“People want poetry. They need poetry. They get it. They don’t want fancy work.” – Mary Oliver
Andrea Panzeca, the author of Rusted Bells and Daisy Baskets (Finishing Line Press, 2016), earned her MFA in Creative Non-Fiction from The University of New Orleans. In a way, the poems in this collection read like bold and free prose. Avoiding “poetic language” works well in this collection, one that toes the tine of constant change: the changing physical and cultural landscape of Florida and her own changes in perspective from that of a child to that of an adult.
In Two Birds, One Punch, she challenges the stereotype of the Southern belle. The lines “On the pavement we mailed our elbows/and scraped our knees, while Mike and our/P.E. teacher, ever clad in aviators, watched/and drank whiskey” she shows the grittiness of her fighter self in her dreams, while simultaneously rejecting the idea of men as saviors.
Another poem, Smoking Outside with My Cat on Sunday Morning, explores the conflict of child growing into woman. Although she is smoking in this poem, and this suggests that she does not write from a child’s perspective, this does not mean that she does not want to be: “I inhale/with my eyes closed, inside the lids bright red,/like a baby trying to go back in.” Using simile to compare her current self on a sleepy Sunday with a baby avoiding being born works well to show her conflict. She seems to be lamenting her own womanhood she she says of her cat: “Pinky rubs/her whiskers on a flimsy tree—she’s going into heat./My left eye won’t stop crying.”
Pangaea explores the stories we make up to cover up the sadness felt when there is no longer a real attachment to place. The word “Pangaea” refers to the supercontinent that used to make up all the continents of the earth before they drifted apart millions of years ago. With this title the author seems to be lamenting a time when there was connection to the Earth as our home. The poem ends with this regret while also hinting at the regret of America’s colonial past: “I felt sadness, the lost attachment,/ how I imagine the east coast of Flor-/da remembers its past with Africa.”
My favorite poem in this collection is Colonial Art. In it, the author has a conversation with Pierre Joseph Landry. Landry lived in Louisiana in the 18th and 19th centuries and towards the end of his life carved wooden sculptures. When he died in 1843 he had many slaves. Apparently his living family members preserved his art legacy. In her poem, Ms. Panzeca points out the unacceptable paradox of artist as slaveholder with the lines: “At home I find you fathered 16/children with two wives and more/likely with your slaves. There’s/no such thing as a kind master/and you were one of many.” This poem reads like an an elegy, lamenting a European “gaze” onto non-white indigenous peoples, that unfortunately is not dead yet. This is a brave poem and one that needed to be written and needs to be read.