Chatting with Brian Pilling
Brian illuminates his prose-poetry style, his latest chapbook release along with his upcoming second, gives advice for young poets, life as grandson to the famous Italian poet Germoglino Saggio, and explains how Benito Mussolini was his grandfather's first editor.
Brian Pilling is an author and poet based in Cape Cod. He has been published in The Main Street Rag, The Berkshire Review, Cutbow Quarterly, Missive Magazine, Contemporary Jo, New Pop Lit, Hidden Peak Press, and other literary journals. Brian has two chapbooks, The Poet’s Struggle and A Substitute Algebra Teacher with a Penchant for Poetry. Brian is a recent winner in The Cape Cod Times poetry contest. His writing is inspired by his grandfather Germoglino Saggio—an immigrant poet of note, whose work is housed at the University of Minnesota.
Brian is also the author of the poem “Calculating Unemployment Benefits” from Radon issue 5.
Much of your poetry, including your Radon poem, seems to fuse prose and poetic elements. Would you consider this style your defining feature, or one you've recently taken up?
I have written poetry with line breaks in the past, however, my "voice" and the messages I hope to convey are most effectively expressed in prose-poetry. It frees me up, allows me to find surprises with each new sentence. My hope for each piece is that it tells a story, is both meaningful and entertaining.
Your latest chapbook, The Poet's Struggle, was just released. Tell us about your experience working with Bottlecap Press?
Craig Mullins at Bottlecap was very attentive to allowing the best version of my poetry and presentation to be realized. It was my first chapbook, and it was and continues to be a learning experience. I admit marketing my work does not come naturally. To have a press willing to spend their time and money to produce my work is humbling.
A Substitute Algebra Teacher with a Penchant for Poetry is set to arrive November 2023 from Main Street Rag Publishing Company. What is your creative aim for this upcoming collection?
The poem titled “math homework” first line: “A new school year for me; a substitute algebra teacher with socialist leanings,” may offer a clue. This collection may be my most autobiographical work. I am always searching to have a conversation with my grandfather and his work. As I translate his poetry, it is uncanny how similar our views of the world are—how we see the same failings in society.
What advice do you have for younger poets who want to publish their work with a publisher?
Always send your best work. That means you have fooled yourself that you are done editing— because editing never ends. There are hundreds of publishers. Do your research. Read work they have published. Read their mission statements—learn about their editors. Follow guidelines. If rejected, submit again and again. Often a rejection only means your work didn’t fit that issue. If the publisher shares your vision and sensibilities eventually your work will find a home with them.
What is the story behind Benito Mussolini being your grandfather's first editor?
My grandfather left Sicily when he was draft age. King Immanuel II declared he wanted to invade Libya. My grandfather rejected colonialism and my grandfather was a socialist. When he first began to be published in Italy, Mussolini was a hero to the socialists after Mussolini led demonstrations against the attack on Libya. Mussolini was sent to prison for five months. When he got out of prison, he became editor of Avanti (Forward), the socialist paper of record. Later, when Mussolini became a fascist, my grandfather wrote scathing works opposing him. This caused Mussolini to put a price on his head if he was ever to return to Sicily.
How did your grandfather's papers and celebrated work come to be housed at the University of Minnesota specifically?
My grandfather was part of a community of immigrant poets. I remember going with him to the New Haven train station to greet fellow poets who would visit him from NYC. They would spend the day in loud conversation. The University of Minnesota has an immigrant studies department. His works were sought out as part of their program. His friend’s works can also be found there.
Tell us about the ceremonies you attended honoring your poet grandfather in Italy 2018?
San Mauro Castelverde is a tiny medieval village in the mountains. The mayor is a fan of my grandfather’s work. The village has produced many poets. A plaque was placed on my grandfather’s birthplace and a permanent exhibit was created at the library. There were readings at town hall where I was asked to speak (thanks to my Sicilian cousin for translating), a ceremony dedicating a plaque on his birth home, an unveiling of a permanent exhibit in the library, the day ending with a musical performance in the Church of San Mauro Abate.
What was your experience with Twitter alternative, Spoutible, or others you may have tried?
For whatever reason, I have found Spoutible difficult. I have settled on Bluesky (@poetsaggio.bsky.social) for now. I like the community that is being created. Unfortunately, Twitter or X, still has the largest number of poets, writers, and publishers by far. It’s all the noise Musk has created that makes it increasingly distasteful to stay.
Have you found success promoting poetry chapbooks online? Do you feel you now know what works or does not work?
Honestly, I haven’t, and I don’t. I have met some great allies in the meantime. The numbers are discouraging, mostly friends, family, and poet’s reading poets. I will keep plugging away. Go to my website searchingforsaggio.com for links. Wink. Wink.
Inform us about your poetic process and how you go about constructing your poems?
I always search for a first sentence that will propel the rest of the poem. It may be rooted in a memory, or triggered by something I am reading, or an odd phrase that sticks with me. Sometimes it presents itself as a question that demands an answer. It’s cliché, but the first and last sentences are everything.
An illustrious poet already, what do you plan to do next in your career?
I have a novella, Another Sizzle-Max Production, out on submittal. It follows an inexperienced filmmaker—an unlikely superhero wearing a Salvation Army bowling shirt as he tries to erase his father’s shameful legacy. I am, in the meantime, working on a second novella—working title: Searching for Sage While Binge Watching the Celebrity Apprentice. The protagonist is a twice divorced (to same woman) mystery writer who tries to rescue their daughter from a cult built on lies.