The Literary Life
Winter Is for Writing Books
By: Charles Giuliano - Feb 28, 2023
Time Marches on.
Winter lingers but spring will soon be upon us.
Since 2015 I have regarded the change of seasons and warmer weather with mixed emotions.
Like Pluto in the underworld I dread the loss of my captive muse, Persephone, released to earth and her mother Flora spreading flowers in joyous celebration.
For Astrid and me that means the quickened even frenetic pace of covering the arts in the Berkshires. Summer allows for scant time for research and contemplation.
Now eight years ago the cycle started with publication of my first book Shards of a Life.
There was heady excitement entailing a team of editor, Leanne Jewett, and designer Amanda Hill. Astrid was involved with every step of the process from first to last.
For the cover I chose a drawing of me by the late Boston artist, Henry Schwartz. He depicted me in black tie and tails wielding sword and a gigantic pen. It was a witty caricature of how he viewed me as a critic.
But in this first of eight books I was exploring terra incognita with a maiden voyage as, not just a poet, but a gonzo poet.
Since the 1960s I have covered the arts, initially for print newspapers and magazines, in recent years on line. The transition from journalism to verse was daunting.
The initial plan was to write a poem relating to each month. With trepidation I posted them. That encouraged me to widen the scope from the personal and familial to vignettes of the legendary musicians I had known and covered as a critic. With time and confidence the lens widened further.
A burst of creative energy occured during a waterfront retreat in a cabin at Sandwich on Cape Cod. That entailed enough material for a book.
There was an inner struggle to both create in a new genre as well as to shape and define just what that entailed. Stepping into a new arena I was seeking meaning and legitimacy.
Poetry is a daunting form with norms and hierarchies. The few established poets that I knew took pains to point out what I was not. There were suggestions, which I ignored, about how to do it better. I conclude, at least for myself, that composing poetry cannot be learned, rather it comes from within.
In matters of aesthetics I am a scholar and art historian but have never taken advice. For better or worse I want the work to be my own. That entails the time and space, these past eight years, to push and evolve writing on its own terms.
A mentor in this process has been my consigliore, Robert Henriquez. Particularly early on, his imput was immediate and essential. I was doing the work and he was helping to define it.
This is what he came up with.
“A characteristic of contemporary time has been its preoccupation with brevity and ephemerality: here today, gone tomorrow … instant communication … speed dating … step right up … act now, or never. Readers of Giuliano’s Gonzo poetic style must fight against such impulses and go off a different tack.
“Giuliano takes to heart the adage “Brevity is the soul of wit.” The terse, minimalist style fits the poems beautifully. The poems may be short in length, but they insist on the reader’s time and contemplation. They are imbued with beneficent accessibility that plays well as a contemporary device to retool the reader’s attention span.
“What exactly is this poetry? It is telling the story, gonzo style, with an excessive economy of words. It is a tug-of-war between lyrical intimacy and analytical distance. It also mirrors the tension between the poet’s appreciation of the magic of language and his knowledge of its limitations. Eventually, it boils down to an upbeat mix of poetics: two measures of Language poetry, one of Beat and half a measure of Gonzo shine shaken not stirred; et voilà, a Charles Giuliano poetic cocktail, somewhat whimsical and playful … but it calls for serious play.”
Remarkably, that first book was launched at Edith Wharton’s The Mount. There was a well attended reception on the terrace. The director of The Mount, Susan Wissler, engaged me in a lively dialogue as I read from the book.
Other books and readings would follow at the Williams Faculty Club and while residents at the Gloucester Writers Center. There were three more books of poetry: Total Gonzo Poems, Ultra Cosmic Gonzology, and Topsy Turvy.
Gloucester Poems: Nugents of Rockport was different. It combined poems with interviews with my Mom and other family members. The focus was Beaver Dam Farm in Rockport where my great grandparents, Patrick and Mary Nugent, raised 13 of which three died as young adults in 1913.
There was some shock and consternation that one of half Sicilian heritage was writing a history of an Irish family. One source was initially cooperative then backtracked and prevailed on some of the clan not to talk with me.
The focus of the book is our remarkable mother, Dr. Josephine R. Flynn. The daughter of a saloon keeper and bootlegger she graduated from medical school and married a surgeon, our father, Dr. Charles Giuliano. Our uncle, Arthur Flynn, became a federal judge and another, James Flynn, a big pharma executive.
There were two documentary oral histories: Counterculture in Boston, 1968 to 1980s and Museum of Fine Arts Boston: 1870 to 2020 An Oral History.
The books were well received with reviews in Art New England, WBUR, Arts Fuse, the weekly DigBoston, several blogs and podcasts. I was interviewed for an arts program by News Ten Albany.
In 2021 there was a disruption. That March I underwent a laminectomy for spinal stenosis involving five vertebrae. Months of rehab followed and continue. With daily exercise I get around adequately. That entails resuming day-to-day editing of the website Berkshire Fine Arts and creative projects.
For the current book in progress the focus has returned to Cape Ann. Yet again editing the text is proceeding smoothly with Leanne. We are on track for a Spring/ Summer publication.
The intent is to be a part of the year long Gloucester 400th Plus which notes the arrival of white Europeans on Cape Ann four centuries ago. The occasion is being shaped more as an acknowledgement than a celebration. The latter term would be disrespectful of the millennia of indigenous people who disappeared under circumstance that are still a matter of research. There is, however, abundant archeological evidence of their long presence.
Through the centuries, Cape Ann prospered through the fishing and quarrying industries. The historian Lise Breen has been researching Gloucester’s considerable involvement with the slave trade. It brought wealth to sea captains and included prominent members of the clergy.
In November of 2022, Astrid and I enjoyed three weeks at the invitation of Manship Arists Residency in Lanesville a community of Cape Ann. Primarily, I researched at the Cape Ann Museum guided by the comprehensive manuscript of Susan Erony.
The book Annisquam: Pip and Me Coming of Age is a collaboration with my sister Pippy Giuliano. It conflates the memoirs of summering in Annisquam with an overview of the cultural context of Cape Ann.
As now adult siblings, with a nine year ago difference, it has been a challenging and bonding experience. It conveys our very different responses to maturing as interlopers in an elitist community. The narrative tracks through her spirit quest in the Orient and our rock and roll adventures as young adults and neighbors in Cambridge.
The book will be extensively illustrated with vintage as well as contemporary images. The intent is to be informative regarding the rich cultural heritage of Cape Ann as well as insightful and amusing with evocative anecdotes. It pulls back the curtain of Annisquam as a cul de sac, private, layered and mysterious community.