SESTINA FOR LOUISE DESALVO
September 27, 1942 – October 31, 2018
Literary history teaches us that enormously successful writers are often members of a cohort of creative people who, as they mature in their field, help one another achieve success. The work of each member of the group gains more notice than if each had worked in isolation. —Louise DeSalvo, The Art of Slow Writing
At your desk, birthing the work.
Research. Write. Read. Quiet. You created
your life: not isolated history.
Imagine how we might grow as writers,
you wondered for yourself, for us; people
who searched for those who had achieved success.
In shunning empty success,
your discipline exposed the hardest work
of becoming. Scrutinizing people’s
(your) ideas, you noted creativeness
that could move us ever inward, writing
a world—worlds—which would expand history.
You wrote women’s history,
revealing marginally successful
lifetimes steeped in isolation. Writers
no matter circumstances. You said: Work
of the intellect is ours. Create—
like Woolf—the important work that peoples
a world beyond the people
of the puttana—whores of history’s
moldy assimilation creations.
Our (im)migrant ancestors’ success
shown in our shift from physical work
to the laboring habit of writing.
Biscotti and tea, writing
talk motivated by our people’s
memories. Crafting the important work
of remembrance. Forgotten histories.
Hibiscus and chocolate, such success
matters. All our earthly creations
in pursuit of creative
lives. Emotional, physical writers
knitting an intellectual success
so we might embrace our personhood.
We grip complexity. Shared history
leaves us unafraid, curious writers,
but lately, I’m not succeeding at the work of grief. Creating
nothing more than busy work. Isolating. Lost not in my writing,
but memories of you as my people, our shared history.
Nancy Caronia is a Teaching Assistant Professor with West Virginia University. She co-edited Personal Effects: Essays on Memoir, Teaching, and Culture in the Work of Louise DeSalvo (Fordham University Press, 2015). Most recently, she guest edited a special issue on the Rocky film series for Italian Americana and wrote “The Language of the Women” for a special section on folktales in VIA. Follow her on Twitter @n_caronia