Di Cicco, Pier Giorgio
Di CICCO, Pier Giorgio
Nationality: Canadian. Born: Arezzo, Italy, 5 July 1949. Immigrated to Canada in 1952. Education: University of Toronto, B.A. 1972,B.Ed. 1973; St. Paul's University, Bachelor of Sacred Theology, 1990; University of Toronto, Master of Divinity, 1990. Career: Bartender, Toronto, 1972–75; founder and poetry editor, Poetry Toronto Newsletter, 1976–77; associate editor, Books in Canada, Toronto, 1976–79; co-editor, 1976–79, and poetry editor, 1980–82, Waves, Richmond Hill, Ontario. Since 1993 ordained Roman Catholic priest and associate pastor of St. Anne's Church, Brampton, Ontario. Contributing editor, Argomenti Canadesi, Rome, and Italia-America, San Francisco. Former editor, Descant, Toronto, and Poetry View. Sessional poetry instructor, Three Schools of Art, Toronto, 1977–78; part-time instructor, Humber College, Toronto, 1981–82, 1984; sessional instructor in creative writing, Columbus Centre, Toronto, 1985. Has also worked as a chemist, detective, and teacher. Brother in the Order of St. Augustine. Awards: Canada Council award, 1974, 1976, 1980; Carleton University Italo-Canadian Literature award, 1979. Address: P.O. Box 839, Station P, Toronto, Ontario M5S 2Z1, Canada.
We Are the Light Turning. Scarborough, Ontario, Missing Link Press, 1975; revised edition, Birmingham, Alabama, Thunder City Press, 1976.
The Sad Facts. Vancouver, Fiddlehead, 1977.
The Circular Dark. Ottawa, Borealis Press, 1977.
Dancing in the House of Cards. Toronto, Three Trees Press, 1977.
A Burning Patience. Ottawa, Borealis Press, 1978.
Dolce-Amaro. Tuscaloosa, Alabama, Papavero Press, 1979.
The Tough Romance. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1979.
A Straw Hat for Everything. Birmingham, Alabama, Angelstone Press, 1981.
Flying Deeper into the Century. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1982.
Dark to Light: Reasons for Humanness: Poems 1976–1979. Vancouver, Intermedia Press, 1983.
Women We Never See Again. Ottawa, Borealis Press, 1984.
Twenty Poems. Guadalajara, Mexico, University of Guadalajara Press, 1985.
Post-Sixties Nocturne. Vancouver, Fiddlehead, 1985.
Virgin Science: Hunting Holistic Paradigms. Toronto, McClelland and Stewart, 1986.
The City of Unhurried Dreams: Poems, 1977–1983. Montreal, Guernica, 1993.
Editor, Roman Candles: An Anthology of 17 Italo-Canadian Poets. Toronto, Hounslow Press, 1978.* * *
The course of Pier Giorgio Di Cicco's career may be imaged as a series of concentric circles. At their center is the smallest circle, representing his earliest work. Later collections fan out, each inscribing a wider arc and covering greater breadth, but each radiating from the same remarkably consistent core of values and artistry.
The earliest poems are mostly love poems, possessed of an imaginative vitality that resembles more the fiction of a García Márquez or a Borges than anything previously found in Canadian poetry. They are often surreal in effect, with exuberant emotion that pushes the contours of their imagery into constantly rippling, metamorphosing shapes, bursting and reshaping themselves with dazzling resourcefulness. This can be seen, for example, in "The Dream of His Head," from Dancing in the House of Cards: "The boat between them, and / the rivers of their bodies flowed into endless night. The light / moon sat on the sill, shaking its hands, telling them / to go back. / They blinked, and in that moment, the rivers turned into / alcoves, where trees were growing like children."
Di Cicco's early poems invite us into a world warmed and softened by the powers of an imagination as intense as the sunlight of his native Italy. Reality becomes transfigured by a kind of seeing that Di Cicco, in "The Reality Pill," insists is not magic: "I do not believe in magic. / I believe the doorsteps / of the city ascend the heaven, where angels / polish them into dust." It is this confidence in the transforming energy of imaginative vision that sustains Di Cicco's extraordinarily prolific output and that enables his poetry to comprehend an increasingly large portion of the world around it. As he writes in "Son of Man," from A Burning Patience, "My imagination is a stone's throw from desire; I hear it / in my sleep, winding its engines, for the barrelling / through the dark corner of things."
Many of Di Cicco's poems from the late 1970s barrel through the dark corners of his own background, focusing on the immigrant experience of his and other families. "America," in The Tough Romance, personifies his newfound continent as "a good whore—nothing to fall in love with," but it sympathizes with her sentimental attachments as "she took / me around like a sweetheart showing off her home town" and winds up respectful of her power to win a permanent place in the hearts of her lovers. Other poems in the volume emphasize the painful isolation of the new immigrant, and they do so in little narratives made bearable only by the affirmations that the imagination wrings from them. "The Man Called Beppino," for instance, paints a poignant image of an impoverished, dying father ("It is this man who sits under his mimosa / by the highway, fifty pounds underweight, with no / hospital"), but it will not leave this picture without insisting that we finally focus on it, as Beppino himself has done, with imaginative vision: "look / there are great white roses in his eyes."
The poems of Flying Deeper into the Century witness the first of two more radical extensions of Di Cicco's purview. They fly deeper into the day-to-day life around the poet, frequently drawing their words and images from newspapers and television and turning a satiric scrutiny on the tendency in the 1970s and 1980s to ignore social and moral issues. Di Cicco's outrage at the pervasive materialism and a lack of moral commitment (both, after all, are threats to the creative spirit of his earlier poetry) often expresses itself in Whitmanesque catalogues. In "Armageddon," for instance, he laments—under the shadow of the imminent mushroom cloud—the pointlessness of "more music, more money, more libraries, huge indestructible libraries / where they will freeze blades of grass for Martians." Or turning to social mores, "Relationships" casts a cold eye on how "convenience" has blurred important distinctions by veiling them under a buzzword: "the / strong relationship, the superficial relationship, / the relationship between two people, an honest / relationship, the mature relationship, the dead / relationship." Sometimes this technique can be very powerful, but occasionally it blunts the cutting edge of the poems by embodying the imprecision it seeks to oppose, as at the end of "Failsafe: The Movie": "Almost as if we don't have / to go through it again. Almost as if films / could tell us something. Almost as if art / weren't the worst kind of lie." Language and cadence are certainly colloquial, but memorable poems usually avoid speaking like this.
Di Cicco's poetic footing is usually surer when he turns to the experience of love that, like his recurrent references to roses, forms the solid, affirmative core of every one of his collections. With its movingly plain diction and its sudden expanded vistas, the conclusion of "The Express Sunlight," from Women We Never See Again, typifies such strengths: "the irreparable itch begins. I want to sing. You haven't ears / enough, I haven't voice enough, but between us the earth gapes, / and that slender-footed desire comes up. It is an angel, and it goes / by the name of any day of the week."
The second and more significant extension of Di Cicco's poetic vision occurs in the poems of Virgin Science: Hunting Holistic Paradigms, in which his art reaches out to the theories of postclassical physics. The spirit of joy that infuses the volume stems from Di Cicco's recognition that "physics has become meta-poetry" ("Towards a Transforms Glossary"). A Blakean type of poetic vision, in which matter is animated and the perceiver of it helps define it in the process of perception, had always been accepted on faith as the center of Di Cicco's poetic credo. He now finds that the world his poems have been reaching toward is in fact the reality of modern, post-Cartesian science. Matter only "appears solid because electrons / rotate at 600 miles per second" ("Searching the Light Cone"), and as the prose poem at the beginning of "A Holographic Theory of Consciousness" puts it, "Material objects are the result of two or more intersecting waves married into three-dimensional forms by the act of consciousness." It is a marriage that his entire oeuvre has brought to consummation.