A poet of place and love, Tony Magistrale‘s poems have large arms in which to envelope his readers. The force of this love is sometimes poignant sometimes painful, but always just right. A poet with backbone and a real heart, now that’s nice.
The fine poet Tony Hoagland writes in his book Real Sofistikashun that “a real diehard, irresolvable obsession in a poet is nothing less than a blessing . . . Rather than therapeutically [trying to] resolve it, try to make a full relationship with it.” In my mind, Hoagland is referencing the timeless power of the muse—that slippery force that is ultimately more emotive and instinctual than intellectual and calculating—part inspiration, part compulsion, part obsession. I’m discovering that many of my poems are driven by my obsession to look back. Poetry is often about memory, not so much the simple reliving of events, or even a nostalgic-flavored return to earlier times, but an effort to understand the past, to appreciate better or confront a moment that may have been formerly misunderstood, overlooked, or just viewed differently than it is now. What we feel is important and a worthy subject for poetry changes over time; I am writing poems now that I simply could not have written when I was sixteen, and busy living them. I grew up in Buffalo, New York, safely ensconced in a suburban world. Although my father went to school on the G.I. Bill after World War II and became a successful lawyer, his roots were strictly working-class, and he never lost sight of what it meant to grow up in Buffalo, a working man’s town that has, at least in modern times, always been down on its luck. While Pittsburgh rose resplendently from the ashes after big steel moved away, I never remember Buffalo as a place where anything came easily—from competing with neighboring Toronto (my father remembers a time when Toronto was no bigger or better a city than Buffalo), to losing four straight Super Bowls in the 1990s. The city and he taught me a healthy respect for the value of struggle and suffering, that these traits should not be mocked or viewed as somehow inferior, but as a source of dignity, even beauty. And thus, many of the poems I have been writing over the past couple of years are about growing up in Buffalo (close enough to Niagara Falls) and the impression that it has left with me. I’ve reached a point in my life where memory finally means something, and these poems are often all that I have left to remember—either of my father or his city.