It has been a busy and productive year for MCC Poet-in-Residence Emanuel di Pasquale. 2017 has seen the publication of not one but two new books of his poetry: “A Prayer” (Guernica Editions: Essential Poets Series) and “In Truth” (New York Quarterly Books). It’s no accident that “A Prayer” is included in the Essential Poets Series since it returns time and again to what Professor di Pasquale would call his peers in “the literary brotherhood.” Poems for William Butler Yeats, Ezra Pound, Li-Po, X.J. Kennedy, and others weave through this book of prayers, and these are indeed prayers – beautifully written, lyrical (occasionally mischievous) meditations honoring and evoking the poems and souls of these saints of the literary brotherhood. In some cases, Professor di Pasquale’s prayer evokes and honors the work of the poet and then enfolds that work into Professor di Pasquale’s own vision in what amounts to a literary embrace (or as Emanuel would say, “Big Hug”). The approach allows us to appreciate the influence of these literary forebears on his work while also allowing us to witness how he has transformed their influence into his own unique vision.
But Professor di Pasquale also includes prayers to many others besides his literary brethren. Musicians Bob Dylan and Rufus Payne, the great blues artist, make an appearance, as do lovers, colleagues, and even the tiny creatures that the poet also considers his kin: Raccoon Bob, Robin Redbreast, the Owl. There is a special prayer for each, and the book itself serves as a prayer for poetry – Professor di Pasquale performing his sacred office of keeping the candle of the lyrical brotherhood lit, an office captured beautifully in the cover image of a votive candle illuminating the darkness.
If “A Prayer” commemorates people, “In Truth” celebrates place. The poems here are more of what we would expect of the Sicilian-born Poet Laureate of Long Branch. Long Branch, Belmar, The Garden State Parkway, the state of New Jersey serve as more than setting and backdrop; they are praised front and center in these lyrical gems. But Professor di Pasquale is no regional poet, or, to put it another way, he is a regional poet in the same sense that Carl Sandburg was a regional poet for Chicago, or Walt Whitman was a regional poet for Brooklyn or Camden; that is, through the local he celebrates the country and the best of human nature. “On the Resurgence of Long Branch’s Boardwalk” shows the local community working as one to rebuild the lifeline of their city after the devastation of Superstorm Sandy:
“Women, men, hardhats, using their hands, their sturdy shoulders,
Riding machines like gods—
Unearthed broken rocks, cracked wood of ancient pylons—
Settled the earth down with powerful dirt, cement with steadying
Force of lava, supreme rocks, volcanic driven…”
As always, he drills down through the immediate experience to the universal and primal to celebrate outer nature as well as human nature. Complementing the poems of New Jersey is an equal number of poems about Sicily, and in these the poet again evokes the immediacy of the regional experience while at the same time folding it into the context of universal, natural beauty.
In some poems of Sicily, one might catch an image from, or allusion to, the Jersey shore, and in some about the Jersey shore, an occasional reference to Sicily. As “An Etruscan in New Jersey” makes clear, for Professor di Pasquale it is all of a piece – Nature becoming aware of Herself through the landscapes, living creatures and lives of everyday people in regions seemingly separated by time and space.
“A Prayer” and “In Truth” are the 15th and 16th books of original poetry by Emanuel di Pasquale, adding to an already impressive body of work and demonstrating that our Poet in Residence continues to grow as a creative force of nature, and to serve as a passionate and influential voice for the vital role of the humanities in our lives.