the Sicilian context and as part of the course, I take 24 students in March to Sicily. It has become a second home to me.

Wow! I have always wanted to hear about your career in Sicily. That is so exciting and incredibly necessary. Where do you live and how does place work into your stories?

I live in a suburb of Philadelphia and in the town in which I grew up in.   There is a large Italian-American community there and it is the only place I want to live. I’d been away from it for many years, but three years ago, due to my divorce, I came back there to live. The place, the people sustain me in ways I cannot begin to explain. The older I get the more I realize how family and friends sustain you, how what is familiar can stabilize you, not in a static way, but in all of the good ways that allow you to do really productive work because you feel nurtured and safe.

Beautiful and so true. What are you reading at this time?

A lot of poetry. I am really steeped in anything and everything both Italian and Eastern European. I am reading and re-reading my favorite Italian poet, Patrizia Cavalli, as well as Wislawa Symborska, Joseph Brodsky and many others for their spare and melancholy economy, among other things. I am also continuing to read anything and everything I can about the conflict in the Balkans and the horror ordinary people perpetuated on each other. Popular culture doesn’t interest me much anymore. In fact, not at all. My tolerance for its nonsense fades daily and I really don’t engage with it. It has taken over in a way that I find frightening: pointless and crass, not to mention the “really, who cares” factor.

I am going to check out Patrizia Cavalli. Hope there is an English translation of some of her work. Who have been your greatest inspirations as a writer?

Having a career that is separate from writing, living and being among my family who I love so much, sitting on my front porch watching everyone in my neighborhood, watching people overcome the seemingly insurmountable. Just BEING, and not thinking of writing as precious, or rarified, but instead, connecting it to my everyday life. Living from the inside out, not the outside in. All of these things are an inspiration to me.

You are an exquisite person that I wish was a neighbor of mine! What projects are you working on?

Well, I am always working on my scholarship---my ethnography and the writing of it! But I am working on a collection of poems titled “Predatory Birds of Sicily” and another, as yet, unnamed collection that is rather odd, though I hope in all ways that are good. I am also working on a family history project. I have been, since I was a small girl, very interested in my family history, particularly on my father’s side of the family. My grandfather was a Sicilian immigrant whose life contains many mysteries. I have been in the process of unfolding them for years. Most recently, I gathered my father and his brothers and sister at my cousin’s house for breakfast and began what will be a series of interviews with all of them. I could have stayed in that room, with those people that I love, forever. They revealed the most poignant details of their lives’ with a warm and caring mother, and a father who perpetuated nothing but hardship and cruelty on them in a country he never wanted to come to. They are all, individually, the finest aunt and uncles I could hope for and together still incredibly devoted to one another. Life has revealed itself to me in such interesting ways. My poetry collection “Predatory Birds of Sicily” is about my Sicilian grandfather. His children are strong and loving and help to provide all of the details I never knew when he was alive.

What an amazing family and experience to be able to get all those stories and work your magic with them!

Do you have a quote that speaks to you?

I love quotes and have collected them for years! While it is not a quote, per se, but rather a line from one of Patrizia Cavalli’s poems, it encapsulates how I feel about my life and my work:

“It wasn’t science, it was devotion.”

I am devoted to my ethnographic work, my academic career and to my work as a poet. Science? No, but pure, pure, pure devotion, for sure.

You are deep waters, my friend, and I’m so thankful you are here on the planet with me! Thank you so much, Michelle, for sending CP some of your pure brilliance!


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