We Became Summer
by AMY BARONE
reviewed by PATRICIA CARRAGON
New York Quarterly Books, 2018
We Became Summer is a delightful and insightful collection of poetry spanning Amy Barone’s childhood in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, to her New York literary life. Her experiences read as a poem divided up into five sections: Heat, Light, Sounds, Home, and Breeze.
The book begins with Heat, and Ms. Barone introduces herself as a poet reviewing her history seen from a window, reading a Joseph Heller book, hearing Beatlemania flashbacks, revisiting challenging family get-togethers, thinking about that rendezvous at the Old Warwick Hotel and chaste dates at the Cloisters, and listening to a bass player from Brazil. She recounts her stories, a lioness sipping espresso macchiato in one hand while writing out her passion in the other. There are no happy endings in love, but poetry heals Ms. Barone.
Poetry is her longing and life, and in her poem, “Healing Poetry,” she writes:
She reads of a stuffed animal who served
as best friend. The loneliness that could have
choked her. Touches on a learning disability
and bullies. I was uplifted by grace
that emerged and powerful poetry,
writing that clearly saved her life.
In Light, Ms. Barone takes us to Italy, her ancestral homeland and where she was a reporter for Advertising Age. Here, we grab a bike and journey with her through many cities, get happy in Ferrara, meet her cousins in Teramo, explore Byzantine mysticism in Ravenna, feel the splash of the Adriatic on our faces, desire the beaches of Abruzzo, retrieve that beautiful yellow Versace jacket from a thrift shop in Milan, and see Italy as a vast museum of human and natural beauty. She touches on the literary, tracing the steps of James Joyce in Trieste and retreating to Torcello to write with Ernest Hemingway as her muse. Her descriptions of food entice your senses, and those handsome men on fire-engine red motorcycles speak perfectly seductive Italian.
In Sounds, we feel the torment of her childhood music lessons, going from instructor to instructor, only to find salvation in Al Green and Carly Simon. As she grew older, Ms. Barone was lured into the world of smooth and sensual jazz. From the piper’s horn of “Pharoah” Sanders, playing life-like Clifford’s drums, to romancing the Brazilian beats of Jaco Pastorius and Davi Vieira, we feel Ms. Barone’s inner passion for music and follow each beat with joy and self-renewal.
In Home, we learn that Barone’s immigrant family settled in East Harlem, New York, but moved to Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, blending in with the local WASPS. Ms. Barone inherited her parents’ love for jazz and a tenderness for family. Her mother would croon, especially when sad. Songs like “Smile,” “My Funny Valentine,” and “The Shadow of Your Smile” filled the airwaves for Ms. Barone to later discover her own passion for jazz. Her father loved Gershwin and studied music at the Bryn Mawr Conservatory of Music. Like his memories, his vinyl collection of artists, such as Bing Crosby and Liberace, were salvaged.
In “Secrets,” her mother secretly loved pink roses and gave an oil painting of these roses to her daughter on the occasion of her move to New York:
Pink roses do resemble my mother—
subtle, sweet flowers from the regal rose family.
In “Echoes of a Hardware Store,” her father worked hard to support his family:
He mastered the nuts and bolts of life; make lists,
pray before bed, be loyal to family, spend less than you earn.
He wasn’t mechanical or a fixer-upper, but good with money,
more of a dreamer and childlike in his simplicity.
In the final section, Breeze, Amy Barone becomes the breeze, learning from the past, moving on to create her future, evolving into the poet and person she is today. Two poems sum it up; “Lessons Learned from Moths” and “Orange Is My New Black.”
In “Lessons Learned from Moths”:
I learned the art of detachment
from a destructive pest
romanticized by poets
whose origins go back millions of years . . .
White larvae covered elegant outfits.
Soles fell from Ferragamo pumps.
Moths cunningly coached me to occupy now,
not dwell in closets lined with past lives
nor focus on nostalgia
tarnished by death and deceit.
In “Orange Is My New Black”:
I’m tossing black from my world—
black clothes, black cars, black moods.
Banishing dread and gloom . . .
I’m deporting colorless lingerie and sex.
When I sleep, instead of jumping into black puddles,
I’m going to emerge from tangerine dreams. Glowing.
Amy Barone is a positive force on the poetry scene in New York and Pennsylvania, glowing like a tangerine dream, moving on from the past like a butterfly schooled from moths, swaying to Brazilian Bahia beats, feeling a connection for her mother and father, life, love, music, and poetry. We Became Summer is a masterpiece of words that flow like smooth and sensual jazz. A book that should be read while listening to Miles Davis, Sade, Jaco et al.
PATRICIA CARRAGON is a widely published Brooklyn writer and poet. Her latest books are The Cupcake Chronicles (Poets Wear Prada, 2017) and Innocence (Finishing Line Press, 2017). Patricia hosts the Brooklyn-based Brownstone Poets and is the editor-in-chief of its annual anthology. She is an executive editor for Home Planet News Online.
For more information about Ms. Carragon and her reading series, please check out her websites at brownstonepoets.blogspot.com and at patriciacarragon8.wordpress.com.
CAROL HAMILTON has recent and upcoming publications in Commonweal, Bluestem, Southwestern American Literature, Pour Vida, The Maynard, Sanskrit Literary Magazine, U.S.1 Worksheet, Broad River Review, Homestead Review, Shot Glass Journal, Poem, Louisiana Literature, Haight Ashbury Poetry Journal, The Aurorean, Blue Unicorn, Birmingham Poetry Review, Pigeonholes Review, and others. She has published 17 books: children's novels, legends and poetry, most recently, Such Deaths from Virtual Arts Cooperative Press Purple Flag Series. She is a former Poet Laureate of Oklahoma.