Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

For Paterson-Bred Poet, You Can Go Home Again

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

For Paterson-Bred Poet, You Can Go Home Again

Article excerpt

It's not just Dr. Einstein who was boggled by those twin enigmas: time and space.

All of us are. Each of our lives is a journey through time. And many of us, in a lifetime, end up physically far from where we began.

Even those of us who don't move -- like poet Maria Mazziotti Gillan, who has spent most of her life in Passaic County -- are well aware of the larger, ever-changing world outside North Jersey.

From her here-and-now -- Hawthorne, where she's lived on and off for 55 years - she contemplates her life in a new collection of poems, "The Place I Call Home" (New York Quarterly Books).

"I'm talking about what I've learned about what it means to live a life, and to be human, and to love people and lose them," says Gillan, 72, founder of The Poetry Center, a department of Passaic County Community College.

The 2011 Barnes & Noble Writers for Writers Award winner will be among the poets reading Saturday at the Woody Guthrie 100th birthday celebration at Ridgewood Christian Reformed Church. Laura Boss, James Gwyn, Charles H. Johnson and Laine Sutton Johnson are among the other readers at the event honoring the famed folk musician and social activist, which will offer music and food.

The 52 poems in "The Place I Call Home" are Gillan's meditation on her own life: her Italian-American upbringing in Paterson; her illiterate but smart and strong-willed mother; her 1940s childhood of Buster Brown shoes and "The Lone Ranger" on the radio; her husband who died of early-onset Parkinson's in 2010; her children and grandchildren and their own problems.

And through all of this, the sense of loss: the people who die or change, the places that alter beyond recognition, the sense we all have that our lives are built on shifting sands.

"To me, in a way, a lot of those people seem more real, now that they're gone," Gillan says."I try to keep them alive by writing about them, thinking about them, repeating things they said."

Just as her poems look backward in time, so they look outward in space -- to the world beyond safe, comfortable New Jersey. …

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