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Table of

Frank Murphy

We Became Summer
by Amy Barone
NYQ Books
P.O. Box 2015
Old Chelsea Station New York, NY 10113


Amy Barone’s latest book, “We Became Summer,” is a wonderful collection of carefully crafted, perfectly executed poems. Each poem is a story, a memory she opens like a gift, and examines with a painter’s eye. This attention to detail fills her poetry. The following poem is an excellent example of the ease of language she uses to express a powerful thought.

Poetry On Demand

In his innocence
he asked me to write poems
supplies the titles

How could he understand
the test of mining tales
from the soul?

Reliving death and resurrection,
camouflaging mendacity,
unmasking loved ones

I doubt I ever possessed
my nephew’s purity
at the tender age of six

For her, poetry comes from "mining tales from the soul," from "Reliving death and resurrection," from "camouflaging mendacity," and, "unmasking loved ones." That's not an easy task.

Blank Page

Words won’t come.
Had little to say today,
yesterday, last month.

Do muses take vacations?
If so, I hope she’s in Malta
or Montana or Pittsburgh—

places on the bucket list that grows shorter.
Why couldn’t I write about the Asian woman
in purple rubber boots at the Chelsea station,
loudly asking the guy with earplugs for directions
or the red fox in my dreams that lives in the fields
that flank my friend’s farmhouse

or the wound that never healed from that day
in fifth grade when I went to school covered in welts?

Welts? Wounds that never heal? This is painful stuff she mines. Throughout her collection pain weaves in and out of her poetry, one tread among many. In her poem, "Healing Poetry," she writes of an experience at a poety reading, where,

I was uplifted by grace

that emerged and powerful poetry,
writing that clearly saved her life.

Clearly, Amy Barone believes in the healing power of poetry. Painful as it may to face a blank page, to "relive death and resurrection" Amy's poetry moves through a landscape of a time when:

Planning was for bores.
When we got too big for our bikes,
in our hiphuggers, midriff tops and sneakers,

we sought danger.
All we had to do was
wear a sultry scowl

and flash a thumb.
We trusted strangers to take us
anywhere we wanted to go.

                                            (From Power in a Thumb)

Do muses take vacations? Maybe, I know mine does. But reading through this collection of poems I can't help thinking that Amy's muse travels with her,

Whether home or in distant lands,
I feel you holding out a hand,
indicating where to stop next as I drift.
                                            (From Travels with You)

One of the main treads weaving through this collection is music. You see this in the cadence of her lines, and in the music she invokes. For someone who, started piano lessons at four, and was slapped when she hit the wrong key, Amy's love of music and musicians is profoundly in evidence. In using song titles in several of her poems she creates an interaction with the reader—the songs come out of her memories, but the songs call stir emotions in the reader as well. The songs of her mother still resonates and in her poem, "Soundtrack to My Mother's Life" she brings that music to us with skill and touching empathy.

Soundtrack to My Mother’s Life

She loved to croon especially when sad.
“Smile,” whose music Charlie Chaplin wrote,
remained an all time favorite.

Another personal hit, “My Funny Valentine,”
I found sad until I discovered jazz and Chet Baker.
She deserved a better shot at love.

But she romanced life, found beauty elsewhere,
“The Shadow of Your Smile,” so appropriate,
as her smile sparkled. It follows me everywhere.

And so with her father’s music:

Soundtrack to My Father’s Life

He loved Gershwin, big bands, opera, marching bands.
My father studied violin at the Bryn Mawr Conservatory
of Music, a school started by his oldest brother, a lofty ambition
for the son of Italian immigrants and one of eight children.

The house felt barren after he left.
Music no longer sprang from corners of rooms.
I remember his favorites—“Yellow Bird,”
“Music Indigo,” “Bye-Bye Blackbird.”

I salvaged his vinyl collection from the basement, making space
above ground for his 45s from Decca Records, a 78
of Liberace’s “Dark Eyes,” a Bing Crosby tune “When the Moon
Comes Over Madison Square.” Today I live near the park.

In these two poems we are given short strong portraits of Amy Barone's parents, pictures created by her use of song titles. She uses this technique in her poem, "Soundtrack to my life" (Page 21) and in this poem below.

Happy at Art

“Hopeful” and “Getting Down,”
I want to find joy in poetry like Josh Ritter serenades fans.

“Homecoming” and “Kathleen.”
Heart and soul smiling, he’s jumping,
doing a jig as he sings,

elated to be on stage with his Royal City Band.
Energy grows “Where the Night Goes” and
no one wants the show to stop.

I want to put an end to “The Curse” of blank pages.
Need to be inspired by places and faces, put on
a “Bright Smile,” take up a pen or sit at the screen
and “Baby That’s Not All.”

By incorporating the titles of Josh Ritter songs into the lines of her poem, Amy Barone shows her skill in avoiding the pitfalls of a list poem. Forget for a moment that these words are titles of songs, and look at how they interact and flow with the other words in the poem and drive the poem along.

We Became Summer takes place in that very real, very magical landscape where adolescence and early adulthood overlap. It is a time when everything is possible, a time: “before we needed protection,” “before self-awareness replaced laughter,” “before ennui replaced embracing fear of the unknown.”

We Became Summer

Long before we needed protection,
We formed tribes and picked a chief.
First-borns have a knack for stirring idolatry.

Bike rides energized us on innocent mornings.
The sun perfumed our fresh skin.
before self-awareness replaced laughter,
and possession replaced play.
At dusk, seduction set in.
Bruises faded and mosquitoes fled.
Lightning bugs appeared, as beer-soaked dads

threw teen neighbors into backyard swimming pools
and we invited boys into the playhouse shed,
before ennui replaced embracing fear of the unknown.

It is a wonderful collection. Get it. You will find yourself looking back over her book to find a certain poem, another, and still another. I know I did.