DANSVILLE — The local art center welcomes back Gerry LaFemina to discuss his new book of poems called “The Story of Ash” that is coming out at the end of the year.
Dansville Artworks Visiting Author Series Host George Guida has known LaFemina for many years.
Guida introduced featured poet LaFemina to the group on June 1 followed by an open mic with guests.
LaFemina is a poet, fiction writer, critic, editor, teacher, and noted literary arts advocate. His latest of the 13 books are Notes for the Novice Ventriloquist (prose poems) and Little Heretic (poems). LaFemina resides in Frostburg, Maryland, where he is an associate professor of English at Frostburg State University. He also serves as a poetry mentor at Carlow University.
LaFemina was born in Brooklyn, raised in Staten Island, lived in North Michigan, and has now made his way to Maryland.
LaFemina started writing poems when he was in highschool.
“I started writing poems as a teenager, because I was too scared to ask girls out,” he joked. “I was too scared to give them poems to the girls. I also wrote really bad punk rock lyrics. Here i am 30 years later still doing it.”
LaFemina said he is inspired by the world around him and what he sees in it.
“What we see reflects our landscape. I am always asking why,” he said. “The attempt to answer that question leads to a poem.”
As LaFemina shared from his new book “The Story of Ash” he said that a poem goes through 50 to 110 drafts before it is published.
“There is a thread throughout these poems of someone who is very important to me,” he said. “This is a book about lost dreams. Like the ash that burns from the Maple trees. America is a lost dream. It talks about the failure of love. These things are powerful, because their success is powerful. We talk about it (being American) so much, because we feel lost. There is something about what it meant to be an American.”
LaFemina focuses on the nostalgia of it all; such as what it means to be an American, our childhood, and relationships.
“Anything we feel nostalgia for is about the pleasure we had in it,” he said. “There are lots of things we can look back on, and say that was really exceptional of America.”
Our feeling of loss in America is like when a relationship ends and you miss them, LaFemina explained.
“All art is about taking raw material, and processing it in a way that makes it useful,” he continued. “We tend to write to make order of the chaos. We write poems about love. We write poems about death,which is a loss for us, and reminds us we will die.”
LaFemina said a poet always gambles on hope.
“There is a celebration of brokenness in these poems,” he said. “In it you find some healing.”
LaFemina said he has always had an interest in the landscape.
“I don’t go out in the world looking for material,” he said. “I go out into the world, and it becomes material. It calls to me. I have to figure out why it caught my eye. That is where the poem comes from.”
LaFemina concluded with talking about how important it is to have a home base.
“Wherever you live becomes home,” he said. “If you pine away for what you don’t have you are going to miss opportunities to make your life great.”