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Italian poets gather at Berkeley City College

By Melody Webster
On September 27, 2012


At Berkeley City College, a small group gathered to hear the poems and prose of three female poets, featuring Maria Mazziotti Gillan who recently released her new book, "The Place I Call Home." The night began with a reception of biscotti and coffee, which echoed a similarity of all three poets as having strong Italian roots and reminiscing on growing up with an immigrant family.

The first speaker, Giovanna Capone, shared a short story and several poems. Her short story, "Playing with Fire," followed the night of a young woman reminiscing on how she met her lesbian lover. Based in 1984 during the Presidential election that Nixon won, Capone weaves the election night alongside an extreme fraternity vs. punk fight that takes place at a college. Capone discusses the life as a struggling college youth in those years, and the political chaos taking place in every aspect of life. A poem titled "Rush Hour in Manhattan" reflects on the distinct separation between the wealthy and homeless in New York. She uses this as a metaphor to illustrate the irony of America being the "land of opportunity," while it pushes people back into poverty at an increasing rate.

Following Giovanna Capone, Sandra Gilbert read excerpts of her poetry discussing mainly her roots as a half Sicilian. Gilbert explained before her first poem "Mafioso," that how Italians were portrayed in popular culture angered her because they reflect a strong stereotype on Italian Americans. Another poem of hers followed a story of growing up in Queens, New York as an Italian. Gilbert lived in a low income neighborhood and discussed how the idea of riches to her and those in that community were far different than that of the popular idea.

The main speaker, Maria Mazziotti Gillan shared many of her works enthusiastically, discussing her Italian roots and taking back her name. Gillan goes into depth about growing up and feeling ashamed of her Italian family and name, so when she was married she took his name as a way to escape her name. One day she awoke to realize that she was indeed strongly connected to and proud of her heritage and took back her name. Gillan's poems read almost like a prose, and are full of soft imagery of a time long ago.

The night was short and sweet, filled with a feeling of closeness among the readers and the audience as they shared their works. Reflecting heavily on Italian heritage and what it is like to be apart of an immigrant family in this country. 

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