Staying afloat

MARSHALL – Throughout the years, author and historian Joseph Amato has written poems on a number of things – Paris, Oxford, war and the Fourth of July celebration in Marshall.

His new poetry collection, “Buoyancies A Ballast Master’s Log,” was recently published by Spoon River Press.

Some of his poems date back to the 1970s when he first arrived in the area, Amato said.

“I lived in Cottonwood and had the good fortune to have Phil Dacey as a neighbor,” Amato said. “We shared poems.”

“We’d trade poems back and forth, me being by comparison the student, and Dacey being the teacher,” Amato added.

Poems have turned up in small numbers in his publications. Amato said his book, “Death Book,” has about six or seven poems about family or colleagues.

“And in this case, a couple of suicides that were intriguing,” he said.

“Buoyancies” deals with how do we stay afloat in the sea of life, Amato said.

“That’s what we’re usually doing throughout life…we’re hoping our thoughts and ideas would buoy us up,” he said.

The subtitle, “A Ballast Master’s Log,” refers to how to keep ships from capsizing; you have to control the ballast, Amato said.

“In a way, in writing poetry, I’m shifting around the ballast, be it the ideas or feelings I have in my life or my mind,” Amato said.

The poetry collection is divided into seven sections – Winds and Waters, Fields and Courses, Prepositions and Propositions, Around the Brim, Family, Neighbors and Colleagues, and the Treading Kick of Hope.

In Winds and Waters, Amato said if the assumptions of the poems in this first section were to make an argument, they would contend that we are in being.

“And we, at least who walk and canoe outdoors, experience our place and self in action through and by nature,” he said. “For me, nature has many tongues. Its surfaces – in life, motion and movement, light, touch, shape and all their categories – sing out in chorus. They calm and soothe. They excite attraction and love, and place reproduction at the center of life.”

In the section on family, Amato starts with short poems, vignettes, about his wife and children and goes onto poems about his parents and grandparents and a great-grandfather.

“Poems convey thanks to a family that nurtured me with food, words, emotions, gestures, manners, stories, deeds and even comic antics,” Amato said.

Amato expresses gratitude and reverence for his neighbors and colleagues in the sixth section.

“There is not room to provide a history for each of these poems,”?Amato said. “Let us say that, like mushrooms, they just sprang up – or that they echoed a repeating phrase and tried to give form to a juxtaposition that I?couldn’t stop chewing on.”

“For me, I’ve always worked with myth, symbols and metaphors,” he added. “I was always into the importance of myth and symbols before I started writing prose.”

There’s some poems in “Buoyancies” that point toward his next collection, Amato said. He received a Southwest Minnesota Arts Council grant to write poems on Sicily. He will go there in May to gather themes and ideas.

Amato said he appreciates the advice and help he received from poet and former Independent editor Dana Yost.

“He really improved the book profoundly,” Amato said.