The Poetry of Joseph Zaccardi







Ed Coletti's review of Joseph Zaccardi’s A Wolf Stands Alone in Water

Perhaps knowing that Joseph Zaccardi is a poet of great heart, I first searched out the heart poems in his new brilliant collection A Wolf Stands Alone in Water: Word Tech CW Books (October 23, 2015) only to immediately also recall how taken I have been by the strength of his mind and his philosophical belief systems. These qualities work beautifully together as in the poem “Speaking in Tongues” where the poet beholds his stepfather dying of cancer, “I promise to be there when it happens,/to kneel in silence. The doctors have given him/a time, and my stepfather holds that time out/at arms length, feels it shrink and expand.”

This entire volume pulses with that intelligent beat of life both expanding and diminishing. Such is the heart’s unalloyed truth.

Each of Zaccardi’s collections also embody a type of mindful spirituality more of the Eastern sort without in-your-face theology. The book is divided into five sections preceded by this prologue,

A Kind of Surrender

This morning the last bloom

on the wisteria fell away.

Why is it I close my eyes to music

and open them when there’s a storm?

The section titles Pain Outside The Body; The Scale That Measures Our Lives; A Map Of Questions; Pain About Damage; and The Wheat Field present somewhat of an enigma calling out to me to find a common denominator. Yielding to the challenge, I immediately go to “pain,” but this collection, while it explores pain exquisitely, also checks into the realm of the metaphysical better denoted by the words “measures” and “map.” And “the wheat field,” at least those words, beckons to me as from a peaceful place of meditation. This surmise at least in part is borne out in the thought-provoking poem “Home Front” where “She tries to not think; tries the mind trick of writing/the problem on paper, then locking it away in a drawer.”

However, she also must wrestle with her active brain, “Arrogant muscle, she says out loud.” When a friend suggests that “…she make up a color/that doesn’t exist,” metaphysical notions come to bear with, “…What doesn’t exist? Who can avoid/hearing the news about those killed in action?” Suddenly, we’ve found ourselves watching warfare on PBS. She turns off the sound, but “…She can’t help thinking. Turning back/is a defeat, she’s told. That could be said of friendly fire./What does exist? A question.”

The poem “The Hand” is a most wise one. It goes far in understanding that earlier jarring section of the book, A Map Of Questions which seems to delve deeply into the issues of great violence.

The Hand

The hand can embrace and crush,

can mold and caress, can be held

or be like the clouds. The hand is vain

and corrupt, is kind and forgiving,

can draw on a canvas

something vast and beautiful,

can clear-cut a forest, strip a mountain.

Can hold a lie as stiffly as a rod

or truth as loosely as a string.

The aforementioned themes of pain, love (heart), and metaphysical mystery come together most tellingly in “Infantryman (No Dog Tags).” This poem, originally published in Spillway, was my introduction to Joseph Zaccardi’s work. Later, I learned that he had served in Vietnam as a naval air rescue corpsman attempting to save wounded marines in battle. The poem begins with the graphic lines “I once put my mouth to another man’s mouth/because he could not breathe on his own.” After failing in his resuscitation attempt, the speaker concludes with the wondrously ambiguous lines, “…I turned onto my back, lying/exhausted next to him. And held his hand/as his body cooled. The heat from the sun felt good,/but not the hunger not the shame.” Joseph Zaccardi is also a very brave poet.

Towards the end of the book and in the midst of The Wheat Field, the poem “Tourniquet” couples another sanguinary image with the metaphysical ocean, “There is immensity. The sea with its own language/held together and not held together. And the heart/inside the body. Each keeps saying don’t stop.” Again that great Zaccardi heart that keeps beating along with his language of the tides.

On this theme, I will conclude with several lines from “Loss.”

“…The flower obeys the laws/of nature, whether opening in full season/or the wilting in abandonment.”

All is there for the poet. Beauty, love, loss, pain, and wonder. A meditation. Wonderful achievement from a great poet.

Joseph Zaccardi - Born in Newark, New Jersey, poetry came late to Joseph Zaccardi at the age of thirteen. His publications include Vents (Pancake Press 2005), Render (Poetic Matrix Press 2009), and The Nine Gradations of Light (Bark for Me Publications 2013). In 2003 he received an Individual Artist Grant from the Marin Arts Council. He was editor of the Marin Poetry Center Anthology from 2010 thru 2012, has participated in the ROAR program, started by outgoing poet laureate CB Follett, reading poetry to residents of nursing homes and assisted living facilities. He was appointed Poet Laureate of Marin County, CA in 2013 for a two-year term

Ed Coletti is a poet, painter, fiction writer, and chess player who studied under Robert Creeley in  San Francisco (1970-71).  Ed recently has had work in The Brooklyn Rail, North American Review, Big Bridge, Hawai’i Pacific ReviewSpillway, Lilliput Review, and So It Goes – The Literary Journal of the Kurt Vonnegut Memorial  Library.   Internet presence includes  his popular blog “No Money In Poetry.”  Coletti’s  book, When Hearts Outlive Minds, was released June 2011. Germs, Viruses, and Catechisms was published by Civil Defense Publications  (San Francisco) during Winter 2013.  The Problem With Breathing from Edwin E. Smith Publications (Little Rock) was published during June 2015.  Apollo Blue’s Harp (and the gods of song) also will be published by Edwin E. Smith in 2016

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