Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Paying Tribute to Poet and Teacher Maria Gillan

In the foreword to 101 Jewish Poems for the Third Millennium written by Yehoshua November, he pays tribute to his teacher Maria Mazziotti Gillan. 

The anthology features poems including ones by Ellen Bass, Ed Hirsch, Jane Hirshfield, Ilya Kaminsky, David Lehman, and others. 

November writes that "As a poet, creative writing instructor, and Chassidic Jew, I am fascinated by the surprising ways contemporary poetry and Judaism overlap. It was, therefore, a great honor and challenge to write the following essay, which serves as the “Foreword” to 101 Jewish Poems for the Third Millennium (Ashland Poetry Press, 2021), an anthology of poems on the Jewish experience by a diverse group of today’s established and emerging poets. 

Here is an excerpt from the foreword:
"Traditional and radical, secular and holy, the poems in 101 JEWISH POEMS FOR THE THIRD MILLENIUM come to us just as we need them. The poets here celebrate a culture and caution against hatred, all the while making incredible art. Silverman and Carlson have gathered a stellar and diverse group of poets and poetic visions."
"As an undergraduate, I was fortunate to take a poetry course taught by Maria Mazziotti Gillan, a daughter of Italian immigrants who grew up in the tenements of Paterson, New Jersey, during the 1940s and 50s. Gillan’s poems often explore her adolescent struggle to shed the skin of her ancestors and assimilate into American culture. Ultimately, many of Gillan’s poems come full circle and represent a reclaiming of her Italian roots. “The universal is in the particular,” Gillan reiterated throughout the semester, not letting us forget one of the great writing axioms (I’ve since seen attributed to both Joyce and Chekhov):  The counterintuitive secret to reaching the widest audience, to moving the most readers, lies in telling one individual’s (often your own) idiosyncratic story with all its particular flavoring. Or stated differently, the mundane details that constitute a single life can tell a story much larger than themselves. Not surprisingly, despite my efforts to craft universal poems to be read for eternity—poems stripped of cultural and chronological specificity—my teacher encouraged me to write about my life as a traditional Jew in the contemporary world. I think, thematically—but also theologically—there was something very Jewish about Gillan’s suggestion, especially when Judaism is considered in light of Midrashic and Chassidic teachings. Gillan’s mantra also helps explain why poetry may serve as the ideal medium for achieving some of the goals of 101 Jewish Poems for the Third Millennium."



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 paired with some of her paintings is The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets. Her artist's website is MariaMazziottiGillan.com and her poetry website is MariaGillan.com.

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