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Terra Firma (National Poetry Series) by…

Terra Firma (National Poetry Series)

by Thomas Centolella

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"A savoring spirit...", April 9, 2000

"A savoring spirit," and not a savior, Tom Centolella proposes, is what's needed. TERRA FIRMA is a volume to carry around with you - a distinctively companionable voice, antidote to ennui with life's vicissitudes, or even with dismay that might arise in your mind (as you traverse this infirm earth), over the state of contemporary poetry. Somewhere in every poem, Centolella amicably shares his take on Yeats' "importance of the life or of the work" conundrum in his own peripatetic images, touching our own lives with his erudition and savvy. "Everyone has been damaged to near extinction. Everyone/has loved inordinately those they should not have loved/ except in the most disembodied spirit of good will," he writes in "Misterioso": and while his poetic pronouncements are ever-well-crafted, the reader's delight lies as much in his rich, ranging particulars: "...the international/orange of the Golden Gate Bridge in the far distance, and closer/the gold onion domes of the Russian Orthodox Church, made more golden/ by the sun going down: a scene like a picture postcard of the absolute."

Centolella's poetry has the heart to encompass generations of forebears stretching back to the Old World: "...I have no trouble/imagining the woman who's been everywhere/and says Enough in four languages: English, Italian, Baby, Silence." ("Nocturne: New Year's Eve"), and with his wise allusions to Marcus Aurelius, Virgil and Vivaldi, Walt Whitman and Thoreau and Thelonius Monk; his stark participation in everyday joys and near-disasters, he creates a widely empathic, time-traveling citizenry for the land on which his poetry lives.

And, even while he speaks of the times when "Every phone call was long distance, even the local ones", Centolella also knows of a "local cure": a string of images in his "Sun Sang", for example, might be an anthem for the lushness of San Francisco's Chinatown. "After her young boy toppled the boiling kettle", first line of Centolella's poem "Fog Light", will always bring me back to an exact moment in my own experience, and I thank his poetic guardian angel for "The Task" - to "recover the taken-for-granted". Another poem, "Girl in a Peasant Blouse", shows masterfully how poetry illuminates the news (as in William Carlos Williams' warning, "that no one gets the news from reading poetry, but hundreds die every day from lack of what is found in it.")

TERRA FIRMA came out, coincidentally, the year that I began living abroad: for me, and other expatriates with whom I've shared the "news of it" -- for a decade, now --, it has often indeed provided a blessed kind of firm ground.
  lulaa | Jan 9, 2007 |
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