28 October 2009

What is Left by Liz Ciampa-Leuzzi

What is Left
By Liz Ciampa-Leuzzi
Big Table Publishing
32 pages, $10.

Reviewed by Emily Scudder

Confession. I am a slightly too busy working parent. I read chapbooks in the orthodontist’s office, waiting in the car, while the pasta water is boiling (those are 8 good minutes!). If I have to spend too much time trying to decipher, unpack, unravel, or just understand the general gist of poem, well then, the whole endeavor becomes just another item on my to-do list. Less is more. Don’t drown me in thick language. I like haiku. I also like Liz Ciampa-Leuzzi’s chapbook "What is Left."

Ciampa-Leuzzi knows how to tell a story. Big Table Publishing likes to publish poets who tell it like it is, direct, no secrets or vague hints. They make a good team.

A Version of Relief:

One day, it just lifted –
The old, heavy sadness –
With the words of a friend,
Unwitting in his help,
Telling a story:
“My buddy – I grew up with him –
He has a crazy family:
They all hate each other…..

Dialogue is tricky. Italics or quotation marks? What form works best? Liz Ciampa-Leuzzi doesn’t sweat the small stuff, or so it seems, though her attention to line break, format on the page, and punctuation indicates otherwise. She makes writing a poetic line look easy. Like a smooth golf swing. Or perimeter shot - nothing but net! Her labor is hidden, well practiced, and I appreciate the lightness. Don’t get me wrong – there is nothing superficial about "What is Left," but kudos to the poet who can make us feel the relentlessness of loss, whatever the kind, without feeling flattened or totally depressed.

It’s a Process

Mother does not love you.

She pushes you off a cliff
Is a cloud over your life
She leaves a bad taste
You try to do what they say
You try to detach, to leave her
And her vacuity
Where they belong:
Far away from you. You do try.

And she is funny. In "What is Left" there are 6 poems about writing poems - her own, her students – and others. It is both risky and bold business to include poems on writing poems, or that refer to the writer's insider world of submissions and rejections. I thoroughly enjoyed all six, but wondered, nevertheless, what a non-poet might think. From “The Business of Our Art:”

Submit outside our reading period and
Your manuscript will be summarily trashed-
Unread, of course.

Teachers should be this choosy
Lovers, too.
By the way, editing is now available
at twenty-five cents per word.

It isn’t that Ciampa-Leuzzi wants you to share her exact thoughts (although you might), it is that you sometimes have thoughts, exactly the way she describes her own.

Stealing Time

Today a stranger, a mailman, whistled at me
While I drove down the street
Minding my own business.
Surprised I looked in the sideview mirror
and saw his blue bag and long mailman’s chain
Swinging from his belt loop as he walked.
That’s how I knew he was a mailman.
Looking straight ahead again
I saw that the cross street in front of me
had the same name as one of my sisters.
And I thought: when was the last time I saw her?

Ciampa-Leuzzi offers up no heavy-handed theme, or obvious sequence in her debut chapbook. We are free to roam around, pick and choose, never doubting that we might be loosing the literary thread. What a relief! Think Globally/Act Locally. I kept thinking of this slogan as I read "What is Left." Ciampa-Leuzzi writes about the particulars of her life, and soon her particulars seem loosely related to your own.