Lewis Turco Felix Stefanile - Essay

Felix Stefanile

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Turco seems to have the whole of the English lyric tradition at his fingertips, and though this is not entirely a good thing—too much tinkle here and there, here a bit of Keats, there a bit of Mother Goose—I belong to the old school, and see in this bravura the commitment of a poet to craft. I trust poets who show clear influences, and I don't trust the groggy, toneless, "spontaneous" mutter of much that goes by the name of verse today among the younger, studiously untutored poets of the confessional school. (p. 297)

I would like to see Turco … return to the inspiration of "The Sketches," the sequence that forms the middle third of [Pocoangelini: A Fantography]. There, in a handful of character vignettes—A. R. Ammons called them "an autobiography of biographies"—we have a poet who is direct, clear-seeing, musical, and quite real. Poems like "Guido the Ice House Man," "Ercole the Butcher," and "Mrs. Martino the Candy Store Lady" speak to the human condition with grace, always a strong point with Turco, and warmth. Just as importantly, I think the resistance of the subject matter—real people, often simple, not particularly highly endowed—works well with this poet's tendency to treat his material with too much "fanciness." A tension is set up between the nubbiness of the material and the neatness of Turco's technique:

        When you come to the best of quiet doors,
        there Guido sits with his hat pulled down
        and his lids pulled down,
        and the shadows down, down to his knees
        like an awning's ghost—

Precision of language, and to be envied. (pp. 297-98)

Felix Stefanile, in Italian Americana (copyright © 1975 by Ruth Falbo and Richard Gambino), Vol. 1, No. 2, Spring, 1975.