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Poet explores leap from Tarentum to Brooklyn in book

| Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2004

Editor's Note: This article was revised at 1:45 p.m. Dec. 21, 2004, to correct the spelling of Paola Corso's first name.

Tarentum native Paola Corso was a journalist, a fiction writer and a teacher. But she didn't write poetry until a few years ago when her son, Giona, now 4, was born.

"I knew that once I had a child -- and I had trouble, as you can see when you read in some of these poems, literally taking a shower and getting dressed in the morning -- I knew that I would not be able to write novels," says Corso, 47, from her home in Brooklyn, N.Y.

Poetry and its availability in shorter writing sessions suited Corso. Her first collection, "Death by Renaissance," straddles alternate worlds: the past and the present, Pittsburgh and Brooklyn, youth and age.

But most of all, Corso's work is about family.

"I do want to pay tribute to my background as a working-class Italian-American ... my family members who have worked hard and all of the people in these communities that worked very hard," she says. "I have so many stories to tell."

It's how Corso pays homage to her heritage that is most striking. Her poems are malleable and elastic, depending upon their subjects. "Elsewhere" imagines the physical form of a jaunt down a sidewalk, words forming a path that meanders as the poet wonders about the permanence of her landscape.

Another poem, "My Italian Grandmother's Advice When I Left Pittsburgh for New York City," is simple and direct.

If you fly, land in LaGuardia Airport.

If you drive, take the Verrazano Bridge.

If you get lost, turn on Frank Sinatra Highway.

"I do think form and content can work hand-in-hand," Corso says. "Some of the poems are very weighty and heavy in the content, and a block style seems to be what they need. It's like a piece of oak furniture. It's weighty that way. Others, you want more air space. The words are little spirits on their own that can float across the page in blank space. The mood and the tone factors into what you're going to say and how it makes its way on the page."

A graduate of Highlands High School, Corso attended Indiana University of Pennsylvania before transferring to Boston College. She also attended San Francisco State in California before migrating to New York. Corso teaches at Fordham University and lives in the Park Slope section of Brooklyn. There, she finds a sense of community similar to that of Tarentum when she was growing up.

The impetus for much of the material in "Death by Renaissance" was, again, her son. On trips back home, she found Giona -- Italian for Jonah -- saying he wanted to stay with her mother, and would call Pittsburgh his home.

"He's already starting to feel the ambivalence that I feel," Corso says.

This dual attraction is seen in poems including "The Doctor Makes His Diagnosis," in which Corso writes:

... When I go back to Pittsburgh,

I'm stupida for living in Brooklyn

and when I'm living in Brooklyn

I'm mad with longing."

Corso's yearning for home is mitigated by reality. Tarentum, once bustling and vibrant, is now, like many other industrial towns, a shell of its former self. Corso's mother told her it used to take 10 or 15 minutes to make it across town on a Saturday night; now, one might see a single car in the same time span.

"It is easy from a distance to see things the way you want to see them, because you can re-create them in your mind," Corso says. "But I really feel the loss in the town, as well as really acknowledging the beauty of the rivers and the river towns in the Pittsburgh area. I hope the poems convey that."

The collection also includes family photos and more recent photographs by George Thomas Mendel.

Additional Information:


'Death by Renaissance'

Author : Paola Corso

Publisher : Bottom Dog Press, $12.95

Poet explores leap from Tarentum to Brooklyn in book

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