Celebrating the Immigrant Experience: A Review of Maria Mazziotti Gillan’s What Blooms in Winter
by Brian Fanelli
The last several months have been trying as an American citizen. Donald Trump’s candidacy has used xenophobic rhetoric to demonize minority groups and immigrants. In these times, Maria Mazziotti Gillan’s body of work, which often focuses on her Italian-American family heritage and celebrating the immigrant experience, is especially relevant. Her newest collection, What Blooms in Winter, draws on the deeply personal to vocalize her story and also give praise to the melting pot aspect that has always been a foundation of American culture...
Another poem, “Our First TV,” addresses manufactured notions of the American dream. The speaker lists various images from TV shows she watched growing up and their portrayal of the American success story, including the big white house and huge living and dining rooms on “Father Knows Best.” The speaker goes back even further to Dick and Jane books that taught her about “the other America” with a “pipe-smoking father raking leaves/in his cardigan and brown dress pants.” It was that first TV in the living room, however, that taught the speaker about class divide and how her living situation, a “cold-water flat” with small rooms and Italian chatter, was different than the upper-middle class American homes she viewed on TV. The poem concludes with one final reality about class divide in America, and the lines resonate especially well post-Great Recession:
All the TV programs in the world
could not have prepared me
for the invisible walls
that protected those people
from people like me.
... Overall, What Blooms in Winter places the poet squarely on the side of the immigrant and the underdog. The book never strays from the narrative mode and frequently draws on the poet’s personal memories, either to merge the personal with the political, or to honor the memory of those who have come and gone in her life. I am grateful for Maria’s voice. Her work stands as a protester banner, waving boldly against anyone who wants to make the country less inclusive.
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