We had the good fortune of connecting with Alessandro Carrera and we’ve shared our conversation below.

Hi Alessandro, what led you to pursuing a creative path professionally?
I never decided to become a poet. It just happened that I was eight years old and I had a dream. I dreamed that there was a new girl at school that could sing very well (that was probably related to the birth of my sister), she would put me off my pedestal, and I had to find a way to stay on top. In the dream, I thought of writing a poem. I woke up with the entire poem in my mind. I wrote it down, I mailed it to the Italian edition of the weekly Mickey Mouse comics (at that time, 1962, they would publish poems written by children), and it was published. They added a note saying that I certainly was to become a writer, and that was it, thanks to Mickey Mouse. I have never stopped writing since then. Poems, fiction, essays, and of course a lot of scholarly books and articles, because I am a professor of Italian Studies and World Cultures and Literatures at the University of Houston, but I am never too professorial in what I write, I always try to give a poetic or narrative twist to my scholarly output. Most of my work is in Italian, my native language, but I have written many poems in English as well, I had few short stories translated here and there, and my book on Federico Fellini (Fellini’s Eternal Rome, Bloomsbury 2019) is a scholarly book, but I tell of my only encounter with the Maestro, in 1980, in the form of a short story. I have written a book on the Rothko Chapel in Houston (Il colore del buio, 2019 – the title translates as “The Color of Dark”) that reads both as an essay and the story of a personal encounter with an art masterpiece. Art is the latest addition to my field. Currently, I am working on the Italian edition of Andy Warhol’s diaries. 

Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
The only thing that stands up to my passion for writing is music. I really wanted to study music, as a boy I dreamed to become an orchestra conductor, but my family could not afford to send me to music school. I had to find my way. I lowered my ambitions and I learned to play fingerpicking guitar by myself. I paid my way through college performing as a folksinger and singer-songwriter in Italy and Germany between 1975 and 1982. I stopped touring, but I never abandoned music. A recent book that I have published, Songs of Purgatory (Gradiva Publications, 2020) is a collection of poems and songs (the English rhymed translation is by Ron D. Banerjee, and Indian poet who studied in Italy and taught for many years at Smith College). I have recorded the songs between 2016 and 2019 and they can be streamed at https://www.gradivapublications.com/latest-news. Few years ago, I wasn’t too forthcoming about my songs, I kept them in my drawer, so to speak, or better in my files. But I am also a Bob Dylan scholar. My book on Bob Dylan (La voce di Bob Dylan, which translates as “Bob Dylan’s Voice”) came out in Italy in 2001, was reprinted in an expanded edition in 2011, and will have a third and even larger edition in 2021. I was keynote speaker at the first academic conference on Bob Dylan held at the University of Minnesota in 2007 and a new bilingual book called Bob Dylan and the Arts that I co-edited will be out soon, published in Rome. I translated all the songs and prose of Bob Dylan for Feltrinelli, a major Italian publisher. After Bob Dylan won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2016 there was no reason for me to hide that I was still writing songs, and I decided to publish a selection of them. Some songs are personal, some are topical, some are both. The most recent poem/song I wrote is called Breath and it addresses both the pandemic and the killing of George Floyd (the connection with “breathing” is obvious). I haven’t recorded the music yet; the lyrics however have circulated. They have appeared in an Italian literary blog with a large following (https://www.doppiozero.com). The people running the blog tell me that the poem, which I placed at the end of the article, had thousands of viewers. I am glad that the poem appeared in the blog together with an English translation, which I did with the help of Amanda Pascali, a former student of mine at the U of H, a young and talented folksinger and singer-songwriter from Houston. Here it is, in English and Italian (you miss the rhymes in English, but hopefully the gist of the song is there). 


It’s not the end of the world, the world is not at its end, 
It’s just a fever, it’s a corona of thorns. 
It’s not the end of anything, it’s a matter of breath, 
Perhaps we have too much of it, perhaps we have wasted it.  

Breath that fogs up your glasses, breath that lingers in your nose, 
Breath that retreats into your throat, breath you take for granted. 
Breath that blows on Adam, breath of the last breath, 
Breath overdue, like an expired ticket.  


He says he can’t breathe, with a knee on his neck, 
They say he had it coming, because of a forged bill. 
Follow us, don’t even breathe, it’s just a regular check, 
Eight minutes and forty, with a knee on his neck.  

It’s not the end of the world, the world is not at its end, 
Check your temperature again, take your medicine. 
There’s so much breath, yet so little of it, 
You can save it or scream; listen closely, there’s an echo in here.  

Breath of mad people, people who fan the flames, 
Breath of careless people, people who mistake all of this for a joke.
Breath that flows in a spiral when you say Mass, 
Breath, which is exact science, like a cash register.  


The court has adjourned, haven’t you heard the gavel? 
They have rejected the complaint; they have denied the appeal. 
We never saw each other, three times at the rooster’s crow, 
Eight minutes and forty, with a knee on his neck.  

It looks like God’s scourge, it looks like a curse, 
It’s just a matter of breath, it’s just an excess of pressure. 
Please, don’t change the subject, please don’t play with me, 
It’s just a matter of breath, it’s the other half of the wind.  


Non è la fine del mondo, non è del mondo la fine,
è qualche linea di febbre, è una corona di spine. 
Non è la fine di niente, è una questione di fiato, 
forse ne abbiamo fin troppo, forse l’abbiamo sprecato.  

Fiato che appanni gli occhiali, fiato che resti nel naso,
fiato che torni giù in gola, fiato che non ci fai caso. 
Fiato che soffi su Adamo, fiato dell’ultimo fiato, 
fiato che va restituito, come un biglietto scaduto.  

Dice che gli manca il fiato, con un ginocchio sul collo, 
dicono se l’è cercata, per un biglietto fasullo. 
Ci segua senza fiatare, solo un normale controllo, 
otto minuti e quaranta, con un ginocchio sul collo.  

Non è la fine del mondo, non è del mondo la fine, 
provati ancora la febbre, prendi le tue medicine. 
Fiato ce n’è così tanto, fiato ce n’è così poco, 
puoi risparmiarlo o gridare, senti che c’è pure l’eco.  

Fiato di gente rabbiosa, gente che soffia sul fuoco, 
fiato di gente distratta, che prende tutto per gioco. 
Fiato che sali a spirale, quando si dice la messa, 
fiato che sei scienza esatta, come un registro di cassa.  

La corte si è ritirata, non hai sentito il martello? 
Hanno respinto il reclamo, hanno negato l’appello. 
Noi non ci siamo mai visti, tre volte al canto del gallo, 
otto minuti e quaranta, con un ginocchio sul collo.  

Sembra un castigo di Dio, sembra una maledizione, 
è una questione di fiato, è un’eccessiva pressione. 
No, non cambiare discorso, no, non mi prendere in giro, 
è una questione di fiato, è la metà di un respiro.  

Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc.
The Rothko Chapel and the Menil Collection come first. Then the Museum of Fine Arts (I have introduced many Italian movies in the Museum’s auditorium), the sculpture garden outside and the other small museums in the vicinity, but I really like the Quaker meeting house at 1318 West 26th Street in the Heights area because of the opening of the ceiling designed by James Turrell that you can see twice a month and it is almost an out-of-body experience. If friends come visiting me who are interested in architecture, I have all the Philip Johnson buildings to show them, from the Williams Tower (I still remember when it was the Transco Tower) to the College of Architecture at the UH, with those outrageous Greek columns on top of the Romanesque roof. For a trip outside the city, I would take them to the Brazos Bend State Park for a close encounter with alligators. There are so many places to go eating that now I can think of only one. My friends from Italy love, absolutely love Luling City Market on 4726 Richmond Avenue, a small bbq hangout that makes them feel they are in a Sam Peckinpah movie full of tough truck drivers while it is actually a rustic but nice and cozy place.

Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
I have many people to thank, a thousand books and their authors, a thousand musicians and their music, a thousand filmmakers and their films, a thousand artists and their work. Let’s start from the beginning: my parents first, their only goal was that my sister and I could get the education that they could not have. And then my old friends who are still close to me since we were teenagers, my wife Victoria who is a remarkable poet as well, many people I met along the way, the University of Houston, the colleagues in my Department of Modern and Classical Languages, and colleagues in other departments as well. How can I name all the books that have influenced me? I am a voracious reader and the list could be very long. I will mention only the authors that have impressed me when as a teenager you are most impressionable: Thomas Mann, Franz Kafka, Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg, Italian poet Andrea Zanzotto and novelist Carlo Emilio Gadda. But the list should include British and American science fiction and fantasy. I am still a fan.

Website: https://www.uh.edu/class/mcl/faculty/carrera_a/
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhYDklK-fzs
Other: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alessandro_Carrera https://it.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alessandro_Carrera

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