Last Web Wednesday, we featured an English teacher. This week, we bring you another of America’s great teachers: Salvatore Buttaci (retired).
As always, we asked our guest to share with us a poem that best expresses his writing style. Sal responded with, “It’s difficult to pick one of my poems and say it best represents my work. I write poems in many poetic forms and on many themes. The poems I’ve written and managed to save number about 6,000. In fact, in 2009 I wrote 1,009 of them!” Ultimately, Sal chose a love poem. All I can say is, be still my heart!
YOU CALL ME “CARO MIO”
Under the sheets of passion you call me caro mio,
But once love melts into final throbs and last breaths,
Your eyes glazed like impromptu tabloid snapshots,
You turn your naked back to me, say how the night
Is finally here after a hectic day of scheduled madness.
I hear from my side of this nocturnal territory, your voice
Fuzzy as wool in dreamscapes, words in a tunnel,
Something uttered just before the runner leaps into dream.
Too soon your gentle snoring playfully pokes the walls
And I lie here, arms behind my head, staring upward
At heaven from where we have just returned, and think
To myself those charged words you called me:
I run them through my mind like a prayer: caro mio,
Dear one, dear one. And then your hand touches my face,
I feel alive again. Connected this way, I surrender
To the tug of sleep’s hands; your words, sleep’s voice.
(C) 2008 Salvatore Buttaci
First published in “Contributor Series 6: A Currency of Words.” POEMBLOG.VOXPOETICA.COM (October 10, 2010).
Salvatore Amico Buttaci. Ahhhh … such a beautiful name! Something that endeared me to Walt’s poetry back in 2009 was the obvious pride he feels in his ancestry. Please take a moment to tell us about your Sicilian roots – a topic I know is dear to your heart.
It is ironic that in my boyhood days being a son of Sicilians caused me so much grief. Back in the 1940s, and even beyond in the New Jersey of the 1950s, boys in my Brooklyn neighborhood, called me ethnic names, accused me of being in a Mafia family, and forced me into defending my ethnic honor with tears and fists.
My mother, though born in New York City, spent her first 18 years in Sicily, in the same mountain village of Acquaviva Platani where my father lived until 15 when he immigrated to America. They were proud of their heritage and passed that pride onto their children. In 1965, after I was graduated from Seton Hall University, I went to that same town and stayed for a year. There I met Salvatore Amico, my maternal grandfather, and enough cousins to start my own colony! I loved it. It has become a part of me and much of my writings. I have even lecture on “Growing up Sicilian” to dispel the myth that we are all in the mob. I explain the gross injustice done by the media with their “Soprano” shows and gangster flicks and even anti-Italian ads.
Sal, you have been writing since childhood. Do you recall what or who sparked that interest? What was the first piece you remember writing?
At nine, I wrote a poem to and for my mother on–what else!–Mother’s Day. She cried as she read it and I thought, Okay, there’ll be no more poems from this kid, but then she hugged and kissed me. She was so moved by my nonsense poem that for the rest of her life, she, along with my father, encouraged me to never stopped writing.
I also had a 7th grade teacher named Sister Rita Damian who allowed in-school students on rainy lunch hours to read their stories to the class. Later on in high school Sister Marie Augusta would write comments on my compositions like “You are an excellent writer!” and “God gave you a gift.” Praise like that went a long way. As for my writing life now, Sharon is always there for me. My best critic. My greatest inspiration. Love can do that.
You say, “Praise like that went a long way.” I’m sure that praise was instrumental in the fact that your first published work came about when you were quite a young boy. Please tell us about this experience. In that time frame, did you ever feel burned out with writing? If so, how did you overcome the sensation?
My first published piece was an essay entitled “Presidential Timber,” which I submitted to the Sunday New York News back in 1957. My father saw the contest details in the newspaper and suggested I enter it. I asked Sister Marie Augusta for advice and she suggested whatever topic I chose that I write an outline, do a quick first draft, and then spend most of the time revising. “Can I win?” I asked her. She smiled that tight little smile nuns do and said, “Somewhere out there in the future you already have.” So I chose politics as my subject. What character traits should a U.S. president possess that would make him memorable in the history books. When the newspaper editor called with the good news–my essay was one of ten the paper would feature each of ten Sundays and that my win earned me $25–I was ecstatic. When my essay appeared with my photo (A New York News photographer visited our home, Papa and I went out and bought several copies. “My boy’s in the paper,” he told the candy-store man. “He’s a writer and they paid him!”
You have been published in the New York Times, Newsday, and U.S.A. Today, to name a few big guns. Will you share your secret for success?
It’s no secret at all. Newspapers publish the news and welcome feedback from their readers. I read an article that personally effects me and I respond as succinctly and comprehensively as possible. I revise the piece so it’s tight as an ice ball, ridding it of all redundancies that slow down one’s writings, and keeping it interesting from start to finish, then I take my chances by submitting it. I never consider that a newspaper, magazine, or journal might be a “big gun.” I envision the editor at his or her desk reading my piece. How do I make that editor nod his head yes is what I consider most important. I don’t allow myself to be intimidated by the “big guns.” I aim my slingshot and hopefully bring down the giant insecurities with which we writers sometimes are plagued.
As for poetry and fiction, I try to write what I hope will please the one whose job it is to decide on its acceptance or rejection. Poems that appeal to the senses and to the emotions fare better than those that are intellectually stimulating. Stories with strong hooks, varied use of narration, description, dialogue, and exposition, and satisfying endings stand a better chance than those that take forever to reveal the conflict or overload the reader with narration or dialogue or description or exposition. Variety is the spice of fiction.
In light of your published books and the illustrious papers and magazines that have featured your work, do you feel successful as a writer and poet? Why, or why not?
What is success? Are we talking here of monetary success? Because if we are, I am quite unsuccessful if you look in my wallet or bank account. No, believe me, unless we are one of the literary giants who can release a book on Monday and sell millions of copies by Friday, we are not in this writing business to be profitable. More a not-for-profit venture to feed the inner person, the one that resides in our deepest selves.
I write because I am convinced there is a God Who loves me and gifted me with a talent for writing. I write to say thank you to God. I write because my day is hollow instead of hallowed when I do not write. I need to ride the wave of that poetic line dancing in my head. I feel compelled to tell that story unfolding in my imagination. It’s food that sustains me. That drink of water (or beer) on a hot August day. And the admission that I am nowhere near the successful writer I want to be (not in the eyes of the world but in my own eyes) keeps me writing everyday. I want readers to know me through my poetry, my stories, my letters, my articles, my flash books, and eventually, in some small way remember me.
Much of what you write is considered “flash fiction,” which I believe is 1,000 words or fewer. I personally have a copy of your Flashing My Shorts, which I recommend highly! Though you make it look easy, is it a challenge to write a complete story in so few words? Do you have any advice for those of us who would like to try it on for size?
For starters, I suggest writers read flash fiction before they attempt it. At the expense of coming off as self-serving, I would recommend my two books, Flashing My Shorts and 200 Shorts. They’ve gotten very good reviews. In fact, the University of Chester in England is adding 200 Shorts to their library’s “Flash Fiction Special Collection,” which is the world’s largest archive of flash fiction anthologies, collections and literary magazines.
Flash fiction lacks the short story’s luxury of length, just as the haiku must tell in about 17 syllables the universe of a moment. Flash is just what its name defines: a quick read, a limited number of words, a plot and resolution that appears in readers’ eyes and then poofs to a closing. Therein lies the challenge: to create a hook for a brief but complete story, choose only the most essential details, keep the reader engaged in the plot’s development, and then send readers on their way, satisfied with the story’s conclusion. In less than 1,000 words, sometimes in as little as 50 words, the flash succeeds or fails.
Someone asked me recently how I begin a flash. It’s different for anyone who writes them. For me, I first create the scene in my mind, then allow the emotion that pervades the scene to take over, all the while imagining the one or two characters, the setting, the motives, dialogue and descriptions. After that I sit down at my pocket pad or notebook or keyboard and I wait for the hook that will get the flash rolling. If I can tell it in less words I will. If it’s something like my horror story “The Hook” or my crime flash “A Man with a Badge,” just to name two from 200 Shorts, I go the limit: 1,000 words. Some flashes don’t need as many words to tug at the heart strings or make readers laugh. As for variety of flashes, both my books run the gamut from adventurous to zany, enough to please all readers.
I also rely on flash prompts given at such writer’s sites as Six Sentences (http://sixsentences.blogspot.com/), Pen 10 (http://pentenscribes.ning.com/), Thinking 10 (http://www.thinkingten.com/), and others.
One of your websites is entitled The Poem Factory. This site features your own work, poetry forms, interviews, family photos, and poems-of-the-week. I was especially interested to find a collection of work inspired by 9/11. One piece particularly caught my eye, as it is quite different in style and content from the expected. If you would, please share with us the birth of “On the Brink of War.”
ON THE BRINK OF WAR
© 2002 Salvatore Buttaci
Taut in the late
Projects a pathway
Of curving stars.
The hunter’s arrow
Poised for flight
Who will quake
The January sky
And loosen his tight hand?
Who will set
The worlds on fire?
First of all, The Poem Factory has been quiet lately, but I do invite folks to visit my other sites:
http://salvatorebuttaci.wordpress.com Salvatore Buttaci
http://salvatorebuttaci.spruz.com/ Flashing My Shorts
http://salbuttaci.spruz.com/ The Word Place
http://salbuttaci.blogspot.com Sal’s Place
“On the Brink of War” is a poem on several levels. The obvious meaning describes the heavens where constellations take their places unmoved since creation. Orion’s bow is taut but not released; in fact, his arrow is made up of dazzling stars. There is no one who can quake the sky but God. No one can set the worlds on fire but He Who made them.
On another underlying level, Orion represents the war hungry, those powers who are not content to accept peace. They are driven to march their soldiers into wars, upset world order, and in doing so, set the worlds on fire, not the sky worlds but the human worlds that hunger to be fed, who want to live in peace. The poem tells us we walk the precarious brink of war and little has been done to change that fact.
On still another level Orion is God Who watches from His Heaven. One day the arrow will fly–God’s justice!–and we will be called upon to be judged for what we did or did not do here on Earth. Jesus came to set the world on fire and in His resurrection did so in the sense that they world, because of His loving sacrifice, became Christified. When Judgment comes, the world will once again be set on fire.
I have asked several of our featured guests this question, and I feel compelled to ask you: As an obvious man of faith, how do your convictions shape your writing?
I love God. Simple as that. As a Christian I believe in the Trinity and try to live my life as Jesus taught us to. It was not always that way, but to prove how much God loved me, from the beginning of time, He had selected my mother to birth me, a woman of deepest faith, a woman who spent much of my life praying for me to walk in the Light of a loving God. She taught me to pray and then leave all things to God’s Will. When I would question God why the world had wars and famines, why little babies died, why the world was less than perfect, she would tell me no one could think with God’s mind. We are creatures; He is Creator. When my mother died in September of last year I knew Heaven was hers forever! I pray one day to reunite with her and all those faithful servants of Christ.
How does my faith shape my writing? I never write blasphemous poems or stories. I never use God’s name in vain. I never use the ubiquitous F-word so popular among writers today. I write from the heart, gifts to the God Who loves me.
Do you feel poetry is a dying art? Or do you believe it is making a “comeback?” What do you see as the future of poetry?
In materialistic societies like America today, poetry is a tiny voice crying in the desert. Novels, especially those that transform into movies, stand the best chance of remaining popular because they are profitable. What can a poem earn? Every product is judged by what it amounts to on the bottom line. We have discarded morality and belief in God in order to make Big Bucks or support the immoral who take the little bucks from our pockets. Though poetry still lives, I don’t believe it is flourishing. And at the expense of alienating some of your readers, I don’t believe rap has helped matters. Though some of it is good poetry, most are excuses for mouthing bad language, putting down authority, or giving bad example to the impressionable young.
Will poetry make a comeback? It really hasn’t left! It is just not on the high literary rung of past centuries when some countries paid a pension to poets (alliteration unintended!) and kings invited them to court to recite their verses. As for the future of poetry, let me say that the digital age of bastardized English in the text-messaging craze that will only grow worse and more abbreviated, poetry may rival the paucity of the haiku, but poetry will not die.
As one who has experience with self-publishing, do you have any words of advice on the subject?
Self-publishing is the ideal way for writers to get their first books out there. It is much easier today to do so because of sites like Lulu.com, CreateSpace.com, Smashwords.com, and a few others, that will charge a lot less than if a writer were to assume the cost of having a printer do a run of their books.
I have self-published at least 10 chapbooks and books, mostly poetry, from 1974 to the present.
In 1998 I self-published a collection of my poetry called Promising the Moon (now out-of-print) and A Family of Sicilians: Stories and Poems: http://tinyurl.com/627mro6 which I released in 2008 at Lulu.com where it is still selling copies. In 1998 I was still working and could afford to print 1,000 copies of each book. Self-publishing requires heavy self-promoting, which I did on radio, TV, newspapers, readings, and lectures, managing to sell all printed copies! Once retired, I knew, except for an occasional chapbook, I’d need to find a publisher for my books.
Big Table Publishing took on Boy on a Swing: http://tinyurl.com/42vy39r
Middle Island Press published What I Learned from the Spaniard: http://tinyurl.com/42zvkw2
All Things That Matter Press published Flashing My Shorts http://tinyurl.com/6772fps and also my 200 Shorts http://tinyurl.com/3o5w84e .
Cyber-wit Publications published A Dusting of Star Fall, also available at Amazon.com.
Cyber-wit will also release my new book in the fall: If Roosters Don’t Crow, It Is Still Morning: Haiku and Other Poems.
I do suggest writers who self-publish edit their manuscripts before committing to final printings. Nothing turns off readers more than misspelled words, poor use of language, and uninteresting content.
To all writers who self-publish and those who have publishers, selling books is not easy. It doesn’t just happen because you wrote a good book. It takes hard work promoting yourself and your book, giving both much needed visibility, if you hope to attract readers. To say, I am a writer, not a marketer, is to negate any chances you might have of selling books. Wear two hats, the writer’s and the marketer’s, and good things will happen for you.
Thank you, Sal, for your candid responses. We feel privileged to count you among our regulars here at Poetic Bloomings.