The day before I wrote this, Jan’s great aunt Connie Muzzarelli was laid to rest in Coal City, Illinois, at the age of one hundred. Connie, a sharp-witted spitfire, loved to trade barbs with the various younger men of her family, a verbal counterpoint to her soft-spoken husband Bruno, who’d only made it to ninety-seven years.
I’d forgotten, though, her habit of reading poems she’d written at family gatherings, especially birthdays, when the person of honor would be her subject. The poems were of the vernacular variety, anchored by rhyming verses, a far remove from the type you’d read in Poetry magazine these days. Her poems were infused, though, with wit and wordplay from the mind of a woman who likely never aspired to an audience beyond her family.
I was reminded of this in the eulogy delivered by her niece Lynn, when she read from “Memories,” a poem Connie had written back in 1985. “Come back with me to the Farm and our childhood there together—” it starts, and for four typed pages recounts the story of her upbringing and the seasons shared with her family. The ending struck me as especially beautiful and poignant for the occasion of her funeral:
What would we give to once again that kitchen table share—
With all our loved ones who have gone, there’s naught that could compare—
So close your eyes and dream with me—there’s lilacs in the air,
Once more we’ll all be home again and LOVE will keep us there.
Poetry figures large in the movie we’re producing this month, writer-director Hugh Schulze’s “Dreaming Grand Avenue.” The character, Walt Whitman, recites from “Leaves of Grass” after showing up at a Chicago poetry slam, and his words make communion with our Aunt Connie’s evocation of dream and memory, when he speaks, in “There Was a Child Went Forth,” of similar childhood memories, even down to the flowers: “The early lilacs became part of this child.”
“Dreaming Grand Avenue” strives for poetry in much broader strokes as well, in the very essence of dreams themselves, which do to the subconscious what poetry does to the waking mind: it unlocks parts of our souls that we might not otherwise know about.
And because we’re continuing our active role as movie producers, we’ve pulled back our role in the Film 50 more than we do in the other lists, deferring the list makeup and ranking pretty much entirely to film editor Ray Pride. It does not suffer our absence, as you’ll see when you start reading.
Look for Newcity’s October 2018 print edition at over 1000 Chicago-area locations this week or subscribe at newcity.com/subscribe/.