Skirts and Slacks

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Overview

W. S. Di Piero, a fresh and powerful voice in American poetry, opens this collection about public and private worlds with poems that revisit the deaths of his parents. It is an important adult passage for him, and for them a last chance to leave a message: his father lying in bed, “bemused and contemptuous / of the hell in which he lay”; his mother soon to be laid out in the cheap gold flats “that made her look young and men look twice.” Di Piero writes poems of relationships, of ordinary beauty, of the deep, ...
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Overview

W. S. Di Piero, a fresh and powerful voice in American poetry, opens this collection about public and private worlds with poems that revisit the deaths of his parents. It is an important adult passage for him, and for them a last chance to leave a message: his father lying in bed, “bemused and contemptuous / of the hell in which he lay”; his mother soon to be laid out in the cheap gold flats “that made her look young and men look twice.” Di Piero writes poems of relationships, of ordinary beauty, of the deep, visceral memories that shape who we become. He reveals the art in the everyday—sometimes literally, as when he spies a Vermeer beauty in a girl with nose studs at the ATM, or van Gogh’s self-portrait in a small-time bookie. Whether describing the uncertainty of sexual love (“. . . your footpads / wet after a bath / left prints like / our conversations / every which way”) or a panhandler in Port Authority (“Show you to your bus / or an excellent candy bar?”), he is delicate and direct at once, a no-nonsense guide to his surroundings who is moved by what he sees. His strong, elegantly simple statements of truths of feeling go beyond the pleasure of the words themselves and restore us to the thrill of honesty in our own lives.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Di Piero has a great talent for close description . . . Particularly fine [is] the elegy for his parents, 'White Blouse White Shirt,' which ends on a note authentically sublime. Di Piero's poems cling tenaciously to the real and hold out for something more true; they scour the world to see past it." -- Kirkus Reviews

"A master of impressionistic candlelight, Di Piero is precise and empathetic . . . Between the everyday and the lofty, illuminated by 'mildly crazed words,' these thoughtful poetic compositions combine serious imagery with 'truth in words' . . . Refreshing poetry that gets better with reading." -- Library Journal

"Di Piero consistently injects Kleinzahlerian whimsy into his short lyrics, along with pathos-laden descriptions of depression's quotidian. This solemn attention to nature can mutate into Boccaccio-like satire . . . His ear is a great deal sharper than most poets chronicling their art- and writing-centered lives." -- Publishers Weekly

"W. S. Di Piero's poems have a different relationship to reality from what you find in most other poets' work. When I publish one of his poems about Philadelphia, I get letters from people saying they know the neighborhood he's talking about; sometimes they even know the block he's talking about. When I read his poems about his father and mother and other relatives, I can see them, or hear them speak, or sense the way they moved around and wore clothes and occupied space. Very little contemporary poetry has this quality--this allegiance to something that exists, or existed--and to me it's one of the most valuable functions poetry can have." --Wendy Lesser

From the Hardcover edition.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A translator of Euripides, Giacomo Leopardi, Sandro Penna, Leonardo Sinisgalli and others; a careful critic who has produced three books' worth of essays on modern art and poetry; and the author of six previous collections of poems, Stanford University professor Di Piero is as an imposing a masculine representative of tradition on the West Coast as J.D. McClatchy is on the East. But where McClatchy freshens his old school gin-and-tonics with bare bones carnality, Di Piero consistently injects Kleinzahlerian whimsy into his (here 35 plus) short lyrics, along with pathos-laden descriptions of depression's quotidian: "Medicated to this willowed balance,/ I don't weep now to see dogs run/ or wild fennel bend to winds/ kiting a tern from its brilliant marsh." This solemn attention to nature can mutate into Bocaccio-like satire ("Widowed young, renting country-cheap,/ she could have, he swore, anything she wants./ Dried figs, fiery banana fruit, or half a pig.") or a more man-made gravity, as in "My Message Left Next to the Phone," a near-suicide note describing the spirits (prevalent here) who nearly lured the speaker off a bridge: "`figures'/ ...scissored into life, gauds flint-struck/ from the half-dark and sunlight and panic.// I felt they'd come for me." Some readers will want to dismiss this work as well-trod emotional and imagistic ground, but Di Piero never quite descends into easiness, and his ear is a great deal sharper than most poets chronicling their art- and writing-centered lives. (May 30) Forecast: Di Piero has received a Guggenheim fellowship, an NEA grant and a Lila Wallace-Readers Digest award, but hasn't yet taken one of the big three NBCCA, Pulitzer or NBA though this book should make at least one shortlist on career momentum alone. Recommendations to fans of Marie Howe and C.K. Williams would help crack Di Piero's restrictive highbrow aureole. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
KLIATT
Di Piero's seventh volume of poetry centers on a sense of mystery, the confusion of confronting uncertainty in precise and specific terms. He warns us against the simplistic and obvious: "All life / is hidden life. Don't believe / everything you hear." And he questions, "what certainty / in the body at its end? / And between here and there?" His diction is direct and clear and his poems are filled with concrete details that ring true and familiar, "green clabber / scumming puddles alongside the train, / then brickyards banked on body shops, / homeless trackside nappers under trees, / ditchwater where shopping carts come to drink..." Yet Di Piero himself is always wary, slightly skeptical of the material world, consistently being pulled toward some "uncertainty where / I feel most at home...." In a humble and honest way Di Piero avoids resorting to easy answers. Even in the writing that helps give his concepts form, he is resigned to perplexity. For himself he says, "Take away whatever you want, / but deliver me to derangements / of sweet, ordered, derelict words." For the rest of us he offers hope for some "heaven that falls and fits / this earth. These house rows, backyards, / the dog paths worn into the grass, / the sandbox and its twisting swings / empty where the children were just now / before they ran behind the kites, / running from us and our feeble facts..." This collection, like Di Piero himself and the rest of us, "take[s] what's given and work[s] /with that. The rest is grace." KLIATT Codes: SA—Recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2001, Random House, Knopf, 66p.,
— James Beschta
Library Journal
The central motif of this collection is careful watching of urban landscapes of "pitch and bus fumes," "splintered Sears and Pep Boys doors/ down the block," "stone housefronts," and the Schuylkill River in Southwest Philadelphia (where Di Piero was born). Poet, translator, art critic, and professor at Stanford, Di Piero master of impressionistic candlelight, with his "grassy onion-dome shadows" and "patchy shades" sometimes gets "fogged in" pursuing elusive shapes of "the invisible life of things." When he finds a scene that stays in focus city neighborhoods and parks, bonds among family and friends, the death of his parents Di Piero is precise and emphatic, like a woman in one of his poems who paints "as if it's she/ changing for real the sky's face." Di Piero's dimay at this messy world ("scrap-metal cubes/ and racked junkers") is redeemed by his ardor to record urban landscapes in "exacter, plainer" poetry. Between the everyday ("car wash, tar-shingle roofs,/ U-rent lockers, and tap-rooms") and the lofty ("We take what's given and word/ with that"), illuminated by "mildly crazed words," these thoughtful poetic compositions combine serious imagery with "truth in words" "changing for real the sky's face." Refreshing poetry that gets better with rereading. Frank Allen, Northampton Community Coll., Tannersville, PA Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780375709425
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 5/14/2002
  • Edition description: REPRINT
  • Pages: 80
  • Product dimensions: 5.86 (w) x 8.36 (h) x 0.33 (d)

Meet the Author

W. S. Di Piero was born in South Philadelphia in 1945. He is the author of six previous books of poetry, and the translator of three volumes from the Italian. He writes about art for the San Diego Reader and has published three collections of essays and criticism on art, literature and personal experience. He has received a Guggenheim Fellowship, a National Endowment for the Arts grant and a Lila Wallace– Reader’s Digest Writer’s Award. He lives in San Francisco and teaches at Stanford University.
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Read an Excerpt

Skirts and Slacks
The .32 Special its Dutch Masters box,
still in their bedroom closet, days after my mother's death,
plus my father's thirty years ago.
I used to practice disarming, reloading,
putting it in my mouth for fun. And so here it is again,
but (stupid woman,
Great Depression child scrolling tens and twenties in macaroni boxes)
loaded, half-cocked.
Oh yes, shoot the burglar in the closet, the cat in heat on the fence,
and Calvin Coolidge. She rose,
rammy, close to death,
cocked up in bed as if pulleyed by heaven,
sometime past midnight.
I was there to watch her eyes wake for a moment enraged and hateful toward me.
Bone wooled with slights of flesh, what certainty in the body at its end?
And between here and there?
Breath stops, blood fades,
the comic head I'm lifting from the pillow feels too merely anatomical and heavier than before.
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Table of Contents

Cheap Gold Flats 3
Psychopomp 5
Money 7
At. St. Hubie's Alter 9
Skirts and Slacks 10
Oregon Avenue on a Good Day 12
Leaving Bartram's Garden in Southwest Philadelphia 13
The Apples 14
Words for Song 17
The Accident 18
White Blouse White Shirt 20
My Message Left Next to the Phone 25
Some Voice 26
Early February the Same 28
UFO 29
At Mission Carmel 31
Vincent van Gogh's Self-Portrait: 1887 33
Malocchio 35
Less Than Two Minutes 37
Aisle-Seat Soliloquy 38
The Skylight 40
More Rain 42
Driving to Provincetown 45
At Mission San Javier 46
The Bull-Roarers 47
Hermes: Port Authority: His Song 49
Off His Medication This Morning in the Laundromat He Says 50
Tambourine Action 51
Girl with Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer 53
Stanzas 55
Add Salt 57
Kindness on Via del Cuccolo 59
Tuxedo, New York 60
South End 61
Rainy Night After Christmas Party 62
Police 64
Duboce Park 65
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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 30, 2014

    KRISTEN TO MATT

    Go to fourth res. I can finish giving you your massage there. ;)

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