Tuesday, September 14, 2021

Praise for 'When the Stars Were Still Visible'

"For the Stars Over Paterson" [a review by Dante Di Stefano published online at bestamericanpoetry.com of When the Stars Were Still Visible by Maria Mazziotti Gillan (Stephen F. Austin University Press, 2021)

Excerpts from the review:

...Gillan’s poetry challenges fixed notions of American-ness by dramatizing the processes of remembrance so important to the construction of identity in traditional Italian American families. Mazziotti Gillan’s ultimate subject, therefore, is the remembering self.

In the title poem, Mazziotti Gillan writes:

So many memories swirl
like bits of color in a kaleidoscope,
and so impossible to explain.

To full expression’s kaleidoscopic impossibility, Mazziotti Gillan holds up hundreds of shards of specific memories as shining and tightly-packed as the silver balls her Zio Guillermo made from the foil inside his Camel cigarette packs.

The poems that stand out the most in When the Stars Were Still Visible are the ones that either fill in an as yet poetically underexamined corner of the poet’s autobiography or feel like a resolution to a part of the poet’s autobiography that has supplied the material for many earlier poems. “Taking my Brother to the Barber” provides an example of the former kind of poem. In this poem, a sibling relationship spanning more than seventy-five years spirals out in a bittersweet aria ending on the brother’s huge dark uncomplaining eyes. 

“My Son the Lawyer Quotes Dylan Thomas to Give Me Courage” provides an example of the latter kind of poem. In poems from previous volumes, such as “Is This the Way It Is Between Mothers and Sons?” from All that Lies Between Us, Mazziotti Gillan has explored the distance between an adult son and aging mother. However, in “My Son the Lawyer Quotes Dylan Thomas…” the distance collapses as the son reaches out to encourage his mother using the lines of the Welsh poet’s most famous villanelle. Just as many of her poems end in uplift, “My Son the Lawyer…” resolves (in uplift) the mother-son story arc that runs throughout her body of work.

...She is singing. As she says in the poem “Last May in San Mauro, Cilento, 2017”: "I hold the memories close to give me comfort when I am most afraid.” Reading her work, I feel less afraid of aging and what comes after. I feel her warmth. I hear her singing. I see the stars over Paterson. What else could a reader ask for?

Maria Mazziotti Gillan's new poetry collection is When the Stars Were Still Visible (2021). Other recent publications are the poetry and photography collection, Paterson Light and Shadow and the poetry collections What Blooms in Winter and The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets which pairs her poems with her paintings. Maria's artist's website is MariaMazziottiGillan.com and her poetry website is MariaGillan.com.

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