Monday, July 31, 2017

Poem: "I Open a Box" and and a Review of 'Paterson Light and Shadow'

Maria Gillan's Childhood Home, East 17th St. Paterson (rear view)
Photo by Mark Hillringhouse
It is always good to have your poetry reviewed by other poets you admire.

Poet Jan Beatty wrote,"In Paterson Light and Shadow, Maria Mazziotti Gillan writes her beloved city with transforming courage: In the city of dreams no one dies, she says, all the while we witness the lives of immigrants--her father who worked at the Royle Machine Shop and swam the Passaic River, the daily poverty and relentless spirit of the dreamers of Paterson. These fierce and lovely poems speak to the wonderful photographs of Mark Hillringhouse as she sings the road back to the 17th Street kitchen with its big black coal stove. No one writes with the heart and soul of Mazziotti Gillan--from the depths of loss to the still shimmering happiness.

Poet Marge Piercy also praised Gillan's latest book: "Paterson Light and Shadow is a fascinating collaboration between poet Maria Gillan and photographer Mark Hillringhouse. Maria Gillan's poems evoke the warmth of a childhood in the home and neighborhood created by Italian immigrants. Outside in the WASP world at school, it was a colder place where all that made her life sweet at home made her ostracized and demeaned. These poems and photographs also show the transformation, typical of so many American cities, from bustling hub of manufacturing with a lively downtown to a shell marked by decay and unemployment. Gillan gives voice to a past generation of the city and current desolation."

But poets also look forward to "reviews" by their readers. Sometimes those are given verbally at a reading, but reviews can also appear online. That is the case for this recent review on posted by Charlie Brice.

You get a new book in the mail, sit down, decide to read a couple poems, and, as you finish the book, look up to see that the afternoon has slipped away. That’s what happened to me with Maria Mazziotti Gillan’s new collection of poems, Paterson Light and Shadow. This new volume, coauthored by photographer Mark Hillringhouse, is the latest addition to what has become one of the most prodigious careers in contemporary poetry. Maria Gillan transports us into a vanished world of childhood smells, sights, sounds, and emotions that, as most childhood things, never totally abandons us. She brings this world to life like no other poet I’ve ever read. 
My favorite Gillan poem is in this volume: “Daddy, We Called You.” I listened to her read that poem to a hushed audience almost 20 years ago; an audience that sat in stunned silence as shame circled the room like an deadly virus. The poem that most struck me this time, however, was “I Open a Box."

I Open a Box

…and find inside a picture
of myself as a child, sitting
on a small chair, wearing overalls
and shoes that must have been
hand-me-downs because they are
so worn the sole is coming loose.
I am no more than 18 months
old and cannot have been walking
all that long. I am squinting
into the sun, my nose crinkling
with effort the way it crinkles now
when I am trying to see in bright light.
Behind me, the six-family tenement
where I was born on 5th Avenue
in Paterson, the rickety stairs rise up
three floors, the porches tilt a bit
as though they might fall off
if someone were to jump on them
too hard. My mother delivered
me herself in this coldwater flat.
The doctor didn’t get to her in time,
and when he did, he, in his pressed
and starched white shirt and expensive
suit and polished shoes, stood at the door
and didn’t enter the room. My mother
cut the cord and washed me off, wrapped
me in a clean blanket. When she
was dying years later, she said,
“The doctor didn’t even come into
the room. He washed his hands, wiped
them on one of the rough linen towels
I brought from Italy, stood in the doorway.
“You’ll be okay,” he said, and left.
“Oh well,” my mother said, “I think
he was afraid of catching it.”
“Catching what?” I asked.
“Poverty,” she said.

Maria is the queen of endings! Who would have ever seen that ending coming? 
Hillringhouse’s photographs are stunning. I was especially taken with his photograph of the Paterson Danforth Public Library on page 37. This photo depicts, in the most artistic fashion possible, the play of light and shadow in the book. 
This is a wonderful collection. I hope you all get a chance to pass an afternoon with it.

Maria Mazziotti Gillan's most recent books are the poetry and photography collection, Paterson Light and Shadow  and the poetry collection, What Blooms in Winter . Her collection of poems along with some of her paintings is The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets . Maria's official website is