Sunday, February 18, 2018

Poetry Floats Against the Current of Time: A Review of 'Paterson Light and Shadow'

Paterson Light and Shadow, with poems by Maria Mazziotti Gillan and photographs by Mark Hillringhouse (Serving House Books, 2017) was reviewed by Adele Kenny in the Fall 2017 issue of the Tiferet  journal.

"It’s been said that poetry floats against the current of time, and this stunningly beautiful book by Maria Mazziotti Gillan and Mark Hillringhouse shows—through written language and photography—just how true that statement is. More than observation or remembrance, this book is both a tribute to, and a celebration of, Paterson, New Jersey. Both Gillan and Hillringhouse have lived and taught in Paterson, have walked and wandered through big and little spaces in the place once known as the Silk City. Together, they capture the light and the shadow of Paterson, past and present.

Maria Gillan is one of American poetry’s first ladies. Her work is always warmly and touchingly human, her voice authentic. Her style is essentially narrative with strong lyric undertones. Skillfully compressed and perfectly crafted, Gillan’s poems are filled with the generosity of spirit for which she is known. With adeptness of image and syntax, the poems in this collection are both thoughtful and elegant; they are driven by the author’s observations of life and her reflections on losses and love, all underscored by commitment to the particular. Technically impressive and filled with inner music, these poems rise from deep emotional centers and, as always, move between past and present with sureness and understanding. Keenly observant and fully aware of human frailty, Gillan raises her ghosts and, through them, she documents the struggles and joys of life as it was and as it is now. Most importantly, deceptively simple straightforwardness is the genius of great poetry, and Maria Gillan is a genius.

Creating structural and tonal nuance through black and white photography requires both artistic and technical brilliance. Mark Hillringhouse is brilliant. A poet, essayist, and photographer whose works have been widely published and exhibited, he articulates time’s passage through subtle shades of meaning, feeling, and tone in his black and white photographs. In these images, texture and patterns are not distracted by color and are thus profoundly compelling. In the same way that Gillan controls and directs her work through image and emotion that is never overly stated, Hillringhouse incorporates varying tones of gray to create small subtleties that add up to maximum effect.

Gillan is a master of line and stanza breaks. She also excels in creating enjambments (continuing sentences from one poetic line to another without a pause or terminal punctuation) such as those seen in these lines from “Opening the Door: 19th Street, Paterson”:
The crumbling cement steps led down to the dark cave
of the cellar where the mouse traps waited
in the corners and the big, iron coal furnace squatted
next to the coal bin. My father used a shovel
to scoop the coal out: it made a scraping sound... (page 42)

Hillringhouse, too, is a master of line. The image opposite “Opening the Door: 19th Street, Paterson” (page 43), shows the front of a home. What strikes the viewer immediately is the crumbling cement staircase, which perfectly matches Gillan’s first line. Run-down, shabby, the short staircase presents a narrow construction that draws attention to the center. From there, Hillringhouse uses lines to invite the viewer’s eye to move about the image and not become fixed in one place. He skillfully captures the lines of the door, windows, steps, railing, and fence.There is a constant play of light against darkness in the poems and photographs that speaks to
life’s dual nature; and the poem/picture juxtapositions created by Gillan and Hillringhouse are extraordinary. Especially striking are “Going to the Rivoli in Downtown Paterson” and the accompanying image.

...On Saturdays, after school, when I was a girl,
we’d take the bus downtown and we’d walk up and down
Main Street in and out of stores. We never bought anything,
but we liked wandering the aisles of Meyer Brothers,
spritzing ourselves with perfume, if we dared, and smelling
the leather purses we couldn’t afford. Then we’d retreat
to the Rivoli, to the elegance of the theater, to that moment
when they’d dim the lights and the movie would flash onto
the huge screen and we’d leave behind our ordinary lives
and enter the world of the film, a place where people lived
lives that were magical and glittering, a place
where people could have whatever they desired
and never have to count the costs. (pages 72-73)

The image that faces the poem is one of the ruined theater (page 73). Surrounded by darkness, a band of light enters through a doorway and falls on the rubble in places where seats once were. The starkness and desolation are underscored by that band of light, by the perspective achieved by the photographer, and by the prevailing sense of the lost “magical and glittering” to which the
poet refers.

Powered by love and buttressed by memory, these poems and images leave the reader/viewer with a feeling of loss and change that is a leitmotif throughout the book. Intensely focused and showing mastery of composition and form, texture and depth, the poems and images of people and place in this collection are thoughtful and intelligent, as well as rich in nuance and meaning. Together, Maria Gillan and Mark Hillringhouse have created a book that looks at the past through the lens of what we know and see today.

The poems and images in this book inform one another with a special tenderness that speaks of identity—both personal and geographic. They give even those who have never been to Paterson a personal and touching look at a city that, like so many American cities, has changed irrevocably. For all of us, there is a Paterson in our individual histories—a hometown, a place we shared with family members and friends, a city or town that we remember. Along with poignant poems and exquisite images, this book calls us back to the spiritual geographies that we call home."

Maria Mazziotti Gillan's most recent books are the poetry and photography collection, Paterson Light and Shadow  and the poetry collection, What Blooms in Winter . Her collection of poems along with some of her paintings is The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets . Maria's official website is

Saturday, February 17, 2018

CANCELLED - Gillan,Hillringhouse and Boss Reading February 17 in Clifton

This event has been cancelled due to predicted snow tonight.

On Saturday, February 17, at 7 pm, the ANT Bookstore and Café (345 Clifton Avenue, Clifton, NJ) continues its monthly series of poetry and music. The evening will feature poets Laura Boss, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, and Mark Hillringhouse.

Paterson Light and Shadow tells the stories in poetry and photography of Paterson, New Jersey, from one of its most gifted poets, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, and the fine art photographer Mark Hillringhouse, who together have spent a lifetime living, growing up and working in and around one of America's most important historic industrial cities.

Laura Boss will feature poems from her newest collection, The Best Lover.

This monthly series meets on the third Saturday evening of each month and includes an open microphone and refreshments. Free admission. Info: 973-777-2704.

Maria Mazziotti Gillan's most recent books are the poetry and photography collection, Paterson Light and Shadow  and the poetry collection, What Blooms in Winter . Her collection of poems along with some of her paintings is The Girls in the Chartreuse Jackets . Maria's official website is

Friday, February 9, 2018

Poetry Workshops with Daniel Donaghy and reg e gaines

Daniel Donaghy and reg e gaines will offer poetry workshops and a reading on Saturday, March 3.

From 10am to 12pm at the Poetry Center at PCCC in Paterson prior to their reading that afternoon, they will worksop with registered poets. Pre-registration is required for the workshops and there is a fee of $20. Contact Smita at or (973) 684-6555 about registration availability.

Daniel Donaghy is a Professor of English at Eastern Connecticut State University.

reg e gaines is a two-time Tony Award-nominated playwright, and Grammy Award-nominated lyricist.

These events are part of the Center's Distinguished Poets Series. The free reading will take place at 1 pm in the historic Hamilton Club Building at 32 Church St., Paterson. Parking is available at the PCCC lot on College Blvd., between Memorial Dr. and Church St.

Visit for more information on events

Monday, February 5, 2018

Louder Than Words - a spoken word event in Paterson March 1

The Poetry Center and the Office of Student Activities at Passaic County Community College present, “Louder Than Words,” a spoken word performance.  The free program will take place on Thursday, March 1 at 1:15 p.m. at the Founders Theater at PCCC (corner of Memorial Dr. and Ellison St.).  
reg e gaines, Angela Kariotis and Nicholas Rodriguez will perform their own original work.  All three performers have distinct professional backgrounds, and have worked extensively with underserved urban youth, using poetry, dance and music to address social change.  
reg e gaines is a two-time Tony Award-nominated playwright and Grammy Award-nominated lyricist, who has published four books of poetry, edited the 2015 poetry anthology, A Year In Ink, and scored the PBS documentary, Senior Year.  
Angela Kariotis is a writer, performer, and educator, who teaches at Seton Hall University.  Her work encapsulates the legacy of social protest theater.  Kariotis’ visceral and fluid presentations have resonated with audiences, and received favorable reviews, throughout the United States.  
Nicholas Rodriguez is a Juilliard graduate and Fulbright Scholar, who has taught and performed regionally and internationally.  His choreography has been presented at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Jacob’s Pillow and throughout South America.  Rodriguez is also a playwright and his poems have been published in the Paterson Literary Review.
Parking is available in the PCCC Visitors Lot at the corner of Memorial Dr. and Ellison St. 

Sunday, February 4, 2018

Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards Reading

This weekend the Poetry Center at PCCC hosted readings by winners and finalists of the annual Allen Ginsberg Poetry Awards. The awards celebrate native Patersonian, Allen Ginsberg.

The Hamilton Club on Church Street was filled with poets and lovers of poetry. 

"Paterson has such a rich history of poetry between Ginsberg and William Carlos Williams," said Maria Mazziotti Gillan, executive director of the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College, which oversees the awards. "This is a way to bring that history to the present."

Story and video via

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

A Review of 'Paterson Light and Shadow

Paterson Light and Shadow Poems
by Maria Mazziotti Gillan with photographs by Mark Hillinghouse (Serving House Books, 2017)
Reviewed by Dante di Stefano at

Paterson Light and Shadow pairs the poetry of the city’s finest living poet, Maria Mazziotti Gillan, with the arresting tonalities of Mark Hillringhouse’s photography. The conversation between Hillringhouse’s stirring black and white images and Mazziotti Gillan’s deeply moving autobiographical poems brings to life the vibrant history of one of the first cities of American poetry, birthplace of Allen Ginsberg and muse to William Carlos Williams.

In “December Dusk,” Mazziotti Gillan writes:
“A precariousness steals over things
at dusk when darkness bleeds the light away
and our shadows stretch their long fingers.” 
An exquisite precariousness steals over the graffitied factories, the abandoned boxing gyms, The Great Falls, the diners, the side streets, the public schools, the crumbling monuments, and the dilapidated stoops enshrined in the pages of this book.

For Hillringhouse and Mazziotti Gillan, Paterson is a place both haunted and sacred; at any moment the drab and ramshackle might give way to memory’s “dizzying panorama, luminous / and vast.”

Paterson Light and Shadow is a love note to an archetypal American place unfolding in the dialogue between word and image; to eavesdrop on the discussion between Mazziotti Gillan and Hillringhouse is to understand more deeply their charged and fortifying relationship to this remarkable city.