“Songs for a new world“ by Emma Paling, The Charlatan,
Immigrant Songs: The Poems, fiction, and letters of Saro D’Agostino, Collected, edited and with an Introduction by Antonino Mazza. Toronto: Quattro Books, 2012, $ 15.95.
Antonino Mazza wants you to know there’s more to Canadian culture than Margaret Atwood and the Group of Seven.
Mazza, an Italian instructor at Carleton, is the editor of a new collection, Immigrant Songs: The Poems, Fiction, and Letters of Saro D’Agostino.
Mazza and D’Agostino were part of a Toronto circle of Italian immigrants that started contributing to English and French Canadian culture in the 1970s.
Mazza said their generation “unlocked” Canadian culture for Italians. The magic of this is that it opened up North American literature to new influences that the young writers had read in their native language, he added.
Years after D’Agostino’s tragic death, Mazza decided to publish the first book of his work so that it wouldn’t be lost.
The result gives an insightful look into not only the experience of an Italian immigrant in Canada, but also the life of a fascinating man struggling with depression. Immigrant Songs combines his published and unpublished poetry, personal letters, and two short stories that may or may not be chapters of an unfinished novel, said Mazza.
Immigrant Songs dives into his feelings about being torn between two identities: his parents’ Italian identity and his new Canadian one.
“I merely wished my family/ and all Calabria dead a few times/ before reaching for the Valium/ and putting Cohen on the stereo,” D’Agostino writes.
The collection also includes three unpublished poems that Mazza stumbled across while putting the book together.
A short story at the end of the volume, The Feast of St. Joseph, tells the tale of a boy scandalizing his local priest just for the sake of a getting a story to tell his friends. Equal parts vulgar, humourous and insightful, it shows D’Agostino was clearly skilled at writing fiction as well as poetry.
The most personal aspect of Immigrant Songs is without a doubt the author’s personal letters. They track his travels and emotions at the same time.
While Mazza was collecting them, he discovered not a single person had ever thrown away something D’Agostino had sent them. Even 10 years after his death, his friends, wife, and old girlfriend still had his letters saved away; a testament to the uniqueness of D’Agostino’s writing and character.
Immigrant Songs adds a fresh voice to the Canadian cultural mosaic. For a country of immigrants, this should be a given.
“The regret is that we didn’t get more of his writing,” said Mazza.