Some Interview Questions: IQ Nina Romano’s responses: NR

IQ: What was your inspiration for this collection?
NR: My mother, landscapes of foreign and familiar places, people and food.

IQ: Have you really prepared each of these recipes?
NR: Yes, I have and more! Pasta with rose petals is a sure crowd pleaser.

IQ: How has having lived abroad for twenty years influenced your poetry?
NR: I published poetry almost daily for a year or so in the now defunct, Rome Daily American, an English newspaper for ex-patriots living in Rome and I think that early work was for the most part about living in Italy. But apart from that, one could say that everything influenced my poetry during the years I lived abroad: the people I met, the Italian language, and certainly all the places I traveled to in and out of Italy. I was fortunate to live in one of the most fascinating cites in Europe—bella Roma!

IQ: Why don’t Sicilian cooks ever give the exact amounts of ingredients called for in a recipe?
NR: I learned to cook from my Grandma and my mother. I watched them cook, and then I cooked. I think I used to taste things, maybe when I was around eleven years-old of so. But I don’t remember ever having to taste my cooking after that. Sicilians and probably most Italians just give the ingredients in the cooking, the assumption being, I think, that if you know how to cook, you’ll sure know how to season and what amounts to use. In Italy in 1975 I remember a Jewish friend from the Bronx married to an Italian and living in Rome, gave me her recipe for crostata, and the only measurement she gave me was about un’etto, 100 grams, of butter. Everything else was just the ingredients and that’s for baking, when usually most people are very precise. See how Italy influences people? And I never had a bad meal in or out of a restaurant while living there.

IQ: Your mother figures prominently in your collection. Did you come to any realizations about your relationship with her after writing the poems?
NR: She was and is my greatest friend and she’s still with me, every day of my life till the day I die and hopefully if there’s life after death—even then.

IQ: You write a lot about food. Why?
NR: Food is love and communion all in one. It’s sharing a life source that keeps us going, and it also feeds the soul. Italians are very family oriented, and there’s nothing better than sitting around a table sharing well-prepared food, good wine, stories and family history—that’s as good as it gets.

IQ: Some people have confused you, the poet, with the persona of the poems. Which poems are about you?
NR: They probably all have some “elements” of me, but some are definitely not me. But, hey, isn’t that part of the pleasure and fun of reading the poems to try and figure out which may be the author, and which are not?

IQ: The obvious question, do you have fun cooking?
NR: I have cooked for joyous occasions and for sad. I think when I cook—mostly about writing, but other things too. Believe it or not, I don’t spend much time agonizing over what I’m going to do in the kitchen. Once I’ve decided what I’m going to make, I do it. My kitchen and fridge are usually very well stocked. I open the door, peer inside and get an idea. That’s simple. I move fast—one friend calls me a tornado, and I tell her, You should have seen me when I was young. All members of my family are all gourmet eaters—so it’s easy to cook for them. They are willing to try anything, and I love to experiment. My nephew Stefano is the only one in the family who takes after me, and he’s a fabulous chef. When he went away to college I gave him The Joy of Cooking, and some pretty wild other cook books for different occasions: Thai, Chinese, Japanese, Italian. One year I gave him a boxed set to make sushi. He’s a delight to cook with and he mixes it all up—Jamaican, French, you name it.

IQ: Why did you decide to write these poems?
NR: I think of myself as a wordsmith. I love language and I’ve always written poems of sorts even when I was little. I’d write love notes to my mother and father on holy cards and leave them on their night tables. I wrote a poem called “A Typical Teenager is a Teenager Atypical” when I was thirteen— I kept in a wallet for years. Sure wish I had a copy of that one!

IQ: But why these particular poems?
NR: When I was getting an MFA at FIU, and before I had Campbell McGrath for a poetry course, I used to meet him at functions and he’d tease me that eventually I’d have to face taking a course with him. So in his first course I think he tried to pigeonhole me as a fiction writer, but I told him that I believe I have the soul of a poet, and just because I write fiction doesn’t preclude the fact that I’ve always written poetry—unformed perhaps and lacking formal training and tutoring in the art form, but always. I took Campbell for that course and perhaps 5 more. The genesis of these poems was a summer course called: “The First Book.” Some poems stayed, others were tossed. I re-worked all of them—many times. At the time, though, I promised I could give him thirty-five pages and that’s what I did. And the smarty-pants thing I did, which paid off for me big time, was to give him all new work—none he’d seen before. I don’t suffer or cry over poetry the way I do with fiction. If someone critiques a poem I’ve sent them, I just revise it. If they don’t like it, who cares? I’ll revise it or write another. Re-writing poems doesn’t cost me that “pound of flesh in the inkpot” like fiction does—that doesn’t mean I think I’m a great poet either—I just love to write poetry as a means of expression. It actually helps my fiction because poetry has an inner energy—it’s a concise form that incorporates so much: rhythm, metaphor, precise images, concrete verbs, and much more. Thank you, Campbell!

IQ: Are the poems autobiographical?
NR: This question is like the one about the confusion of the persona and the poet. Let’s say that these poems were born of some of my life experiences and others invented.

IQ: How do you write—what is your process?
NR: I used to write long hand in the days of typewriters, and then I’d transfer everything into print. But now, I love to write on a computer. I have files and files and put everything into the computer.

IQ: What kind of files?
NR: I have novels, short stories, several poem files listed under Campbell—all at different stages of development, and files by year such as Poetry 2001, word files, image files, title files, workshop files, blurb files, agent files, you name it files: names of flowers, names of trees, names of people, Chinese, Jewish, Russian, Cowboy files. Name one, I probably have it.

IQ: Do you have a file on boats?
NR: Actually I have a list of possible names of boats.

IQ: Do you have a boat?
NR: We do, and her name is Makaira—don’t know how I came up with it, but it means blue marlin in Latin. The boats we’ve owned are great inspirations for poems, by the way.

IQ: Where do you find inspiration other than the boat?
NR: In the air we breathe. Everything around us is a poem. I love nature.

IQ: Which poets or writers have influenced you?
NR: Campbell, of course, though he writes popular culture and I hope I write lyrical—at least that’s what I’m shooting for. I have dozens of collections on my book shelves, and I like to read poetry before I write fiction—I picked that little technique up from my mentor, fiction writer, John Dufresne. I’m an eclectic poetry reader—whatever or whoever strikes me at the moment: Michelangelo, Lousie Gluck, John Ashbuy, Martha Rhodes, Ellen Bryant Voight, Barbara Hamby, Galway Kinnell, Mary Oliver. I like to read poetry by fiction authors, such as: Michael Ondaatje, Margaret Atwood, and Joyce Carol Oates. I enjoy the poetry of Denise Duhamel, Jim Daniels, Jesse Millner, Guo Liang and Elaine Winer.

IQ: Those are mostly poets, now for fiction writers, who has influenced your work? NR: There are so many. I think everything you read influences your writing in some degree. I love the Russians, most especially Tolstoy, Pasternak, Dostoyevsky; and the Chinese writers: Ha Jin, Yu Hua; and the Indians: Chitra Divakaruni, Amulya Malladi; and the Americans: Steinbeck, Melville, Hemingway, Cormac McCarthy; and The Italians: Di Lampedusa, Primo Levi, Dacia Maraini. The short stories of Alice Munro, Annie Proulx, James Salter, Tim O’Brien, John Dufresne and Lynne Barrett are incredible works of art.

IQ: What are the titles of your favorite novels?
NR: Anna Karenina, Gone With the Wind, Cold Mountain, The Birth of Venus, The True History of the Kelly Gang.

IQ: What will you work on next?
NR: I’m currently writing a novel set in Russia, and revising another set in China. I’ve also started another collection of poetry, which is work-in-progress.

IQ: About the work-in-progress, does it have a title? NR: The working title is Artist’s Portfolio.

IQ: What are you doing differently for this collection?
NR: For one thing, I have in mind a theme and several threads to run through the poems. I’m trying to “gear” anything poetical I write now toward those things. Doesn’t always work, though, sometimes a poem has a mind of its own and just wants to see itself on paper.

IQ: Do you have a favorite poem?
NR: Many favorites, but here are two: “Otherwise” by Jane Kenyon, and “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver. I have my first year English students at St. Thomas University answer the question from Oliver’s poem: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do/With your one wild and precious life?”

IQ: And one of your own poems and why?
NR: “Her Hands” is the poem written for my grandmother and the first one I published but it’s not in this collection. It isn’t often you get paid for poetry, but I think I got paid a dollar for it. Wish I’d kept that buck.


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