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
IQ: Have you really prepared each of these recipes?
NR: Yes, I have and more! Pasta with rose petals is a sure crowd
IQ: How has having lived abroad for twenty years influenced your
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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