Monday, August 6, 2018

Photo: Maria Gillan at the Calandra Institute

Maria Gillan reading - April 2018, Calandra Institute, NYC

Maria Mazziotti Gillan's most recent books are the poetry and photography collection, Paterson Light and Shadow  and the poetry collection, What Blooms in Winter . Her collection of poems along with some of her paintings is The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets . Maria's official website is

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Two Poems; 'Driving to Kansas City' and 'Driving Into the Dark Sky'

Here are two poems by Maria Mazziotti Gillan about two experiences driving - away from home, to a new home, and driving to leave home behind but ending up back there again.

Driving to Kansas City

When you finished your Ph.D., you got a job in Kansas City
at the University and we drove there. I had never been anywhere
outside of New Jersey, and you hadn’t been
much farther than I.

The moving truck picked up our possessions, and we packed
our car with clothes and books, our children, their toys,
pillows, blankets, and we left. We decided to go the long way
so we drove through the West Virginia mountains where small
chimney cabins smoked and people sat on their porches
and watched us drive by. In the car we sang folk songs
and the children played in the back seat with their Matchbox toys.

When we got to Kansas City it was late, too late to pick up the keys
to the house one of the faculty members had found us to rent,
and the main road was lit up like Christmas or the Fourth of July.
Pickup trucks with shotguns on racks drove up and down
honking their horns and men shouting, their hands letting go
of their crumpled cans of beer. We looked for a motel,
but everyone flashed No Vacancy until one neon arrow flashed
different and we followed it to one of those 1940s versions
of motels, those seedy rows of cabins, where the owner hadn’t shaved
and smelled like beer. He grinned at me through rotten teeth.

He led us to a cabin with two swaybacked double beds and ratty
chenille bedspreads and a carpet that looked like it hadn’t been
vacuumed for three years. We slipped the sleeping children
into one bed and took the other ourselves and you fell asleep
right away, but I sat awake thinking I had to guard you
and our children, afraid the manager would come into the room
and murder us all, though I don’t know what I thought
I could have done to protect us.

Now I love expensive hotels, soft luxurious carpets, thick clean towels
and elegant bathrobes. I buy my clothes at thrift shops, my books
at library book sales, but I want to stay in expensive hotels
with doormen and porters, shiny elevators, solid locks
on the doors, the quiet that money can buy where even if I am
not safe, I believe I am, that no one would ever
harm me in a place so elegant and quiet and perfumed.

Driving into the Dark Sky

Yesterday, when I drove up Route 17 West, the sky,
the mountains, were covered in a blanket so gray
and bleak even I, optimist that I am, can’t fi nd a spot
of joy anywhere, not in the dark lines of the trees,
not in the black belt of the road winding in front of me,
not in the salt splashed on the windshield I have to squint
to see through. The farther I move away from you
the closer you are to me, though I try so hard

to leave you behind. I can’t erase the image
of you sitting in your electric wheelchair in your blue
Family Guy boxers, your rumpled white undershirt,
your legs so devoid of fat I can see every muscle
and tendon, legs that won’t hold you up, though you
keep forgetting you can’t walk anymore.

Your body is a mass of bruises and cuts from all the times
you’ve tried to climb out of your bed, the slap
of you falling and hitting the fl oor; your body is bent
in your chair, your head, too heavy for your shoulders,
leans sideways. I can drive for hours through the Catskills
and never leave you behind. Your eyes now seem
so confused. You struggle to remember what day it is
and insist on searching for me, even though Althea, the woman
who takes care of you, explains I’m not home; still, you insist
on being helped into your chair so you can see for yourself.

Remember that trip we took to Italy, when we walked
together through those ancient cobblestone alleyways?
I could not have imagined a time when you would not
recognize me. I see this disease erasing more and more
of what you were, and looking at you, so bent and beaten,
makes me want to howl with grief. You, who sang to me
while you played your guitar, “Black, Black Is the Color
of My True Love’s Hair,” I wish you would come back

to me the way you were. I am ashamed that I drive faster
and faster to escape the image of you with your lost
frightened eyes, your hands that can no longer hold
a piece of toast or a cookie, your head so bent
it is like an iris with a broken stalk.
I am ashamed at how hard I try
to leave you behind.

These two poems appear in The Silence in an Empty House

Maria Mazziotti Gillan's most recent books are the poetry and photography collection, Paterson Light and Shadow  and the poetry collection, What Blooms in Winter . Her collection of poems along with some of her paintings is The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets . Maria's official website is

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

Unlocking the Word: An Anthology of Found Poetry

Unlocking the Word: An Anthology of Found Poetry  has been published by (Lamar University Literary Press). This 200-page book includes work by 54 contributors from across the country, including three poems by Maria Mazziotti Gillan.

It is the world’s first major anthology of “found poetry” and the poems present a look at how might we use words not originally meant to be a poem and turn those words into a poem. The underlying principle of this book is that a “found poem” works because the poet who discovers it is able to find poetry in ordinary language – even in language that at first seems to struggle against any semblance of the imaginative voice – and thereby discover the aesthetic possibilities of all words no matter where they originally appear.

The sources of “found poems” in this anthology are remarkably varied. They include textbooks, literary and scientific monographs, essays, newspaper and magazine articles, letters, emails, advertisements, speeches, and many other non-creative publications. They all reveal the joy of the discovery of the transformative aesthetic elements in everyday language and show us that poetry resides everywhere around us.

Maria Mazziotti Gillan's most recent books are the poetry and photography collection, Paterson Light and Shadow  and the poetry collection, What Blooms in Winter . Her collection of poems along with some of her paintings is The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets . Maria's official website is

Friday, July 13, 2018

'New Jersey Poem' and Eco-Justice Poetry

Ghost Fishing (University of Georgia Press, 2018) is the first anthology to focus solely on poetry with an eco-justice bent. A culturally diverse collection entering a field where nature poetry anthologies have historically lacked diversity, this book presents a rich terrain of contemporary environmental poetry with roots in many cultural traditions.

Eco-justice poetry is poetry born of deep cultural attachment to the land and poetry born of crisis. Aligned with environmental justice activism and thought, eco-justice poetry defines environment as “the place we work, live, play, and worship.” This is a shift from romantic notions of nature as a pristine wilderness outside ourselves toward recognition of the environment as home: a source of life, health, and livelihood.

Ghost Fishing is arranged by topic at key intersections between social justice and the environment such as exile, migration, and dispossession; war; food production; human relations to the animal world; natural resources and extraction; environmental disaster; and cultural resilience and resistance. This anthology seeks to expand our consciousness about the interrelated nature of our experiences and act as a starting point for conversation about the current state of our environment.

Contributors include Homero Aridjis, Brenda Cárdenas, Natalie Diaz, Camille T. Dungy, Martín Espada, Ross Gay, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Joy Harjo, Brenda Hillman, Linda Hogan, Philip Metres, Naomi Shihab Nye, Tolu Ogunlesi, Wang Ping, Patrick Rosal, Tim Seibles, Danez Smith, Arthur Sze, Eleanor Wilner, and Javier Zamora.


In New Jersey, with one of the highest cancer rates
in the nation, with its brownfields
and chemical dumps, with its rivers that reek
of death and floating sewage, with its air tainted

by the coal-burning plants in Ohio, with its towns
where all the trees are dying, there are
moments still when I can look beyond
the surface of all the ruin we have brought

to the earth, and see again some of the world
I remember, the daisies and Black-eyed Susans
that seeded the vacant lots of my childhood,
the sky crammed full of stars, the air

so clean I would breathe it in and sigh, the snow
that fell in thick flakes that we ate sprinkled
with sugar and coffee after we scooped it
from the ground into cups. If the air and earth

were already destroyed then we didn't know,
licking this fresh-fallen snow off a spoon,
unaware that the world we were given
was not the one we'd pass on.

by Maria Mazziotti Gillan, originally appeared in Ancestor's Song

Maria Mazziotti Gillan's most recent books are the poetry and photography collection, Paterson Light and Shadow  and the poetry collection, What Blooms in Winter . Her collection of poems along with some of her paintings is The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets . Maria's official website is

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Maria Gillan Will Read with Dodge Festival Poets August 21

Maria Gillan will be reading her poetry on Tuesday, August 21st at a special event showcasing a few of the Dodge Festival poets who will be at the 2018 Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.

The event will be held at Military Park, 51 Park Place, Newark, NJ 07102 across from NJPAC.
The reading will in the park by the “Reading Room” at 6:30 p.m. The poets will read until about 7:30 and a open mic up 20-minute community reading will follow with the event ending by 8 p.m.

Maria Mazziotti Gillan's most recent books are the poetry and photography collection, Paterson Light and Shadow  and the poetry collection, What Blooms in Winter . Her collection of poems along with some of her paintings is The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets . Maria's official website is

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Maria Gillan at the 2018 Dodge Poetry Festival

The largest poetry event in North America comes to New Jersey’s largest city when the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival return to Newark from Thursday October 18th through Sunday October 21, 2018. For four days Newark’s vibrant downtown Arts District will be transformed into a poetry village featuring some of our most celebrated, diverse and vibrant poets and spoken word artists.

Maria Mazziotti Gillan will be one of the featured poets this year, and as part of their Ask a Poet series leading up to the Poetry Festival, they spoke with Maria.

What was your experience with poetry in high school? If you wrote poetry as a teenager, who were your influences then and what did you write about?
Because I did not speak English until I went to school, and we spoke only Italian at home, I was gratified in grammar school to hear poetry read aloud by our teachers and I fell in love with it. It was in high school, however, that I was introduced to poets whose work really spoke to me by two amazing teachers, Mr. Weiss and Miss Durban. They made me brave in a way I had never been before, and taught me to shed my shy skin when I read poems aloud in those classrooms at Eastside High School in Paterson, New Jersey. I was so fortunate to have these teachers who introduced me to poets like Amy Lowell, T. S. Eliot, Wordsworth, Yeats and e. e. cummings, poets whose work I still love. My only regret is that I did not write letters to those teachers to thank them for asking me to read poetry out loud in their classrooms, and for teaching me about the music of language. 
What is the role of poetry in today’s world?
As an immigrant child coming from a family with very little money, living in a house where English was not spoken, I was extremely shy and inarticulate. Through poetry, I was able to write down everything I was feeling, all the things I couldn’t express directly to other people in spoken English. Poetry gave me a voice and a way of communicating with the world. I have spent my life dedicated to poetry and its power to change our lives. Recently, I wrote a book on writing, called Writing Poetry to Save Your Life: How to Find the Courage to Tell Your Stories. In that book, I try to give others the courage I learned for myself after much struggling. I think poetry can change the world and make a bridge between people that helps us to understand one another even if we come from various countries, places, and social classes. Poetry gives us the chance to explore what it means to be human. 
Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?
I’ve written a lot of things I was afraid to share. In the beginning, when I first started to write, I was trying to hide behind language and reference to Greek gods, and other things that I thought would erase the fact that I came from a poor, immigrant family. Gradually, I started to move toward putting details of my own life and my own experiences into my poetry, worrying less about proving that I was smart and more about how I was communicating through the poems. For many of my earlier poems, I put a screen between me and the world. I tried to get simpler and more direct in order to build a bridge between me and other people. But often I was afraid to be that vulnerable. Sometimes, I’m afraid of all I reveal in my poems. An example would be the poems I wrote about my husband’s early onset Parkinson’s disease and his 25-year illness. I tried to be honest about the complexities of that situation, and I still find some of those poems difficult to read without crying. They are poems I felt I needed to write, and they illuminate what it was like to live with a debilitating illness for a long period of time. I hope my poetry gives the people who read it the courage to open all the secret compartments in their own lives. 
What are you looking forward to most at this year’s Dodge Poetry Festival?
What I love about the festival is the energy it generates. There is electricity in the air from so many people listening to poems, and listening to poets talk about their work and about what poetry means to them. I find it particularly exciting on the student day, because I love to see the students so engaged with poetry. I think of how much poetry has helped me and how it’s saved me, and maybe there’s a student there who is shy and introverted, and has stories they are afraid to tell. The festival allows a person to find the words to express their feelings.

Meet Maria and many other poets at the festival!

Elizabeth Alexander* | Francisco Aragón | Renée Ashley
Ellen Bass* | Jan Beatty | William Brewer | Jericho Brown
Tina Chang | Cortney Lamar Charleston | Marilyn Chin*
Sandra Cisneros | Henri Cole | Aaron Coleman | Kwame Dawes* William Evans
 | Naomi Extra | Forrest Gander* | Ross Gay
Maria Mazziotti Gillan | Rigoberto González | Linda Gregerson*
Terrance Hayes* | Juan Felipe Herrera | Brenda Hillman*
David Hinton | Nicole Homer | Marie Howe* | Rob Hylton
Joy Ladin | Joseph O. Legaspi | Raymond Luczak | Khaled Mattawa
Peter E. Murphy | Eileen Myles | Marilyn Nelson*
Aimee Nezhukumatathil | Hieu Minh Nguyen | Sharon Olds
Gregory Orr | Alicia Ostriker* | Gregory Pardlo | Kevin Pilkington
Khadijah Queen | Nancy Reddy | Alberto Ríos* | Mary Ruefle
Christine Salvatore | Sapphire | Nicole Sealey | Ntozake Shange
Danez Smith | David St. John* | J.C. Todd | BJ Ward | Rachel Wiley
Jenny Xie | David Young
* Academy of American Poets Chancellor
Full poet list subject to changes and additions

Maria Mazziotti Gillan is a recipient of the 2014 George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature from the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP), the 2011 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award from Poets & Writers, and the 2008 American Book Award for her book, All That Lies Between Us (Guernica Editions).
She is the founder/executive director of the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College in Paterson, NJ, and editor of the Paterson Literary Review. She is also director of the Binghamton Center for Writers and the creative writing program, and professor of English at Binghamton University-SUNY.
Maria has published 23 books including her most recent, the poetry and photography collection, Paterson Light and Shadow, the poetry collection, What Blooms in Winter and her collection of poems along with some of her paintings, The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets . Maria's official website is