Friday, May 19, 2017

Register Now for Celebrating the Poetic Legacy of Whitman, Williams & Ginsberg: A Literary Festival & Conference

Now is the time to register for the free "Celebrating the Poetic Legacy of Whitman, Williams & Ginsberg: A Literary Festival & Conference" at The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College in Paterson, NJ on June 3, 2017.

Registration for the festival, readings and panels is free, but you need to pre-register online at

For the Festival schedule and directions, go to the Poetry Center site at

Interested in volunteering at the Festival? Please contact Smita at or 973-684-6555

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Poem: The Little General

A poem for this Mother's Day

The Little General

My brother called our mother “the little general”
when we were teenagers, my brother driving

the car, my mother sitting next to him, her head
a small dark knob barely reaching the top of the seat,

my bossy mother who told us how to live our lives,
my mother who was always moving. when I

remember her, I see her almost as a blur,
like the cartoon of the road runner, my mother

who washed all the dishes as soon as the last bite
of food vanished from the plate, my mother who held

my doctor brother’s foot until he fell asleep when he
was still a boy, my mother who sat at the kitchen table

with us, always ready to hear the stories of our lives,
ready to tell the story of hers, my mother who told me

everything that was wrong with me so I still hear her voice
though she said she told me for my own good,

my mother who loved the feel of the earth on her hands,
who smelled of flour and spices, who baked

thousands of loaves of bread, cooked innumerable
fragrant meals for her children and grandchildren

in the basement kitchen, my mother who taught me
how to laugh, my mother who could not read and write,

and although she wanted to go to school, my father
wouldn't let her, “Women don't need to go to school,” he said,

my mother who did not know how much money my father
had in the bank and never wrote a check,

my mother who wanted to learn how to do
everything, my mother who could quote poems

she memorized in third grade in Italy before
she had to leave school, my mother who drew

an imaginary line around us to keep us close,
the front stoop our boundary, the family country,

her little sturdy body better than any magic charm,
my mother whose skin turned orange before

she died, though the week before she got sick,
she planted a huge garden. We were sure

she was too powerful to die. Ma, even now,
ten years after the funeral procession led us

to Calvary Cemetery and to the mausoleum drawer
they filed you in, I wish I could drive over

to your house and find you there, your earthly humor,
your warm arms that were the place

I call home.

by Maria Mazziotti Gillan, from The Place I Call Home 

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

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Dante Di Stefano Reviews Maria Mazziotti Gillan’s 'What Blooms in Winter'

In "The Braille Flowers of Remote Perfume: Dante Di Stefano Reviews Maria Mazziotti Gillan’s What Blooms in Winter (2016) and David Lehman’s Poems in the Manner Of (2017)" on the blog, Di Stefano reviews two very different poets and collections.


Maria Mazziotti Gillan’s collection maintains the thematic and aesthetic continuity that runs throughout her body of work. Mazziotti Gillan, here, as everywhere else in her work, earnestly relates the life story of a working class daughter of immigrants, growing up in Paterson, New Jersey, who made a place for herself in the poetry world.

Maria Mazziotti Gillan has tirelessly promoted the work of countless poets and writers. As the director of The Poetry Center in Paterson, New Jersey, as the editor of the Paterson Literary Review, as the head of the Creative Writing department at Binghamton University, and, overall, as a champion of community outreach through poetry, Mazziotti Gillan has spent her life nurturing literary talent and encouraging young writers of all ages to find a home on the page.

What Blooms in Winter continues the stylistic and thematic patterns that have been Mazziotti Gillan’s hallmark for the last four decades; Mazziotti Gillan’s is a poetry of endlessly expanding democratic vistas, grounded in, and forever returning to, the Riverside neighborhood of Paterson during the fifties and sixties.

Taken as a whole, Maria Mazziotti Gillan’s poetry obsessively confronts her experience coming to terms with her hyphenated identity and her working class origins. As the poet Joe Weil has noted, Mazziotti Gillan’s poems aspire to the aria; and like the aria, each poem needs to be considered as part of an operatic whole. These poems are her biancheria, her embroidery work, homemade, artful, delicate, her dowry for future generation; as Gillan says, in the poem “The Lace Tablecloth and the Patterns of Memory”: “all the people I have loved are tucked away/ carefully in my mind, so that I can lift them out/ and remember and be comforted.” Not only does poetry comfort, for Gillan it restores. Each poem in Mazziotti Gillan’s body of work represents a Whitmanesque attempt to chronicle her own American journey as the daughter of Italian immigrants.

Although Mazziotti Gillan’s poems often alternate between contemplating love and loss, grief and joy, pride and shame, these emotional tropes merely provide the backdrop for her exploration of how the mind and the heart constitute themselves in any given act of recollection. In this sense, her poetic project runs parallel to the English Romantics, particularly Wordsworth. Also, like William Blake, Maria Mazziotti Gillan would agree that “a tear is an intellectual thing.” The intellect and the emotions overlap and intermingle in all of her poetry. What Blooms in Winter retraces the subject matter that Mazziotti Gillan has obsessively confronted throughout her body of work: the poverty of her early childhood, the experience of growing up as “a good Italian girl,” the concerns of motherhood, family, death, love, and the complicated miracle of remembering all that is no longer present.

Like Mazziotti Gillan’s recent collections Ancestors’ Song and The Silence in an Empty House, What Blooms in Winter also contains many poems about travel, and topical poems about an earthquake in Nepal, terrorist attacks in France, and Nelson Mandela’s funeral.

Most surprising in this collection, however, are the short lyric poems that haven’t featured prominently in Mazziotti Gillan’s poetry since her early books. “Dream Sequence,” for example, reads in full:

I imagine moving under green water
as though I could breathe without an airtank.

I am a silver fish and imagine goldfish gliding
past without noticing me,

and I, my body suddenly free of awkwardness,
move with such grace, I could be

a young girl again, lithe and slender,
as though I had been born to inhabit this world

like the sea creatures, my body shimmering
in the watery dark.

This gorgeous, lithe, alacritous ten line poem stands in apt counterpoint to the torrential approach of the typical Mazziotti Gillan poem. Poetry, for Maria Mazziotti Gillan, offers a way to inhabit this world, despite the reality of pain, suffering, and death; gracefully, once again in What Blooms in Winter, this poet butterflies the dark.

Reading What Blooms in Winter and Poems in the Manner Of  back to back during National Poetry Month 2017, I am reminded most forcefully of the virtues of a life in poetry. To paraphrase David Lehman, paraphrasing W.H. Auden, these books show that contemporary poetry not only survives, but thrives, in the valley of its saying.

Maria Mazziotti Gillan and David Lehman are the kinds of poets all young poets should aspire to emulate; both poets have placed the care of others and the interests of poetry above their own work. Both poets have taken E.M. Forster’s epigraph to Howard’s End as the watchword for their careers: only connect. The impulse to celebrate and to understand underwrites the imperative to connect in the work of both Mazziotti Gillan and Lehman. The connectivity privileged by the lives and works of true poets such as these always and inevitably runs counter to the superficial forms of interconnection that bind the lives of so many contemporary Americans.

Both Maria Mazziotti Gillan and David Lehman remind me that truth and beauty will never come either from social media and mainstream media or from the worlds of politics, business, and law; truth and beauty unfold face to face, and on the page, and both are infinite domains. Our work as lovers of poetry is to undo the damage of haste and dwell there—in the eye, in the ink—together.

Dante Di Stefano is the author of Love is a Stone Endlessly in Flight (Brighthorse Books, 2016). His poetry, essays, and reviews have appeared in Brilliant Corners, The Los Angeles Review, Shenandoah, Prairie Schooner, and elsewhere. He is a poetry editor for DIALOGIST and the poetry book review editor for Arcadia.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Celebrating the Poetic Legacy of Whitman, Williams and Ginsberg

The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College, Paterson, NJ is presenting a literary festival and conference "Celebrating the Poetic Legacy of Whitman, Williams and Ginsberg."

On Saturday, June 3, 2017, this event will offer a series of scholarly and creative panels that explore the legacy of Whitman, Williams, and Ginsberg or other American poets, who write in the same poetic tradition.

The event has free registration.

The day will also feature readings in the Distinguished Poets Series by Patricia Smith and Li-Young Lee.

Li-Young Lee was born in Jakarta, Indonesia, to Chinese parents. When he was two, the Lee family fled the country to escape anti-Chinese sentiment and after a five-year trek through Hong Kong, Macau, and Japan, they settled in the United States in 1964.

Lee attended the Universities of Pittsburgh and Arizona, and the State University of New York at Brockport. He has taught at several universities, including Northwestern and the University of Iowa.

He is the author of The Winged Seed: A Remembrance, Behind My Eyes, Book of My Nights , which won the 2002 William Carlos Williams Award, The City in Which I Love You and Rose, which won the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Poetry Award.

He lives in Chicago, Illinois, with his wife, Donna, and their two sons.

Patricia Smith is the author of five volumes of poetry, including Blood Dazzler, a finalist for the 2008 National Book Award, Teahouse of the Almighty, a National Poetry Series selection, and Shoulda Been Jimi Savannah.

A professor for the City University of New York and a Cave Canem faculty member, she lives in New Jersey with her husband, Edgar Award–winning novelist Bruce DeSilva, her granddaughter Mikaila, and two humongous dogs, Brady and Rondo.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Maria Gillan Book Talk and Signing in Boston May 11

Maria Mazziotti Gillan will read her poetry and sign books on Thursday, May 11 at 6pm at I Am Books, 189 North Street in Boston.

Maria Mazziotti Gillan is winner of the 2014 George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature from 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. She is the Founder/Executive Director of the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College, editor of the Paterson Literary Review, and director of the creative writing program/professor of English at Binghamton University-SUNY. Maria 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

Monday, May 1, 2017

Poem: In Our House Nobody Ever Said

In Our House Nobody Ever Said

In our house, nobody ever said you’re ugly.
My sister was beautiful with her white, white skin,
her full lips, her chocolate brown eyes, her straight teeth.
She is to the right of me in this studio photo
my mother bought from a photographer who traveled
door to door in the Riverside section of Paterson.
My brother is on the left, his wide dark eyes
in his sweet face that looks solemn, self-contained,
as he does now, a doctor for more than forty years.
In the middle, I stare into the camera.
My hair a tangle of black curls, my lips formed
into a shy smile. I know that I am not beautiful.
Even then I knew it. I look like I am plugged into
an electric socket, energy crackling off
me, as though I already have things I need to do,
and I can’t wait.

In our house, we all had our place:
my brother engrossed in encyclopedias my parents bought
on time from a door-to-door salesman,
my sister off to play baseball with the boys on 25th Street,
her body strong and athletic,
and I, who always had a book in my hand, even at the dinner table,
I, who found in books the life I wasn’t brave enough
to live, who found in language the beauty that lifted me
out of the constraints of my world, the cold-water tenement apartment, the coal stove, the raggedy linoleum, the light bulb hanging from a cord over the oil-cloth covered table.

When I announced at 17 that I wanted to be a poet,
nobody ever said “You are insane. How will you earn
a living?” Instead, my mother, who sewed the lining in coats
in the factories of Paterson, saved pennies every week
for a year until she had enough to buy me
a pink Smith Corona portable typewriter in a pink case,
so I could be the writer she knew I wanted to be.

by Maria Mazziotti Gillan

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