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Contemporary Italian American Writing

Winner: 2008 Bordighera Poetry Prize
Sponsored by the Sonia Raiziss-Giop Foundation
Michael LaSorsa Steffen

Barbara Fragoletti Hoffman: 2008 1st Runner-up

Hope | Heaven | I Fell Down |

Biographical Note:
MICHAEL LaSORSA STEFFEN is 2008 winner of the Bordighera Poetry Prize for his ms. Heart Murmur selected by Distinguished Poet Judge, Michael Palma from an excellent number of finalists. MICHAEL LASORSA STEFFEN has had manuscripts shortlisted for the Del Sol Press, Blue Light Press, Defined Providence Press and Bright Hills Press Book Awards, as well as the Brittingham, Pollak and Levine Poetry Prizes. His first book, No Good at Sea, was published by Legible Press in 2002, the same year he was granted a Fellowship from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts. His poems have appeared in a wide variety of journals including Poetry, Potomac Review, The Ledge, Poet Lore, Rhino and many other journals. Michael is a graduate of the MFA in Creative Writing Program at Vermont College. He currently resides in Roseto, Pennsylvania

Distinguished Poet-Judge of The Bordighera Poetry Prize, 2008, Michael Palma wrote: "For Emily Dickinson, “Hope is the thing with feathers— / That perches in the soul— / And sings the tune without the words.” There’s a poem called “Hope” in Michael La Sorsa Steffen’s strong and varied collection Heart Murmur, but he plucks the feathers and gives us words to go with the tune. And what words they are—strong, sharp-edged, unexpected, reminiscent of the “The gut-punch that blocked my breath” that opens the poem “I Fell Down.” There are many falls here, of both body and spirit; but the poet takes his consolations where he can find them, as in the beauty of nature in “A Gradual Loss of Light,” a lyric that provides the reader with a further consolation through the beauty of its descriptions. “Hope” ends with the lines: “What I know about it / could fit in a thimble. For me, it gathers slowly, / like frost on a window, / and glistens. Maybe that’s enough.” In the many fine poems that gather slowly and glisten on these pages, he has given us much more than enough."

In 2006, the poet was runner-up, with a ms. titled Premature Gods, for the Bordighera Prize. Daniela Gioseffi then the Distinguished Poet Judge, wrote "Michael La Sorsa Steffen's work shows fine craft and originality, as well as a grasp of the ironies of civilization. He possesses a sardonic wit about contemporary life and cultural history. Pre-Mature Gods contains intelligent and skillful poetry that makes for very enjoyable reading. This poet displays a wide sensibility, imbued with good, rational, sense in our wild and crazy era. He offers a wry smile as he points out irrational, and sometimes tragic, follies. That smile helps us to survive as human in these threatening, often absurd, and puzzling times."

Sample poems from Heart Murmur HOPE

AI read somewhere that
all the crime in the world is committed
by two percent of the population,
all the rapes, the murders, embezzlements,
burglaries. And yet,
because so many churches, temples
and mosques sit empty,
and galleries and museums,
and because the news is filled with mass graves,
I am not consoled.
Is there so little faith? Is mercy just
an itinerant flame, and love
a mute stumbling?
I am worried when I should be comforted.
Who among the ninety-eight percent of us
can be trusted? All the gods are spoken for.
And I am uncertain.
I know I should stop wasting time and get to a point.
But I don’t know the point. Maybe
I am fashioning my last defense against it,
and I must vow to go
wherever my resistance leads me,
if only for a few minutes,
a few hours, perhaps, to browse
the eight miles of dusty bookshelves in the Strand,
where I only look for thick, rambling,
hard-to-pin-down tomes—
Wyatt, whom I love,
and other people’s histories—
because I’m trying to forget my life.
But there’s no end to regret,
which is why I’m willing to be helped,
and why I’m willing to be led
to what I think is the gist. Hope.
What I know about it
could fit in a thimble. For me, it gathers slowly,
like frost on a window,
and glistens. Maybe that’s enough.

HEAVEN

Each hour passes
the way your hours have always passed.
You stuff them


into clocks, day in, day out,
steer complaints,
one angry voice to the next,


debit, claim, adjustment,
fax, shuffled
ream and sheaf of redress, until


the hum of your blood grows louder,
the inner knot swells, finally
ruptures. You feel breath
luring you back, a muffled drum
thumping in your chest,
the cold sidewalk leveling,
back from the moon’s jeweled tusk,
the basin of stars you held in your hands,
a banqueted sky familiar and vast,
a doctor’s face leaning over you,
and then another, tilting light
into your eyes, your open mouth.

I FELL DOWN

The gut-punch that blocked my breath,
losing my starch to your upflung fists—
your answer to thirty years of coopering
box cars at nine bucks an hour.


I was afraid of everything I’d done,
of what you could do to me,
daring me to slug you so you could
lay me out, afraid of how my life
would change if I fought back—


a sullen truce interrupted by
a boot through a chair-braced door,
those last, fierce synapses firing
your right hook or my uppercut,
our rancor simply exhausting itself.


I was terrified, but I loved you
with something that felt like hunger.


I fell down when you grazed me. I fell
when you measured me with your stiff jab.
I stared at your work shirt’s grim sleeves
of grease, your hair flecked with sawdust,


and I fell down. Blood filled my mouth
each time you hit me and I hit the floor.
Red beads hung from your sideways knuckles
whenever I saw you—ragged, floundering,
shaking your fists at the world.
To feel remade, you had to break me.

Copyright © 2008 by Michael La Sorsa Steffen. All rights, including electronic, reserved. From his book, Heart Murmur, Bordighera Press: The Calandra Insitutute @ mThe City University of New York, 2009.

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