Vinnie DiSanto aged eight from the Bronx
visiting a farm for an uncle’s funeral
heard clouds bleat distinctly
fields strut then crow yellow
corn at the dawn saw goats
mow grass while backfiring badly
from their twostroke tails and skunks mace
every old lady in sight
for stealing their huckleberries discovered geese
clashed gears when anyone tried
to think tractors gambolled and noon
fought fields then buried their dead
coyotes cries pickpocketed
his dreams each night until he was glad
to get safely home again and sit
in the comfort of his favourite burnedout car
a yellow rain drumming on its crusted
roof the way rain should
Questions and Answers
What inspired “Vinnie”?
For me, poetry is, at its core, a way of drawing closer to other people and ways of life, of empathizing and sympathizing, of understanding others better. One of the main social changes in our times is that more and more people (in many countries, the vast majority) are living in vaster and vaster cities. People living in rural areas, on visits to the cities, now sometimes can’t make heads or tails of what’s going on there. And city-people, if they go into the countryside at all, are often flummoxed by it. What’s this experience of being flummoxed like? Can poetry help us understand it, and so help us bridge the city/countryside gulf opening up in our cultures?
What poetic techniques did you use in “Vinnie”?
A main technique I use in this poem is called “synesthesia.” It’s sometimes also called “sense-transference” or “sense-analogy.” This is a way of capturing the experience of having sensations from two modes of perception simultaneously, interfused with each another. Synesthesia is a part of everyday perception for many of us; though we overlook this if we mechanically accept, as a kind of dogma, that we have five entirely distinct senses: sight, smell, touch, hearing and taste. For instance, some people hear musical notes as having colours; and, for some, smells can have a sound (“that’s a noisome stench!”).
Synesthesia can enrich our experience. But, sometimes, it can be an expression of our confusion. The latter is the case for Vinnie, though his confusion is intended to have a humourous and imaginative aspect for the reader. Being unfamiliar with sheep and goats, he hears their bleating, in the open fields, in and through seeing clouds in the sky. He hears the cockerel’s crowing at dawn as coming from the yellow corn he sees, a sound he attributes to the colour itself.
One way of exploring sense-analogy in your own writing is to try what I call the “palimsest technique.” A palimsest (big word for our vocabularies!) is a parchment, tablet or piece of paper which has been written on two or three times, with later writing going on top of earlier writing, and some rubbing out of the earlier writing. Imagine yourself as writing in this way. Then two halves of separate sentences can join up, one being overlaid on the other. From “His voice was deafening” and “Her dress was blue” you can get “His voice was blue” and “Her dress was deafening.” An interesting technique, yes?