When Haley Wornette suggested we do a crush on poet Michael Lista, we jumped at the opportunity — a storm of clicks resonated through Parkdale as our heels landed on the ceramic floors of the WORN office. Lista’s first book of poems, Bloom, was released to widespread acclaim, and he is currently working on his second book titled The Scarborough. Lista describes both works as sharing “an interest in the Canadian character, and particularly the allergies of the Canadian imagination. I’m interested in the stories we ignore, or don’t want to remember. Canada’s a new country, but it suffers from an illness associated with the elderly: amnesia. I’m interested in how poetry’s mnemonic qualities can co-mingle with that Canadian amnesia.” Lista assumed his role as Poetry Editor at The Walrus on September 1st, which just so happened to be his birthday — and in Harris tweed blazers, or cuffed white slacks, Michael Lista brings a whole new meaning to the term Birthday Suit.
How does the way you dressed in high school compare to how you dress currently?
I’m sorry to report that I went to a Catholic high school, where I had to wear a uniform. Now that I think about it, the uniform is one of the few things that I actually genuinely enjoyed about the experience. Wearing the uniform — grey slacks, white button-down, tie, navy blazer — has made my default dress pretty dressy. Save the hottest of days, I don’t usually leave the house without a sport coat and tie. I just feel comfortable that way.
How (if at all) does fashion play into being a writer, or even your own poetry?
Poetry and fashion! There’s so much to say. Well of course it’s terribly unfashionable to be a poet. Most poets are terribly unfashionable. Ooh, I’ve got another one: a lot of poems bore — especially poems written by young poets— precisely because they’re trying too hard to be fashionable.
In our culture, do you think there is a stereotypical way individuals expect a poet to dress? How does the way you dress feed into, or counter this aesthetic?
Well the two unimaginative rejoinders are that people either expect poets to be dressed in lice-ridden rags, or severe Elizabethan court regalia. In truth, most of them are dressed like the people around on the 506 College Car. I can get ragged on for how I dress; some people find it old-fashioned or ostentatious. I don’t really give a damn. And now that I think about it, people have said the same thing about my poems, so at least they can’t fault me for being inconsistent. My taste in poems and clothes are similar: I like both to be well-made, beautiful, and a little on the formal side.
What is your favourite poetic school, and your favourite fashion movement? Do you think these coincide or influence each other in any way?
I have soft spots for the Elizabethans, the Metaphysical Poets, a Romantic every now and again (especially John Clare), and the High Modernists. And I love men’s fashion that takes its cues from the Jazz Age. The ’20s and early ’30s were a good time to be dressing well.
Who is your favourite fictional style icon?
I always imagine J. Alfred Prufrock as being sort of weirdly fashionable. “I grow old…I grow old…/ I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.” Throw on some loafers and call yourself a hipster!
What fashion media do you read?
The Sartorialist, but that’s about it.
text by Casie Brown
photography by Samantha Walton