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Contemporary Italian American Writing

Jane Tassi Winner of the 2002 Bordighera Poetry Prize

Click to: Awards Ceremony, Thursday Nov. 21st

And SongSongSonglessness | Lily | Of Qilakitsoq Greenland 1500 AD| I Italy | Egypt | Interview with the Quail Hunter

Jane Tassi, winner of the 2002 Bordighera Poetry Prize for bilingual publication of her ms. AndSongSongSonglessness has been immersed since childhood in the creative arts including poetry, painting and sound. She was Detroit born and grown and has lived in San Diego for twenty years. She received a Bachelor of Arts from University of California at San Diego and an M.F.A. from San Diego State University. She now teaches at Southwestern College. Tassi has published poems in Rolling Stone Magazine, Viet Nam Generation, Scents & Sense, and the Birdcage Review; LOESS, a collaborative art and poetry book and two broadsides were published by Brighton Press. She has contributed the poetry components for three Border Art/TAF exhibitions, one of which was presented at la Biennale di Venezia. She sang on John Lennon's "Instant Karma." Awards include the Burkhardt Prize, Ina Coolbrith Memorial Poetry Prize and the Miles Modern Poetry Award. Tassi was a finalist in the National Poetry Series competition and now has been selected, anonymously, by distinguished poet, literary critic and teacher of creative writing, Dorothy Barresi, to be this year’s winner of the Annual Bordighera Poetry Prize.

Dorothy Barresi wrote of Tassi’s work: "Jane Tassi's inventive, astonishing poetry does what all good poetry must do: it brings us our world made new, line by line, even as it confirms our oldest yearnings for emotional music that is deeply felt, mysteriously familiar. Indeed, Tassi's poetry understands that the mysteries of language mirror the mysteries of existence itself. Revelations arise from our ever-shifting attempts to understand it, to make sense of what is fleeting, lovely, potent, frightening, and, ultimately, unknowable, just-out-of-reach. Tassi honors the complexity of our existential condition while refusing to play to anyone’s preconceived literary expectations. 'The hospitalized child in / a train of hospital / meteor of hospital. / Lilies pillow her. / We are in poetry we are in poetry / like a swimmer; / crocodiles hell the river.' For Tassi, whose poetry has the same sting of authenticity that Sylvia Plath's did, poetry exists in just such unexpected juxtapositions of ordinary and extraordinary states of being. Tassi is unafraid of ideas, and her imagery registers the vibrancy of the physical world around her without resorting to the shock value of easy surrealism. 'Sound will do what, and colors who?' she asks in 'I Italy.' 'There can be no paradise / like this boying, girl-filled, fluted voice / vespering air, sealed in its glade / a soul climbing out of flesh clothes.' What a delight this brave poetry is to read! It brings the pressure of conscious and unconscious human desire to bear on an outer landscape pulsating with sensory data. The result is oracular, hopeful, even when it grieves: 'I tell you, / I want to sleep / in the slow black and blow of a snowpool / some, short minutes / no sunup.' Tassi's poetry deserves to be read with a careful eye and an open heart. It is the most accomplished work by an emerging poet I have read in a long, long time." Tassi will be awarded at the November 21st Event & Reception at POETS HOUSE, New York City.

Sample poems from, AND SONGSONGSONGLESSNESS follow:

the house
the hot
the dark
the door


Your boy;
bright red is the heart’s noise

And Songsongsonglessness

There are words in the other room
like blurred stars
and an animal sound
if an animal weeps.


It is apparent that the violin
in the violinman’s hands
is his infant
coffin-cased.

body goes


stove-refrigerator
stove-refrigerator


temperature flip-flops


Hissing marsh of illness
-hurly souled
-unstilled

Lily

The hospitalized child in
a train of hospital
meteor of hospital.
Lilies pillow her.


We are in poetry
we are in poetry
like a swimmer;
crocodiles hell the river.

—as with any death
occurring


—this is not earth
during

Of Qilakitsoq Greenlad 1500 AD

Nimmed and transfixed
by exigencies of dearth and cold
the mummies of Qilakitsoq
are eight.
3 were 50
2—30
1-----—18
a 4 year old, and a boy of 6 months.
They’re an array of tumor,
lice, lead, cadmium
birdskin, sealskin, woven straw
undergarments, overwear; tattoos
polleny, wormsy faeces
healed fractures, thumb warts
soot-streamered lungs
and to the hundreds teeth: no caries.
Their graves were lined
with White Arctic Bell-heather
Lily-of-the-Valley resembling:
the babe probably buried still living.
His disk head stares
-—has fur hood
—fern hair
—feather lashes;
a face that mixes
wind, moon, reedy fume,
sheer, awed, wingéd,
magnetic, fluorescent, attracting
and in no way stinking.
Inalienably angelic.

I Italy

Sound will do what, and colors who?
Hill, hill, mounts, water;
sunfired sunflower field to the sea,
cindery Vesuvius, stone snows of Carrara.


A venetian blue button
sought in-out at thirty shops,
purchased


A mushroom large and browned golden
as cow-splat,
acquired


A one-town ruddy wine pursued through
the winding valleys of the Apennines,
got


The distance trills with murmuring
like red and blue purpling,
meanderer


There can be no paradise
like this boying, girl-filled, fluted voice
vespering air, sealed in its glade
a soul climbing out of flesh clothes.

Egypt

Camel hills—hundred pounds
silicic mountains—megatonic
and the pyramids stabbing sky;
bazaar confections attracting flies
at a rate bettering excrement, 8:1, and the sun,
and the sun.
This Africa is bandy-legged,
the poor minimed,
dhows breathy,
heat cudgeling.


What is there to drink and feed
and dream from this?
And why did the ancients
upon milking their herds
scything their fields, sculling the chummed air of sleep,

still and too,
decide to squiggle
in gold and tight starrets of lapis
on the sarcophagi of their despots?


The easiest poem is the pyramids,
the electrum gleam on the pharaohs’
basalt encasings and the asp wiggling
awake off a cone of sand.
The gut-Christing poem is the twelve seconds when a bus
the weight of a star cleft
the seashell of a boy who crossed
a street near the cemetary residences
there, there, in gimcrack Cairo.

Interview with the Quail Hunter

LeRoy gave me eight cleaned quail
in a block of pinkish ice—and


told the story, square, paragraphic
of how with shot you fish birds
from their swing of sky:


"The land you find them on is rough.
Chaparrel, sage, low mesquite,
cholla cactus, prickly pear.


Morning and night red air.


Chollas jump. Sticks afire.


You’d never shoot a bird on the ground.
Some do of course, and shoot from trucks
and drink and shoot.


You spy quail first by hearing them.
They group in the bush and together
make a Captain Queeg-steel-balls sound.


The solitariness. You are talking with
the walking; talking to yourself along
with the pace and blend of weather and


maybe seeing a snake and the weight
of the gun. There’s also the smell
of shotgun after it’s fired,


the chunky shells and their specific
heft. That clash and shing
sound when you load.


But this is what happens:
a roar up murmur when the covey flies
out of the ground cover. Hit one,


puff of feathers and it

sails down scudding into rocks or
brush making a dying flutter for
ten or fifteen seconds.


Occasionally there’s a head shot.


I’ve seen it only two, three times.


It occurs every 500 or 1,000 kills.


The quail is hit and zips straight up,
higher than its flight in lifetime.
You do not believe your seeing


and the death goes on at such a height.
Then there’s a lead drop to nothing.
No activity on the earth.


That’s exactly what happens.
Exactly how you feel—"

Copyright © 2002

by Jane Tassi. All rights reserved. From her book

And SongSongSonglessness (Bordighera Press, 2003)

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