Hallelujah Time!, John L. Stanizzi, Big Table Publishing, 2015, 69p, $14
Reviewed by Danni Maggiore
John L. Stanizzi’s collection Hallelujah Time! reminds the reader of ripples formed in water when a rock plunks into a pond. The images in each poem are constructed layer by layer, building upon inspirations like Bob Marley lyrics and Biblical influence. With the Biblical references forming the center of the ripple, and Marley’s lyrics forming the first ring around it, Stanizzi is able to work his own life experiences into the mix and create new, complex images in his poetry.
One poem that beautifully exemplifies this concept is the title poem of the collection, “Hallelujah Time!” The base scripture, quoted in the epigraph, is Psalms 150:6—“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. Praise you the Lord.” Based on this, Bob Marley wrote a song centered on the idea of children singing Hallelujah despite their difficult lives. Stanizzi, in turn, takes this concept and personalizes it by dedicating his poem to his granddaughter, Raelle. Stanizzi interprets the image by saying:
It speaks of living on borrowed time
and of another hallelujah of deer appearing there
on the crest of a hill that reaches down to where
Raelle, in her tiny chilly body, plays,
but stops when she sees me, stops and runs to me
runs to me, leaving one imagined privacy
for another—her sense of what I am to her—
recognizing in me something capable of love.
Here, the passage from Psalms and Marley’s song lyrics are evident in the language, yet the poem’s imagery is, at the same time, uniquely personal to the speaker and stunningly clear for the reader.
The collection is filled with poems that demonstrate a consistently deft hand at balancing tribute to lyrics and scripture with personal and heartfelt experiences. Each poem holds such amazing depth that to attempt to dissect them for analysis and take them out of the overall context of Hallelujah Time! would be criminal. Bob Marley’s own daughter, Cedella, gave Stanizzi’s work the highest endorsement and praise, “We are blessed to see [my father’s] message translated into such divine poetry alongside scripture.”
In My Neighborhood, Giovanna Capone, Bedazzled Ink Publishing Company, 2014, $9.95
Reviewed by Jessica Derr
Giovanna Capone’s debut collection of poetry and prose, In My Neighborhood, is filled with honesty and feeling, as she sets out to explore her identity as a second-generation Italian American and how this has and continues to inform all other facets of her life. With a distinct earnest voice, Capone’s verse moves with purpose and a spirited vitality, almost seemingly duty bound to shape a comprehensive narrative out of fragments for both her own familial history and Italy proper to give a voice to those who no longer speak.
In My Neighborhood is split into three sections. The first primarily deals with preserving these narratives and clinging to a culture that America seems content to allow to disappear into the dredges of its melting pot. It is refreshing to see Capone grapple with feeling a certain level of ignorance and dissonance in relation to her own culture, opening “Olive” with “By the time I learned/certain facts about my history/I was past 30./No one taught me in school/so I had to find out for myself.” In pieces like “To America,” Capone is sure to capture the toil, the bone aching weariness of early Italian immigrants in building up the country— “They toiled in summer heat and winter cold/building bridges and roads/like Sisyphus in hell/They worked till New York City swelled/from the backbreaking labor/of its immigrants.” And yet even with the glistening New York City skyline a testament to their contributions, Italian chapters remain absent from the history books, with the public instead looking to the screen where “some guy named Guido is a low class ass/and every goombah carries a loaded gun” to gain an understanding of what it means to be Italian. To combat this limited representation, Capone creates tributes to people, places, and rituals. Whether painting the portrait of her firecracker mother or rendering her New York neighborhood with such care that you feel as though you are traversing the streets yourself, all of the pieces are imbued with a sense of holiness and generations of old grandeur.
Towers of Aging, Joseph A. Amato, 2020, $7.58
Reviewed by by Mark Spano
Joseph Amato says in the preface of his new book that he has had, “a life-long preoccupation with passing time and annihilating death,” such preoccupations seem to this reader the requisite gifts for a poet. In his most recent collection of poems Towers of Aging, each of Amato’s poems make up many individual arcs that contribute to a whole circle of living and dying. This may sound dismal or overly ponderous, but Amato’s poems are not saturated in dread and complexity. He finds a fullness and beauty in the commonplace events of living a lasting life. In the poem We Dance On the poet never deceives himself or his reader that the long life lasts forever or that there are no tolls to be paid for longevity.
We Dance On
Old and tired,
We drag ourselves to the floor
But to dance once more.
With our steps long missing their skip,
We dance our favorite polka.
Your twirling red polka dot skirt
Leads us on age’s crooked path
Over streambed of rounded and slippery stones,
Into the dark forest.
These are notes the poet writes to himself reminiscent of the Italian Nobel laureate Eugenio Montale,
…our long journey has been short too.
Mine still goes on, and I need no more
traps, shames of those who think
that reality is that what you see.
Like Montale, Amato ferries us to ground zero, to a place where aging happens, to where we all will come face to face with diminished capacity but not without the greatest of all of life’s gifts that of reflection. He tells us in West Tower,
For me not to remember the past
Cuts me in half.
In these poems, Plato’s examined life no longer enjoys its usual scholastic distance. Amato knows what aging is. He has captured it in the now.
In his book The Force of Character: And the Lasting Life, depth psychologist and author James Hillman has told us bluntly,
To the question, “Why am I old?” the usual answer is, “Because I am becoming dead.” But the facts show that I reveal more character as I age, not more death.”
Amato has taken us substantially beyond Hillman’s “usual answer.” He has demonstrated for us that this aging thing is a thing of value, a thing worth doing.
Throughout his writing, Amato’s Sicilian roots emerge again and again. The afterword of the book is in the form of aphorisms. This is a particularly Sicilian form often loaded with irony and humor.
Years know more than books.
I love all the girls I once danced with.
The cures for old age are wit, thanks, and more thanks.
Amato’s Towers of Aging is offering us a path to understanding, acceptance, and joy in the certain truth that we are all traveling in the same direction.
Part two and three of the collection involves Capone determining how her identity as a lesbian feminist fits within the traditional Italian upbringing established in part one. While there are certainly points of contention, much of the resilience, perseverance, and grit integral to the Italian-American experience bleeds into Capone’s coming into her own and her righteous stand for civil rights. Even when she eventually decides in her early twenties to pave her own way and leave the neighborhood that shaped her, we see how Capone chooses to retain many of the practices of her youth.
Packed with humor and heart, Capone’s collection shows us that Italy is not just a place. It is not just olive skin and thick hair. It is not just full kitchens of family members clamoring over each other and the scent of sauce on Sundays. Rather, it has a way of wrapping itself around your heart, the Italian enduring spirit is there to stay, set to carry you through whatever challenges life may throw along your way.