The Poetry of Joseph Zaccardi







Render by Joseph Zaccardi

Review by Brandon Cesmat

The bio in Render doesn’t mention military service, but Zaccardi’s poems do. I wouldn’t call them war poems rather, these poems appear early in the collection, making war an early experience that the narrator responds to. The title poem says, “What takes away gives.” Is this something war taught the veteran? As I think about the veterans in my life, I think about simplicity of the ultimate sacrifice and the difficulty of surviving.

Zaccardi’s book is not about transcending but surviving “a rotten war” without letting the touch of rot destroy the veteran. Throughout the collection he plays with the word’s “lessen” and “lesson,” homonyms, to be sure, but also synonyms if the loser observes not only what is lost, but what takes its place and how whatever appears lost is transformed.

One technique Zaccardi employs is the negated image. At least since Shakespeare noted that his mistress’s “eyes were nothing like the sun,” poets have used negating descriptions to come as close as possible to what they were attempting to say. Zaccardi occasionally uses a negated image where others might have willfully forgotten for reasons self-defense. In the poem “Regret” he writes,

What I forget is kept on a long list, white tape

of a cash receipt. It unfurls, accounting for debits,

each detail printed in a blue smear.


I can’t remember nearly missing first call to colors

or hesitating at the gangway, saluting the ensign,

or almost not leaving.

The end of one thing is the edge of a new thing. Rather than write reminiscences, Zaccardi writes through something like war to the next thing:

Everything turns

on itself: the earth, our sun, a dog

tied to a Maypole. And who will be sorry

if nothing is uncovered, who will care

if there’s no world at the end?

What some might consider negation or obliteration, Zaccardi seems to consider transformation. Inspired by Li Po’s observation that “tea changes water,” Zaccardi seems to go one better and note that change is the essence of water. In the poem “Waterchain,” he writes, “At the altar we will someday lie, / the sacrifice, / the Christ. Iron holding body to wood. /This is the judgment, the devouring and emptying. / It is water that holds us, surrounds , captures.” The word “captures” resonates with military overtones and sites the conflict within.

It is interesting the poem concludes with a reversal but not a resurrection. I find myself asking during other poems if these transformations are true. In “Illumine,” Zaccardi write’s “What is reflection if not desire? / With it comes devastation.” Later in “Desolation,” Zaccardi observes how the landscape recovers from fire while a farm does not; conversely, it seems that desire might not come with devastation. Perhaps this is a lesson some of our veterans have to teach enlistees who want to lose their innocence while winning a war.

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Copyright ©2016 Joseph Zaccardi