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Contemporary Italian American Writing

Luisa Rossina Villani

Origins of the Poem | In Schevchenko Park |
Watching the Mayan Women

Luisa Rossina VillaniLuisa Rossina Villani Won the $2,000 Bordighera Poetry Book Publication Prize Sponsored by the Sonia Raiziss-Giop Foundation

Peter Covino and Margot Fortunato Galt Receive Honorable Mention

from Distinguished Poet Judge, W.S. DiPiero

Luisa Rossina Villani of Pittsburgh with her manuscript titled, Running Away from Russia, has been chosen first place winner 2000 of the annual Bordighera Bilingual Poetry Book Publication Prize by W.S DiPiero, distinguished poet judge of California. She received one thousand dollars at a ceremony held on November 2nd at Poets House in New York City. Another thousand dollars was awarded to her accomplished poet and translator, Luigi Fontanella, who has been commissioned to translate her manuscript into Italian.

Running Away from RussiaPeter Covino of New York City was praised as first runner-up with sample pages from his manuscript, Cut Off the Ears of Winter, and Margot Fortunato Galt of St. Paul, Minnesota, was celebrated as second runner-up with sample poems from The Annunciation. Two other poets were given honorable mention by W.S. DiPiero for their manuscripts: Ed Smith of New Jersey, whose grandfather was born in Salerno, Italy, was applauded for his manuscript pages titled, A Postcard from the Shore, and Mary Crescenzo of Tulsa, Oklahoma, was complimented for her manuscript pages from Art in the Alzheimer's Wing.

Winner, Luisa Rossina Villani was born on a vineyard in Tujunga, California in 1964. She holds degrees in Business Administration from the University of Southern California, English from California State University Northridge, and a Masters in Fine Art in Poetry from the University of Pittsburgh. She has taught English in Russia and the Ukraine, and in 1997 was the coordinator for Project Chiapas, a nonprofit organization which conducted a field study of indigenous politics at the Na-Bolom Cultural Museum in San Cristobal, Mexico. Ms. Villani's short stories have appeared in The Literary Review, The Lullwater Review, and her novel, The Battle for the Red June was semifinalist for the James Fellowship for the Novel-In-Progress from the Heekin Group Foundation in 1999. Her poetry chapbook, On the Eve of Everything, was published by WECS Press in 1998 as winner of their annual competition. Her poems have appeared in The New England Review, Hayden's Ferry Review, The Hiram Poetry Review, and other journals, and she has been a finalist for the Pablo Neruda Prize. Among her other awards are included the Suzanne Brabant Memorial Award, An Academy of American Poets Prize, an Associated Writing Programs Intro journals Award and a Masters Poetry Series Award. She currently lives in Pennsylvania with her son, D. Alessandro. About her poems from Running Away from Russia, W.S. Di Piero wrote:

"I liked this submission, Running Away from Russia, quite a bit. The poems are dense with complex intimacies -- personal, cultural, social. This is the one manuscript where I felt the poet was making a raid upon the inarticulate. Formally, the poems are really written in lines. I mean, you don't know what the poem will discover as it makes its way, line by line, through or towards its subject. This poet knows what he or she is after. A passage in the first poem says: 'Sometimes I think it's a race/ between what I know/ and what the poem can tell me.' That kind of self consciousness runs through many of the poems, and it's a liberating quality, not an inhibiting one. There are superb transformational moments; my favorite comes at the end of 'Watching the Mayan Woman:' ....'until the sky goes threadbare with stars,/ he'll divine his way home/ in shirtsleeves aglow with torchlight.'"

The following five poems by Luisa Rossina Villani were among the sample pages from Running Away from Russia judged by W.S. DiPiero as winner of the 2000 Bordighera Poetry prize, Sponsor: Sonia Raiziss-Giop Foundation.

Origins of the Poem

 

A man claps his hands, his feet

a crooked dance. Irregular in rhythm,

a regular by trade, he opens his cracked palm

toward the tourists, while clutching

his worn hat

to his chest. I'm sorry.

I interrupted your story.

You were telling me of Beirut,

the bad times before your family left.

Your father couldn't man his store,

instead he took you to the movies.

You were four. You saw Bruce Lee

in Armenian: Enter the Dragon.

When a nude scene came

your father reached through the darkness,

put his hands across your eyes.

Don't look away. My retelling

is not to offend you.

Sometimes I think it's a race

between what I know

and what the poem can tell me. I'm a voyeur

when it comes to story--getting used

to this life of nowhere--and I'm moved

by the way you finish your coffee

then put the cup upside down on the saucer.

I let hands haunt me & this science

more mine than memory. I need

the name of this place, the names

of these men gathered around me,

so I can tell you this and not that,

so I can say with great clarity, "Well..."

before I crumple these words

against my shirt

and let my feet continue.

In Schevchenko Park

 

The trumpets and balalaikas above the grass

play songs your parents knew.

Evenings, when the windows

frosted into crystal portals,

they looked out and saw you across the city,

a small star advancing the horizon. Your mother

put her hand on his shoulder, and they kissed

like lovers, though this was nothing new.

When she slept in his armpit,

her breath chilled his beard. He scratched his chin,

then stretched his arm into a dream, touching hay.

A fitful night. The ox heaved as he held its horns

and his father pulled the sweating ropes.

A new calf. An old barn.

Soon the family of nine would eat

both the cow and her scrawny suckling,

then take to gnawing the timbers.

Soldiers passed over in a wave

pulling four sons after them. The fifth stayed....

 

This street could be anything

or the edge of nothing. You don't know why

your grandfather was hostile toward doors,

but you're careful not to slam them.

As we sit beside the bandstand,

I think of you rising in the night,

the red diamonds on your socks

balancing one above the other.

A stain mapped the ceiling,

and I tried to name the country

appearing before my eyes. Rain

dropped its shadow, as you cupped your hands

outside the window. Does the past

pull you back, bearing you on a wave

that crashes against a wall? It's only music now

that I hear, but somewhere inside the sound

I want to know what went before you in the dark,

glowing in your rounded palms,

tears to light your way

or rain to grow a new city.

Watching the Mayan Women

 

I hang the window inside out

like a shirt drying in a breeze

and the arms that are missing come to me...

Yes, it's a song, one I don't quite comprehend

although I do understand the laundry.

White ash and rain water, a method

my aunt taught me, but I'll never know

how she learned it in Brooklyn. Her mind

has gone to seed, blown by a stroke,

and that dandelion puff called memory

has flown far from her eyes. Some

things remain. Procedures. If you burn

a fire all day, feeding it snapped

branches and newspapers-

the faces pressed against the print

fading into flames--you end up

with a barrel of white ash. If you take

that same barrel,

fill it with rain, and let it sit for another day,

you end up with a water

that can confer brightness to anything.

If you take that water,

and soak in it your husband's shirts,

he'll pause at dawn when he puts one on,

its softness like a haunting afterthought.

And if he works all day in the selva

until the sky goes threadbare with stars,

he'll divine his way home

in shirtsleeves aglow with torchlight.

Copyright © 2000 by Luisa Rossina Villani. From her book: RUNNING AWAY FROM RUSSIA, 2001. Bordighera Press: The Sonia Raiziss-Giop Prize Series for Poetry. All rights reserved.

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