Reader’s Guide for northSight
Lois Roma-Deeley’s second collection of poems
How would you describe "the road" metaphor that opens this book? Where does it lead? Where is it going?
Who are the "traveling companions" on this road?
In what ways is this book mystical? Can you cite specific poems which support this point of view?
Critic Barbara Crooker in her review of northSight writes: "These are indeed words for our time, words to travel by." Do you agree or disagree? Why?
How does each section–which has an epigraph, lines from Lisel Mueller, Denise Levertov, Patricia Hampl, or Robinson Jeffers–become a "blueprint" for each part? How do the sections relate to the theme(s) of the book?
Lois Roma-Deeley is the grandchild of Italian immigrants. Both sets of grandparents arrived in America by boat—from Rome (paternal) and Sicily (maternal). Frances Masucci, Roma-Deeley’s maternal grandmother, was beaten by her father for wanting to learn to read and write–English or Italian. As a consequence, her grandmother was illiterate all her life.
Her poem "The Women I Knew," first published in the American Book Award-winning anthology Looking for Home, is now part of her newest poetry collection, northSight. How does that particular poem explore gender as it intersects with issues of class? issues of race?
In what ways does the poem suggest that gender sometimes supersedes issues of race? Does the poem suggest that role models for authentic womanhood were found in the "sighs" of the Black girls? Please explain.
Roma-Deeley not only chronicles her grandmother’s plight but also examines the larger forces that shape attitudes about women and poverty as well as ethnicity. Indeed, in northSight, many of the poems deal with the lens through which society sees women and how those perceptions are often internalized by women themselves.
Clearly, the trio of poems in northSight titled "Explicit," "Implicit" and "Complicit" illustrate this point. In the first poem, gender perceptions have turned negative and are internalized by the female subject of the poem. In "Implicit," gender perceptions have turned into gender prescriptions. And, by the time the reader has reached "Complicit," the reader is a character in the poem itself—that is, has become complicit in reinforcing the assumptions made about women in society.
Turning to the poem "Apologizing for the Rain," in what ways does the speaker accept—and then reject—society's prescriptions of womanhood and the strength it takes to define oneself on one's own terms? At what point in the poem does the stance of the speaker "turn" from one of passivity to one of assertiveness?
In northSight, there are poems which deal with the consequences of being sick in America—having cancer and no health insurance. Still other poems deal with the struggles of the working poor. How are the poems "Throwing a Chair Through the Hospital Window" and "Like Bullets Not Rain," by turns, arias of helplessness and despair as well as courage and dignity?
Are there other poems which center on issues of class? If so, what are they and why would you classify them as poems about class?
The poems in northSight can barely contain themselves on the page. There is a banquet of styles which serve to unify form and theme. For example, "Christina's Pilgrim State" is a formal poem (a sestina), while "Apologizing for the Rain" is a prose poem which employs experimental techniques.
Moreover, in "Obligatory Sex," stanza #1 is nothing but verbs, stanza #2 uses all nouns, stanza #3 employs adverbs, stanza #4 returns to the use of nouns (here, all placed-based nouns), and lastly, stanza #5 is filled with all prepositions. How does the form of this poem extend the meaning of its content?
What other examples of poems can you find which use form as a way of expanding meaning?
Roma-Deeley says, "One of the goals for my poetry is to challenge the contemporary poetic aesthetic. I want to push the borders and boundaries of what poetry is and can be. I want poetry to be 'bigger.' I believe poetry has the power to shape perceptions: that makes poetry a powerful force in the world. And it is a great responsibility for the poet."
Of Rules of Hunger, critic Peter Huggins writes in Phi Kappa Phi Forum,
"In reading Lois Roma-Deeley's first book of poems, Rules of Hunger, I am struck by the careful precision of her observations. Roma-Deeley marshals these observations in the service of a threshold experience: that moment when you put your hand on the door and then, taking the risk, you push through into the unknown. The poems in Rules of Hunger take us through, and we go willingly."
How would you define a "threshold experience?" In what ways does the entire structure of northSight mimic a "threshold experience?" specific poems?
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