Voices in Italian Americana reviews Paola Corso’s “The Laundress Catches Her Breath”

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Paola Corso’s poems about women’s work and lives bring to life an intimate and fragile world without a hint of sentimentality. Take “Step by Step with the Laundress”:

  1. Hang a taut line. Keep a clothespin in your mouth as if smoking a cigarette while your work friend Donna finishes your hoagie because her daughter ate hers and you gave yours up for adoption. (7)

In Corso’s collection of poems, The Laundress Catches Her Breath, the lexicon of laundry is elevated to an elegant and sophisticated poetic form. Corso’s lyric approach to the quiet and invisible labor of women creates art and beauty out of the grime and dirt of the everyday and the effort it takes to make things clean again.

The book is divided into three sections — “Inhale,” “Hold for Ten Seconds,” and “And Exhale” — that together shape a narrative that engages in an intertextual way with issues of class, race, cultural identity, life-threatening illness, sexism, labor, and death. The poems are dynamic and evocative:

When she wakes up

the air
flashes
crystal

and she follows it before it shatters

into pieces. (36)

At the same time they are explicit in their sympathies for working class histories and lives, so that it comes as no surprise that the collection won the Tillie Olsen Award for Creative Writing in 2012:

Not like those Italian girls

in New York City, cugine at the shirtwaist factory

trapped behind a locked factory door

so they couldn’t leave with a fancy blouse in their pocketbook. O shows her

girls leaping from sewing table

to sewing table across the floor

choking in a smoky cloakroom

as their dresses catch fire

pushed to the ledge by the flames. (55)

No doubt, laundry — the wash — is foundational to the entire book. In fact, the poems that make up the collection could be said to even be organized like carefully hung clothes on a laundry line: tautly arranged by form and style, with careful attention to the nuances and overlaps of color and light coming from each piece.

And yet, so many other details hold these poems together. For starters, practically every poem has a reference to breath. From the tragic health consequences of factory labor and cigarette smoking to the meditative space of reflection, the very act of breathing brings a measured rhythm to Corso’s writing. Further, the poems are linked through the specificity of place, people, and emotion. The collection is made up of poems set among a white, mostly Italian ethnic, working-class community of western Pennsylvania. The localized references are many and unambiguous: Eat-n-Park, Giant Eagle, The Point, steel mills, the Pirates, etc. But Corso’s poems reach well beyond the quotidian experiences in and around Pittsburgh.

If we could say that a book of poetry has a single protagonist then Corso’s would be a woman, a laundress, who is struggling to get out from under her father’s domineering hand while weighed down by minimal opportunities and the mindless repetition of unskilled work and service labor. To say that the labor described in these pages is of both the underpaid and unpaid varieties would be an understatement. While the focus is on the daily struggles of our laundress, the men and women she is surrounded by — both in spirit and in the flesh — are typically no better off. Steel workers, coal miners, construction workers, garment workers, waitresses, fire fighters, and all kinds of union and non-union laborers are honored by the way Corso writes the challenges of their lives into existence. And yet Corso’s is a gendered reading of labor, and she is quite aware of the double or triple work shifts women take on.

Corso is also quite conscious of the transnational nature of much of the community she brings to life, connecting her Pittsburgh laundress’s exploration of self to the character’s southern Italian background. In a rather dreamlike tour of the coast of Sicily, Corso takes readers away from the three rivers and straight to the cliffs overlooking the sea at Tindari (Sicily), giving shape to the hallowed tale of the Black Madonna of Tindari and the energy many find from her image and story.

Throughout this collection, Corso’s skill with language is apparent in how she moves her poetry from a narrative style to a free-form lyricism as her protagonist more courageously takes hold of her own life, “to exhale the ghost inside her” (67).

Laura E. Ruberto
Berkeley City College

 

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News and Events: Week of March 5th

Events

Jeanne Marie Beaumont, The Writer’s Center (4508 Walsh St., Bethesda, MD)
Sunday, March 5th, 10am—2pm
Jeanne Marie will be presenting a morning workshop from 10:00 am-12:00 pm, and an afternoon reading commencing at 2:00 pm with fiction writer Herta B. Feeley.

News

Harriet Levin Millan’s poetry appears in Plume and Ghost Road. Her new novel How Fast Can You Run is a 2017 Charter for Compassion Global Read. The free registration is here: https://app.xocial.com/campaign/beX3J2kPKbt6Z6dMF/about

Richard J. Newman had two poems published in Flatbush Review, “Clean” and “Not Yet The Women They Would Grow Up to Be:”

Carole Stone had poems accepted in Verse-Virtual, New Jersey Journal of Poets and Exit 13 for 2017 publication.

 

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News and Events: Week of February 21st

Events

Kevin Carey, Porter Square Books (Cambridge, MA)
Wednesday, February 22, 7pm
Kevin will be reading with Geraldine Zetzel

Brent Newsom, Texas Tech University (Lubbock, TX)
Friday, February 24, 3pm
CW alumni readings: Rachel Furey and Brent Newsom in English/Philosophy Building

Brent Newsom, Lubbock Christian University (Lubbock, TX)
Friday, Feb. 24, 5pm
Brent will be reading at the LCU Library  

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News and Events: week of February 13th

Events

Richard Newman, Windsor Park Branch Queens Library (7950 Bell Blvd, Oakland Gardens, NY)
Thursday, February 16, 6-8pm
Finding Poetry in Pain

News

In response to the election, Jack Ridl is sending out a poem each Thursday. If anyone would enjoy receiving the poem just go to www.ridl.com and click at the top on “subscribe.”He plans to do this until he is no longer in office.

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News and Events: Week of February 6th

Events

Kevin Carey, AWP (801 Mt. Vernon Place NW, Washington, DC)
Friday, February 10, 2pm
Kevin will be signing books at the CavanKerry Press table #330

Jeanne Marie Beaumont, AWP (801 Mt. Vernon Place NW, Washington, DC)
Friday, February 10, 11am
Jeanne Marie will be signing copies of Letters from Limbo at the CavanKerry Press table #330

Jeanne Marie Beaumont, AWP (Busboys & Poets 5th & K, 1025 5th Street NW, Washington, DC)
Friday, February 10, 3-5pm
Jeanne Marie will be reading at AWP with a group of Adjuncts and Teaching Artists.

 

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News and Events: Week of February 1st

Events

Jeanne Marie Beaumont, Downtown Writers Center at the YMCA (340 Montgomery St.
Syracuse, NY)
Friday, February 3, 2017 at 7:00pm
Reading in the 2017 Winter Author Reading Series

Brent Newsom, Cameron University (Lawton, OK in CETES Conference Center)
Friday, February 3, 7:00pm
Reading as part of the Visiting Writers Series 

Kevin Carey, Northshore Young Writer’s Conference (Waring School, Beverly, MA)
February 3-4
Kevin is a 2017 Mentor at the Northshore Young Writer’s Conference

Richard Newman, Line Break (27-16 23rd Avenue, Astoria, NY)
Saturday, February 4, 5:30 – 7:00pm
Richard will be part of Q.E.D.: A Place for Show & Tell

News

Jack Ridl’s poem “While the Dog Sleeps”has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize by The Louisville Review

Donald Platt’s sixth book, Man Prayingwill be published in May of 2017 by Parlor Press / Free Verse Editions.  He has recent poems inPrairie Schooner, Shenandoah, River Styx, New Ohio Review, VOLT, BLOOM, 32 Poems, and Notre Dame Review.  Forthcoming poems will appear in Colorado Review, Crazyhorse, Western Humanities Review, Diode, DIAGRAM, Yale Review, and Poetry.

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“Letters from Limbo” by Jeanne Marie Beaumont Debuts on Poetry Daily!

CavanKerry Presss author Jeanne Marie Beaumont’s “Letters from Limbo” makes an appearance on Poetry Daily!

Jeanne Marie Beaumont letters from limbo

In Jeanne Marie Beaumont’s book, Letters from Limbo, voices of the dead reach the living through various means, including the titular letters, revealing experiences harrowing and mysterious. Fluent in many modes, the poet commands varied poetic forms both illuminating and celebrating the haunting truth of our unpredictable earthly sojourn as we dwell in metaphorical limbo.

Poetry Daily is an anthology of contemporary poetry. Each day, the website brings new poems from books, magazines, and journals. Read “Letters from Limbo” by Jeanne Marie Beaumont which appeared on Poetry Daily below!

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Kevin Carey’s Poem Featured on The Writer’s Almanac!

“Reading to My Kids” by Kevin Carey from Jesus Was a Homeboy featured on Garrison Keillor’s Show!

Jesus Was A Homeboy cover Kevin Carey

CavanKerry Press author Kevin Carey’s “Reading to My Kids” was featured on the Garrison Keillor’s Show!

Read the poem “Reading to My Kids” by Kevin Carey below.

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Shira Dentz discusses “Flounders” with Ploughsares

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“The visual space on a page is part of my medium; the visual is an intrinsic element of written language. It’s an element with which to equivocate, to ‘measure,’ in song and meaning. I like to become conscious of as many aspects of my medium as possible so that I can attend and work with them in concert in my pursuit as a poet.”  Read more here

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“Your Mother Wears a House Dress” by Joseph O. Legaspi in Poetry Magazine!

CavanKerry Press author Joseph O. Legaspi is featured in the December 2016 issue of Poetry Magazine!

Joseph O. Legaspi - Dodge

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