Stefanile’s collection is prefaced by an essay titled “The Allegory of the Hyphen.” In it, Stefanile claims that poetry serves as a linking “hyphen” that binds his Italian heritage to his American reality. This is a particularly apt introduction to his collection, because Stefanile structures his volume of new and previously published poems in a way that traces immigrants’ assimilation of America into their own ethnic traditions. The first poems offer glimpses of immigrants unable to accommodate their new American reality: “The Catch” offers a prose-poem harangue of a college student by his Italian-American mother, for example, while “Feast of San Gennaro” invites the reader into a celebration of old-world Italian culture. The poems synthesize the two cultures more deliberately as they slide into the rarified environment of WWII America. “The Dance at St. Gabriel’s” demonstrates a drive to choose new-world ideals in the face of Italy’s fall to Mussolini’s fascism, while “Soldiers and Their Girls” links that craving for international justice to all immigrant groups. Perhaps the most intriguing poem in the volume is “Hubie,” which examines aspects of the friendship between its Italian-American speaker and an African-American man serving in an experimentally integrated unit during WWII. In positing his volume as a statement on the immigrant experience, Stefanile expands the power of his poems beyond their individual bounds to speak of America’s struggle with its diversity.
Accomplished individual poems that collectively offer an intriguing memory of where American immigrants have come from—and a vision of the direction in which our diverse American culture could be headed.