Carmine Starnino’s latest collection of poems is full of lyrical escapes, exits and embarkations that set out to measure degrees of belonging and proximity to being at home. With his close attention to sound and ease of comparison, Starnino tries on voices and costumes for size, revisiting his childhood stomping grounds and current neighbourhood bars, reliving teenage haircuts and marvelling at the skill of the local butcher. Counterbalancing his own search for place, Starnino delights in locating in other people and favourite objects their aptitude for simply being themselves.
“Nine from Rome” is a series of verse letters written to fellow poets during a sojourn in Italy. Here the poet tests the novelty of new sights and sounds against the sensibilities of his poetics. Inspired in part by the letters of Catullus, the series conjours sunny balconies, food markets and aqueducts, and revels in the escape from routine.
This Way Out closes with “The Strangest Things,” a series of those things for which, William Carlos Williams says, “One has emotions.” A particular fence post, the scent of a woman’s perfume in the Metro, a ball floating in a canalcontained in these are tangible moments of self-discovery. In some of his most candid work to date, Starnino reflects on his own attempts to hit a stride and secure a sense of belonging.
“As a child of immigrants, my sense of being lost between competing origins and tongues can be intense,” Starnino says. “What this in-betweenness often creates, rather unexpectedly, is a feeling of being set apart, of existing as a foreigner in one’s own country. What it also contributes to is a ‘several selves’ state: my life defined not only by the reality it inhabits, but also the potential existences it did not fulfill. This clash of geographical rootedness and psychological uprootedness is, in large part, what I wanted to explore in This Way Out. Whether the setting is the Italian north-end where I grew up, or the multi-ethnic Parc-Ex neighbourhood where my wife and I lived, or our six-month junket to Rome, the book expresses a nostalgia for a home in poems of linguistic restlessness, poems where the language always has somewhere else it wants to go. By using doubletalk and euphemism, subtext and suggestiveness, bilingual fluidity and impurities of diction, I wanted to write poems that could tell me who I was and where I belonged. Taking the hint from Northrop Frye’s famous question Where is here?, ‘here’these new poems answeris always ‘elsewhere’.”
Finalist for the 2009 Governor General’s Literary Award for Poetry.