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Prolific poet publishes most personal book to date

By : Nicole Borawski

Maria Mazziotti Gillan, professor of English and director of the creative writing program, has released her latest book of poetry, All That Lies Between Us.

Gillan, who divides her time between living in Binghamton and Paterson, N.J., began writing poetry at the age of 7, before she was fluent in English. When her teachers read poems out loud in class, she easily picked up on the style of writing and during her teenage years imitated other poets’ styles, such as Keats and E.E. Cummings. Now, “I want my readers to laugh and cry when they read my new poems,” Gillan said, “I’m not interested as much in beautiful language.”

Described by Sean Thomas Dougherty, editor of “Maria Mazziotti Gillan: Essays on Her Works,” as “one of the leaders of the multicultural turn in North American poetry,” Gillan is an avid reader whose mother allowed her to walk to the library at a young age and read at the dinner table. “I also love to talk about books,” she said.            

When she announced to her parents that she wanted to become a writer, they thought it was a crazy ambition but were supportive.
“For my high school graduation, my parents bought me a Smith-Corona typewriter in a pink case, even though they didn’t have a lot of money,” the poet said, and she began writing imagistic poems, specifically about nature. But by age 40, she thought, perhaps readers would be interested in something more personal.

“I decided to write a poem about my father, Arturo. Before this, my writing was a lot more hidden,” she said.

Gillan’s new volume of poems took several years to write and then another four to publish. “This was the hardest collection to write because it is the most unblinking,” she said, explaining that the title is a play on words because the poems speak about everything that separates and joins people.

“These poems are rooted in daily life, but explore in more detail my marriage and the effect of a long-term illness on a family,” Gillan explained. “They’re a tad darker and look to honor relatives who have passed away.”

When asked what poems stand out for Gillan, she said that “Nighties” and “My daughter’s hands” are among the pieces that have grasped readers’ attention.

Her new collection does not follow a chronological order, and it talks about her ancestors, memories of the past, the present, loss, what Sunday dinners meant to her and what she admired as a young girl.

“My poems talk about what I celebrate in life and what I’m grateful for,” said Gillan, who described the collection as direct and honest. So far, she has received pleasant responses and feedback after readings.

“My family has been really instrumental in my career,” said Gillan. “Poetry was a kind of salvation for me and I encourage my students to find the story they have to tell and be courageous about it.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08