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Joseph Maviglia: Writings and Performance

review by Francesco Loriggio

(Edited for length)


Joseph Maviglia was born in Ottawa and moved to Toronto in the 1980s. An accomplished poet and an equally refined musician, in the last twenty years he has published several books of poetry, three of which – A God Hangs Upside Down, Winter Jazz and freakin’ palomino blue – are of substantial length, and most recently – this year to be exact –  a book of essays, Critics Who Know Jack : Urban Myths, Media and Rock and Roll, on pop music and pop culture. In addition, he has released two CDs, Memory to Steel and Angel in the Rain. He has performed at the Molson Centre, the Harbourfront Centre and the celebrated Hugh’s Room, in Toronto, and at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. He has also presented his music on tour in the US and in Europe. One of his songs from Memory to Steel, “Father, It’s Time”, was included in the compilation entitled The Gathering which received a Juno Award.


Joseph writes the words and the music of the songs he sings and, viceversa. And music has an important role in his poetry.  We see this in the many references to orality in A God Hangs Upside Down or to jazz in Winter Jazz or freakin’ palomino blue and we see it in the colloquial vocabulary and speech rhythms of his early poems, and the many pauses that break the lines of the later poems and impose on them a syncopated, almost improvisational sentence structure. There is something very fundamental, very basic in this. We tend to forget often that the relation between words and music is a very ancient one. That, in effect, poets have since early on in history accompanied their readings with music. This I believe, distinguishes Joseph’s work from almost every other Canadian poet, save Leonard Cohen.


The second aspect I want to underscore has to do with the subject matter of his art. What first attracted me to Maviglia's poetry was the fact that he wrote about working class people and working class situations: indeed in A God Hangs Upside Down the characters he presents us with are often individuals whose tools are those of labour. And even when he focuses on a more general metropolitan landscape, as he does in Winter Jazz or  freakin’palomino blue, it’s by and large not from a white collar perspective but from the perspective of those who are acquainted with or come from blue collar experience.


Some of the most learned allusions to literature in Maviglia's poems are to the Italian writer Cesare Pavese –  the author of Lavorare Stanca, and to the American poets of the Beat Generation of the 1950s and 1960s, who also either came from working class families or sympathized with the working class. And, because the performative side of his career involves the use of instruments, this in some sense links back directly to a sense of craftsmanship as he applies techniques and skills of metaphor and tone throughout. Or, to phrase it differently, in how he approaches a poem, a song, a performance. 


Francesco Loriggio is Professor Emeritus of Italian and Comptemorary Italian Literary Studies, Carleton University, Ottawa, Canada.

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