An Interview with Rosemary
Rosemary Cappello appreciates a wide array of artistic forms and wears a great many hats. She is a poet, editor, publisher, visual artist, reviewer, and musician.
Cappello began writing poetry as a result of correspondence. She describes writing a letter to a friend who responded, “You know this is a poem.” Nudges like this led Cappello to take what she calls “extractions” from letters and rework them into poems. Cappello generally writes in a narrative style and her prose poems are often the result of her letter extractions. Early in her poetry career Cappello had a penchant for brevity. She has written Imagist and haiku style poems as well as ekphrastic poems.
When asked if her poetic voice or style has changed over time, Cappello explains she “always wrote in different styles.” She elaborates, “It’s hard for me to judge myself […] Love is the big thing in my writing. […] I’ve also written a lot of just plain love poetry.” At some point Cappello decided, “I think I have to accept the fact I’m a love poet.” She continues, “I think everything [in writing] is about love to some extent.”
Cappello says another reason she began writing was to “bridge the gaps that exist between people.” She describes the act of writing as a “drive, a creative urge.” That being said, she is not all about forcing herself into a strict daily writing regimen. Rather, she explains, I “wait for the spirit to move me […] the moment when I know something is about to emerge.” For Cappello it is “the act of writing that is the most fulfilling” aspect of the writing process. Notably she “feels healthiest” when she has just written a poem.
In the following statements Cappello addresses the contemporary poet’s struggle with sentimentality and nostalgia:
“I know that we can’t use the word sentimentality anymore. […] I’ve been asking myself lately is sentimental bad? What’s wrong with it? Well there’s sentimental and then there’s sentimental—where it goes over the edge. And we all know that. People look down on nostalgia also, but […] everything reminds you of something else. Everything I do in the kitchen reminds me of my mother; I feel like my mother is always in the kitchen with me. […] Everything really has a touch of nostalgia in it.”
Cappello sees “poetry as music.” But moreover:
“Poetry is supposed to be its own music—it has its own sound. It doesn’t need music. A lyric for a song is a totally different thing—Poetry should be music unto itself. I learned about that from Edgar Allan Poe.” She goes on to explain how, “At first I wanted to sound like him [Poe] and I had to develop my own voice.” Cappello also cites Robert Browning and W.H. Auden as influences. Her father, John Petracca, was her earliest and most lasting influence.
Cappello grew up in a household where music was always playing. “We were six children, and several took music lessons.” […] “We used to listen to the Metropolitan opera every Saturday,” says Cappello. At family gatherings it was well known her father would let everyone socialize for a bit and then say, “Okay, time for music, and out would come the mandolin and the guitar.” As a result, music “wends” its way into Cappello’s poetry. But not only her poetry. Listening to Debussy, Rachmaninoff, or Verdi, also informs Cappello’s visual art. She explains, music “guide[s] my paintbrush.” “I paint energy,” Cappello adds. And she repeats this with emphasis on healing properties with regards to a series of paintings she made after her daughter Mary was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Horticulture also frequently finds a home in Cappello’s poetry. Her plants climb their way into poems much the same way family and friends make appearances.
Cappello is the editor of Philadelphia Poets, a journal of poetry that is published annually. Listening to Cappello speak about the journal you can tell a great deal of soul goes into each issue’s construction, from selection of the best poems to choosing appropriate cover art. She speaks of Philadelphia Poets as a kind of family, which makes sense when Cappello explains that her readers feel much the same way. She says that if a regular poet does not appear in one of the issues there’s a good chance someone else will ask questions. This is not to say that Cappello is not discerning in her selections, simply that she has developed a close following of strong poets who are dedicated and aim for inclusion in each issue.
Philadelphia Poets, Cappello explains, was originally published to fill a void. “One night in 1980, after a sparsely attended poetry reading, a few stayed behind.” They questioned the lack of opportunities devoted to publishing poets. Cappello heard the call and took action.
Below, Cappello further explains the origins of Philadelphia Poets:
“I believe in the philosophy of the founders of our city, very much in line with the thinking of the Italian Renaissance poets who were humanists” […] “It’s that humanitarian feeling that I wanted to have by calling it Philadelphia Poets.” “Everything was the New York Poets were best and that they [program coordinators] would bring them here” and people were impressed by this “New York style of writing” and I just got to thinking, we are Philadelphians, we have the Philadelphia style of writing, and it’s no better, no worse, and why should New York be always singled out—so I decided I wanted to put Philadelphia on the map as a place of poetry—it was not just any other city or any other state, it was its own style of poetry as well” [...] “But by the same token I never wanted to exclude anybody, so people from everywhere have been published in Philadelphia Poets.”
For those interested in submitting to Philadelphia Poets, Cappello says the only real criteria is “good poetry” with a brief addendum that she does not “favor rhyming poetry.” That being said, Cappello believes those skilled at writing in form “can get away with it.” But fair warning, Cappello states, “As an editor if I’m bored after the first five lines—forget it.”
Why continue Philadelphia Poets as a print publication? Cappello has a host of reasons:
“The idea of holding it in your hand.”
The idea of it “being there.”
“I like the look of the printed page. I like the feel of the printed page. Even when it comes to the artwork, I’d like to look at the art, shall we say, in person.”
“It’s in the tradition of the Small Press.”
For more information about Rosemary Cappello visit her website: http://home.comcast.net/~redrose108/site/
Cappello is the author of numerous poetry collections including:
San Paride – 2006
(San Paride is the patron saint of Cappello’s Father’s town, Teano, Italy)
In the Gazebo – 2002
(A response to 9/11, presented at Robin’s Book Store)
The Sid Poems – 1998
Poetry at Manayunk – 1992
At the Caribou – 1990
Travels through the USSR – 1987
(Presented at the Fishtown Library)
Many People/Many Moods – August, 1979
(Presented at Walt Whitman International Poetry Center)
Waiting – J & A Publications, Peoria, AZ 1977
The Habit of Wishing – Goldermood Press, Pasco, Washington 1977
(with poets Ann Menebroker and Joan Jobe Smith)
By Mark Danowsky