Getting to Know the Poet of sfumato
David Stones is an award-winning poet, performer, retired CEO, home chef and guitar enthusiast with more than 300 poems now in print both in Canada and internationally. He transformed his first collection of poetry, Infinite Sequels, into a celebrated one-man show of the same name (“brilliant and beautiful theatre”- London Free Press). With poems applauded for their rich imagery, textured language and ready accessibility, David performs frequently as a feature poet throughout southern Ontario. Sfumato is his second major poetry collection, featuring more than 90 new and selected poems. Join us as we chat with David about writing and his poetry collection sfumato.
Where and how did you start to write poetry?
Newly arrived from England in the 1950s, I won a writing contest in grade four. I was awarded a nickel for my efforts, with which I promptly purchased 15 blackball candies. I thought this was the greatest thing, getting paid to use my imagination. My first poems began trickling out on scraps of paper in grade six or so. By high school I’d gone totally nerdy. The beat poets of Greenwich and San Francisco were afoot, and if a garment wasn’t black I wouldn’t wear it. I was quite a regular contributor to the high school newsletter and year books. Then with university and my rather eventful business life to follow, I was mostly silent as a poet. I fired the engines up again when I retired in 2012 and since then have over 300 poems in print…..And I still get paid in nickels.
Your poems cover a lot of territory. Are there broad themes that you explore in your work?
I like to say that I’m drawn to what I call the “three Ls of Life”: love, longing and loss. I write about the necessity and human imperative to love and treasure what we have; the sense of longing and desire to obtain, restore and command that which is absent; and the complex weight of loss, the intricacies of the human tear. Those three Ls pretty well sum up the puzzling fabric of the human experience.
Where does your inspiration come from for your poems? What touches a poem off in your brain?
Well first, I’m not so sure it’s my brain that gets triggered. It’s a zone somewhere between my heart and my mind. I can become overcome with poem, weepy with words, at the oddest of times. Writers, artists observe and interpret the world around them. Poets in particular are literary water spiders, flitting from observation to observation. And like so many poets, I carry a notebook with me at all times, although the “Notes” app on my mobile also serves as an instant canvas, currently housing some 500 titles, first lines and turns of phrase.
You’re known as a prolific performer of your work, with a one-man show to your credit. How important is the physical and verbal performance of a poem to the written poem on the page?
For me, my poems exist both as page poetry and performance pieces. It’s like a hand and a glove. In fact, a litmus test for me for any poem is “how does it sound,” does it work as spoken word, can it ride on the tongue as easily as the page? I use verbal performance of each piece to refine and mould the language, flow, cadence and metre of the poem. I record my poems, recite them into mirrors. Another great thing about a well performed poem is that it draws people into the art form who otherwise might disregard, even abhor poetry. An emotive, animated rendition of a well-written poetic piece can move the heart and mind of even the most passionate poetry despiser.
What poets and writers have served as your greatest influencers?
Well, for sure the great poets who performed their work so wonderfully, most notably Leonard Cohen, Irving Layton and Dylan Thomas. Rod Mckuen, though not celebrated as a poet, was a master at performing and choreographing his work, which vaulted him into the ranks of one of the best selling American poets of all time. Sylvia Plath, Emily Dickinson and Margaret Atwood have also had quite an impact, as have American contemporaries Billy Collins and Mark Strand.
And lastly, tell us a little about sfumato. What’s the meaning of the title and how is it reflected in the collection?
Sfumato, which basically translates as “smoke like,” refers to the painting technique invented by Leonardo da Vinci to capture the subtle interplay of light and shadow in the artistic portrayal of human flesh. His great masterpieces, including the beautiful, contoured dunes of The Mona Lisa’s cheeks, exemplify the technique quite wonderfully. I like to think the 90 or so poems in my new collection are like a literary sfumato of metaphor and image that blend together into a rich and entertaining exploration of those big three Ls I referenced earlier. The poems are divided into four segments that roughly define the four basic layers of paint that da Vinci used to create his sfumato effect: white lead bed; opacity of earth; laying down shadow; and varnish for our sins. Readers will also be delighted to see several depictions of da Vince’s masterpieces and a number of his sketches between the sfumato covers. Blue Moon Publishers and graphics guru, Jamie Arts, have been great partners in producing a beautiful and unique book of poetry. As a team, we’re all looking forward to its official release on April 6th.