April is National Poetry Month, but poetry is with us all year around Tampa Bay. Two of the area’s most accomplished poets have recent books that experiment effectively with form and format.
Tampa Bay area poets swept the poetry category in this year’s Florida Book Awards, with a gold medal for Gloria Muñoz, silver for Julia Koets and bronze for John Davis Jr. (All three will read from and sign their work at Tombolo Books in St. Petersburg April 25; see below.)
Muñoz’s remarkable book of poems, Danzirly, also received the Academy of American Poets’ Ambroggio Prize. A graduate of the University of South Florida’s creative writing MFA program, she teaches at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg.
Muñoz is Colombian American and multilingual, and each of the poems in Danzirly is presented in two versions: one in Spanish, one in English. She was her own translator, effectively writing two poems.
That bilingual format is especially appropriate for the poems that deal in some way with living in an immigrant family. The book’s intriguing title is a nod to Muñoz’s father, who like many immigrants became an enthusiastic patriot in his adopted nation.
The word comes from his early days of learning English:
“… Oh, say can you see by the danzirly light? And it is
danzirly. When learning the anthem, I have claimed this adjective
as the most glorious exclamation in the English language. He greeted strangers at the grocery store with:
What a danzirly day! …”
The poem paints a portrait of a man who knows people might smirk at his accent, but he is “not / naively, but brazenly grateful to live / under this dawn’s early sky.”
Another side of family life appears in the powerful Mother Machine, a series of striking images of a mother working at home on a sewing machine as her little daughter vies for attention. The mother and the machine that she makes her living with merge into a chilling robot in the child’s eyes, a transformation and sacrifice.
Other poems turn a mordant eye on American culture, like three short poems titled Latin Lucy, Latin Leia and Latin Hillary. Latina Lucy works in a bar, sole support of her musician husband de ella and “little Ricky, / who has cancer & is waiting / for her to come home but / she has to close.” Latina Leia, sick of her gold bikini, “wants some / armor, to not worry about a nipple slip.” Latina Hillary, criticized on the campaign trail for not being “warm / enough, you know, like Latinas / should be,” shuts herself into a tanning bed to scream out her frustration.
My Spanish skills are minimal, but I found it rewarding to read each poem in Danzirly in English first, then read the Spanish version aloud, savoring the rhythm of the lines and the mirrored meaning.
“One House Down”
Tampa poet Gianna Russo’s latest book is All I See Is Your Glinting: 90 Days in the Pandemic. Russo, a third-generation Tampa native, earned her MFA in creative writing from the University of Tampa and teaches at Saint Leo University. She’s also the city of Tampa’s official Wordsmith, the first person to hold the title.
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All I See Is Your Glinting is a group of poems written in late 2020 and early 2021 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In reaction to the chaos of those days, Russo invented a form for her poems that she calls daily. When she wrote a poem, she would add up the numbers of the day’s date and use the total as the word count for the poem.
The result is brief, haiku-like poems that focus on images and intense emotional response. All the poems are titled with their dates; here is 10/27.
and dread radiates
across my chest., my brain.
The book pairs its poems with color photographs by Tampa photographer Jenny Carey. They’re almost abstract, images of puddles, rusty benches, fallen petals, human beings absent from all of them.
Russo’s poems capture the emotional tone of a terrible time and find moments of beauty in it; Carey’s photographs expand that effect.
By Gloria Munoz
University of Arizona Press, 147 pages, $16.95
All I See Is Your Glinting: 90 Days in the Pandemic
By Gianna Russo, photographs by Jenny Carey
Madville Publishing, 81 pages, $28.95
Meet the authors
In celebration of National Poetry Month, Florida Book Award winners for poetry Gloria Munoz (Danzirly), Julia Koets (Pine) and John Davis Jr.. (The Places That Hold) will read from and sign their books at 7 pm April 25 at Tombolo Books, 2136 First Ave. S, St. Petersburg. Free: RSVP at tombolobooks.com/events.