Book Bag: ‘The Dawn of Nothing Important’ by David Giannini; ‘You Can Travel Forever’ by Daisy Mathias

Staff Writer
Published: 9/15/2022 4:48:51 PM
Modified: 9/15/2022 4:44:57 PM

The Dawn of Northing Important

By David Giannini; Dos Madres Press

 

‘Once upon a time,” says David Giannini, who lived in Leverett and Montague and worked in a now-vanished bookstore in Northampton, he substituted for one of the late poet James Tate’s MFA classes at the University of Massachusetts Amherst while Tate was away.

These days Giannini lives in Becket, where he’s been busy writing and publishing an impressive number of poetry collections in the last several years, winning a number of Massachusetts Artists Fellowship Awards and other honors, including the 2020 James Hearst Poetry Finalist Award.

In Giannini’s most recent collection, “The Dawn of Nothing Important,” the former UMass and Williams College teacher offers a sometimes whimsical, sometimes darker look at the world around us, reflecting on the pandemic, the changing seasons, loneliness, childhood, the passage of time and more.

At one time a beekeeper (and a gravedigger), Giannini also reveals a close connection to the natural world, writing both about its wonder and the threats to it. In “Beekeeper,” the poet looks back on his work and the techniques of beekeeping, such as using “cooler smoke less / likely to irritate bees on hot summer // days when we moved on an old lumpy / mattress ...”

It’s important, Giannini also writes, to leave enough stores of honey for wintering bees because on a planet where the natural rhythms of life have been dramatically altered by humans, “This world doesn’t balance on its own.”

“The Dawn of Nothing Important” is divided into eight sections, and one of those sections carries the same title. The poems here are notable not just for their general brevity and unusual structure but because the final word or lines of each poem serve as the title of the following work, building a sense of movement, a journey through time and space.

In “Viral Packet,” another section of the book, Giannini reflects on the disruption and weirdness spawned by COVID-19, like its grim beginning in early 2020:

“We all wait for news of the invisible // coming our way. The human world locked indoors. Every / day broadcasters tell us chances of dying soon, while others / cling to families.”

In the prose poem “Covid Paranoia Insomnia,” the pandemic could be read as a metaphor for something more sinister, “a great threat” — environmental, political, spiritual or some combination of all three — that is moving across the land: “No one knows exactly when or if it will / stop in its tracks, or for how long. The hand of our hands, restless.”

But “Viral Plaza,” a prose poem full of tumbling wordplay, offers some humor, a look at the variety of face masks people wear in the supermarket and the images they conjure: “Candy / is dandy but eye-candy bandana masks make / all seem a gang of pre-heist prankster robbers / planning to beat the virus while paying with fake credit cards.”

The poet finds more laughs in “How Happiness Returns,” an account of a multi-generational family picnic where “we know the children inside us are back, / peek-a-boo happiness around trees” and everyone sits “together at table, feeling after-feast bloat.”

And there’s more: “No violence, virus, and // no masks! Well, a beard of mustard // on a doll stuffed between rafters, / and everybody cracks // into laughter.”

Giannini’s poems, one reviewer says, “often seem to grow organically on the page, surprising us with an abundance of living forms, and his attention … peers on us now, especially in this epoch of contagion and risk ... Curiosity for him is a kind of loving care.”

 

You Can Travel Forever

By Daisy Mathias; book design by James McDonald/The Impress Group

 

The late Daisy Mathias, of Northampton and then Holyoke, had a deep love of poetry. She began writing verse as a young woman and for 15 years hosted a radio program, “Poetry à la Carte” at WMUA 91.1 FM. Mathias, who died in 2020 at age 79, also worked with writers and poets as chair of the Conference Committee at the WriteAngles Conference in South Hadley.

Now family, friends and fellow poets have brought to publication a collection Mathias was working on before she died, “You Can Travel Forever,” in which the poet writes feelingly about the natural world, including the landscapes of western Massachusetts, as well as love, loss, friendships and memories.

Several of Mathias’ free-verse poems examine family ties, recalling her childhood and marking the passing of loved ones. In “Learning Gravity,” the poet remembers climbing a tree outside her house as a young girl, her mother watching nervously from the front door; yet her mother is reluctant to stop her, knowing her daughter “must learn gravity.”

Years later, Mathias looks back on her mother’s death and her guilt at not being with her when she passed, noting that life will always contain risks — but that risks remain worth taking: “I still climb trees, just as when / I was ten, want to sail into space with wings, / know I will slip and fall, / climb again.”

“The Basket” and the prose poem “Anatomy Lesson” both consider the sudden death of her father at age 56. Her father loved to garden, so for his last birthday Mathias gave him a gardening basket for the following spring, not knowing he would not live that long: “He cried, slow tears leaking down his cheeks. / I stood by his chair, appalled, not knowing what to say.”

Mathias perhaps writes most joyously about the contentment she always found in the natural world. In “Wild,” which is prefaced by Henry Thoreau’s notable quote, “In wildness is the preservation of the world,” the poet contrasts the bedrock connection a newborn child and mother have with the feeling she has as she sits, barefoot, on a forest floor.

“No civilized constraint of shoe lace, sole, / toes wiggle, arches lift, free of weight they bore. / Breathe, be here now, and feel roots reach earth’s core … you re-connect when bare skin, sole / Brings you to roots, feelings, once more whole.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.


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