Poetry review – JAPANESE TOSA: Emma Lee is intrigued by Aldo Quagliotti’s collection which seems to make a virtue out of the fact that English is not the author’s first language
The title Japanese Tosa refers to a breed of dog; however there are no poems about dogs. Instead this is an eclectic collection whose dominant theme is love. But before it gets to love, it considers writing, in “Lashing out”
If it wasn't for writing should you know that I’d have holes in place of a heart all filled with the terror of a meaningless death I’d have wings traced by the shadow of a sunset that obscures my body at the traffic light and throws my silhouette to the ground
Writing therefore is seen as a means of leaving a legacy, something to be remembered by. It also enables the narrator to feel solid rather than hollow. It gives him life beyond the daily routine, which doesn’t have to be meaningless, but writing seems to give the narrator a reason to look past the everyday and observe things that otherwise would not be worth recording.
Occasionally non-English words intrude, as in “Abruste” (French for rough),
this tremulous patience meets an inner happiness refund I’m happy to be a snapdragon spiraling alone in its abruste world
Snapdragons are flowers with petals that look like a dragon’s mouth and can be pushed together and apart to make a snapping motion. However they don’t make spiralling motions unless the image is that of being blown by the wind in a direction that cannot be controlled.
Aldo Quagliotti is an Italian living in London and he explores this in “A bloody foreigner”,
I am a bloody foreigner and I don't know what I must, what I shall What I shouldn't be doing yet I speak up,speaking of it speak-off-the-cuff caugh, caugh! I speak other languages, all of a sudden I leave my broken English at the mechanic and I fluently switch language così, di punto in bianco, sin saber que estoy diciendo gosto de falar sem regras Je continue, j'avance ardent, sens peure but then I come back and pick my english up it seems to be a little bit better I'm still a foreigner, hands down handing in my hope to Life ending up embracing tight just the fact that I'm alive
This presents his foreignness as a means of expanding his knowledge and enriching his life. Earlier stanzas suggest his poetry is a way of exploring what life means and what he finds in it.
Other poems focus on love, as in “A gente foi” (querido is Spanish for dear),
gosh, you were so beautiful I couldn’t object my childish fascination my well-wishing kissing rolling to your burgeoning querido querido querido your memories complement my happiness
This is so straightforward, direct that it leaves no room for questioning or for readers to interpret. Similarly, “Slap” includes the lines
realizing you’ve poured your love into me again
and “Call me, maybe” (which shares its title with a pop song) declares
I’ll turn back to answer you that I have heart murmurs an intermittence declaring how strongly I miss you
The non-native use of English gives a sense of lacking control, an appropriate match for the dominant subject. Being in love can feel like a loss of control, a stirring mix of sensations. This brings a whimsical flavour to the poems. However, reading the whole collection in one go means that the poems start to merge because their theme, tone and rhythm lacks variety and the whimsy starts to feel like a gimmick. The directness of the language also leaves readers with very little to do – as if the desire to communicate has overwhelmed the poetic.
The back cover blurb suggests the title came about because the Japanese Tosa is a breed of dog no one picks, which suggests a scrawny mongrel that has to work harder to be loved. However, it is actually a rare breed used as a fighting dog, a different image altogether: instead of these being plucky little poems sent out to find a readership, they become tough, bullish pieces that don’t care whether readers like them. However, the former is a better description of the book. Japanese Tosa is a collection of poems that don’t disguise that English is not the author’s first language and are a means of exploring love, of people and life, and recording the results.