Getting to Know Aldo Tambellini, poet and artist

PHOTO CREDIT: WENDY PAYNE

PHOTO CREDIT: WENDY PAYNE

Do you have a writing routine? A favorite time or place to write?

I can’t really say I have an established and predesigned writing routine. As an artist, I respond to my inspirations, my thought and intuition. Often my creativity is triggered by headlines from newspapers or magazines that I see when I scour the news racks, and bookstore shelves. I capture language from overheard conversations, observe the world around me for news, trends and feelings. Anything can power my imagination and sooner rather than later, I jot notes and if possible I find a place where I can sit and write a first draft. Many of my topics deal with global topics, psychological and social issues and, sometimes, my own life experiences. The age of 89 (celebrated on April 29th ) has certainly given me many experiences from which to draw material from, including: a major World War with air raids on my neighborhood, which I miraculously survived; relocation to my birth country where I felt like a stranger; the paranoia and hospitalization of my Mother (a collateral damage of war); the falling apart of my family; my own aging process and the political and power issues that are experienced by the population living in a land of discrimination, inequality, and disenfranchisement.

Beginning in the early 1960’s I became very interested in the Space Era and Space Exploration. It reinforced my belief that we are but a speck in a large Cosmic world. I was painting large cosmic paintings at that time, using circular forms and mostly in black. I knew back then, that with our leaving the Earth we were entering a period of reorientation of the way we look at things and interact with the Universe…nothing for me would ever be the same. I became a member of the Planetary Society and look forward to the advances made in this era.

When I get inspired, I take notes “on location,” then work them into thoughts and poems. I have a place at my table, not always very neat and organized, in my apartment. There, I spend hours writing and re-writing and reading and revising. The writing may occur during the day or at night into the wee hours of the morning. I have no specific schedule and often I let the poem rest, leaving it for some time to then pick it up again to see if it still captures what I had experienced at the time of writing it. When I have a complete creation, I mark that page FINAL and move to having it put on the computer. Back in the 60s and 70s, I used to type the poems directly on an IBM typewriter. I still have many of the poems in their original copies. This typewriter was also used to create many of my visual poems. These, too have survived all these years.

When did you first encounter poetry? How did you discover that you wanted to write poems?

At the age of 10, I was enrolled in the Academia dell’Arte Augusto Passaglia in Lucca, Italy. Among the subjects taught was Italian Classical Literature and it was there, that I was introduced to Dante and his work. Not only were we have to become familiar with the text, even if we were too young to fully understand, but it was expected that we memorize important Cantos. I was exposed to many classical Italian and Greek poets; but none left the impression that Dante did. At that point, however, I felt too intimidated to think that I could write anything similar to Dante or Ariosto or Boccaccio.

Soon after World War II ended, with my mother, I boarded the Marine Carp, a Liberty ship, for the 15 day trip from Genova, Italy to New York. On this long unusual trip I met a young poet from Rome, Gianni Cappelli, who was born in the USA and was going back to reunite with his father living in Chicago. For the first time in my life, I was introduced by Gianni Cappelli to modern poetry. My first experience writing poetry first in Italian then in English, began not too long after, at the age of 17. I was finding my own voice encouraged by what my friend had taught me about poetry.

I settled in the Lower East Side of New York in the late 1950s because the rents were very cheap. Across the street from the storefront where I lived was the meeting place of “UMBRA Poets”. Umbra was the name of the magazine they published to raise the consciousness of people about the racial issues of the time. They had just moved to the Lower East Side, too, from Harlem, Bedford Stuyvesant and the south. These activists were representing and advocating for black culture and identity. The Umbra Poets included: Ishmael Reed, H.N. Pritchard, Calvin Hernton, and Roland Snelling. Later, many of these poets participated in my multi-media performances which I called “Electromedia.” Ishmael Reed is a Pulitzer Prize nominee who wrote the introduction to my collection of poetry, LISTEN.

Because I had the best readers and poets in New York to support and read in my performances, I hardly recited my own poetry at the time, except on the occasion of some poetry readings I held in my sculpture garden. Original recordings of these readings have survived. As a counter-culture activist I wrote, edited and published a newsletter called “The Screw” with its slogan “Artists in an Anonymous Generation Arise.” Written in poetry form, I first published it in 1961. The newsletter was created to raise the social consciousness of the artists. In the newsletter, I voiced my objection to the manipulation I saw in the art establishment which used the artists as a commodity and financial investments rather than cultural workers. It was mostly distributed in “The Club” (on the West Side) frequented by a large art community that held monthly meetings and discussed current art topics.

Tell us a little bit about your new collection.

My new collection is called “LISTEN.” It is to honor the work on one of my favorite poets and activists, Vladimir Mayakovsky. He too, has a book entitled “LISTEN.” I like short, come to the point titles. In 2005, collaborating with Professor Skip Tenczar from University of New Hampshire, I made an anti-war film which included my anti-war poetry. The film was also called “LISTEN.” It was a plea for the world to listen to my words and realize the destruction of the wars we were engaged in and the devastation they caused on the defenseless population. The film went on to win in the experimental category; both at the New England Film Festival and the Syracuse International Film Festival.

It was easy to organize the book. All I had to do is provide the editors what I considered those poems which were representative of my work in different categories which they designated for me. I provided almost 1,000 poems. The Editors (Graydon Miller and Patricio Maya) of Grady Miller Press, describe the long process of selecting the poems in the Afterword. My input was solicited throughout, especially in the final stages when I was able to review the compilation and make recommendations.

The overall themes became the ever important biographical poems; the dear poems to my dead wife, Sarah; the poems that revealed the America I have come to know and of course, the anti-war poems and my socio-political poems. Interestingly enough, the editors chose to include my first poems that I wrote when I arrived in the USA and the latest poems I have written about space and its exploration. I think reading through the book, the reader will truly understand who Aldo Tambellini is, how I developed as an artist and what burns deep inside of me. Knowing that I have never compromised and not changed.

Which writers (living or dead) do you feel have influenced you the most?

My vision has been influenced by my early schooling, which required memorizing parts of Dante’s Inferno. I learned that the immortal writer’s dark, distressing and fatalistic vision mirrored the destruction of my world that I witnessed at the age of 13. I miraculously survived the bombing of my neighborhood in World War II when 21 of my neighbors and friends died, and survived the frightening subsequent Nazi occupation of the countryside where my family had taken refuge.

Some influences from the very early Giuseppe Ungaretti, the 20th-century Italian poet, whose simplicity of form expressed feelings and emotions and whose message is implied rather than specifically stated. Perhaps my greatest literary influence comes from the hard, surrealistic writing of Garcia Lorca, whose portrayal of the difficult and cruel life in New York City paralleled my own experience.

I am, also, impressed by the Italian Futurists, Marinetti in particular, who freed the form of poetry and created wonderful sound poems with his writings. Like Marinetti, I have lately worked on freeing my poetry from its standard text and confinement to a page of a publication. I have reached back to my years creating “electromedia” experiences for the observers and have taken an approach that my poetry can be part of a whole experience for people. I am now using my poetry in form of moving or stagnant projections as part of my new art installations. My poetry is seen on the floor, the walls and even projected in a manner where people’s bodies are enveloped in the writing as they move around the installation. The installation created for my retrospective exhibition at ZKM-in Karlsruhe, Germany had my early circular poems projected on the floor and lines from my poetry integrated in the soundtrack that accompanied the installation. My poetry has finally integrated itself into the life of my installations and has become an integral part of my artistic expression. Likewise I have freed my poetry from the confines of the English language as I have started collaborating with artists/performers around the world.

MORE ABOUT ALDO TAMBELLINI

Aldo Tambellini, a Brazilian/Italian American painter, sculptor, photographer, video artist, film-maker and poet, was born in Syracuse, N.Y. in 1930, taken to Lucca, Italy at the age of 18 months. He was enrolled in art school in Lucca at the age of 10. During WWII, at 13, Aldo miraculously survived the air raid which destroyed his neighborhood. He returned to the United States in ‘46. He was awarded a full Scholarship to study Art at Syracuse University where he earned a BFA in Painting, and awarded a Teaching Fellowship at University of Notre Dame studying under world-renowned sculptor, Ivan Mastrovic, receiving his Masters in Sculpture in 1958.

Aldo has been writing poetry since the age of sixteen. He has performed his poetry with music and video projection, and participated in many radio programs and countless poetry venues. His poems and visual poetry have been exhibited and published in several journals and books. His poetry book Listen has recently been released. He was awarded the “Lifetime Achievement Award” at the Syracuse International Film Festival for his contribution to film and video. His digital film, Listen, won the first prize in Short Film at the Syracuse International Film Festival.  

He received the Keys to the City of Cambridge from Mayor Ken Reeves in recognition of his contribution to the cultural environment of the City and awarded the the Lucchesi Nel Mondo Award by the Italian Government for his positive contribution to the artistic community. Aldo has had exhibitions at the TATE Modern, the James Cohan Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art, the Venice Biannale, and New Zealand’s Len Lye Center. Currently Aldo is at the TATE Modern in London with The Aldo Tambellini Room, which has had over 3 million visitors so far. Aldo’s work is also in the TATE’S permanent collection.  

Learn more about the Aldo Tambellini Art Foundation.