A-Jar-of-Fireflies-1

A Jar of Fireflies by Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews
(Oakville, ON: MOSAIC PRESS, 2015, $15. 95, 108 pages)
Review by Laurence Hutchman

Josie Di Sciascio-Andrew’s fifth collection of poems, A Jar of Fireflies, is about quests. In particular, it is about the quest in space and time to find a balance, whether recollecting peaceful family life in Italy where Di Sciascio-Andrews grew up, or in her present-day life in Canada. The author’s journey concerns the discovery of certain moments of the past to complete her mission in poetry. The first part of her book is dedicated to her life in Italy. Often, immigrant writers are caught between the idealized past of their old country and the reality of their new country as they attempt to adapt to their present life. Di Sciascio-Andrews has a powerful attachment to the land of her ancestors and her roots. In her poem “Sicily” she writes: “You will carry her in your heart / Like a genetic memory / Of blood, of family, of race.” She pays tribute to its long history. “Homer’s odyssey of Magna Graecia / Rome’s coveted pearl” and “Precious child of Carthage and Troy.” To evoke the Sicilian life, the poet makes an energetic use of sound, onomatopoeia and words to give a mimesis of dance and music, reminiscent of W.C. Williams’ “The Dance.”

…………The wild unshackling of Turkish tambourines
…………The unexpected thump,
…………Guttural human hum.
…………Determined heel step. Knuckle drum.

In poems depicting her family, Di Sciascio-Andrews expresses a strong love for her father. In “Red Accordion” she recalls his old musical instrument and how he had planned to replace it when the mortgage was paid:

…………The sound was good regardless.
…………How like my father to make good
…………Of the words and the mediocre.
…………His fingers harmonizing joy
…………For us, in allegro, andante.
…………Improvising the frenzied flights
…………Of old world soundscapes.
…………Waltzes and tangos. Mazurkas.

Although the reader might be easily captivated by the poet’s genuine expression of emotion,some of the poems can seem too sentimental.
If Di Sciascio-Andrews would be more open to fully exercise her thought and emotion of a scene or situation, as Keats suggested in his poetic statement in “Negative Capability,” then some of her poems could be stronger. In the second part of the collection, Di Sciascio-Andrews moves from the sunnier landscapes of Italy to the more temperate climate of Canada. In these poems she can be personal and see life through a more realistic lens, as in the poem “Landscape:”

…………Why do I feel most at home
…………On a day like this
…………When after a night of heavy rain
…………Light smudges morning
…………Onto the hard edges of things.

Here as she writes she is drawn to “Mystical philosophies / Of inner and outer worlds”:

…………On this foggy morning
…………The chrome-yellow centre line
…………Painted on the wet asphalt
…………Unfurls networks of neuronal highways
…………Intersecting through old, familiar
…………Yet forever changing channels of memories.

This is analogical thinking, and her ability to develop not number of isolated metaphors, but a series of related ones is a natural and inevitable way exploring the mind/nature relationship. The external world is internalized and the world of memories is externalized, breaking down borders, as in the work of one of Di Sciascio-Andrews’s favourite poets, Pablo Neruda.

One of Di Sciascio-Andrews strengths lies in the naturally exuberant quality of her voice, expressing itself in an epigrammatic affirmation as in “Poetic Alchemy”: “I extrapolate wonder from the commonplace” and “My eyes create reality.” I like these series of interconnected states of wonder, this expression of affirmation and celebration in her work.

The final poem “Emerald City” is a humorous adaptation of The Wizard of Oz:

…………Surely, her wide-eyed awe, her peasant braids,
…………Her blue gingham pinafore may be been construed
…………For bumpkin gullibility. “And should I, at your harmless innocence
…………Melt as I do?” Said the witch. Arm in arm with an inconstant
…………Courage, an underrated brain and a gutbucket heart
…………Dorothy tore back the sash on a sham wizard.
…………“Click! Click!” Went the shoes. “Home!” Cried the heart.

The poem is a witty and personable presentation of the story’s heroine.
It epitomizes the theme of this collection, the ability to encounter and overcome darkness. Di Sciascio-Andrews recasts Dorothy, juxtaposing a formal language with the quotation from Milton’s Paradise Lost with the colloquial language of the “inconstant / Courage, an underrated brain, and a gutbucket heart.” The poet displays these qualities in her protagonist to illustrate how she surpasses obstacles in order to return home.

hutchman_laurence

Laurence Hutchman grew up in Toronto, receiving his BA from Western University in London, Ontario, an MA from Concordia in Montreal and a PhD from the Université de Montreal. He has taught at a number of universities including Concordia University, Western University and the Université de Moncton. Hutchman has published nine books of poetry, edited Coastlines: the Poetry of Atlantic Canada and In the Writers’ Words.
His poetry has received numerous grants and awards, including the Alden Nowlan Award for Excellence.  His poems have been translated into French, Spanish, Dutch, Italian, Bulgarian, Polish and Chinese. He lives and works in Oakville, Ontario with his wife Eva.

To read more reviews please visit Vallum’s website.

Vallum magazine is also available in digital format. Featuring additional content such as: AUDIO and VIDEO recordings of selected poets, further poems, interviews, essays, and MORE!

Download the FREE APP and FREE SAMPLE EDITIONfor your tablet, kindle or smartphone through PocketMags OR iTunes.