Capilongo, 45, explores this theme in his third book of poetry, Send. His latest collection includes references to texting, online dating and even technology’s effect on our word choices. While reading Send, it becomes clear that every exchange is a reflection of the ways times have changed. For Capilongo, teaching high school students for 17 years has driven the point home.
As an elementary school student in Toronto, Capilongo loved to write stories and read them aloud in class. He admits that in high school he became shy about sharing his work, but his interest in storytelling continued. By the time he reached York University to study English and history, Capilongo was unmotivated and slightly unsure of his future.
He says, “I wasn’t doing that well. Then I asked myself, ‘why am I studying English and history?’ It’s because of the narrative and the beauty in story.” That’s when he began focusing on creative writing. Still, he says his goal was always to become a teacher. After completing his undergraduate degree at York University, he spent time in Japan teaching English and then went on to study at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education at the University of Toronto.
Today, when he isn’t teaching high school English courses or karate, Capilongo continues to write. The father of two – he and his wife, Lynda, have sons Cole, 14, and Emil, 12 – has now published three books of poetry as well as a book of short fiction. “I think I’m first and foremost a poet,” he says. “There’s a lot more play that you can do with the subject matter and the sounds of each word. You can make an impact quickly.” He likens the role of a poet in society to a photographer, who only uses words to capture moments and share them. “I don’t know if people have the patience or the desire to pay the attention that poetry sometimes needs,” he says, “but there are so many types of poetry; I think the role is still powerful and still needed.”
“I think I’m first and foremost a poet. There’s a lot more play that you can do with
the subject matter and the sounds of each word. You can make an impact quickly”
As the son of Italian immigrants, Capilongo says his family’s culture has always played an important part in his writing. He’s currently working on a novella titled Bastardo, as well as a picture book called I Don’t Want to Kiss Bisnonna.“I think it’s still important to me because it’s my background. It’s like the lens we see everything through.”
After immigrating in 1969 from Sicily and Naples, respectively, his mother and father met and married in Canada. “My early upbringing was their acclimatization to the new country,” says Capilongo, who is part of the Association of Italian-Canadian Writers, as well as the League of Canadian Poets and the Writers’ Union of Canada. “I was growing with them.”
While his writing is never confined to one style or genre, Capilongo believes there’s value in including elements of his Italian-Canadian culture. “If you’re interested in your culture, there are a lot of movies, writing and music that have been produced in our own backyard that deserve attention,” he says, recalling the times in university when he’d seek out books by authors with Italian last names. “It’s good to know what came before.” With every poem or story, Capilongo is contributing to the next chapter.