Joseph Zaccardi on Refusing to Hate

An interview with Joseph Zaccardi, from The Write Stuff series:

Joseph Zaccardi was born in Newark, New Jersey on Labor Day. As a youngster he thought that that holiday was to commemorate his mother’s labor while giving birth to him. He has been drawn to poetry because every poem has multiple meanings and in some ways a poem is like a child’s birth. His fourth collection, A Wolf Stands Alone in Water, was published by CW Books in the fall of 2015.

When people ask what do you do, you tell them…?

I answer with a roster of jobs I worked at that were essential, for me, to deserve to be called a poet: stock boy, soda jerk, butcher, welder, barber, member of a search and rescue team in Vietnam, word nerd aka etymologist.

I would tell them to live. Experiment and experience.

What’s your biggest struggle—work or otherwise?

I can’t seem to stop living in the past. There are things I’m ashamed of saying or doing to others way back when. I need to forgive myself, I need forgiveness, that’s my struggle.

If someone said I want to do what you do, what advice would you have for them?

Take your time. Enjoy every moment of the learning and struggle to create with words. In poetry workshops listen more, talk less.

Do you consider yourself successful? Why?

I do because I survived growing up. As a kid I was very shy, I was bullied. Adults would say of me, “He’s sensitive.”  In St. Mary’s High School I answered taunts in Latin. That worked for a while, being weird can be a shield. My favorite joke was to point from my lip to kids peeing in the boy’s room, and say in Latin, “There’s urine on your lip.” Of course they would touch their lips. Ha Ha!

When you’re sad/grumpy/pissed off, what YouTube video makes you feel better?

Skits about dogs doing funny things: tricks, helping people, or just sleeping. I love dogs.

Do you have a favorite ancestor? What is his/her story?

Well, this is kind of strange, but my paternal grandfather, born in Naples, told me about how his grandfather was hanged for stealing a horse. I think I was about seven years old at the time, and it just seemed romantic and adventuresome to me, something to be proud of.

Who did you admire when you were 10 years old? What did you want to be?

That would be Circus Boy. That’s the title of the ‘50s TV series, about a ten year old boy named Corky who, after his parents were killed in a trapeze accident, was adopted by Joey the Clown. He became the water boy to a baby elephant named Bimbo. I wanted to be him. Still do. Corky was played by Micky Dolenz, who as an adult, was the lead singer in the Monkees, a band and a ‘60s TV sitcom.

Describe your week in the wilderness. It doesn’t have to be ideal.

Since I live in a tree house in Fairfax, CA, for me the wilderness is riding the elevators in the big San Francisco hotels. It’s free! Sleeping in the Embarcadero Plaza. Eating oysters at the ferry terminal.

Would you ever perform a striptease? Describe some of your moves. Feel free to set the mood.

No, I wouldn’t strip or tease. But isn’t striptease a great word, though a bit mean, I mean it’s, look-don’t-touch. 

How much money do you have in your checking account?

I’ll check with my accountant. Alas she’s currently in the Bahamas for an extended stay.

What’s wrong with society today?

In many ways society is better than it’s ever been. Check out, that is read, Carl Sandburg’s Lincoln or the poetry of Catullus, for how bad things were a hundred plus years ago or two thousand year ago. I think most of the angst and hate that does exist today is media and politically driven for profit and self-promotion. Back in early 2016 I decided to say aloud when I first wake up, “I refuse to hate,” and before I close my eyes at bedtime time I say aloud “I refuse to hate.” It helps.

Are you using any medications? If so, which ones?

This is easy: Gin martini: served up, wet, (that is with some dry vermouth) and no garnish or furniture. Which ones? Okay, two gin martinis!

What is your fondest memory?

It was a sleepover with my grandmother, I was probably seven years old, and how we both got the giggles in the bed we shared.

How many times do you fall in love each day?

Every time I see a dog, a weed in flower, a person sharing their smile with me.

What would you like to see happen in your lifetime?

Everybody loving everybody.

What is art? Is it necessary? Why?

Art is a child making a sandcastle, it is baseball, selfies, making something with paint, stone, metal, air, vermillion strings: everything. Why? Because.

When you have sex, what are some of the things you like to do?

Wow, well not what I do but what I think: fooled another one.

What are you working on right now?

I’m working on a book on etymology. The working title is Lady Luck and the Lone Ranger. It is not only about words but also about letters, American idioms, and speech patterns. It’s really funny and I’m having fun writing it. Here’s one little example: the word window comes from the Old Norse meaning “an eye to the wind.” Now isn’t that cool!

What kind of work would you like to do? Or: what kind of writing do you most admire?

I really love woodworking. Alas, I’m terrible at it, everything I’ve made looks like a boy scout made it to get a merit badge.

If there were one thing about the Bay Area that you would change, what would it be?

Lower the rents.

A night on the town: what does that mean to you?

Getting gussied up, a dinner at Gary Dankos (second seating, the restaurant only has two seatings), a walk along the waterfront afterwards, a ride home with the roof off in my Jeep Wrangler, then watch at home the movie, My Favorite Year, for at least the fiftieth time. It stars Peter O’Toole.

What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen?

Well this isn’t really strange, but I was on a ship in the North China sea when we came to an area where the sea was perfectly calm, like a sheet of glass, and looking over the side of the ship there were thousands of water snakes near the surface, and then off the proverbial port bow or was it starboard bow? there was a water sprout, that’s a tornado-like cone of water that seemed to reach the clouds, it was slow moving and  silent.

What can you do with 50 words? 50 dollars?

I can write a sentence of fifty verbs. I can buy a hamburger in NYC.

What are some of your favorite smells?

Gin, cloves, a sea breeze, and that smell in the woods after the first rain of the season.

If you got an all expenses paid life experience of your choice, what would it be?

Boy, this is hard, let me see: I’d love to take a round trip sea voyage to Papua New Guinea. I’m a collector of Papuan art; it’s so mysterious and speaks to me viscerally.

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