Poetic License Test Results


A review of Credo by Carmine Starnino

Published on October 1, 2000

Carmine Starnino

McGill-Queen’s University Press

Someone casually said to me of Carmine Starnino, “His poetry is about his family, isn’t it?” My reply is that this book of poetry is about God, the imagination, and words, for as Starnino points out in Credo’s last poem,

Even this poem is one more example
of the usefulness in scavenging through
the day’s refuse, saving anything of value.

Watching the poetry develop in the second book from this young and talented writer, one is struck by his ability to experience epiphany in the sound of goat’s milk hitting a pail, or in the tweed cap worn by countless men of his acquaintance. The opening poems are a clue to where he has started: on his knees, waiting for an answer, ears and eyes wide open for a sign. As with all potential poets, he is tuned in to the possibilities of any situation and he comes armed with imagination. In “Teresa Masi’s Passport,” he tells us

…I imagine a long pause
as the Canadian customs officer

stares at this picture, the clipped
click of his stamp, and as he hands back

the passport, I imagine myself,
anonymously in the line, eyeing her.

You will notice the word “potential” in the previous paragraph. I use this term because, while so many writers do have the desire and the imagination, I have always chosen to go along with Mallarmé’s insistence that poetry is made with words. Starnino looks for the words, savours them and shares them with us, as only a poet can do. He has passed his poetic license test. There are many examples of this in every poem, but if you are curious, turn to “The Goblet,” which he fashions into a chapel window, a wedding kiss, a well, the Mediterranean, and neptune the weather.

There is a couple on a ship’s prow, I blow into
the cup’s mouth (diminuendo-of-trapped-breath)
and neptune the weather I imagine spreading
over them: sea-wind, white hurry of stormclouds.

All of this is wrought in words that capture the attention, words chosen not only with care, but with love. These allow the objects, people, and narrative to come alive. In another poem we are given rongetta, solid in its functional beauty, and familiar to generations. Beyond just a knife with which to peel or divvy up, it is a word to be cherished and an object with a past, alive, and snuggled in one’s hand.

The impact of Credo is constant throughout, for although the words ar wrought for us into images, these images are imbued with the liveliness of a wide range of emotion, whether it is love of the poet’s family and immigrant heritage, or that flash of humour when he undercuts what could turn into a moment of maudlin sentiment. And this is a treat, the turning on its head the high seriousness of poetry which Starnino does in such poems as “Rome” or “Saints, Again.”

Returning to the comment that this is another book of poems about the poet’s family, I would say “Yes, but this particular family of immigrants becomes the starting point from which the poet tells all our immigrant stories.” The images of the boat, of weather, and of water represent, for a country of immigrants, a container, or as Starnino puts it in “Credo”:

…maybe the ship
is closer to the fear of death, the fear with which
a poem caskets away everything it wants to rescue.

From the known and close come the universal.

Credo does have its weak moment or two, but it contains mainly gems and what this reader would classify as a perfect poem, “1955.” Read it, savour it. It is a book that heightens all the senses. mRb

Lucille King-Edwards is co-proprietor of The Word bookstore.



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