Thursday, April 18, 2013

So Spoke Penelope by Tino Villanueva

So Spoke Penelope

by Tino Villanueva

Grolier Poetry Press

Cambridge MA

Copyright © 2013 by Tino Villanueva

60 pages, softbound, no price given

Review by Zvi A. Sesling

For twenty years a woman waits, waits for a husband to return. Men come to her home— a different kind of siege, they want her to pick a new husband. They want her home, her wealth, her body. What’s a woman to do?

Poet Tino Villanueva who won an American Book Award in 1994 for Scene From The Movie GIANT has written another volume of poetry which deserves a prize: So Spoke Penelope – the woman under siege in her own home.

However, Penelope is no ordinary woman, she is the wife of a king, and no ordinary king.

Her husband is Odysseus, king of Ithaca and Homer’s hero.

As Villanueva envisions her, Penelope is a strong woman, one who many women today would not only admire, but of whom they would be jealous.

Take for example the poem How I Wait in which Penelope tells of her loneliness:

Today I sit by a window, my spirit

swimming out into the deep-azure-blue of the sea.

I’m a woman waiting, in love with a man,

and in love with the love had.

I took an oath with myself to wait,

and keep passionately waiting

even after the great shining of the sun has worn away

I pick up my sorrow and carry it to bed,

and wait some more

before sweet sleep weighs down my eyes.

Next day I rise,

and hear myself speaking words of all-abounding hope

…and go on waiting. These things I say aloud

to have clear thought,

to keep the day alive.

I’m a woman waiting,

waiting with the restlessness of sea-waves

repeating themselves in her head

like messages from afar.

Villanueva has also written some wonderful lines as from Today I did Almost Nothing comes this line, which, within the context of the poem stands out as a paean against war:

Thought about war

…war that spoils the ties of love and mocks my marriage;

Or from God Of Extended Blue Waters:

make the heart soar on wings of contentment

Then these lines from The Suitors:

Those blasted blustery brutes:

the crudest of the crude crowding my thoughts.

Rain or shine,

it’s them again—rowdy louts befouling the air

with the rough language of their praise.

The book concludes with Twenty Years Waiting with the opening lines of:

Just when I thought the star-lights of love

no longer shone for me, that I’d stand apart,

a woman, living more on lament than hope

down the stairs into the hall I went to see

the beggar-man who the day before had walked

straight into my gaze; who was no stranger begging,

but truly Odysseus, the man I love the way a woman

does just the one time….

This book is brilliantly conceived and executed by Tino Villanueva. Placing himself in Penelope’s mind and delivering a stunning extension of Homer’s original is a truly remarkable achievement. So Spoke Penelope fascinates, and there is no need to have read Homer to get understand Penelope’s plight in the context of Odysseus’s twenty-year absence brought about by war, a centuries’ old stain on the human condition which Villanueva shows from the view of she who waits for the return of her love.

This volume of poetry is highly recommended and should bring awards to the author.


Zvi A. Sesling is author of King of the Jungle (Ibbetson Street, 2010), Across Stones of Bad Dreams (Cervena Barva, 2011) and the soon to be published Fire Tongue (Cervena Barva). He is Editor of Muddy River Poetry Review, Bagel Bards Anthologies #7 and #8.

He regularly reviews for the Boston Small Press and Poetry Scene

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