“When I told my mother in 1968 – a few weeks before my 23rd birthday – that I had a heroin problem, she wept in despair. She grew up in New York City’s West Village and knew heroin addicts. And what she knew about them was that, except for imprisonment or death, they could never stop using.” –Gil Fagiani*
There’s a gritty and multi-cultural side to large metropolises like Toronto and New York City that I’ve never seen nor experienced. Yes, I’m familiar with the famous “I (heart) New York” t-shirts and the 9/11 destruction of the twin towers in Lower Manhatten’s World Trade Centre. Television and the internet paint a vivid, perhaps distorted view of the urban streetscape.
“Write what you know” screams the creative writing textbooks. As a rural writer, I’m like the country mouse rooting around my grandfather’s potato fields or the crow swooping over my neighbour’s seed corn. One of the best ways to learn about the city is to venture out and to become immersed in the surroundings. However, when travelling isn’t an option, attending local readings by out-of-town guests helps to broaden my outlook. Also, some challenging or dangerous experiences are best avoided and left for the more experienced to record.
In late November, Gil Fagiani and Maria Lisella—a New York couple who are also well-known Italian American poets—ventured to Sarnia-Lambton to visit with friends and to share their literary journey and stories with local writers.
Fagiani’s spontaneous reading in Lambton County was particularly riveting. His new poetry collection Logos, published by Canadian publisher Guernica Editions, “tells the story of Logos, a heroin treatment center in South Bronx – not as an outsider but as one of the residents seeking to overcome his own addiction**.” The 166-page book is divided into four sections: “Shooting Dope With Trotsky”, “White Uncle Tom”, “Siding With the Enemy”, and “A Single Spark” and includes a glossary of slang terms.
“Aside from my physical survival, Logos helped me gain crucial insights into myself and my family*,” wrote Fagiani in his introduction to the book.
His own story is compelling, painful but also inspirational. Not only is he the author of eight books but he worked hard to become a social worker and addiction specialist. For 21 years, he directed a residential program for recovering drug addicts and alcoholics in Downtown Brooklyn. His raw and descriptive poems and characters in this book may shock the readers; lead them into dark corners to reflect on what it means to be an addict overcoming an addiction.
Fagiani was in Canada for the Supernova Book Launch where he officially launched Logos with books by other Guernica Edition authors, November 29, 2015 at the Supermarket Restaurant and Bar in Toronto. His other books include: Crossing 116th Street (Skidrow Penthouse, 2004), Rooks (Rain Mountain Press, 2007), Grandpa’s Wine (Poets Wear Prada, 2008), A Blanquito in El Barrio (Rain Mountain Press, 2009), Chianti in Connecticut (Bordighera Press, 2010), Serfs of Psychiatry (Finishing Line Press, 2012) and Stone Walls (Bordighera Press, 2014).
During his Canadian tour, he was accompanied by his partner Maria Lisella. Lisella is an accomplished travel writer and poet and was recently named the Queens Poet Laureate (2015-2018). Her third book of poetry Thieves in the Family (NYQ Books, 2014) is described as “poetic vignettes…captured with a cinematographer’s eyes, laced with a love of dialogue, and an endless fascination with stories heard on subways, planes, in kitchens, and in foreign countries.***”
Her other two books are: Two Naked Feet (Poets Wear Prada, 2009) and Amore on Hope Street (Finishing Line Press, 2009).
Additional information about Fagiani and his new book can be found here.
Additional information about Maria Lisella and her books and her role as the newest Queens Poet Laureate can be found here and here.
I look forward to reading their work.
*Quotes pulled from the introduction to Logos (Guernica Editions, 2015) by Gil Fagiani. Reprinted here with permission from both the author and publisher.
**This quote appears on the back cover of Logos (Guernica Editions, 2015) by Gil Fagiani.
***This quote appears on the back cover of Thieves in the Family (NYQ Books, 2014) by Maria Lisella.