Poems and stories from an agile, curious mind less concerned with formal writing conventions than with self-expression and emotional connection.
Petrocelli’s (A Peddlers Son’s Travel Through the Twentieth Century, 2014) collection resists easy categorization—and he likes it that way. Part memoir, part poetic assemblage, with quotations and photographs sprinkled throughout, the result is a literate scrapbook cataloging the musings of a witty octogenarian. Petrocelli finds artistic inspiration in the transition from being the “child of my children” to communing with a “society of elders” at the StoneRidge retirement community. While writing lightheartedly about “Friendship and Love,” “That Old Brain,” and “The Poetry of Physics,” Petrocelli shares glimpses of his life, from growing up speaking “Italian in the house / English in the street” to a satire of wealth in government. In the titular section, named after a spot where the author and his friends meet and chat, he offers portraits of such people as Teeny Drakos and her “Nine decades of elegance” and Donald McCluskey, who was “Twice baked in the ovens of Yale,” where he received two degrees. They celebrate long histories and continued engagement with the world: “More than just existing, we are alive with humor and stories and romance and memories.” A few poems have a Whitmanesque quality: “When quiet calls, when I am called from the madding crowd, / I close my eyes / And look to find a stream flowing gently to the sea.” The most successful pieces ground the emotion with imagery: “a slice of lemon balanced / on the rim like a circus acrobat.” Other pieces read as more Allen Ginsberg–ian, more first-thought-best-thought than carefully crafted: “You will not kiss what you see for fear you will not get a prince / For fear…you will get…warts!” But “respected poets and accomplished writers” aren’t Petrocelli’s intended readers—they are his fellow residents, in order to repay them for their joy, inspiration, and love.
For anyone beyond the “Magic Table,” this book holds accumulated wisdom, shared with humor and purpose.