Today at the pool I read an entire book of poems — Beneath Stars Long Extinct, by Ron Egatz. I met Ron years ago at Sarah Lawrence College. He was one of the faculty at the week-long writers conference where I was studying poetry. In fact, I met a TON of great folks there — too many to name. Those two summers at SLC really shaped my writing and the faculty were outstanding to say the least.
Ron’s poems are clean. There is no fluff, and they deal with issues that are universal but at the same time specific to the voice behind them. One I liked in particular was “Family Dinner, No Truffles.” I could relate to having “peasants” or family from the “old country” in my own lineage. Even though I’ve been raised in the South, my summers were spent in the lovely town of Pearl River, NY, where I was with my grandparents, the Pawlicki’s…a good mix of Russian and Polish blood. Visits to the grandparents meant that at some point the emotions would run high (read: loud argument) but we would always eat well and end the visit well. I love pierogi because of those visits, know what seltzer water is, know to call pizza “pie,” and learned how to make my own dough by watching my grandma Pawlicki — about the only thing I enjoy making in the kitchen.
“Family Dinner, No Truffles” ends with the following lines, “They ate like they never had before, year after year, / stuffing in place of what they could not give each other.” These closing lines are so powerful, because no matter where one’s from — south, north, across the ocean, one can relate. We all have relationships, family or otherwise, where we fail to really “feed” the needs of others, and this void leaves an open space that in turn gets filled with something else. I could go on about this poem, and many others in the book, but I don’t want to spoil the surprise or the delight of reading them. If you are looking for a book of poems that makes you laugh, think, and then think again, read this.