Falls under poetry’s spell
For Montreal writer Domenica Martinello, the journey towards publishing her debut poetry collection All Day I Dream About Sirens this April feels like an odyssey. That’s fitting, since her book is filled with popular culture and classic references to mythology – from sirens and mermaids to the Starbucks logo to Disney’s The Little Mermaid to the monsters populating Homer’s The Odyssey. “I wrote the first poems in All Day I Dream About Sirens in 2015, the manuscript was accepted for publication in 2017 and is now seeing the light of day in 2019,” says Martinello. “Writing is a very process-based art form for me, and the gratification is in doing the work itself—though its culmination has already been so rewarding.”
A graduate of the prestigious Iowa Writers’ Workshop (where she earned an MFA and received the Deena Davidson Friedman Prize for Poetry) a finalist for the 2017 Bronwen Wallace Award for Emerging Writers and the winner of carte blanche’s 3Macs Prize, Martinello is keenly aware of how she got to this point.
The 27-year-old credits her parents (her mother is English-Canadian and her father is from Cicciano, Naples) for instilling “kindness and a rigorous work ethic” in her. “As a second generation Italian, I don’t take anything for granted —not the privilege of my education and especially not the generous support of my family. But nothing was handed to me either. Sometimes I do feel imposter syndrome as an artist from a working-class background. But mostly I’m proud, driven and grateful.”
The poems in Martinello’s collection that centre on personal history deftly explore the push/pull between the past and present. In one of several versions of “Refrain on the Rocks” she writes:
how can I reconcile my poverty
poetry of a janitor’s daughter
with an iPhone & a degree
my grandmother cut off all her hair
so it wouldn’t get caught in a factory machine
Martinello’s paternal grandmother Domenica Martiniello, who passed away during the writing of the book, returns to speak directly to her granddaughter in “Unlettered”:
Weren’t all swaddled
My study hall
was a cowshed,
a Bingo hall.
Martinello’s grandmother also laments the loss of the “i” in the younger woman’s last name, which was due to an error on her birth certificate.
“‘Unlettered’ is the most personal poem in the collection,” the author points out. “I wanted to give my grandmother the chance to scold me for my carelessness. Inhabiting her voice felt very intimate, and I gained a sense of closure about the error (which, stubbornly, I retain).” A trip to Rome and Cicciano, Naples to visit family in the summer of 2015 also helped Martinello tell her story.
“One of the biggest surprises while writing this book was discovering more about my Italian heritage. Naples, where my family is from, was founded on siren mythology; it’s permanently embedded in the history and geography of the city. I hope readers will find mystery and pleasure in reimagining some Italian (and specifically Neapolitan) folklore with me.” Martinello is looking forward to a busy spring as she takes All Day I Dream About Sirens to select Canadian and American cities.
“As someone who loves performing, I’m really excited about doing a reading tour to promote the book. I expect to have dates in Montreal, Toronto, New York and Vancouver.” She’s especially eager to return to Toronto, having spent two years there after completing her Bachelor’s degree in English and Creative Writing at Concordia University.
“I absolutely loved living in Toronto, and some of my best friends live there, so I go often.” “It’s really the hub of the publishing industry, and there are always a lot of exciting and diverse things happening on the literary scene. However, with some time away, I can appreciate the
Montreal lifestyle more. We really work to live rather than live to work.”Now that she’s back home, Martinello continues her work with the Quebec Writers’ Federation’s Writers in the Community program, which delivers creative writing workshops to at-risk youth communities in Montreal.
“On a basic level I love teaching and mentorship, but it’s more than that. It’s meaningful work to me and it gives me a sense of purpose. I consider myself a politically engaged person and I often grapple with how I can make more of a difference in the world. Poetry is important, yes, but so is changing and bettering the lived experiences of those around you.”