Maria Mazziotti Gillan's latest book, The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets, was recently reviewed by Kenneth Scambrayin in L'Italo-Americano.
Her poems are on familiar themes that run throughout her poetry: growing up Italian in New Jersey at mid-century, family, women’s roles, marriage, mortality, and love. The glue that holds the paintings and the poems together is Gillan’s ever-evolving imagination. Two years ago when she was in California on a reading tour, she explained to me and Carole, my wife, over dinner one evening that she had begun painting again, after a hiatus of many years. At first she said she felt tentative working in a new art form, until someone said to her, “Just paint what you feel, the way you write your poems.”
In one of her poems she writes about an old family photograph of herself and her two siblings. There she is, she writes “my eyes wide open and sparkling. I’m not pretty, but I look / electric, like I can’t wait to move, to get on with it, my energy / palpable even in a photograph.” That’s the sense that I had when I began turning the pages of The Girls: that I was in the presence of a poet and now an artist overflowing with energy and who is naturally compelled to create, to keep getting on with it no matter where the heart takes her...
In the paintings, Women Around the Kitchen Table, Women and Doves, Women with Starry Eyes, Woman with Pink Dress and Flowers, and Woman in Blue Hat and Butterflies, there is a celebration of womanhood, their collectivity and connectivity.
In "My Mother Had No Cookbooks," she writes of her return to her mother’s village in Southern Italy, San Mauro, where there she finds the same dishes that her mother prepared in Paterson: “Ah, my mother was an artist, San Mauro in each movement / of hands, San Mauro in homemade bread, San Mauro in polenta / steaming in its bowl, San Mauro in stuffed artichokes, San Mauro in ragù with tomatoes she canned each summer. . . .” She celebrates her connection to her Southern Italian heritage that has always been present in her life through her mother’s artistry in the kitchen, a creativity impossible to reproduce, certainly not in a cookbook.
The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets is a celebration in poems and paintings, in words and colors, of women’s lives, not their social roles but their less obvious interior lives, their compassion, empathy, humanity, and even ambivalence. In Gillan’s poems, the passage of time is at best problematic, but a look back at her past reveals the community of immigrant women who made her success possible. Boundaries were never barriers, not when the imagination is set free. Gillan just writes and paints what she feels.
Maria's Official Site is at MariaGillan.com.