Thursday, July 13, 2017

'Paterson Light and Shadow' Reviewed on Poetry Spoken Here

Poetry Spoken Here is a podcast that posts new episodes on the 1st & 3rd Fridays of the month.

On the July 7, 2017 program, the host, Charlie Rossiter, reviews Paterson Light and Shadow, the new collection of poems by Maria Mazziotti Gillan with photographs by Mark Hillringhouse.

Listen to the review or the full program which also includes an interview with poet Juliet Cook.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Poem: Going to the Rivoli in Downtown Paterson

Abandoned Theater - Photo by Mark Hillringhouse

Going to the Rivoli in Downtown Paterson
by Maria Mazziotti Gillan

When we were growing up, we went to downtown Paterson
to the Rivoli theater on Main Street to see the latest movies
and the stars we loved – Rock Hudson, Doris Day,
Tab Hunter – the theater ornately carved with cherubs
and angels, elaborate moldings and glass chandeliers
and velvet curtains. That was when Paterson still thrived,
before the first shopping center opened in Elmwood Park
and then on Rte. 4, the Garden State Plaza and the Bergen
Mall, and people stopped taking the buses into downtown
to shop at Meyer Brothers where the elevator operators
wore white gloves and announced the goods on each floor,
before they stopped going to Quackenbush’s with its curving
stair that led to the restaurant where people with money
(or more money than we had) would stop for lunch
or to Berman’s for cashmere sweaters or to the Rivoli
or the Fabian to watch movies. That was in the fifties before
the wealthy people from the Eastside section moved out
to Fair Lawn or Glen Rock, before they moved to places
where they had to have a car because there was no
public transportation, before poor people started moving
into Paterson, people poorer than we were, the immigrants
who crowded into the ethnic neighborhoods
like the Totowa section or Riverside in the thirties and forties, and who
by the late fifties moved out, too, to blue collar suburbs, looking
for more space, bigger gardens, before they, too,
all bought cars and stopped walking or taking buses
and trains. On Saturdays, after school when I was a girl,
we’d take the bus downtown and we’d walk up and down
Main Street in and out of stores. We never bought anything,
but we liked wandering the aisles of Meyer Brothers,
spritzing ourselves with perfume, if we dared, and smelling
the leather purses we couldn’t afford. Then we’d retreat
to the Rivoli, to the elegance of the theater, to that moment
when they’d dim the lights and the movie would flash onto
the huge screen and we’d leave behind our ordinary lives
and enter the world of the film, a place
where people lived lives that were magical and glittering, a place
where people could have whatever they desired
and never have to count the costs.

This poem appears in Maria's collection Ancestor's Song and in the new poetry and photography volume Paterson Light and Shadow

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Paterson Light and Shadow

Paterson Light and Shadow (Serving House Books, 2017) tells stories in poetry and photography about Paterson, New Jersey, with poems by Maria Mazziotti Gillan, and fine art photos by Mark Hillringhouse, who together have spent a lifetime growing up, living and working in and around one of America’s most important historic industrial cities.

In her signature style, Gillan combines sublime moments with gritty detail when she writes about growing up as a working class Italian immigrant as in the lines from the poem "In the Still Photograph, Paterson, New Jersey, Circa 1950"
The rough feel of a washcloth
and Lifebuoy soap against my face,
the stiff, starched feel of my blouse,
the streets of Paterson, old and cracked,
the houses leaning together
like crooked teeth

Hillringhouse’s award-winning black and white Paterson photographs accompany each poem and resonate with the mood and feeling of Gillan’s writing in crushed velvety blacks and grayscale tones that evoke the moods of this city’s past and its urban decay.

This collection contains over thirty poems and thirty photographs that together explore the hallowed precincts of this once great industrial city, envisioned by Alexander Hamilton as the birthplace of manufacturing in a new nation, a city now home to countless immigrants who still struggle to work and to build lives and survive.

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. She has published 22 books, including What Blooms in Winter (NYQ Books, 2016); The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets (Cat in the Sun Books, 2014); Ancestors’ Song (Bordighera Press, 2013); The Silence in an Empty House (NYQ Books, 2013); Writing Poetry to Save Your Life: How to Find the Courage to Tell Your Stories (MiroLand, Guernica Editions, 2013); The Place I Call Home (NYQ Books, 2012); and What We Pass On: Collected Poems 1980-2009 (Guernica Editions, 2010). With her daughter Jennifer, she is co-editor of four anthologies.     Maria's website is

Mark Hillringhouse is a published poet, essayist, and photographer whose works have been widely exhibited in area galleries. His photography and writing have been published in The American Poetry Review, The Literary Review, The New York Times, The New Jersey Monthly, The Paris Review, and in many other journals, books, anthologies and magazines. He was the founding editor of The American Book Review, and a contributing editor for The New York Arts Journal. Thrice nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and a three-time recipient of a New Jersey State Council on the Arts Fellowship, he has won several awards for poetry and photography including the National Parks Calendar photography contest and the Soho Arthouse Gallery’s “Captured! A Moment in Time” exhibition. His film documentary with collaborator Kevin Carey on the life of local Salem poet Malcolm Miller, titled Unburying Malcolm Miller, was released in 2017 and screened at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival. He is a member of the English and Fine Arts Department at Passaic County Community College. He has also published Between Frames, a collection of black and white photos and a collection of urban photos, Paterson, that also documents the city. His photography website is

Praise for the Book

In Paterson Light and Shadow, Maria Mazziotti Gillan writes her beloved city with transforming courage: In the city of dreams no one dies, she says, all the while we witness the lives of immigrants—her father who worked at the Royle Machine Shop and swam the Passaic River, the daily poverty and relentless spirit of the dreamers of Paterson. These fierce and lovely poems speak to the wonderful photographs of Mark Hillringhouse as she sings the road back to the 17th Street kitchen with its big black coal stove. No one writes with the heart and soul of Mazziotti Gillan—from the depths of loss to the still shimmering happiness.
      — Jan Beatty

Paterson Light and Shadow  is a fascinating collaboration between poet Maria Gillan and photographer Mark Hillringhouse. Maria Gillan’s poems evoke the warmth of a childhood in the home and neighborhood created by Italian immigrants. Outside in the WASP world at school, it was a colder place where all that made her life sweet at home made her ostracized and demeaned.These poems and photographs also show the transformation, typical of so many American cities, from bustling hub of manufacturing with a lively downtown to a shell marked by decay and unemployment. Gillan gives voice to a past generation of the city and current desolation.
     — Marge Piercy

This partnership—the alliance of the two of them, Maria and Mark—is seamless and powerful. This is an amazing book.
     — Gerald Stern

Saturday, June 17, 2017

Two Poems for Fathers' Day

Two poems by Maria Mazziotti Gillan.

I Want to Write a Poem to Celebrate

my father’s arms, bulging and straining while he carries
the wooden box of dark purple grapes down the crumbling,
uneven cement steps into the cellar of the old house
on 19th street. The cellar, whitewashed by my mother,
grows darker as my father lumbers past the big coal
furnace and into the windowless wine room
at the very back where he will feed the grapes,
ripe and perfect and smelling of earth,
into the wine press. The grape smell changes
as they are crushed and drawn out into the fat
wooden barrels, and for weeks the cellar
will be full to the brim with the sweet smell
of grapes fermenting into wine, a smell I recognize
even forty years later each time I uncork a bottle,
an aroma that brings back my father
and his friends gathering under Zio Gianni’s
grape arbor to play briscole through long July
nights, small glasses before them, peach slices
gleaming like amber in the ruby wine.

First published in the Haight Ashbury Literary Journal and collected in What We Pass On: Collected Poems 1980-2009 (Guernica Editions 2010)

My Father Was a Young Man Then

Only 16, when he came from Italy alone,
moved into the Riverside neighborhood
full of Italians from Cilento—all of whom
spoke the same dialect, so it was as though
they had transported those mountain villages
to Paterson. At first, America was terrifying,
English, a language they could not master,
but my father was a young man
and he became friends with other young people
and they learned how to take buses and trains
or to borrow a car, and off they’d go
on the weekend to Rye Brook or Coney Island,
free from their factory jobs on the weekends,
reveling in the strength of their bodies,
the laughter and music and the company.

My father was a young man then,
and even when he died at 92,
he never lost the happiness
that bubbled up in him,
the irrepressible joy of being alive,
the love of being with friends.

I imagine him in that time
before he married my mother,
before we were born,
before he had a tumor on his spine
that left him with a limp.
Imagine him with his broad smile,
his booming laugh, his generous spirit,
his sharp intelligence,
imagine him as a young man,
his head full of dreams,
his love of politics and math,
the way he carried those qualities
all the way into old age,
though his legs failed him,
though his body grew trembling and frail,
his mind never did.

When I’d arrive at the house
all those years after mom died, he’d smile
at me with real pleasure,
the young man he was at 16 would emerge,
sit in the room with us
and laugh.

from What Blooms in Winter (NYQ Books, 2016)

Monday, June 12, 2017

Beyond Baroque Winners Reading June 17

On June 17, 2017 the winners of the 7th Annual Beyond Baroque Poetry Contest will be reading their work in Venice, California.

Now in its seventh year, the 2016 Beyond Baroque Poetry Contest was judged by the award-winning poet Diane Wakoski. Over 900 entries from across the nation were submitted to the contest. Each winner receives a cash prize: first place $1000; second place $500; and third place $250. In addition to the three top prizes, two runner-ups were chosen. Winners and runners-up were chosen through a blind reading process in which the judge had no knowledge of the poems' authors.

Judge Diane Wakoski had this to say about her selections (without knowing authors identities):

First Place Winner, IN GEORGIA, A LAKE (by Maria Gillan, Hawthorne, NJ): This is a beautiful poem about both the personal and the public. I selected it for its use of the drying-up lake as a trope that represents something missing in the speaker, which evolves through the poem until it's revealed that the speaker has a large lake inside herself. The lake is drying up into a big hole due to global warming, and that hole is transformed into the place were her love for her son - who disagrees with her on important things like global warming - is not enough to close the difference between them.

Second Place Winner, A GLIMPSE OF BEAU JACK (by Robert Mezey, Claremont, CA): This is a very successful memory poem. It's very effective in tying the past and present together in the speaker's life.

Third Place Winner, CUT FLOWERS (by Linda Neil, Los Angeles, CA): This poem makes a profound statement on the world of fashion and our high concepts of beauty, which are really death mimicking life. Subtle and understated, this poem is doing so much more than it seems on first reading.

Runners-up : COTTON CANDY MAN (by Janet Nippell) and IN OUR HOUSE NOBODY EVER SAID (by Maria Gillan, Hawthorne, NJ) .

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Paterson and Poetry

The Hamilton Club

Barry Singer, a contributor to the Huffington Post on the arts and literature, wrote about "Paterson, Poetry, Patricia Jones and Her Prize." In the piece, he tells the story of accompanying his friend Patricia Jones to her poetry reading at the Hamilton Club at Passaic County Community College, home to the Poetry Center.

It wasn't Barry's first visit to the city. He went to kindergarten, elementary school, and junior high school in Paterson, but it was his first visit to the Poetry center at the Hamilton Club. Here are some of his impressions from his visit.

It’s a grand old place. I was tickled to discover it. I was even more tickled to find a crowd of nearly a hundred waiting for Patricia on the second floor. Who knew that Passaic County Community College possesses one of this country’s most vibrant poetry programs? Not me.

2016 Paterson Poetry Prize winner, Mark Doty (2nd from left) and finalists, Adele Kenny, Vivian Shipley, Patricia Spears Jones, and Richard Michelson, with founder/ executive director of the Poetry Center, Maria Mazziotti Gillan (center) at a reading and awards ceremony held on April 1, 2017.

Patricia’s reading would feature most of the finalists for the college’s 2016 Paterson Poetry Prize... This is a roll call of some of the finest poets in America. Quite an assemblage for a tired old Jersey mill town on a Saturday morning. Of course, this tired old Jersey mill town also boasts a deep poetic patrimony, including William Carlos Williams, who wrote an epic poem called “Paterson," and Allen Ginsberg, who grew up there. 
The reading was a joy – literate, bracingly political (both overtly and covertly), poetically varied, at times richly moving and at times funny as hell. Ms. Maria Mazziotti Gillan hosted, the executive director who founded the Poetry Center in 1980 and has kept the place going, in part, with grants from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts. In other words, if Trump’s new budget goes through, killing the N.E.A., here is one regional arts bastion that would be its victim. 
I doubt that the feisty Ms. Mazziotti Gillan will ever let that stop her. Still, days after Patricia’s reading, I found myself thinking protectively of Paterson and poetry, which I had certainly never done before.

Read the full article at

Maria Mazziotti Gillan is the author of twenty-one books. Her latest publications are the poetry collection, What Blooms in Winter and the poetry and art collection, The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets . Maria's official website is at