BOA Editions, 2002 (ISBN 1929918267)
The posthumous release of Anthony Piccione's poetry collection, The Guests at the Gate, offers an intriguing insight into the mind of a man who, his writing seems to imply, knew he was about to die. The poems in The Guests at the Gate move with the steady drive of a sermon, or else a eulogy, bouncing between the realities of the world and the author's inner need for something beyond that world.
When Piccione's work is strongest, he manages to grind both themes together into a palatable cocktail, as in the closing line to "Watching the Evening News":
I want to look away. I want to take up my grief, gather with others,
However, at times the sentimentality and constant falling back on the religious beliefs that fill his poems as they must have filled his life grow tiresome, even a bit trite or sappy, as in "Lying Down Under a Tree at Dusk":
Go well, oh anyone awake and marveling,
pray hard for what you are about to receive.
Nonetheless, the weaknesses Piccione shows while stumbling through a handful of these poems are human weaknesses. He fights them off adeptly at times like a tenor learning to sing again after a long illness. Piccione's work often touches a deeper place than can be found in either the natural or supernatural. In "At My Mother's Grave," for example, he reaches for an understanding of death one suspects is as much about his own coming end as about the woman he remembers:
I miss her everywhere. Nearness is more terrible
than death. When I weep, my hands go out alone,
I am cleaning my mother's place. This is her place!
I am still kneeling when dark stoops down.
I have labored in unwavering heat all afternoon.
Nothing is left to me except to make neat, call out
the unsaid days, and lie down on the grass. . .
Recommendation. Give it a shot. The Guests at the Gate accomplishes much of what it sets out to do. While its themes at times are worn, the writing is more often crisp and precise, alive with emotion. The reader feels what Piccione feels as he searches, finds, falters, and forgets. The Guests at the Gate is like a picnic in the graveyard: not standard fare, not a bad way to spend an afternoon.