Tag Archives: Anthony DiMatteo

“The field is greater than we see”—Anthony DiMatteo’s In Defense of Puppets

Review by Barbara L. Estrin

In Defense of Puppets
In Defense of Puppets
Anthony diMatteo
(2016 FutureCycle Press)
$15.95, Paper

With Robert Lowell’s depictions of his parents’ dysfuntion in Life Studies and Philip Larkin’s  indictment, “They fuck you up your mom and dad,” mothers get a  bad rap in late modern poetry.   But Anthony diMatteo’s In Defense of Puppets puts all the confessional blame on himself as he renders his mother’s death the occasion for reflections on the family romance, the framework for musings on nature and the forum for poetic discovery: “the dead and the living work nimbly together / in a department for the lost and found.”  In diMatteo’s case, the disclosures are usually of his own inadequacy to rise to the demands of his past in a volume so compellingly original that it astonishes us with the extraordinary of the ordinary it celebrates.

The first poem, for example, uses a phone machine as the launching ground for memory, “voices of the dead / speak a metallic / residue of soul,” his mother’s inquisitiveness  “reopening a wound,” one that is felt throughout the book. In “Things I Wouldn’t Say to My Mother,” he recalls “classic mom” asking his sister to fasten her bra on her last day, “You want me to die with my coconuts hanging out?” But then her sadness at leaving the six children she nursed with those coconuts comes back: “I want to know how things turn out for you.” That strain is echoed throughout the book as diMatteo reveals his several families, those in the group home where he worked, those in the parental home where he was raised, that of the Bronx neighborhood which he revisits and where “a different lifetime was walking the streets / in [his] mind,” aware that he, too, like the not-forgotten territory of his childhood  “would disappear.”

DiMatteo’s intimations of mortality—“I am still learning nothing lasts”—are fused with allusions to  mirrors which reflect too much and too little “Can you see yourself seeing /Yourself without a mirror”? signifying the difference between what is visible and what, like Hamlet’s pain, lies hidden in an interior “which passeth show.”   If mirrors fail to reproduce the self to the self, so DiMatteo turns to visual arts, quoting Klee who claims that he paints “so as not to cry” to which DiMatteo responds quizzically:  “where do tears / go if not to the same root?” In  the title poem, even “rain appears to weep.”   Mantegna, da Vinci, Rauschenberg are as much of DiMatteo’s landscape as the White Mountains of New Hampshire and the streets where he grew up, fighting with friends, leaving irretrievably in a family quarrel over the difference between homicide and genocide, and quoting Rauschenberg, “the canvas is never empty.”

DiMatteo fills the canvas of his page, defending and accusing his own craftsmanship, despite the fact that “in the beginning of time, metaphor began,” as he advances inexorably towards his “fear of loving you.” Is DiMatteo the Petrarchan poet frightened of the “no” of the other who inspires his words or, more originally, of himself and how the lover can hurt the beloved?  Not hesitant to face the difficult, DiMatteo confronts the art which he both reveres and doubts in a book that bypasses the influences he cherishes in favor of a more complex terrain: “the field is greater than we see.”   In Defense of Puppets is a rare collection, establishing a stunningly new poetic and challenging the traditions that DiMatteo (as Renaissance scholar) claims give the poet “the last word” even though that finality is only the first glimpse of a profound and moving depth.


Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 19, Issue 2.

Barbara EstrinProfessor Emerita at Stonehill College, Barbara L. Estrin is the author of four books of criticism, including several about poetics and poetry, most relevant here, The American Love Lyric after Auschwitz and Hiroshima.  She has also published numerous articles about modern and contemporary poets, including W.B. Yeats, Wallace Stevens, Samuel Beckett, Robert Lowell, Adrienne Rich, Paul Muldoon, and Edwin Honig

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Review: Beautiful Problems: Poems by Anthony DiMatteo

Reviewed by Susana H. Case

Beautiful Problems
Beautiful Problems: Poems
by Anthony DiMatteo
(2014, WordTech Communications)
$17.10 Paper
ISBN: 9781625490711

In the recent Italian film, The Great Beauty, the protagonist, Jap, after reaching the age of 65, embarks upon an odyssey to discover what beauty means. Anthony DiMatteo, in his first book, Beautiful Problems: Poems, is on a similar quest to discover how we experience beauty in the quotidian worlds in which we move. Marital coupling and uncoupling, a stillborn child, family connections, hiking in nature, encounters with animals, even the death of a horse in a traffic accident, and the murder of a lesbian couple in Shenandoah National Park—all of these are mined for insight.

“A square inch of wilderness is a beautiful problem.” He begins. (“A Square Inch”) A beautiful problem is one that enlightens, that enhances insight into a mathematical concept, the general theory of relativity, for example. “(I]f the solution is not beautiful,” Buckminster Filler wrote, “I know it is wrong.” Like Fuller, Di Matteo draws upon this idea of beauty from the aesthetics of mathematical thinking to address larger notions of the aesthetics of the world around us, both natural and constructed, rendering these thoughts in a beautiful way.

Using some form (a sestina, for example in “Mind Games,” or a villanelle in “Mixed-up Song,” as well as several sonnets), the collection is composed largely of free verse narrative poems arranged into five sections. Di Matteo suggests that to appreciate beauty, one must “see a thing quid est, as such, at the moment / it reveals its true essence.” (“From the Standpoint of Eternity”) But, there is a playfulness here as well, when considering words, as in “Conflate the Idiom,” for example, where he writes:

They can make us and forsake us
to a crowded house alone. What
is this thing called love, why
is this thing called love or why
is love called a thing and who
would ever love a thing?

DiMatteo does this as well in the conjunction of “love and death” and “life and death” in “Exposure.”

“Beauty Is in the Heart,” he suggests, as the title of his book’s second section, poems of memory and love, though “Once gone, love’s death is complete” (“Homage to the Pemigewasset” and we must see it:

These eyes have peered from trains
into the darkness of apartments where
the one lamp glows down a long hallway.
today, they have witnessed the felling
of a two hundred year old oak, turning
from the lumberjack who thought I had asked
about the age of his chainsaw….

Eyes become a recurrent theme, as in “Animal Eyes”:

My canary goes quiet when I drift by
and looks into my eyes to ask
for something to eat and when I drift
away it sings, trying to charm me
to go into the refrigerator for the cool
lettuce. My dog looks into my eyes
to allow me to see the one light bulb
lit in the back of the hallway
of his deep brown eyes. My other dog
blasts rocket ships into my eyes
when hungry as if he were beaming up.

There is a wry humor in some of these poems. In the third section of the collection,
devoted to poems that contain animals, the poet writes:

Beauty wears no clothes
and no offense meant to the statue
but liberty wears no clothes.

Imagine a large naked woman
welcoming people to New York.
How kind and trusting, how free.

But no ferry tours happiness
or death. If one knew in advance,
who’d buy a round trip ticket?

This mastery of subtle humor that turns serious shows up again, particularly in the fourth section, poems in which the departed are in focus. In “The Favor,” DiMatteo unwillingly agrees to take the dead ashes of a student’s husband with him to Yosemite to scatter them from Mount Vogelsang, and in “Old Before His Time,” a twelve-year-old boy in need of supervision “knew / what it took to look madness in the eye.”

Beauty shows itself woven through this collection, the word disappearing and reappearing, the way the birds disappear and reappear in Derek Walcott’s White Egrets. There is a sadness that disappears and reappears as well, skillfully rendered, as when DiMatteo writes, for he is not a Pollyanna, “the joy of touch gives way / to a stone of grief in the end.” (“Work for a Lifetime”)


Published in Cider Press Review, Volume 16, Issue 3.

Susana H CaseSusana H. Case is the author of several chapbooks and four full-length collections, including Elvis Presley’s Hips & Mick Jagger’s Lips (Anaphora Literary Press), and, most recently, 4 Rms w Vu (Mayapple Press).

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Cider Press Review Volume 16, Issue 3 Debuts July 1

CPR Volume 16, Issue 3The latest issue of Cider Press Review, Volume 16, Issue 3, premiers overnight July 1, 2014 starting at midnight (PST).

Volume 16, Issue 3 includes poems by Nancy Carol Moody, Maggie Blake, Gemma Cooper-Novack, Jose Araguz, Carol V. Davis, Colleen Michaels, Mary Moore, Kevin Phan, Diane Lockward, Gary Hawkins, Sandra Marchetti, Carol Berg, Andrea Potos, Jennifer Jackson Berry, Lisa Cihlar, S. Jordan, Marq Wilson, Jimmie Cumbie, Louisa Howerow, Mark Wagenaar, Susannah Nevison, Sarah Henning, Rebecca Baggett, Evelyn Farbman, and Sharon Chmielarz. Review of Anthony DiMatteo’s “Beautiful Problems: Poems” by Susana H. Case.