The Other Shore
Alan Thomas is a professor of English at the University of Toronto.
This collection of mainly prose poems comes, Antonio D’Alfonso tells us, from a notebook kept in 1984 and 1985. The overmastering theme of identity provides the “other shore” of the title, a shore distant from the writer’s cultural place of being. That is the emotional spring from which these short pieces arise, and it is a powerful source.
Antonio D’Alfonso may be described variously as an halo-Canadian or Italo-Quebecois; the terms explain something but they cannot reach the feelings of the immigrant whose parents made the decision which has placed him in an equivocal position, divided between two countries. The inspiration for the prose poems was evidently a series of visits made to Italy, and the dilemma lies in the reversibility of the title: the land of origin becomes the “other shore” and the return creates divided feelings. This is expressed by a friendly Sardinian encountered in a Rome bar who tells D’Alfonso and another Canadian writer, Maria di Michele, “You people are candidates for schizophrenia.” If poetry is the expression of powerful feelings, then tensed, over-wrought feelings are a useful condition, and one of these pieces, “Italia Mea Amore,” possesses the high-pitched declamatory tone we associate with their expression.
But that is actually one of the few poems in the collection. The prose poems are different and may best be read as brief, informal essays, with transitional sentences left out. They suggest an alternative view of poetic writing as observational and reflective, a tussle with language to express in condensed form the complexities of feelings tethered to historical and geographic realities. D’Alfonso may be developing with these prose poems a most congenial medium for the expression of ideas as well as of feelings.