Table of Contents

The Bordighera Poetry Prize

Related Links
(Wise Women's Web)

Contemporary Italian American Writing

Lewis Turco: Poems from A BOOK OF FEARS


Winner of the 1st The Bordighera Prize 1998

Lewis TurcoLewis Turco's most recent books are A BOOK OF FEARS, poems with Italian translations by Joseph Alessia, winner of the first annual The Bordighera Bi-lingual Poetry Prize, and SHAKING THE FAMILY TREE, A REMEMBRANCE, both published by Bordighera Press in 1998; THE BOOK OF LITERARY TERMS, THE GENRES OF FICTION, DRAMA, NONFICTION, LITERARY CRITICISM AND SCHOLARSHIP, and THE BOOK OF FORMS: A HANDBOOK OF POETICS, THIRD EDITION, both published by The University Press of New England in 1999 and 2000 respectively. Dana Gioia has praised Lewis Turco's A BOOK OF FEARS saying: "Lewis Turco is one of the most diversely talented Italian American poets. What a pleasure to read him in two languages at once..." Felix Stefanile when he selected Turco's book as the winner of the first annual Bordighera Poetry Prize wrote:"The characters in A BOOK OF FEARS share, regardless of their varied lives, certain traits, moods and fears, certain preoccupations that mark them off from general society. What makes these lonely souls kin to each other is that they are all imprisoned by their obessions, so that though they are distinct from each other as individuals, as far as the eye can see, they suffer the same disease, self-entrapment... Mr. Turco patterns his syntax from character to character in such a way that often, sonically--and in terms of breath--the lyrics echo each other, and create a murmur that runs through the book...." David Citino wrote: "In A BOOK OF FEARS, Lewis Turco examines those jagged, cracked moments of our lives and loves--moments too silent or too loud--we can come to fear. These canny, haunting poems are imaginatively conceived and finely crafted--and expertly translated into Italian by Joseph Alessia...."

The following are sample poems from A BOOK of FEARS:

A Books of FearsERATOPHOBIA: The Fear of Poetry

--for Linda Sardella Boucher

"Dear Cousin," she wrote, "Thanks
for the books of poems. I must admit
that I haven't opened them. It's a source
of pride to me to have a poet in the family,
but I'm afraid I won't understand

"the poems and I'd feel stupid.
I fear I haven't opened them.
I must admit I fear what lies in wait
between the covers: words that writhe,
that hiss at me off the page,

"words that wriggle and won't hold still
to let me understand them.
Weird, huh? I'll work at it. I'll work
to get beneath the covers, to open one
in bed beneath the covers - they lie in wait

"beside me on the nightstand. I'll reach out
one night and grab one, pull it underneath
the covers of my bed and, with a flashlight,
open it and see the poems writhing,
hissing at me on the page I fear."

PAPYROPHOBIA: The Fear of Paper

It stares back at him, a blank white sheet
of winter lying on his desk. They hypnotize
each other. He shakes his head and blinks his eyes,
takes up a pen and puts its nib upon
a random spot. He stops and stares some more,

lifts the pen and looks - a single dot
of darkness blooms like an iris off the slope
of winter. It does not makes it worse.
He takes the sheet in his fist and crumples it,
throws it to the floor. He shakes his head

and takes another leaf out of the drawer,
takes up the pen and puts it down, leans back.
A field of frost lies waiting on his desk.
He feels its chill blooming off the slope
of his escritoire. When he shuts his eyes,

there it is again, blooming now
behind his irises, hypnotizing him
with sheets of winter desolation turning
slowly into dots of darkness spreading
downward from the alpine pinnacles.

MONOPHOBIA: The Fear of Loneliness

She sits by herself at a table, not the bar,
slowly stirring her warming cocktail, listening
to the buzz of conversation - the softball chat,
who dumped whom and when and why and where.
A cirrus of smoke is suspended in the air.

She smiles at him. He passes by. Another
takes his place. She smiles again and sips
her warming cocktail. "May I sit down?" he asks.
She nods, he sits. "Buy you a drink?" "Okay."
While he is gone she drinks her warming cocktail.

When he returns he says, "So, what's your name?
Mine's...." She doesn't catch it. What's the difference,
anyway? But she tells him hers. They add
to the buzz of conversation - who knows whom
and where and when and why. But no one knows

any other, she thinks and does not think.
She stirs her warming cocktail now and then,
and when it's time to go she takes her bag
and follows him through the buzz of conversation,
the cirrus of smoke suspended in the air.

AMATHOPHOBIA: The Fear of Dust

If she closes her eyes, before she can drop
off the edge of silence into sleep
she imagines the dust beneath her bed
clumping itself, sending out strands of hair
to gather more dust, become a ball of fuzz,

and then begin to search for other balls of dust
with which to copulate and reproduce.
If it is a daylight nap she tries to steal,
her eyes spring open to see the noontide sun
slipping through the blinds in laddered beams

down which the motes of dust climb one by one -
she feels them landing on her chest, her face,
she feels them searching underneath her bed
to be caught in strands of hair, become a ball
of fuzz. She sneezes. She coughs. She begins to wheeze.

She throws off her coverlet to rise,
cover her mouth, walk to the kitchen through
the laddered beams of light and dust to find
the mop, the rag, the vacuum cleaner she
put away before she lay down to nap.

CHRONOPHOBIA: The Fear of Time

He hears his timepiece ticking in the night
beside the bed. Down the shadowed hall
each ponderous hour is rung by the standing clock.
He jerks awake and wonders why he has
these instruments of torment in his home.

He lies awake and hears the sandgrains fall
between the walls. The deathwatch beetle marks
behind his bed the moments of his life -
will daylight never dawn? Is all the world
forever lost in labyrinthine gloom?

He comes awake, rises and leaves his room
to wander down the hall. He hears the hour
rung by the standing clock. Its pendulum
swings through the moon, describing a silver arc
sixty times a minute - he hears the chatter

as though the sounds were rising from his brain.
Is all the world forever lost in sand
falling between the walls, deserts composed
of the moments of his life? He returns to bed
and hears his timepiece ticking in the night.

AMBIGUPHOBIA: The Fear of Puns

Neither hear nor dare to utter them:
that is her mutter as she walks the lane
between her home and work. No other theme
keeps her intention. Shakespeare is her bane
of contortion - all those double entendres,

wierd ploys, warble chokes. How can one stand
a language that sniggles like string, snags in the tongue?
A word should mean what it means and not demean
the person who speaks it, cause her demeanor to alter,
native good humor to melt in the foyer,

or before the altar, of the Laughing God.
She works the line between her ham and wok
when she pre-pares a meal. What is amiss? Better
to walk a mile than think of puns; sooner
choke on Oklahoma dust and walk a mule

than have as motto, "Neither hare nor deer
to otter dam." Better emigrate
to Rotterdam and get in Dutch
than stumble over meanings, double over,
wretched upon the quaking worth of words.

Copyright © 1998 by Lewis Turco from his collection of poems, A BOOK of FEARS: Bordighera Press Winner of the FIRST ANNUAL BORDIGHERA BI-LILNGUAL POETRY BOOK PRIZE.

[Back to Top]

Italian American - Home Page

Table of Contents | The Bordighera Poetry Prize | Related Links

* * *