Dodge Poet Spotlight: Maria Mazziotti Gillan

Posted on by Dodge

Welcome to our continuing blog series here on Poetry Fridays, Dodge Poet Spotlight. We are turning the focus over to the individuals who make our programming what it is in the schools, with teachers in Spring & Fountain, and on the ground at the Dodge Poetry Festival — the Dodge Poets.

Each week, a Dodge Poet answers some questions about themselves and provides a selected poem of their own work. We hope that this will be a way for you to get to know the Dodge Poets a little better, and you can get an idea of why we love working with them so much.

Without further ado, today’s Dodge Poet is Maria Mazziotti Gillan.


Photo from lamplighternj.com

When did you first discover poetry? What poets made you want to write poetry?
I first discovered poetry in third grade when teachers read Tennyson, William Cullen Bryant, and Longfellow to us. I fell in love with the sound of poetry and what it made me feel. I grew up in a house where Italian was spoken and while I’ve always loved the sound of Italian,  in school I fell in love with the sound of English as well.

Richard Hugo said we’ve written every poem we ever loved. He was particularly proud of having written Yeats’ “Easter, 1916.” What great poem are you proud of having written?
I have so many poems I love that it is hard to choose, but I am proud to have written “somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond” by E.E. cummings. I often recite it to myself when I’m driving or walking and I find it very comforting. I think it is one of the most beautiful love poems I have ever read.

What is your favorite place to read?
I have a particular chair in my family room that seems just the right size for me and that I find very comfortable for reading. Also I read in bed for at least an hour before I go to sleep.

What are your favorite writing tools? Paper or computer? Are there special brands, papers, pens, etc. that are important to you?
I write online pads, white, and I write by hand. I don’t seem to be able to write on a computer. I like the feel of the pen moving across the page.

Tell us about your favorite experience reading for an audience.
My favorite experience was in Yugoslavia where I was the representative of the US and I read on a bridge covered in white bunting to an audience of people stretching for a very long distance on both sides of the river. The organizers arranged for 6 women in togas to approach the bridge by boat and to climb aboard the bridge to light the torch of poetry. There were poets from all over the world there, and it was very exciting. Recently I read at St Joseph’s College in Hartford, CT where the students had read my book, and after my reading, at least 20 students stayed behind to ask me questions. The original session ended at 1:39pm. By 3pm, i had to say I had to leave, but I loved that these twenty year-olds were so interested in me and my poetry that they were willing to stay behind for an hour and a half to talk with me.

What is the funniest/strangest response you’ve ever gotten to telling someone you are a poet?
People have said: “I hate poetry. I never understood it and it makes me feel stupid.” I try to present them with poetry that is clear and accessible in the hope of changing their minds. I love poetry so much, I want everyone else to love it too.


My Brother Stands in the Snow, 1947, Paterson, NJ

Fifty years later, my brother is still my baby brother.
I imagine him in his woolen winter coat, tan-colored,
that with his sallow face made him look dead,
and his woolen hat that matched the coat. It had ear
fl aps that snapped under his chin. He is about four
and looks wide-eyed and sweet and even then,
self-contained. I can see him standing in the snow.

It is 1947, that huge snowstorm where the snow is piled
almost to my chest. Even fifty years later, my brother
who has now been a doctor for more than thirty years,
is still my baby brother. Though he is my doctor, though I
admire and love him, though his hair has turned gray,
I can hear my mother’s voice telling me to watch out
for him, as my sister watched out for me,
so that even today, I can’t help worrying about him,

can’t help reaching up to smooth down his thinning gray
hair when it is rumpled and fly-away, as though he were still
that little boy whose hair I combed so carefully, wetting
the comb fi rst and parting the hair as my mother taught me
so he’d look good when people saw him on the street
where I dragged him behind me, held his hand
and scolded him as we walked.

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One Response to Dodge Poet Spotlight: Maria Mazziotti Gillan

  1. Jim O'Rourke says:

    Maria Gillan is one of my personal heroes. She came to my classroom in, I think, 1988 through the G.R. Dodge Foundation’s Poets In the Schools program. She spent the day and inspired me and my poetry club members so much. She was so warm and happy in person and in her poems. I continued to meet with that club, Pizza and Poetry, for more than twenty years. I also was encouraged to publish my first poem because of Maria’s urging. I owe my life in poetry to her and to the Dodge Foundation. Though retired, I continue to promote and proclaim poetry in my community. On December 7th, we in Ridgewood will celebrate poetry in public readings and sharings of poems in a public forum. Check it out!

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