Wednesday, February 19, 2020

40 Years of Bringing Poetry to Paterson


February 1, 2020 was the official event to launch a yearlong celebration of the 40th anniversary of The Poetry Center at PCCC. The event also served as an opportunity to pay tribute to the Center’s founder and executive director, Maria Mazziotti Gillan.

Maria is a Paterson native whose vision, determination, and creative genius shaped the Center, and the city, into a major destination for poets. The Center has become a place where Pulitzer Prize winners and Poet Laureates come to give readings and workshops, and where all are welcome to share and appreciate the art of poetry.

“Back then, they told me I was crazy to start a poetry center in Paterson,” said Maria Mazziotti Gillan in her opening remarks, “but boy did we prove them wrong.”

Cheers erupted from the audience that included friends, family, public officials, colleagues, former students, fellow poets, and ardent fans who gathered in the elegant parlor of the Poetry Center’s Hamilton Club home.

The late-morning also featured piano music by poet and professor Joe Weil and a buffet luncheon donated by Sheldrake Lukas and Xandt Wyntreez.

Luncheon by Sheldrake Lukas and Xandt Wyntreez
Founded in 1980, when Ms. Mazziotti Gillan was an adjunct instructor of English at PCCC, The Poetry Center had humble beginnings, but grew steadily, even attracting participation from the celebrated Allen Ginsberg, a one-time Patersonian who became the voice of the mid-20th century Beat Generation.

Today the Center hosts readings and workshops that draw presenters and attendees from all over the country, publishes the respected Paterson Literary Review, administers annual poetry contests, and fosters community outreach with programs such as Poetry in Prisons.

All this resulted from the efforts of Ms. Mazziotti Gillan who, born to immigrant Italian parents and raised in a blue-collar neighborhood in the city, often draws upon her early life experiences in her writing, paintings, and drawings. She has published 22 books, is director of creative writing at Binghamton University, travels internationally to read her works, and is the recipient of the George Garrett Award for Outstanding Community Service in Literature (2014)), the Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award (2011), and the American Book Award (2008)for her book, All That Lies Between Us.

The standing-room only crowd that gathered for the celebration is a testament to her influence.

One by one, speakers took the podium to tell their personal story of Ms. Mazziotti Gillan and the Center.

“Maria has done a fantastic job here,” said Dr. Steven Rose, president of PCCC. “Wherever I go, people tell me they’ve heard of The Poetry Center.”

Congressman Bill Pascrell, who was instrumental in locating PCCC in Paterson, recalled the earliest days of the Center. “I remember readings back in the 80’s when there were three people in the room, and I was one of them,” he said. Then he surprised the crowd by reading from two of his own poems.

Mark Hillringhouse, a fine-art photographer and frequent collaborator with Ms. Mazziotti Gillan, commended her achievement through metaphor. Gesturing toward a stunning photo he took of the Center, bright against the night sky, the retired PCCC professor said the design showed that against the city of Paterson, “the Poetry Center gives light and illuminates.”

Calling Ms. Mazziotti Gillan “a visionary,” fellow poet and workshop leader Laura Boss told of their travels together through Sicily, Paris, Wales and other locales where they performed readings and led workshops.

The program included readings of proclamations from state, county, and local officials. New Jersey governor Phil Murphy calls the Center “a beacon of the Passaic County community” and “a haven for artists to bloom and flourish.”

Paterson Mayor Andre Sayegh, hailed it as “an essential resource for the City of Paterson” that “offers working-class people and recent American immigrants a new way of looking at American life through literature, art, and culture.”

Maria was presented with a special poster at the Anniversary celebration
In a touching moment, the Poetry Center staff presented their boss with a framed copy of one of her paintings and poems. “Maria has been the best boss ever,” said Susan Balik, associate director of the Center.

Deeply moved by the tributes and the devotion shown by some former students who traveled across the country to be present, Ms. Mazziotti Gillan took the microphone to thank everyone present and to offer her philosophy about why poetry matters.

“There’s something in poetry that speaks to us as human beings,” she said. “People can channel their feelings, anger, and worries into words.”

When considering the purpose of The Poetry Center, Ms. Mazziotti Gillan recalled the generosity that filled her family home when she was growing up. “I always think of my mother and how she would welcome anyone who came to our house to the table. Even when we didn’t have much, she would say, ‘Pull up a chair.’”

Likewise, everyone – poet laureates, poet novices, and those who just appreciate the art – will find a welcome at The Poetry Center. “I’ve tried to give away poetry,” said Ms. Mazziotti Gillan. “I think Allen Ginsberg would be happy.”

Passaic County Community College enrolls over 13,000 students in both traditional and online programs. The College offers a rich multi-cultural environment, vibrant extracurricular life, and supportive academic and advisement network to encourage student success.

Monday, February 3, 2020

The Poetry Center Celebrates Four Decades of Poetry in Paterson

Maria Mazziotti Gillan (Photo: Hannan Adely, northjersey.com)
For four decades, The Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College in Paterson has been a force in contemporary poetry, hosting internationally acclaimed authors, leading workshops and writing contests, and bringing the written word into schools.

On Saturday, poets and literature lovers celebrated the Center’s 40-year anniversary and
Hannan Adely, of NorthJersey.com, covered the event and spoke with the Center's founder and executive director, Maria Mazziotti Gillan who said that they have drawn internationally acclaimed writers but it is also fully at home in the working-class city with a rich literary tradition.

“Paterson has a history of writers and a lot of people connected with writing. This is a place that is rooted in language, that is rooted in the ethnic experience, that is rooted in a lot of revolutionary people who were labor activists and anarchists almost. They did a lot of writing,” said Gillan.

In its four decades. the Poetry Center at PCCC has hosted readings from poet laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners and National Book Award winners including Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka, Lucille Clifton and Billy Collins. Ginsberg was a friend of Gillan's and she named the center’s biggest annual award after him.

After the morning celebration, the Center hosted a reading by the winners of the 2019 Allen Ginsberg Award.

Steve Rose, president of Passaic County Community College, said the school was fortunate to host an internationally recognized arts center with “incredible” leadership.

“I can be in California at a meeting or at a conference, and it’s probably happened 50 times – people come up to me and say, ‘You have that great poetry center,’” he said. “It’s wonderful to have a program that is just that special.”

From the early days of the Poetry Center.
At left, Allen Ginsberg signs a fan's book, Congressman Bill Pascrell and Maria Gillan


Congressman Bill Pascrell has been a longtime supporter of the Poetry Center, the college and the arts. In his tribute to Maria Mazziotti Gillan's achievements, Pascrell included two of his own poems.

Congressman Bill Pascrell

Gillan believes that poetry will continue to stay relevant in an increasingly high-tech world. Young people are drawn to poetry because it’s heartfelt and because they can write about their own lives and channel their anger and worries into words.

“Young people are realizing that there’s something in poetry that speaks to us as human beings,” she said. “Whether they find it in the spoken word or at a poetry reading in a bookstore, wherever they find it, it’s speaking to them about the human experience.”

Laura Boss
Laura Boss, a longtime friend and fellow poet, spoke at the event and called Maria Mazziotti Gillan a "visionary" and an "outstanding narrative poet."

Boss met Gillan early in their writing careers when both had won a writing contest in Paterson. They have remained friends and together hosted a long-running reading series in Montclair. Since 1987, they have offered weekend writing retreats for poets several times each year.

The Paterson Literary Review has become a poetry journal that Laura Boss says has become "one of the most respected literary journals in the country" publishing both major poets including Allen Ginsberg, William Stafford, Ruth Stone, Sonia Sanchez, Jan Beatty, Marge Piercy, Martín Espada, David Ray, and Diane di Prima, as well as new poets from the U.S. and beyond.

Maria Mazziotti Gillan is a force to be reckoned with and shows no sign of slowing down. She is currently finishing putting together her next poetry collection which will be her 24th book of or about poetry ans she will be teaching later this year in Italy. And the Poetry Center that is so closely identified with her continues to bring poets and attention to Paterson and New Jersey.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards Reading and the 40th Anniversary of the Poetry Center

Allen Ginsberg and Maria Mazziotti Gillan at a reception for The Poetry Center at PCCC
This Saturday, February 1, 2020, you are invited to Paterson for the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Poetry Center at PCCC and a reading by the winners of the 2019 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards.

Founded in 1980 by Maria Mazziotti Gillan, the Poetry Center has brought poetry to Paterson for 40 years through readings, workshops, and conferences.

A celebration ceremony and reception will be held on the first floor of the Hamilton Club Building starting at 11:30 am. Following the celebration, a reading by the winners of the 2019 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards will start upstairs in the Hamilton Club at 1 pm. Both programs are free and open to the public.

The historic Hamilton Club Building is located at 32 Church Street, corner of Ellison, in downtown Paterson. Free parking is available at the PCCC open lot at the corner of Church St. and College Blvd.

Hamilton Club - Photo: Mark Hillringhous

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards Reading February 1


The winners of the 2019 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards will read their poems on Saturday, February 1, 2020 at the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College (PCCC).

This free program will take place at 1:00 PM in the historic Hamilton Club Building, 32 Church Street, corner of Ellison, downtown Paterson. Free parking is available at the PCCC open lot at the corner of Church St. and College Blvd.

Readers will include:
1st prize winners, Francesca Maxime, Brooklyn, NY, and Marc Harshman, Wheeling, WV;
2nd prize winner, Edwin Romond, Wind Gap, PA;
3rd prize winner, June Avignone, Rochester, NY.

Honorable mention recipients
Howard Berelson, Teaneck, NJ; Norma Bernstock, Milford, PA; Bill Van Buskirk, Bryn Mawr, PA; Helen Marie Casey, Sudbury, MA; George Drew, Poestenkill, NY; James D. Gwyn, Clifton, NJ; Charles H. Johnson and Laine Sutton Johnson, Hillsborough, NJ; Diane Kerr, Pittsburgh, PA; Mary Makofske, Warwick, NY; Marie M. Marchand, Cheyenne, WY; Elizabeth Marchitti, Totowa, NJ; Marilyn Mohr, West Orange, NJ; Gloria g. Murray, Deer Park, NY; Frank Niccoletti, West Orange, NJ; Lisa Coll Nicolaou, Fair Lawn, NJ; Wanda S. Praisner, Bedminster, NJ; Maude Carolan Pych, Totowa Borough, NJ; Ellyn Joyce Rabinowitz, Nyack, NY; Robert A Rosenbloom, Bound Brook, NJ; Arthur Russell, Nutley, NJ; Matthew J. Spireng, Kingston, NY; Barrett Warner, Aiken, SC; Tamara Watson, Brooktondale, NY; Sherida Yoder, North Haledon, NJ; and James K. Zimmerman, Pleasantville, NY.

Editor’s choice recipients—Dianne Alvine, Barnegat, NJ; Charles W. Brice and Judith A. Brice, Pittsburgh, PA; Lorraine Conlin, Wantagh, NY; D. M. Dutcher, Highland Park, NJ; Linda Nemec Foster, Grand Rapids, MI; Michael S. Glaser, St. Mary's City, MD; Christie Grimes, Sackets Harbor, NY; Diane Khoury, Cresskill, NJ; Don Lynch, Kinnelon, NJ; Sheila O'Neill Massoni, Hackensack, NJ; Marion Paganello, Fair Lawn, NJ; Natasha Rabin, Nyack, NY; Kenneth Silvestri, Nyack, NY.


You are also invited to come to the Poetry Center early that day for a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Poetry Center.

A ceremony and reception in the parlor on the first floor of the Hamilton Club Building on beginning at 11:30 a.m. The Poetry Center was founded in 1980 by Maria Mazziotti Gillan, who is its executive director. The center has hosted thousands of poets over the years at readings, workshops and conferences. These include poet laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, and others of national and international reputation, such as Allen Ginsberg, Amiri Baraka, Lucille Clifton, Stanley Kunitz, Gerald Stern, William Stafford, Martin Espada, and Marge Piercy. The event is free, though we ask that you kindly RSVP to sdesai@pccc.edu

The Hamilton Club Building is wheelchair accessible, and other services, including large print materials and FM assistive listening devices, are available on request (call 973-684-5444). Parking is at the PCCC parking lot on College Blvd., between Memorial Dr. and Church St. For more information, visit our website at www.poetrycenterpccc.com.

The Poetry Center is funded, in part, by Passaic County Community College, individual and legacy donations, and a grant from the NJ State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Dual Events Saturday February 1 at the Poetry Center in Paterson

Hamilton Club - Photo by Mark Hillringhouse

On Saturday, February 1, 2020, at the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College will host two programs.

At 11 a.m., there will be a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Poetry Center at PCCC. Founded in 1980 by Maria Mazziotti Gillan, the Center has brought poetry to Paterson for 40 years through readings, workshops, and conferences. A ceremony and reception will be held on the first floor of the Hamilton Club Building.

Following the celebration, please move to the second floor and enjoy a reading by the winners of the 2019 Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards starting at 1 p.m.

Both programs are free and open to the public.

The historic Hamilton Club Building is located at 32 Church Street, corner of Ellison, in downtown Paterson. Free parking is available at the PCCC open lot at the corner of Church St. and College Blvd.

The Poetry Center is funded, in part, by Passaic County Community College, individual and legacy donations, and a grant from the NJ State Council on the Arts/Department of State, a partner agency of the National Endowment for the Arts.