Book Presentation: Ellis Island by Robert Viscusi. Discussants Anthony Tamburri and Joseph Luzzi
In an epic poem [Ellis Island] whose structure corresponds to the hours in a year, Viscusi (Buried Caesars, and Other Secrets of Italian American Writing) portrays a world of perpetual change and taxing work, though one interrupted by moments of delicate hope. The ambitious poem explores the Italian American immigrant experience primarily the emotional detachment physical location brings. In lucid, vivid verse, Viscusi compares the different approaches to such staple concepts as freedom and civilization in America and Italy, the latter of which, in Italy, is “the art of building walls.” Yet this work reaches beyond a compare-and-contrast of disparate social ecosystems and into the subtleties of what an individual immigrant must determine for himself and, accordingly, what he must disregard from the standing narratives on cultures he has known. He must, for instance, distance himself from other people’s opinions of his homeland. While the structure is solid, the sonnets are far from uniform, at times manifesting as short stories, at other times as short bursts of philosophical inquiry or bursts of pure song. This is a new delicacy for aficionados of creative poetry and an anthem of sorts for those who—however far removed from immigration—occasionally feel displaced from home. (Starred Review. Publishers Weekly, September 2014)
Nota Bene: This event takes place at the Italian Cultural Institute, 686 Park Avenue, Manhattan.