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Contemporary Italian American Writing

Stephen Massimilla, Winner of the 2001 Bordighera Poetry Prize

LOST ROOMS | CLAIRVOYANTE | VISITATION

Stephen Massimilla was the Winner of the 2001 Bordighera Poetry Prize Sponsored by the Sonia Raiziss-Giop Foundation

Renata Treitel was the First Runner Up

Stephen Massimilla Stephen Massimilla of Sea Cliff, New York won the 2001 Annual Bordighera Poetry Prize, awarding bilingual book publication. Sponsored by the Sonia Raiziss-Giop Foundation, the prize awarded $1,000 to the winning poet and $1,000 to his translator, Luigi Bonaffini, of Brooklyn College, New York. His newly published book Forty Floors from Yesterday will be presented at a reception at Poets House, New York City, November 21th, 2002.

Dorothy Barresi of Winnelka, California, who served as distinguished poet judge for 2001 and 2002, wrote of Massimilla’s poetry: "The surreal imagery in these poems is crafted with a deft hand and a sure ear. The author has put to fine use the strange emotional states wrung from the marriage of unexpected things, but this strangeness is never created for its own sake—to shock us—but instead to illuminate the darker corners of our longings. These are marvelous poems. Like fairy tales they conjure, bewitch, cast inescapable spells."

Scroll down to a sample of Stephen Massimilla's poems from Forty Floors from Yesterday. The award is given annually for a manuscript of poetry written in English by an American of Italian decent, to be published the following November in a bilingual edition by Bordighera Press. More manuscripts than ever were entered into the prize which is held annually.

Winning poet Stephen Massimilla has published poems in The American Poetry Review, Tampa Review, Descant, Sonora, Salt Hill, The Southern Review, Hawaii Review, High Plains Literary Review and many other journals and anthologies. He completed a B.A. at Williams College and Cambridge University, a term in the Graduate Writing Program at Boston University,and an M.F.A. at Columbia University, where he is now pursuing a Ph.D. in literature. His awards include The Grolier Poetry Prize from the Ellen La Forge Memorial Foundation, a Van Rensselaer Prize in poetry, a prize from the Academy of American Poets, and the Art Institutute of Chicago literary award. He teaches at Barnard College and Columbia University.

Dorothy Barresi, who served as distinguished poet judge for the year 2002, is the author of All of the Above (1991, Beacon Press), which won the Barnard College New Women Poets Prize, and The Post-Rapture Diner (1996, University of Pittsburgh Press), which won an American Book Award. Her poems have been published widely in literary journals, including Poetry, Parnassus, The Harvard Review, The Antioch Review and The Kenyon Review, and her essay-reviews appear regularly in The Gettysburg Review. She has been the recipient of Fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and the North Carolina Arts Council. Her poetry has been awarded a Pushcart Prize and the Hart Crane Memorial Poetry Prize. She is a Professor of English at California State University, Northridge, where she is Chair of the Creative Writing program.

The following poems are samples from Stephen Massimilla’s winning book, Forty Floors from Yesterday. His manuscript was rendered into Italian by the accomplished translator Luigi Bonaffini, Professor of Italian at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York, and published in a bilingual edition by Bordighera Press in November 2002.

LOST ROOMS


A smokelike cat with owl's eyes
triggered the wind-chimes in the garden.
It skipped and quivered high in moonlight,
flagging the top of the wall, then dropped


to the neighbor's cellar. My old books smell
like basements we grew up in, locked
under gleaming floors behind Brooklyn curtains.
And nights still dream like rooms we slept in,


reading your intricate braided hair.
Now the sky is often watched by a clock
in which your gown breaks apart as clouds
cross its pool of stars. I wake from reels


of wandering the street, where wind rocks
over a stop-sign, lost in the shaft
of a dream where I'm calling to you, begging
the darkness between us to be gone.


We had nothing at all. But we were too
ignorant about what was most our own,
about rooms of silence in the gardens,
all that assured us what wanting wants.

CLAIRVOYANTE

To the tinkle of domestic pianos
all afternoon up the street, leaves
were whispering as if they had a secret
but were afraid to interrupt.
Two, three birds on a wire, and none.


In the dim-lit back of a shop
with no sign, she'd heard human noise
through the wall, a closing door,
a cough. In a feathered shadow
with openings for eye and mouth only,


she fixed on a piece of sun quivering
under the shade. She was blind,
but, did her lip tremble? Dust
from old gems weighted down the drawers.
Clock talking to a clock.


Finally I had to look: The street
was completely gated up. Just a man
lying on the pavement with newsprint
over him. Fat feet stuck out.
One gypsy bird in the sky.

VISITATION

A blackbird fell in from the wet, litter, and darkness
of October's fretful splendor. Dusk had burnt up the pots.
The Trinitarian's bell, molten in sky-fire, had melted


into night. For that expanse, the live thing jumped
in feathered panic, ruffled through bookshelves, and hit
the wall. The desk was a mess, except for a green pool


of light shaped on its baize by a lamp hunched like a raven.
As mist uncurtained the stars, they squinted for what
they had lost. Then bleeding, in love with blackness, the bird


flapped up with a heart-hurried thud and took off.
In came a fresh squirt of leaves and the wailing
that echoes from cave-mouths when sirens have fled.


Everywhere light cast webs on fallen things. Pieced
and puzzled, the floor was strewn with poems . . . to you . . . and God,
lifting black flaps of hair. I suppose I remember


on blood-matted wings, my heart bumping up
for your door, but whose hand got lost in the dark,
I don't know. Is Revelation reaching in the gloom?

Copyright ©2001 by Stephen Massimilla, from Forty Floors from Yesterday, Bordighera Press, 2002: The Sonia Raiziss-Giop Prize Series for Poetry. All rights reserved.

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