Monday, February 24, 2014

Gillan's books are reviewed in Voices in Italian Americana

A review by Vittoria Repetto of The Place I Call Home 
(NYQ Books, 2013)...

Through the years, Maria Mazziotti Gillan has painted wonderful pictures of her life via her narrative poems.  In her book, The Place I Call Home, she gives us vivid images of the house in which she grew up, images of her mother washing clothes and sewing to supplement the family income, and making sure that her family was well fed though she never spent money on frivolities like blueberries.

...I remember my mother's refrigerator that was always full
of homemade food -- bread, meatballs, braciola, spinach,
broccoli rabe, but no blueberries.  This small berry
I didn't taste until I was a grown woman
and married myself, and I imagine my mother's horror
at the thought of her spoiled daughter paying $3.95
a pint for blueberries just because she wants them.

These are stories of a mother who only went to the third grade in Italy buying her daughter a typewriter so she could be a writer.  But these poems go deeper than nostalgia for one's family or the difference between an immigrant family and a first-generation "American girl."  There are revealing poems like "Doing the Twist with Bobby Darin" that deal with her shyness about her body and dancing with someone who thinks an Italian girl is loose and easy.

...my friend's husband dragged me out onto the dance floor,
expecting that I would be loose and easy, imagining
that all my energy would translate into an abandon
I never felt..I understood that he thought my Italian blood
meant I was hot like Sophia Loren or Anna Magnani.

There are poems that strike at our hearts and make us sigh sadly when she talks about her husband having Parkinson's and not being in the same bedroom with him, of Dennis getting to the point where he will not know her.  There are angry poems about her ex son-in-law who hurt her daughter badly when they divorced.

These poems will make you laugh and cry and every emotion in between; buy it!


A review by Josephine Gattuso Hendin of New York University of Writing Poetry to Save Your Life:  How to Find the Courage to Tell Your Stories (Miroland, Guernica, 2013)

Maria Mazziotti Gillan has written an indispensable book for anyone who has ever dreamed of writing poetry.  Her own remarkable voice as a poet is everywhere, evident in her understanding that more than issues of technique are involved in trying:  "Poems hide in a place deep inside of you that I call the cave," Gillan writes.  "The cave is guarded by a crow that whispers in your ear in the voice of every authority figure you've ever encountered.  The crow tells you all the reasons why you can't write, shouldn't write."

Writing Poetry to Save Your Life is an inspiring rebuke to that undermining voice.  Drawing on her extensive experience as both a writer and teacher, Gillan arms the aspiring poet with the weapons that can kill the crow and silence that voice of self-doubt and fear of failure that produces only blank pages.  She offers practical advice, reassurance, and savvy and varied prompts to start the creative juices flowing.  Gillan has a rare knowledge of both the inner life of art and an understanding of how to actually produce it, to build it out of oneself.  In the process, she produces a celebration of the everyday, the relationships, work, tasks--all the daily threads that make up the fabric of life and can be woven into art.

Gillan addresses both the inspirational and practical aspects of writing.  Her book is divided into four parts--"Exploring the Cave:  How to Find the Stories You Have to Tell," "Ways to Improve Your Writing," "How to Make Your Writing Come Alive," and "Learning Courage."  Each section is enriched by illustrations from her own poetry.  Gillan closes with hundreds of prompts that are so good they could provoke anyone to enter the cave, confront whatever is there, and mine the bounty of self-understanding.

Gillan writes, "I say that only poetry willing to take a risk will last.  This book is intended to encourage that first draft of poems, the one where its vitality and heart is found."  She succeeds in doing just that.