One Question Interview: Salvatore Ala


Salvatore Ala has published poems widely in journals and anthologies, as well as five broadsides of his work. His first book, Clay of the Maker, was published by Mosaic Press in 1998. With Biblioasis Books, he has published Straight Razor and Other Poems, and more recently Lost Luggage.

While your poems in Lost Luggage certainly have intellectual ideas in them, they’re grounded in some very organic imagery: fish, dragonflies, almonds, rain barrels, pine, fog and snow, crabapple wine. Considering your title, is it fair to say your book is at least partly about how we’ve left something important behind in modern, everyday life?

When I look back at poems I didn’t include in the final manuscript, this sense of having “left something important behind in modern, everyday life” is even more apparent.  I was trying to strike a metaphorical balance, but as you know these ruminations are subtle. The past is very much part of the present in this collection, though I would add that some  poems which do not appear on the surface to be part of the motif of having “left something important behind…” are in fact also about lost origins. Working from the etymology of words is for me a way of seeing what’s not there, and  is very often the source of the imagery in a poem.   “Ala,” “Church Demolition,” and “Roman Coins” are very much poems about lost or uncertain origins. I was also able to question value and judge hypocrisy with the strongest evidence being in the roots of the words themselves.

The organic imagery you mention is somewhat easier to explain. It is in part how I grew up, close to the organic and close to someone like my grandfather who even living in an urban center, secured himself a tract of land so that he could live like he did in “the old country.” Sometimes you would not have imagined that a city existed outside the little oasis he cultivated. Another reason for the organic nature of my imagery is quite simply that it’s a quality I have always admired in other poets. I remember in my early university years I was fascinated by everything new, new trends in literature and art, and in life. It wasn’t until I studied Martin Heidegger’s famous book Poetry, Language, Thought, in particular his brilliant essay “The Origin of the Work of Art,” that I began to investigate origins in my own life. It was also at this time that I met the French philosopher Michel Henry, whose book La Barbarie (1987) had a profound affect on me, as did his idea that aesthetic experience returns us to the inner life of objects as lived experience.

So I would say yes to your question. Much of Lost Luggage deals with “how we’ve left something important behind in modern, everyday life.”  The heroism of reason and science can’t go unchecked. It seems clear that the hubris of technology has swept us up into a society of people pacified by gadgetry and indifferent to reality. I suppose poetry is a small reminder of that other life whose origins are being steadily eroded.

7 Responses to “One Question Interview: Salvatore Ala”

  1. 1 Daniel Galasso

    Very interesting. Your statement about the hubris of technology causes me to stop and think.

  2. 2 Peter Hrastovec

    I enjoyed reading this volume of poetry. “Lost Luggage” is a true testament to Sal Ala’s talent as a poet. His keen insight and incredible vision mark him as one of this area’s most outstanding poets. Looking forward with great anticipation to his next work.

  3. Bin thinking lately of a poem by Stephen Jaechs, in which he stands in a railway station with his suitcase beside him, feeling he’s lost his luggage, shirt, shoes, phone, mind. His mother just died. Thanks for letting me know of your book. Mine’s coming out any day now.

  4. A very thoughtful and eloquent response to an excellent question. I’m always interested in works that have deeply inspired artists. I’m anxious to read Heidegger’s “The Origin of the Work of Art.”

  5. 5 Kenneth

    Lost origins, the organic and poetry, the inner life of objects: yes, the stuff of poetry. Good explication.

  6. “Lost Luggage” is one of ten best poetry books in 2011

  1. 1 | LOST LUGGAGE: The 12 (15) Books of Christmas

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