Friday, September 25, 2015

Poetry Like Bread: A Poetry Workshop with Martín Espada

The Poetry Center at PCCC is proud to announce the addition of a new poetry workshop with Martín Espada. This is a generative workshop in which participants will generate new work based on the distribution and discussion of poems by Walt Whitman, Pablo Neruda, Grace Paley, Roque Dalton and Marilyn Nelson, among others.

Workshop participants will write on the spot, then share their work, reading aloud to the group (for thunderous applause only). As poets, our poems will speak for the rights the others are down upon, prophesy like Cassandra (but be listened to this time), catch sight of the promised land, and prove Dalton’s proposition that poetry, like bread, is for everyone.

The workshop will be held on Saturday, November 7 from 10am - noon at The Poetry Center at PCCC in Paterson. That afternoon will be a free and public reading celebrating the publication of the latest issue of the Paterson Literary Review.

As with our other Distinguished Poets workshops, you can sign up for the Espada workshop by calling the Poetry Center at 973-684-6555 and confirming your space and then sending a check for $20 to the Poetry Center noting the Espada workshop or download the registration form.

Martín Espada's Poetry Like Bread collects poems by nearly forty poets that are probably unlike any you have studied. Their engagement with everyday political and economic realities is as direct as a newspaper, their language as familiar as conversation. Their motto, taken from Roque Dalton for the title of the collection, is that "poetry, like bread, is for everyone." These poems were not written to be studied. They were meant to be read. Or better yet, heard. Whole or in part. Alone or among friends and strangers. Reading and hearing them, you must respond and react. Some may inspire you, knock the wind out of you--make you indignant, sad, joyous, ashamed. Whether you drop this book, seek out others, join a social action group, write letters to your elected representatives, or write poems of your own, your reaction to the poems will be as political as the poems themselves.

Martín Espada - photo by Silvain
Martín Espada was born in Brooklyn, New York in 1957. He has published more than fifteen books as a poet, editor, essayist and translator. His latest collection of poems is called Vivas to Those Who Have Failed (2016). Other books of poems include The Trouble Ball (2011), The Republic of Poetry (2006), Alabanza (2003), A Mayan Astronomer in Hell’s Kitchen (2000), Imagine the Angels of Bread (1996), City of Coughing and Dead Radiators (1993) and Rebellion is the Circle of a Lover’s Hands (1990). His many honors include the Shelley Memorial Award, the Robert Creeley Award, the National Hispanic Cultural Center Literary Award, an American Book Award, the PEN/Revson Fellowship and a Guggenheim Fellowship. The Republic of Poetry was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. The title poem of his collection Alabanza, about 9/11, has been widely anthologized and performed. His book of essays, Zapata’s Disciple (1998), was banned in Tucson as part of the Mexican-American Studies Program outlawed by the state of Arizona. A graduate of Northeastern University Law School and a former tenant lawyer in Greater Boston’s Latino community, Espada is a professor of English at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Review: The Place I Call Home

The Place I Call Home by Maria Mazziotti Gillan

Maria Mazziotti Gillan has won numerous prizes for her poetry and has read throughout the U.S., including her ancestral village in Southern Italy. She has won the 2011 Barnes and Noble Writers for Writers Award and the 2008 American book Award. She is the founder and Executive Director of the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College in Paterson, NJ,and Director of the Creative Writing Program at Binghamton University, SUNY.

After fourteen books of poetry, you would think that any poet would begin to run out of things to say and places to take readers where they have not been before. I have seen this in poets I used to admire as an undergraduate and now find uninteresting, lacking inspiration.

But as I read Maria Mazziotti Gillan’s latest collection, The Place I Call Home, I realize that she is not among that pantheon of famous American poets whose poetic, well, has gone dry, whose source has become intellectual rather than emotional, the source of all good poetry. But I must hasten to add that there is nothing here in her fourteenth book of poems that is unfamiliar. While she returns to sources familiar to her wide-readership, she takes her reader once again to emotional depths that seize your attention and won’t let you go until the end of every line of each poem.

These are unmistakably Mazziotti Gillan poems, with a self-assured voice that you will not hear in many other American poets writing today. She reminds me of the current Poet Laureate of the United States, eighty-four- year- old Phil Levine from Fresno. As he has mined his industrial, working-class heritage in pre-1940s Detroit over the last forty years in his poetry, his poems have only become more interesting, more emotionally gripping, and more relevant to our times.

Similarly, Gillan returns to familiar subjects again in her poetry: her childhood anxiety growing up Italian American in the 1950s and 60s, her working class Italian immigrant mother and father, her life with her husband suffering from an incurable aliment, living without him after his death, and her daughter and son, their challenges as children and adults.

Gillan’s poems are not based on the image or metaphor, but rather the line. She writes in the vernacular, a strong, conversational voice that only a few American poets have successfully sustained. She writes a free verse line that extends across the page, then back again to the edge of the page, then back again, until the thought is not just completed but infused with an emotion that ultimately carries her extended lines.

In the opening poem of the volume, "The Sound Carries Me Toward Childhood," Gillan writes:
It is dark. I swear I hear my mother calling, though it is
fifteen years since she died and more than fifty
years since we lived in the 17th street apartment that I think of
when I think of my childhood, that two-family house
with its back stoop where all the neighborhood kids joined us.

Her voice carries the reader, born on a cascading freshet of words line after line describing her Paterson childhood at home with her immigrant Italian-speaking parents and siblings. It was a time of Zio Guillermo’s garden resplendent with oregano, rosemary, mints, zucchini, eggplant, and tomatoes. It was a time that she shared with her brother and sister at her immigrant mother’skitchen table covered with oilcloth. The memories aren’t stagnant, but as Gillan says, they remain an avenue into her aging self, where she can still feel as “loved as I was then.” Like all the other poems, memory is not reduced to nostalgia, but a legitimate avenue into her personal history and by implication her readers’ personal histories, as well as our shared national history.

What Gillan remembers, we remember about that past, wherever or whoever we are.

Some of the titles of the poems that follow outline the history that Gillan is after; “My Mother’s 1950s Refrigerator,” “My Brother Stands in the Snow, 1947, Paterson, NJ,” “Even When We Didn’t Have Money,” “I Grew Up With Tom Mix,” “The Tin Ball and the War Effort,” “All His Life My Father Worked in Factories,” and “Doing the Twist with Bobby Darin.” In these poems with their long, rhythmic lines Gillan traverses both the trials and the joys of growing up poor in her immigrant parents’ house at a time when ethnicity and multiculturalism were not celebrated aspects of the American social order.

In “A Few years Ago, I Moved You Out of Our Bedroom,” Gillan explores her guilt-laden feelings over the time she was forced to ask her ailing husband to move out their shared bed:
“You’d wake me up from my from my deepest sleep
and then I’d be awake for an hour or two,
before I could fall back to sleep
and my alarm went off each morning at 6 a.m.”

Now that he is gone, in her poignant, closing lines Gillan writes,
"My body keeps searching for the space you used to
occupy, the heat of your body that warmed me
all those years when I was always cold.”

In “The Other Night, You Came Home,” she writes of the toll that his illness was taking on him physically. Gillan’s guilt is compounded by what soon became for her in the 1980s and after the success that she began to enjoy as a poet and as a renowned creative-writing teacher.

Overnight or for extended weekend seminars and readings, she was forced to leave her ailing husband, who had to fend for himself. In one instance his medication runs out, and Gillan writes, “There is no medicine / for the sound guilt makes at 3 a.m.”

These are poems that plumb the depth of human feelings, with which everyone can identify.

In “A Poem about a Turnip,” Gillan writes of her daughter’s pain over her former husband’s betrayal and the break-up of their marriage. He served Gillan a turnip once for dinner, and she writes, “I hated them / so white, bland and difficult to swallow like his betrayal.” In her anger, she writes, “I’d hit my ex-son-in-law in the head / with a turnip or a really big uncooked sweet potato / if I could.”

In spite of the introspection that characterizes all her work, Gillan’s voice is never frail, never betrays exhaustion over her struggles as a girl, wife, mother, and adult.

In a closing poem in the volume, “Life Was Simple,” she writes of her problematic relationship with her grown son. He refuses after all these years to acknowledge and approve of his mother’s literary fame, a son “who thinks that I should give up my poetry / and workshops and readings all over the world, /who looks at me as though he doesn’t know anything / about me..."

In “Why I Worry,” and “The Boys Call My Grandson Names,” she shoulders her grandchildren’s struggles as they grow into adulthood.

Yet Gillan lives as much in the world as any poet. In “The Riots in Cairo,” “In Japan, the “The Bratz Dolls Outpace Barbie,”In Japan, Earthquake,” and in the final poem of the volume, “The Ducks Walk Across River Street, Paterson, New Jersey,” Gillan addresses contemporary themes other than the self, family, and friends.

Her collection ends, as that family of ducks, “their heads proud in the air,” stops traffic on River Street in both directions as “ they move gracefully as dancers onto the water / and let it lift them into the dazzling morning light.”

This is poetry that is a celebration of who we are, a recovery of the self through its unabashed and even sometimes painful honesty, a poetry that allows us to go into that “dazzling morning light,” each day with a sense of renewal and strength in who we are, in spite of our weaknesses.

Ken Scambray’s most recent works are The North American Italian Renaissance: Italian Writing in America and Canada, Surface Roots: Stories, and Queen Calafia’s Paradise: California and the Italian American Novel . His essay on the Watts Towers and the Underground Gardens appeared in Italian Folk, ed. by Joseph Sciorra.

Maria's Official Site is at  Her latest publication is the poetry and art collection, The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

The New Jersey Poetry Calendar

The Poetry Center at PCCC compiles the monthly New Jersey Poetry Calendar. The editors are Laura Boss and Maria Mazziotti Gillan.  The calendar has been awarded several Citations of Excellence, and is funded, in part, by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a Partner Agency of the National Endowment for the Arts and by funds from the National Endowment for the Arts.

To have your reading listed, send your listing typed, in the same format as on the current calendar. Listings must be received before the first of the month preceding the month in which the reading is taking place.

Send to: Maria Mazziotti Gillan, Executive Director, Poetry Center, Passaic County Community College, One College Boulevard, Paterson, NJ 07505-1179 or e-mail No listings will be accepted by phone.

To download current calendars, go to

Monday, September 14, 2015

Detroit Literary Walk Will Feature Maria Gillan

Maria Mazziotti Gillan will be reading on Saturday, September 19 in Detroit, MI as part of the 4th Annual Midtown Literary Walk. It is hosted by M. L. Liebler.

Enjoy a strolling afternoon of literature hosted by several venues in the Midtown neighborhood with a range of authors – from poets to jazz and hip hop artists – who will read and perform. Books will be available for purchase and signing at each stop.

All events are free and open to the public. No RSVP necessary. Metered street parking available.

12:00 pm | Hannan House (4750 Woodward Ave) Bonnie Rose Marcus, Michael Lauchlan, and Desiree Cooper
1:00pm | The N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art (52 E. Forest Ave) Thylias Moss and Pete Brown 2:00 pm | SocraTea Detroit (71 Garfield, Suite 50) Jim Reese, Kelly Fordon, and T. Dwella
3:00 pm | WSU Welcome Center (42 W. Warren Ave) Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Quincy Troupe

THE WSU MIDTOWN LITERARY WALK IS SPONSORED BY Michigan Humanities Council, an affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities | The Knight Foundation | Poets & Writers. Inc. | Wayne State University | The Luella Hannan Memorial Foundation | SocraTea Detroit | The N’Namdi Center for Contemporary Art | Wayne State University Press


Maria's Official Site is at  Her latest publication is the poetry and art collection, The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Poem: Watching the Pelican Die

Watching the Pelican Die

On TV, I watch the pelican with its mouth wide open,
its wings and body coated with oil. Is it screaming? I do not hear
the sound and since this is a photograph, I don’t know if it was caught
in that mouth-stretched howl when it died or if it’s howling
in recognition that it cannot survive the thick coat
of oil that bears it down.

The ladies who take care of you when I’m gone tell me you
are having trouble. “His hands,” they say, “his hands.” When I
come home, I see that your hands have turned black
at the tips and I see that the ends of your fingers
have been eaten away. I watch the dead bird in the Gulf
floating on top of the water, its legs stiff and straight in the air,
its body drained of all motion, all light.

The next day I take you to the doctor; he tells us he will have
to operate to remove the gangrenous flesh.

The announcer on CNN says BP didn’t want the photographer
to take pictures of the dying birds covered as they are
with the black slick of oil. “They were hoping,” he says,
“that the birds would sink and the evidence
would be swallowed by the ocean.”

In the late afternoon, I hear my daughter cry out. I rush to see
what has happened, and you are stretched out on the bed,
your body so thin you look like a boy. You do not move.
I call 911 and the ambulance takes you to the hospital.

BP is trying to put a cap on the spewing oil rig; the CEO
keeps saying, it’s no problem. Clumps of oil wash ashore
and float on the surface of the water. The beach is littered
with dead fish and birds.

At the hospital, they want to know whether we want
extraordinary measures. “No,” I say. “He has a living will.”
We hover around while they admit you. You have forgotten
how to speak. Mostly you lie in bed, staring into a space
above our heads.

In my mind I see that screaming bird, its mouth wide open,
a picture of torment and despair.

I reach out to hold your hand, stroke your forehead. “Dennis,”
I call out, “Dennis.” You do not hear me. The doctor comes in
to see you. “Well,” he says, “he should have been dead five years
ago. What did you expect? You shouldn’t have taken such
good care of him.”

“We did everything we could,” the BP president says, looking
directly at the camera. “It’s not such a calamity,” says
the governor of Louisiana. “We don’t need to stop
deep water drilling. Our economy will collapse if we do.”
We stand around your hospital bed. My brother comes in
and says he’ll try a stronger antibiotic. “It’s bad,” he says,
but he waits until we are in the hall to tell me.

The social worker says, “You should put him in a nursing
home.” My brother says, “You kept him home all this time.
If he gets a little stronger, I’ll let him go home and he’ll be
around the things he knows.”

The doctor comes in and says, “He’s not going to make it.”
The social worker admonishes us with her bag
of common sense. She does not love you. We take you home.
I sit next to you and hold your hand.

The MSNBC reporter stands on the beach in a hurricane
and picks up a huge glob of oil with a stick. “Look,” she says,
“look,” and drips the oil on the white sand. She is shaking
with fury at such destruction. Dead birds float behind her.

“I’m in so much pain,” you say, though you have not complained
before. Althea feeds you a jar of baby applesauce. You open
your mouth and accept the food. When I see the pelican
on TV with its mouth wide open in horror, I remember you
as you lay dying. On the Gulf, the earth and the sea
are being destroyed, just as you were by the disease that finally
defeated you after you struggled against it for all those years.

Some things are bigger than all of us. We cannot defeat
them. If there is enough carelessness and greed in the world
even the ocean can be destroyed, and you, who fought
against this illness with such courage, even you
cannot survive, the blackened tips of your fingers, the oil
heavy on the birds feathers, the birds dead and floating on
the surface that gradually sink and disappear.

Maria with a poster based on her poem by artist and poet Leslie Heywood

Maria's Official Site is at  Her latest publication is the poetry and art collection, The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Maria Gillan at NY Festival of Women Writers September 11-13

Maria Mazziotti Gillan will be reading her poetry and offering a workshop as part of the Third Annual Festival of Women Writers.

The Festivals runs from September 11-13, 2015 in Hobart, N.Y. and Maria will be reading on Friday afternoon and doing a workshop on Saturday afternoon.

Held in the small town of Hobart, known as "The Book Village of the Catskills," this festival has created space for established and emerging women writers to share their insights and skills through a variety of writing activities and public readings. Hobart's Main Street will be busy with workshops, readings, and other writing activities from Friday afternoon to Sunday afternoon at this third annual Festival and all writers and lovers of books and women’s writing are welcome.

Maria's Official Site is at  Her latest publication is the poetry and art collection, The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Deadline for Submissions to the Paterson Literary Review Is September 30

Submissions for issue #44 (2016) of the Paterson Literary Review, edited by Maria Mazziotti Gillan, are being accepted through September 30, 2015.

PLR does not accept online submissions.

The following types of work will be considered:
  • Poems: each under 2 pages, high quality, any style;
  • Art: black & white, line drawings, woodcuts, lithographs 8 ½" x 11" or smaller;
  • Photographs: 8 ½ x 11", black & white glossies;
  • Short stories: under 1,500 words, high quality, no formula stories.

For complete submission details, samples and ordering information: