Friday, October 07, 2005

Review of Lo Galluccio’s HOT RAIN Singing Bone Press, Ibbetson Street Press 2004 $5.

Having heard of Lo Galluccio for some time as I frequent the Boston-Cambridge poetry venues, I had the good fortune to hear her read poems at a recent feature at Emack and Bolio’s in Roslindale, MA. I should preface these comments on that reading and her recently published chapbook, HOT RAIN (Ibbetson Street Press) with the fact that I am a tough critic to please. I’ve been doing my own poetry readings and attending nationally and locally known poetry readings on and off for 30 years now, having lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan and Boston, MA. I’ve heard many “pretenders to the throne” of poetry and music, along with some very good academic and street poets. Lo Galluccio is an original and striking voice, based both on the quality of her work and her lyrically pleasing performance style. Her work is an interesting amalgam of the psychological, mythical and musical. Its content is entertaining and challenging at the same time, weaving in toughness and surrealism.

HOT RAIN is a musical and sustained piece of work. In her Acknowledgments, Lo writes “These poems are about love, loss, identity and just the language out of which they are made.” This is accurate but also an understatement. For Lo Galluccio’s best work is earthy, vivid, painful and haunting. Her style is marked by interesting use of conventional poetic devices like internal rhyme, alliteration, the use of refrain, lending to a distinctive, lyrical style. Her voice is sometimes nonsensical, almost like Dame Edith Sitwell on acid! She makes playful use of rhyming preconscious language in wordplay poems like “The Sweat of His Labor”’s lines: “A mermaid is caught./A mermaid is not.”
The poems occasionally echo poets from another century, while making the subject matter and voice her own:

“The heart pounds in every mask.
Desire burns to ashes of wisdom.
That is passion’s task.” (from “Virtue’s Tongue”)

There’s an oddly medieval tone sometimes from witchcraft, notable in recurrent words like crossbow, flintlock, repeated interest in Puritans, Hansel and Gretel, black bras and rainy days. One of the most interesting aspects of her work in HOT RAIN is how she manages to mix the Catholic/Christian with the pagan in poems like “No Matter What that God Judges”, one of my favorite in this collection:

“And there’s a Godfather looking down saying
That one, if left alone, will find her way to me.
But there is also an Earth Mother looking up
Within me, humming – she hums gorgeously –
No matter what that God judges she or me to be.
We string our necklaces and wash our hair.”

In the poem, “Being Visited”, there’s a kaleidoscope created, containing twists of shifting color, familiar and often violent images of death (bullets, caskets, cancer). There’s the suggestion of living on the edge, quickly scuttling across spiritual underlayers of damaged faith, challenged by being offered a ticket to ride more comfortably in an urban limousine.

In HOT RAIN, Lo Galluccio’s best work combines the eloquent and passionate with a fair amount of discipline. To my mind, this would include the following poems: “No Matter What that God Judges”, “Sarasota I”, “Sarasota IV”, “3 AM Hudson Street”, “The Dream of Life”, and “The Spectre of Guilt”. In all of these poems, fresh diction, highly original imagery, and poetic “shape” predominate. There’s a wide range of feelings explored from the sensual to the angry and cheated “child of ghosts” in “The Dream of Life”. There’s eloquence with mystery and a knack at seeing ghosts in the wallpaper of ordinary rooms (see “The Spectre of Guilt”). When she writes with
tenderness in the two elegies for her dead father, Anthony (“Sarasota I” and “Sarasota IV”), she’s at her best in lines like these:

“I wept into granite to raise you.
Did you drink? Has God
Swallowed like gumdrops your oracle eyes?
Did the morphine blind you like Oedipus?
When will we say our good-byes.”

HOT RAIN is a very good body of work and deserving of a careful reading. There is a lot of energy here, of sense and spirit, a strong sense of place and haunting shadows. It’s a book of poems written by a woman who’s lived, loved, lost and who continues to have a sense of wonder, the wellspring of creativity. In the future, I would like to see her work with historical themes, perhaps use increased narrative diction and move forward from the autobiographical to a larger canvas. I recommend this chapbook and encourage all to attend her next poetry reading in Boston or wherever she roams.

--Carolyn Gregory

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