July 3, 2012

The Place I Call Home by Maria Gillan, book review ragazine.cc

ragazine.cc July-August 2012 — The On-Line Magazine of Art, Information, Entertainment — Volume 8, Number 4

Maria Gillan's "The Place I Call Home"/Review

"The Place I Call Home"
A Spiritual Landmark (and a Glimpse at Horror)
  By Emily Vogel
Poetry Editor

Typically, when we think of "place" we consider first its physical geography, what exists in its proximity and what best describes its coordinates and physical dimensions. To consider that a "place," perhaps besides being a physical location, is also a dimension of the memory, a particular habitat of the mind and heart which cannot be drawn on a map, suggests a type of vault of emotional reserve that can best be channeled through the medium of poetry. Maria Mazziotti Gillan's book of poems, "The Place I Call Home" (forthcoming from NYQ Books in September) easily taps into this dimension, and while the landmarks that might be mentioned in many of the poems are recognizable as physical realities, there are without doubt other "spiritual landmarks" which carry the reader through all fifty-two poems so that we're not only in a city in New Jersey, but also journeying through the story of the "self," which has its own "emotional coordinates," in its own right.

Gillan succeeds in constructing  the "herstory" of an Italian immigrant girl. Her work is honest and bears the integrity of a woman/narrator we'd all like to sit down with and have four o'clock tea (or espresso), tell stories, and exchange matters of heart. She recalls the details of her growing up with a sense of real specificity and awareness. While reading the book the first time, I received what I'm used to after reading the last line of a really good poem or novel: the chills –  what I've come to know as a brush with the Holy Spirit. It is the kind of physical sensation which demands you just appreciate the beauty of the poem without the need to examine it immediately for its deeper meanings with an "intellectual" ear.

The deeper meanings of her poems resonate viscerally, as opposed to the type of poems which beg we impose the intellect, eviscerate them of their emotional impact, and analyze them until it's no longer the poems that we appreciate. Gillan's poems are easy to appreciate, and require no second-guessing or deconstructive examination beyond what they attest. She does not cloak by gestures of language that leave us confused and dissatisfied, wondering why someone just doesn't tell us a story we can identify as a story. In this book of poems, she has opened the vault of the self, with all its shame, joy, passion, triumph and discovery, that anyone would argue requires a certain kind of courage that many poets on the current poetry scene are not willing to employ.

My favorite poem in the collection is one which recalls a dream (In My Dream, The Light). The poem's vivid imagery succeeds in suggesting a kind of horror story: "someone with huge dark circled eyes and a bright/red gash of a mouth and huge stitches bisecting/her face and body, as though someone had cut her/in half and sewn her back together, and the dishes/on the table are full of severed heads and pulsing/hearts." The shock of these images helps us to see the difference between the narrator of the conscious world and the Gillan of subconscious magnitudes. Perhaps the real essences of our truths are revealed in dreams? In narratives over which we have no dominion or control?

While we are given a long glimpse of Gillan's childhood and early relationships in the first half of the book, much of the poems on the topic of her late husband are in the latter half of the book. These poems certainly suggest a shift, both in perspective and in sentiment. More anger and grief become the focus, yet with a real sense of maturity, integrity, and originality. These poems reveal details that are not always pretty: "even your face/looks delicate, the skin drawn/so tightly over the bones of your head that it's almost transparent,/your neck so thin it cannot support your head" (The Other Night, You Came Home), and "There is no medicine/for the sound guilt makes at 3 am." (How Do I Pack Up the House of My Life?).
There is much more to Gillan's poems than simply well-crafted stories about life. What becomes evident in many of the poems in this collection is the portrait of the narrator's fear, in the same way a child might tremble in her bedroom at night when the shadow cast on the wall by the lamp becomes a terrible monster – when perfectly ordinary images are transformed into something violent. In the latter half of this book, the narrator is revealed as someone who is confronting these horrors and conciliating with them. Perhaps the Gillan we know of in the poems is not only haunted by the ghosts of childhood, her late husband and dreams, but dares to resurrect these ghosts and render them remarkable aspects of the self. "The Place I Call Home" is truly a work of literary merit. Look forward to its release in September: New York Quarterly Books, www. nyqbooks.org

NYQ Books, ISBN: 978-1-935520-67-2

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