London Grip Poetry Review – Aldo Quagliotti

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

Japanese Tosa 
Aldo Quagliotti 
London Poetry Books
ISBN 978-1-911232-25-4
100pp    £12

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
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),

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.

Emma Lee