The power of poetry never ceases to amaze me, and when its potency is derived from capturing resonant images, I’m simply awestruck by the magnitude of emotional connection.
In her first collection, Philadelphia poet Diane Sahms-Guarnieri culls her experiences of growing up, living and loving in Philadelphia to create a stunning collection of raw material.
Like a well-written memoir, Sahms-Guarnieri’s work shoots straight to the center of human experience instead of hiding pain under a false fabric of pretension.
The author’s family history is the blue-collar factory workers’ experiences, which were common in Philadelphia’s manufacturing era.
Afflictions like alcoholism and factory-induced diseases plague the workers who gave their life, unbeknownst to the dangers, for others’ quests for wealth.
“The manufacturing base disappeared, leaving thousands of blue-collar workers stranded for work,” recalls Sahms-Guarnieri.
“Textile and steel mills moved south and then overseas. Former mills are now condos with boutique coffee shops; neighborhood churches, once the foundations of communities, have been sold or stand half empty. Once vibrant local business districts now struggle to compete with large chain store operations. Commercialism tears at the fabric of community.”
But the author seems to see past the current state and works to capture the past in a way that reminds us all not to forget those who weren’t given a voice.
“I visited a textile mill that my father last worked at before getting sick. The office manager was very kind and escorted me to the area my father once worked. The machines were all removed and sold. The company only maintained an office at the site,” she says.
Sahms-Guarnieri’s family is prominent in her work, and she is an astute observer.
“Oral history is a major component of my family and greatly assisted me with my research; however, many of the factual poems in this collection are based on firsthand observations.”
While “Images of Being” is rooted in Philadelphian experience, the author explores inspirational works of art, mythology and female friendships as well.
The light of optimism and hope erupts through the darkness, and this fluid movement is key to the collection’s success.
“The poems included in ‘Images of Being’ were selected from a large archive developed over 10 years. The challenge was picking the right poems to ensure a cohesive flow to the collection with the intended flow from darkness into light.”
Sahms-Guarnieri has cultivated her ability to pull such a collection together through her work with several organizations and writing groups.
“When I began developing my poetry, workshops greatly assisted me. The interaction with other poets exposes you to different styles and points of view.
“I am the poetry editor of the Fox Chase Review and co-curate the Fox Chase Reading Series. The review has expanded in the last few years to grow from a local-oriented review to an international online magazine.
“The reading series features local poets, as well as poets from along the northeastern seaboard of the United States. We are pleased to draw a crowd from the Delaware Valley, although most attendees come from Philadelphia and Eastern Montgomery County.”
Sahms-Guarnieri will be reading with another Fox Chase poet, G Emil Reutter, at an upcoming Moonstone Poetry Series event and appreciates the support she has received at venues throughout the region.
With a flourishing crop of poets, musicians and artists, Philadelphia and the surrounding counties is a great landscape to develop work and connect with other creators.
Moonstone Arts Center is one of the many supportive environments where poets and writers can explore and share their craft.
Rooted in the belief that “the arts, creativity and imagination are essential aspects of life, learning and community,” Robin’s Books and Moonstone Arts Center is a cornerstone in the local poetry community, having hosted the poetry series for 25 years.
Tolerance and cultural awareness certainly enlighten the human experience and only add to an artist’s palette.
“Read the poetry by poets from all walks of life, including translations,” advises Sahms-Guarnieri.
“Revise until the poem tells you that it’s done. Learn the craft, maintain your unique voice and always be true to yourself.”
— Nicolette Milholin is a literary columnist dedicated to interviewing authors, reviewing books and promoting events. Visit http://bookboundcolumn.blogspot.com for links to her published columns and a list of recommended literary events.
If You Go:
will read & sign books
at Moonstone Arts Center,
110A S. 13th St.,
Philadelphia, PA 19107,
Tuesday, Jan. 24, 7 p.m.
Info: 215-735-9600 or