What My Arms Can Carry.


117 pages
ISBN 978-1-55071-211-7
DDC C811'.6





Reviewed by Connie T. Braun


In What My Arms Can Carry, Gianna Patriarca returns to the themes of her previous award-winning offerings, tilling the spatiality of memory and place within her own intergenerational Canadian Italian neighbourhood. In the manner of Canadian poets Sarah Klassen and Janice Kulyk Keefer, Patriarca sensuously and reflectively explores the interstitial landscape of longing and belonging—geographically, and relationally.


Many of the poems are titled after places. Paradoxically, Patriarca’s most richly textured verse is not situated in the Old World at the Piazzo Novona or the Spanish Steps, but in the New. At Dundas and Sackville “mothers sit on rows of fold-out chairs” wearing “their fatigue like an old dress … dust of factories and basements in their eyes.” “On the Street of Widows” old women gather to “prepare tables / with crisp cotton tablecloths / fill them with all the talent / from their individual hands / they feed each other / stories and food.” In “Constantino’s Garden on Applefield Drive,” “the grapevine is strong / older than he even remembered / planted when my cousins were in short pants and played / hockey on the street / the grapevine will survive the grandchildren / and more.”


As though she were writing a memoir, Patriarca is also self-reflective. In the title poem, for example, she asks, “how do i package / the weight of my heart”? In the first three stanzas of “The Neighbourhood Is Changing,” she more fully penetrates the core of human experience through the distance of observer. Here, old men see through the “pearly veils of fallen cataracts” pitching stories to one another “in the need to be heard” and “old women light the candles / the necessary confessions / the blessing of the Eucharist.”


In writing about memory, dreams, lovers, and “evenings that were our youth,” Patriarca concedes that she may be “accused of writing nostalgia.” Not so.


This collection poignantly and honestly embraces place, memory, childhood, parenthood, temporality, and loss. Patriarca’s intimate voice of daughter, mother, and lover rooted in family, community, and religion, enfolds us in the experience of immigrant life.


Patriarca, Gianna., “What My Arms Can Carry.,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed May 26, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/26925.