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Reviewed by Gail Wickman for Readers' Favorite
Alessandra Gelmi’s collection, Ring of Fire: Selected Poems 1972-2008, brings together poetry that touches in one way or another on the topic of suffering. Don’t expect these more than two dozen poems to be anything like any other poems about suffering that you have read. The topics range from the achingly painful, such as lost love to the inability to conceive to orphaned children to the frailty of age, to the breathtakingly shocking, such as torture and child abuse. More than once I had to reread a poem because the revelation at the end wrenched the early lines into a new focus. Gelmi does not write easy poetry, she writes rich poetry.
Alessandra Gelmi has an incredible talent for voice, irony and image. The three residents in “Visiting the Nursing Home” all have distinct voices, as does the speaker in “Deliverance.” Gelmi’s use of irony can be political or personal. In “Casualties,” we see the pain of orphanages, with a last line that punctuates the inhumanity of institutions; in “Television,” the last line makes us want to cry for every abandoned child who dreams of a loving birth mother. It is perhaps Gelmi’s images and the fresh language she uses to describe them that truly make Ring of Fire: Selected Poems 1972-2008 a pleasure to read. In “Over Dinner,” she compares needy women to “these gulls circling above you/ready to swoop down/Cannibals in white brassieres” and describes herself as a baby as looking “like Benito Mussolini/Bald like bomb-razed land.”
If you enjoy rich poetry that takes some time to unpack, I highly recommend Alessandra Gelmi’s collection Ring of Fire: Selected Poems 1972-2008.