Antonio D’Alfonso is my publisher, the guy behind the words. A tireless champion of poetry. A brat with a trick up his sleeve. Someone who peers out sometimes, but mostly lives in his own world of semiotics, academics, poems. Perhaps someone who works more quietly outside of the limelight making tricks of light out of small purses of money. Making poems out of air.
Antonio D’Alfonso is the passionate founder and publisher of Guernica Editions, a press that has been challenging literary hegemony since 1978. I decided to ask him a few questions before the launch of my first book, a poetry collection called Orioles in the Oranges, published by D’Alfonso himself. I wanted to hear some thoughts from the bad-ass of the lit scene myself.
M: Tell me when your press was founded and describe for me some of your initial experiences launching Guernica in its beginning years.
A: It all began in 1978. But it actually goes back to 1973 when I first published my own poetry book. The idea was simple: let’s publish manuscripts that will never get published elsewhere. In those days, there was no such thing as multiculturalism as a fact. There were a bunch of men and women who did not fit the bilingual apparatus invented by our government. I wanted to help those writers. I am not unilingual. I live on various planes and work with writers from many origins, both from here and from abroad. This is the true face of this country, this is the uniqueness of this country, and it is what this country has to offer the world. To refuse to see this means we are unable to look at our reflection in the mirror.
M: What has been your favourite moment with this project? It could be an impression, a conversation, a reading, epiphany.
A: Every book I did up till 1994 was the outcome of a conversation. If I met someone who had great ideas (forms), I would encourage them to write them down, regardless of the genre. There are turning points in one’s career that are the result of key personalities. One was Marco Fraticelli, the other Fulvio Caccia, later Daniel Sloate, and then Elana Wolff and Julie Roorda, and the group of six that now make up the core of Guernica: Elana Wolff, Julie Roorda, Karen Shenfeld, Tim Quinn, Connie Guzzo Macparland and Michael Mirolla. A publishing house is a school for thought. If one cannot distinguish certain concepts arising from the books published by a press than one should ask himself/herself what good a press is doing to society. Guernica has always fostered writers and stood by them. The list of writers is too long to even attempt a mentioning their names. Unfortunately in our competitive climate, phenomenon such as school of thought and movement appear outdated. Pity. Without a group of writers that work together, read and criticize one another there can be no literature. Literature is not the product of a single name. To keep mentioning the same name over and over again seriously undermines one’s culture. This is why I am very surprised that some people keep winning the same awards over and over again. Does that mean ones these people pass away, the entire culture dies?
M: How has pioneering this project over three decades made you grow as an individual, a poet, a thinker?
A: I am the product of the gathering of minds. There have been good and terrible people I had to deal with, and it took many years to walk out of their webs. The real thinkers, the real men and women that I have worked with, all helped me grow as a person. Guernica began with one series: The Essential Poets series. There are at present nine series in our catalogue. The original Essential Poets Series was the genesis because to be essential means to be able to bring together one’s life with the many spheres of culture. How do we fit in the culture we are part of? A writer who deals with such driving issues is an essential poet. They have all made impressions.
M: What are some of your thoughts about the direction the press is taking now – a beautiful new website, new authors, new enthusiasm?
A: Thanks to Elana Wolff and Julie Roorda, we have been able to invite young minds to push the barriers of what we began in the 1970s. It is not always easy, because writers do not always understand the value of sticking together, working together, thinking together, publishing together. One thinks that we have to follow the in-crowd. There is no fad in literature. What is in today is out tomorrow. As a publisher my job is to encourage young writers to remain focused and not get imprisoned by what is in style today. With its 480 titles and over 900 authors, young people have a lot to learn at Guernica. It is not always easy because the attraction of glitter is often more appealing that the mat of aged gold, yet ideas and forms get passed on and this is what matters. As for the new technology, we owe it all to Tim Quinn. He works the details of presentation after what we all cook in the kitchen.
M: How about some words on the writers that have stuck around, produced many works with Guernica, those who have been there through all of the growing this press has been through?
A: The writers who have stuck around have been able to pursue their literary careers without any problem. Every third year we publish their new works. Many have been fortunate to establish themselves in universities as full professors. Many Guernica writers have been translated in various languages and are studied across the world, even if their works rarely get mentioned in this country. Don’t forget Guernica appears nowhere in any study of the history of Canadian publishing. This sort of silencing is always discouraging, but time fixes everything. I am very proud to say that what has been silenced by the mainstream has come out stronger than ever. You can’t silence something good. Even if some people outside this center try to destroy the press, what is fine will be fine in years to come. The quality was there at the inception, it is there ten, twenty, thirty years later. Guernica has never been a hot press. It has always been viewed as something that stood at the margins. Paradoxally, I always thought Guernica was at the center of things real. Guernica was there at the beginning of pluriculturalism and ethnicity, we were there for the feminist and gay movements, we were there for deconstructionists and semioticians, we were there for translation and for international writers. I look at what has been achieved, with the little money we had to achieve all of this, and it is close to miraculous. The love of literature is everywhere present, and so the love of peoples. And, of course, the love of books is omnipresent. Now is the time for a major change with Guernica. The best is yet to come.
Sue Chenette, Melanie Janisse and Sandy Pool launch their new Guernica Editions books at Bar Italia (582 College Street) today at 2 p.m. (FREE).