Santo Cazzati hit Brisbane last month for two gigs and left behind a trail of whirling words and smiling faces. Both gigs left people wanting more and lucky for us, Santo will be heading back in August to give us all another blast of his unique spoken word style. I asked Santo to tell me about where his poems begin, the importance of the the spoken word, song lyrics and the words he lives by. Here’s what he had to say …
How does a poem begin for you – an idea, an image, a phrase?
Absolutely never an image or a phrase. Always an idea. I could be going through a bottle of wine when “the idea” comes to me. The idea could be any or all of the following : a piece of music has a striking formal structure and I would like to translate that into poetic terms; I would like to respond to a political impulse but with a poem that is not too obviously “political”; I have been through some kind of intense or emotional personal experience which needs to find some equivalent or “sublimation” (Kant? Freud? Adorno?!) in aesthetic form.
You have chosen not to publish your work in the traditional print format. So just why do the words of Santo Cazzati belong exclusively in our ears?
Well, I used to try to publish. Got published half a dozen times out of about 500 form letter rejections. Now I know people will say that’s a decent success rate. But the real gratification came when I performed my work out loud. The reaction from listeners was immediate – every time I opened my mouth to perform. If you count all the open mic I do as well as gigs, I am opening my mouth in front of people about four or five times a week. My soul can live off that a lot more than the aforementioned 500 rejections. Besides, a vital component of my work is the use of very precise speech rhythms and intonation patterns. They cannot be notated on the page except in a very cumbersome way which would not be at all reader friendly. The record of the event for me is the CD, not the book. Books are better for novels, literary criticism and cultural theory.
It is often argued by critics that song lyrics are not poetry because the lyric is only fully realised when performed. Do you feel the same way about your work?
Oooohh these “critics” who so pathologically must define what poetry is or isn’t! What insecurities are lurking behind their endeavours? I’m pretty much an adherent of “reception theory”. It’s a “readerly culture”, to use the term that was fashionable in French cultural theory of the 1980s. If we want to read certain song lyrics as “poetry”, even “high art”, why not? They may not have been intended as such by their writers but they may have characteristics that lend themselves to being regarded in this way. As for me, I have very little control over how my performances are “received” or “read”. Fifty people in a room listening to me will undoubtedly receive in vastly different ways depending on their prior experiences, that day or over the previous ten years. But I love to explore those commonalities that make the live performance something where the overwhelming majority of the audience has tuned in to what we do as performers. That kind of sharing can give us the feeling – the illusion? – that we aren’t really individual fragments of the social whole.
Who are your artistic beacons and how have they shaped your work?
Mostly they are musical. I am highly influenced by detailed theoretical analysis of music. In addition to that, I am aesthetically and emotionally overwhelmed by music which has breathtaking structural originality and refinement. There are too many examples of this to list here but my greatest musical influences of the last ten years or so are : New York soulful house, nu jazz breakbeat, and salsa and related styles. As for actual writing with words, the shining beacon is James Joyce’s Ulysses. You can hear the musical elements in my use of rhythm and pitch. As for Joyce – oh well, many of us have tried to imitate him, I suppose; my efforts are directed towards his distortions of grammar and mentally fast-paced stream of consciousness.
What are the words you live by?
Words that sound good when they come out of the mouth. Words that seem to communicate something even when we are not really listening to them or trying to understand their meaning. Words whose “meaning” IS their sound. I don’t just feel this in the formal “performance” situation. Sometimes I find myself in conversations where people seem to be saying things to each other unwittingly and unconsciously. Why did we say that? Why did we talk about that? Why did we choose that peculiar word instead of this one?
Santo Cazzati is a spoken word artist. The son of
Italian immigrants to Australia, he emerged from past
lives as a classical concert pianist and avant garde
jazz musician to teach at an elite Melbourne private
school which must remain anonymous in order to protect
those concerned. He performs in a range of styles,
from fast rhythmical delivery to slow atmospheric
meditation, often with a strong world music influence
and critical ironic distance.
Catch Santo at QPF 2009:
Saturday August 22 – 2:45pm – 3:45pm
Merging into Volcanic: featuring Santo Cazzati & Burn Collective
Saturday August 22 – 8:00pm
A Million Bright Things: featuring a short set from every bright thing on the 2009 program plus a feature set from the awesome Neil Murray
Sunday August 23 – 11:00am – 12:00pm
Choreography of Chance: featuring Santo Cazzati, Maurice McNamara & Rhys Rodgers
All sessions are held at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts, Brunswick St. Fortitude Valley.
For full program details head to www.queenslandpoetryfestival.com