Category Archives: Uncategorized

The Truth Will Set You Free: Review of Sicilian-American Mark Spano’s Midland Club

Those who read Mark Spano’s Midland Club (Thunderfoot Press) will immediately be transported to a different world.  No , this book is not fantasy or science fiction, but instead, a murder mystery—with a twist.   Sicilian-American Spano , has re-created a world when to be homosexual was a scourge, practically validating open-season on those outside of what was considered the (sexual) norm.    Spano’s characters are expertly drawn with subtlety —-he leaves out cartoonish or stereotypical characterizations which would simply demean and weaken the story.  We care about Rich St. Pierre, the outcast in his well-known and respectable family, in part, because he possesses a keen intelligence —and has a conscience.


St. Pierre is determined, at the risk of his own safety, to get to the bottom of the truth about the death of Puce Bordeaux, a loyal and hardworking waiter at the Midland Club.   St. Pierre is not buying the pronouncement of Bordeaux’s death as suicide for a few very particular reasons:  the man was a “Negro” and a homosexual, and a Catholic, as evidenced by the rosary beads entwined in Bordeaux’s hands that does not escape St. Pierre’s notice, and somewhat shocks him nonetheless. This is  clearly an unusual situation signaling a definite triple -jeopardy in the 1950’s.

When Bordeaux’s priest, Monsignor Corliss is found dead, St. Pierre risks his own life to uncover the secrets the town has been covering up, in one way or another, for a long time.  That St. Pierre has been shunned by his own family  for his so called “degenerate” lifestyle,  makes the task he sets himself  somewhat easier since he feels as though he owes little to anyone , save the discover of truth itself:

As I watch my neighbors’ doors and windows before they resume their restless movements through this city, I know in small way I am free in my living here.  I am an outsider and I survived unjudged by the rules on either side of this divided city.

Mens club.jpg

While this is a slim volume (120 pp) , it is a powerful  story  that even transcends the revelation of the murder mysteries in the end.  It is a an evocative portrait of a place  and time in which the basic rights of men (and women) to live freely and to follow their own desires was repressed by shame, intimidation, violence, outcast status and the withdrawal of love and support  from family members.  And, in the case of the story Spano tells us in the Midland Club, many paid the ultimate price for just living their lives with the truth that, ultimately, could not be repressed.

The Midland Club is a superb little gem. Read it and feel transported to the world of dark wood, cognac and the ultimate boys’ club.  Be transformed by the truth it seeks to expose about a dark time in our country’s history and the many that paid the ultimate price for simply being who they needed to be. St. Pierre sums it up thus:

               So, I continue, here, in this town somewhere between the pain of remembering and the                         carelessness of forgetting. 


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Interview with Gloria Mindock, Author of Whiteness of Bone: Poetry as Witness

In this space, usually reserved for issues of refugees in Sicily , I tackle a  twin topic: that of organized killing and slaughter worldwide in repressive countries with brutal regimes.  Poet, Writer and Activist Gloria Mindock answers some of my questions about her latest collection of poems, The Whiteness of Bone, which focuses on systematic killing as a worldwide  modern scourge.  Not coincidentally, brutal regimes and all that goes with them are often just one of the reasons people flee their country of origin, their home. Her newest poetry collection, The Whiteness of Bone, tackles this subject matter.


MR:Your collection of poems, Blood Soaked Dresses stunned me with its stark portrayals of how banal evil really is. It reminded me so much of Carolyn Forche’s The Country Between us. In that collection you focused on the legacy of violence, oppression, terror and death in El Salvador. In the Whiteness of Bone you cast your net wider and speak of human tragedies in the world at large. Tell me a bit about how this collection came to be, and what your preoccupations were when you were writing these poems.


GM:After Blood Soaked Dresses was published, I continued to write about the atrocities. The slaughter of the innocents was happening in so many countries. I knew I had to continue to be a voice for those who could not speak. I felt the world was silent and ignoring what was going on. I was not about to ignore it, so I kept writing about it. Finally, I had enough poems that I felt good about and put them into a manuscript, Whiteness of Bone. I am so excited and honored that Glass Lyre Press published this work.


MR:Andrey Gritsman, so astutely called the poems in this collection “a long weapon piercing human conscience.” In fact, once one reads these poems, it would be difficult if not impossible to perceive what is going on in the world at a distance, since the human essence is so very vivid: you do not hold the reader at arms length—in fact, you are speaking directly to the reader when you write, in the poem “Don’t”

Don’t tell me my writing is too graphic

for you as you sit in your nice apartment,

enjoying the day, sleeping peacefully at night.

You can do this, they can’t.

MR:Who are your readers? What effect do you think or hope these poems have on awareness of political, military and social violence in the world? 

GM:Besides friends and others in the writing community, I am hoping I can reach those that feel like I do and want to wake up the world to these killings. Some people have said to me that it is difficult to read some of my poetry at times. It should be. This means I am doing my job as a writer, as an activist. Right now, the world is falling a part and it is over greed, money, power, religion, oil, land etc… I am hoping people will read more on what is happening and get involved. Voices need to be heard. The slaughter has to stop.


MR:Your prose poem “Random Thoughts About a Boy” touched me deeply. What came to mind was the little Syrian boy Aylan Kurdi, found face down on a beach while trying to flee his war torn country. That was a graphic and gut wrenching visual provided to us by worldwide news, the image of which I will never forget. What you do with words here, is also so evocative, one can imagine children everywhere who are either lose their lives’ or who take the lives of others, as is the case with children being conscripted into war. If killing is learned, how can it be unlearned?

GM:Killing is learned and it can be changed, starting with the adults and parents not teaching their children to hate by watching what comes out of their mouths and demonstrating the actions of peace and caring for others. Change can happen if responsibility is taken.  For some people, it is rooted from one generation to another. People have to be willing to change, work at it to stop the cycle. Strapping bombs on children, or giving them a gun and teaching them to shoot is , clearly, not the answer.


MR:In your poem “Shrapnel” hope feels lost. You write: No matter how hard we try, we can’t attach ourselves back to solace. then further, you write: The vine stays, the debris adds up, and the angel laughs— truthfully, as fine a line as I have ever read. So fine, in fact, I copied that line into my journal. while so much poetry has an ineffable quality, explain to me, if indeed you can, what you mean by that line. Do you really believe there is no longer a place or room for solace.

GM:The line means the vine to heaven stays but the debris of the killings adds up. No one is going to climb the vine but it is there if you do. The angel laughs because no one climbs it. She is cynical and feels there is no hope for this world. I feel the same way lately because the slaughter is getting worse. Evil is getting worse. Again, the world stands by and does nothing to put a stop to it. I believe in comforting and helping the innocents in these countries but I can’t do this alone. I feel alone in this calling at times so where is the solace? There are a few out there speaking up like I do but not enough. I will never lose hope and my love for mankind but I am human. I want to shake the world up and put a stop to all this killing. If enough people say stop, I believe it all can change.

MR:You do not shy away from the graphic, which is just one of the things that give your poems their great power. In Maria’s Uncle, Maria holds her uncles guts in her hands, then tries to push them back in. Her lips actually touch them. Such a stark and stomach churning image, but it is the last two stanzas that move me the most:

Now Maria travels the world, speaking about the dead, telling the

world it is hopeless, that no one is capable of a quiet tongue. 

With outstretched hands, she handed everyone a flower, said:

you must water it to live, but if not, the depths of hell will assign you a seat.

This poem both expresses despair that is unending and then hope. Is Maria a composite or a real person? Are you expressing here the stubborn hope in the face of unspeakable tragedy? 

GM:Maria is a real person who fled El Salvador in the 1980’s. She escaped at age nine. She laid in a pit by her mother who was dead and faked her death so she would not get shot. The trauma and PTSD this young girl suffered was heart breaking. I had a translator when speaking with her. In the book is a poem called “Maria” which I wrote for her. I have no idea what happened to her but hopefully, she still is alive and living here in the United States.

I decided to use Maria in many of my poems and made her into a saint- like figure. To show everyone, that there is always hope in this world.


MR:We can only imagine some of the locations of the poems that you write about, since you are not explicit and do not name names of the countries. As a poet, this appeals to me greatly—because while each tragedy is unique in its own way, oftern the effects, the loss of life and other horrific vagaries of war are the same. Was this lack of specification intentional on your part? If so, why?

GM:  I did not name the countries because there are so many of them. There are only so many ways to kill a human and so many countries slaughter in the same way. How many different ways can you use a machete, shoot a person, rape, chop up, and torture? It all is horrific. I don’t need to name the countries because it is everywhere. This world is becoming a cruel place. Towards the end of the book, I do mention a few countries.

MR:The last poem in the book “Orchestra” brings it all home to me. You give the reader something of yourself, which is brilliant:

I don’t think you understand who I am—

Bohemian girl, who never sleeps…

Can I speak to you about my poetry?

Listen, you will hear new words

coming from my voice.

MR:Who is Gloria, the writer, the poet, the activist?

GM:I am someone who believes in helping others, speaking up;  being a voice for others.

I am a protestor, a warm-hearted person who cares about the world and how people treat each other. I will never understand all the mass killings.

I write on many different subjects and write poetry, plays, and flash fiction. Not all of my work is about the atrocities.

One of my biggest gripes is  that many people don’t care about what is happening in the world because it does not directly affect them. These are the people I am trying to reach, to wake up. I want people to say “enough”.

I have always helped people in so many ways. I work in addictions and have for close to 36years. It is not easy some day working with people who are suffering and addicted to drugs,  but I love it—it is very rewarding.

MR:You are so active and present on the poetry scene both in the US and abroad. Your press Červená Barva Press has published poetry from writers the world over. What is the philosophy behind the press?

GM:Červená Barva’s mission is to publish poetry, fiction, plays, and translations from all over the world. The press tries to bridge gaps between countries. To name a few, we have published writers from: New Zealand, Australia, Poland, Northern Iraq, Canada, Romania, Asia, South Korea, Czech Republic, England, Argentina, Mexico, Sweden, Estonia, and many more.

I have more countries to reach. We have so much to learn from what is written in other countries. Failure to read work from other countries make a person’s view rather  narrow You will never grow as a person or writer if you don’t expand your view. Translations were once difficult to find , but more presses are publishing translations. This makes me really happy.

Oh my, I have so many influences–here are  just some of them: Neruda, Agosin, Allegra, Milosz, Amichai, Hikmet, Celan, Vallejo, Dugan, Radnoti, Alberti, Zagajewski, Lorca, Herbert, and really a ton more, mostly foreign.. These are the writers I read over and over again.

MR:What would you like people to know about the power of poetry as witness?

GM:The poetry of witness can make you aware, not let you feel alone, can help action to proceed, can make people think, cry, and is so  powerful. It  grabs at your heart.


MR: Well said. Thank you , Gloria!


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Carpe Noctem Interview with Michelle Reale: Birds of Sicily

Very grateful to poet extraordinaire Nicole Rollender for proving a platform on her blog for me to talk about my collection Birds of Sicily!




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Still Opposing Refugees the Right to Safety and Peace? Better Check Yourself…

…because up close and personal, THIS is the reality, this is the face, (one of many) of the most vulnerable of the vulnerable.   Still oppose refugees right to cross borders ?  If you can ,. you are cold , hard and shiny plastic ,for sure. And I hope your society, and your country never burns under your feet.  What a way to come into the world, right?  This infant boy and his twin brother , along with their mother braved a 3o hour, arduous journey, some of it in the pitch black of night, for a safe shore.  Fifteen rubber boats (unbelievably) and one made of wood were rescued in the Mediterranean.  Thousands were rescued.

Compassion is in play here, thankfully, but the naysayers, the bigots and the ill-informed cannot be far behind. The harsh truth is that the 30 hour  journey, treacherous as it was, will not be the end of a life full of instability, fear, and an intense longing for a land and a home that, for all intents and purposes no longer exists.  The refugee escapes one set of unbearable circumstances for another.  But , at the very least, the ground is no longer burning under their feet.

The face of this tiny infant , a mere 5 days old, and others like him will haunt me.


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The Blogger Has a Website…Finally!

We write to be read and to connect…

…So, I went ahead and made myself a website!

All aspects of my writing are presented at:

In addition to this blog, I hope that you will also keep up with me there, too!


Bird on finger

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Times of Sicily podcast review of Birds of Sicily: poems.

Mark Spano had reviewed my collection Birds of Sicily in podcast format for the Times of Sicily.  I am grateful for his sensitive reading and his deep  understanding of these poems that seek to explicate the immigrant experience.




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Keep the Focus on Refugees, Please.


People are priorities.



Harumbe and refugees

Cristina Mazzoni and Michelle Reale: Birds of Sicily in Art and Spoken Word

With heartfelt thanks to my friend and amazing artist Cristina Mazzoni (MCM arts), here are her wonderful watercolors of a variety of birds found in Sicily as the backdrop for my reading of Birds of Sicily, the title poem from my collection of the same name.

I love when collaboration takes place like this so effortlessly.  Every single day I look forward to Cristina’s amazing artwork, often representations of the natural world, paired with exquisite poetry from all of the poetic giants the world over. When she approached me about the idea for this little “movie” I felt so honored—she is such a huge talent and I am humbled.  Her birds are so real in their rendering, so soulful and free.

My collection of poems, Birds of Sicily uses the metaphor of migratory and birds of flight to tell, in poems, the story of a man, my grandfather who fled Sicily and feared vendetta for his entire life.

If I juxtapose this with the refugees of today, I can see even in flight one is not free.  It is hard to shake the chains of hatred, resentment and displacement, often what they find in most of the places in which they land.

Birds , to a certain extent can be free, because they have wings that can lift, propel and keep them in flight.  But they are also caged, hunted and susceptible to many things that can harm them when they are out of their habitat.

In that way, humans — refugees, are like birds, too. Under great duress they flee for better , higher ground, but can never really know, ahead of time, what they will find

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Lego Migrants: A chance to teach compassion in the wake of a humanitarian crisis.

“Children are like wet cement whatever falls on them makes an impression.”
  — Haim Ginott, Child psychologist


“Lego Migrants” Alberto Tanasi

As surprising as it sounds, I have never given any deep thought to how children living in Sicily (and of course, other places) are attempting to grasp the migrant/refugee crisis, a crises of such epic proportions that  parents, teachers and others must surely be in frequent conversation on the topic.    Of course they must be influenced by the many vivid images on  television news and print media.   In fact, a child in Sicily is likely to see and encounter the very people who are the ground zero victims of the humanitarian crisis.    What are these children  to make of it?  How do they process what they see and what they hear?  And because of the natural law of growing up, they will not be small forever.   How we talk to them of and about the crisis matters. It matters what they hear.  A perfect time to ground them in compassion and caring. To bring them out of themselves enough to be aware of the things going on around them.  Too young?  They already “know”.  And what they “know” will need to be nuanced and mediated.


On a popular Italian-American site the other day, readers were responding to an article about how some refugees had been assigned a chef to cook for them.  Since I have encountered many refugees in Sicily, I can attest to the fact that the food they are given is not only unpalatable to them, but is given in small amounts. Pasta is the staple dish and their bodies are not used to the starch , nor the lack of calories.   Food is incredibly important to our well-being, and the food of where we come from can often be the only comfort we have if we need to travel far from home—if in fact, we are fortunate enough to be able to shop and cook for ourselves.  The comments on the site lacked an understanding and compassion of the migrants and refugees so much so that the sentiments expressed bordered on fascism.  Cruel and horrific.  “If they don’t like the food, why don’t they just swim back to where they came from!”  Most all others cruelly  missed the point entirely: “What?! They don’t like Italian food? It’s the best cuisine in the world!”  

These thoughts predominate a lot of talk about migrants and refugees.  This generation is listening. How we mediate and explain,with intelligence and compassion,  will influence how this crisis of epic proportions will be handled in the future, by the very children who are now watching in unfold in ways both dramatic and chaotic.

My friend Davide’s son, quite poignantly, filled a little Lego boat with Lego migrants.  One wonders what he was thinking when he made it.  But, he did in fact make it.  He’s just a  little boy in Sicily.  With the crisis unfolding all around him.



“Commitment is What You Do When the Emotion is Gone: Refugees as the ’cause du jour’ “

Last week I received a comment on one of my blog posts.   The writer, “Johanna” from Finland responded this way: Problem is that we know too MUCH about them to ever accept them. There you have it.

The way in which I responded was a chance for her to explain what she meant by that, but of course, I know exactly what she meant.   “What” exactly, does she, or anyone else for that matter, know about “them?” If she were to tell the truth, she might reply: actually, nothing. And yet, one gets the impression that she was not only speaking for herself, but perhaps for her country. Finland. Well, as infuriating as that comment was, she is far from the only one expressing it.   And “Johanna”, of course, never responded

In the intervening years in which I have dedicated myself, as so many others have, to the cause of refugees, most specifically those coming to Sicily, I , too, have been the target of some very nasty racist comments and attitudes, many from Sicilian-Americans.   I have quit many online Sicilian culture forums where I have previously enjoyed the camaraderie of the culture, until someone would start discussions about Sicily’s burden of receiving refugees. It became to much for me. What began, ostensibly as discussion about a worldwide phenomenon quickly became ad hominem attacks on me, personally. Why wasn’t’ I helping Sicilians who were also suffering?   How dare I call myself Sicilian/American while daring to “out” Sicilian racism.   Why was I such a n****r lover?   I felt soul sick.   As in the United States, it is a difficult and frustrating enterprise to attempt to explain deep seated , inveterate, structural and institutionalize racism to those who simply will themselves not to understand. Who, instead, will turn their financial and/or societal woes into be the fault of a vulnerable population seeking refugee from unspeakable horrors.   I became the hated and the reviled. A traitor to my own “people.”

The Gillard Government made a commitment in 2010 to release all children from immigration detention by June 2011, but still 1000 children languish in the harsh environment of immigration camps around Australia. The Refugee Action Collective organised a protest on July 9, 2011 outside the Melbourne Immigration Transit accommodation which is used for the detention of unaccompanied minors.

Racism and fear of the “intruder” is by no means exclusive to Sicily. In face, it must be stated here, how many amazing people I know in Sicily who have wholly dedicated their lives to the plight of the refugees, offering shelter, education, food, jobs and support. These people do this because it is right. They were tirelessly. This is not the cause du jour. This is a way of LIFE.   We know, by the many countries that have refused entry to refugees, that the resistance toward them is strong and seemingly not, in any way, abating. Why is that? In fact, many immigrants have found there way into any number of European countries—they travel far from home to make Italy, France, England or any other number of European countries in which they were not born, to make their homes there.   But where, is the resistance to those situations? Rarely, if ever, is there any. Usually, because those who do that are difficult to identify as “not belonging.” But the African refugee is instantly recognizable.   There is nowhere to hide.   Simply finding safe and affordable housing is often a feat of gargantuan proportions, because no one wants them to live among them. This is how ghettoes are formed. This is how people are relegated to the margins. And then many can assuage any feelings of guilt that are, frankly, unlikely to happen by saying: “well, what are they complaining about? They have a place to live!


To combat racism against these refugees means raising your voice. It means being dedicated to the cause of those who flee when no other choice is viable. Who would leave their home in the way in which they do, if not to save their own lives’?   Grand sweeping gestures are good (everyone is ready to go to Sicily to “help the refugees”) but there are so many ways that you can help from where you are. How do you speak about racism, how do you challenge and witness to those who are victims, daily, of a bias that at its base is so evil as to almost be unspeakable? How do you help where you already are? How are you lifting your voices?   So many I have spoken to are interesting: they want to help refugees, but would not dream of living next door to one.   We have to be suspect of that.   We are not perfect, but we have to begin somewhere.


Right now, the refugee crisis is the cause du jour for many who have not been paying attention for a lot of years. To those, I say: Commitment is what you do, what you have, what you enact when the emotion of the current event is gone, when it exists even though it has receded from the headlines.


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