Sign in | Log in

Paul Zarzyski, Italian-American Rodeo Poet

Paul Zarzyski, Italian-American Rodeo Poet

Joseph Sciorra (February 1, 2013)
Photograph by Luisa Del Giudice
Paul Zarzyski at the 29th National Cowboy Poetry Gathering, Elko, Nevada, 2013.

Ethnic recitations in Elko.


I had the distinct pleasure of being introduced to the works of poet Paul Zarzyski, a featured artist at the Cowboy Poetry Gathering.

Reading his verse online and in his published collection—51: 30 Poems, 20 Lyrics, 1 Self-Interview (2011)—this cobbled together blog post doesn’t properly capture the varied themes of Zarzyski’s opus.

He earned his MFA at the University of Montana under the direction of Richard Hugo. While often writing in free verse, recitation remains an important element in Zarzyski's work (as well as that of the cowboy poetry genre).

“Paul Zarzyski is the closest thing to beat poet-novelist Jack Kerouac on the cowboy poetry circuit, with his stream of consciousness, fluid lines that never struggle, or even try, to rhyme or achieve iambic pentameter.”

Zarzyski’s working-class ethnic upbringing is a theme he returns to often in verse, perhaps a unique subject within the cowboy poetry scene. His Polish-American father Leonard worked the iron ore mines in Hurley, Wisconsin. His mother Delia was born soon after her parents immigrated from Tregiovo, a hamlet (frazione) of Revò (Trento province), in Trentino-Alto Adige.
As part of the January 30th “Rangeland Rebels” session, Zarzyski recited two Italian-themed poems in honor of the visiting butteri.
The tongue loves Antipasto! The linguini way
each button-mushroom syllable—gold
nubbin plucked from hardwood stump—lingers
toward the uvula, palate to lips
to palate. Say, floret, Slowly
say, ivory cauliflower floret. Min-i-a-ture
sweet pickle. Red bell pepper. Chickpea.
Say, celery heart, albacore fillet,
pearl onion. And say, ebony olive—
that favorite we fought over
as kids. Only the grade A
make Mom’s cut to this concertino
of sauce—tomato, virgin olive oil, herbs—
put-up in pints, the red-orange
pantry rows. Say, Antipasto!
Pass the Antipasto! Thrill the inner ear
to this belfry of syllables, churchbell
meals festive enough for triple table leaves,
for old-country crystal
chiming Chianti salutes to family,
to Mom—good health!—for Antipasto!

Birthday Biscotti—Italian Toast from Home
By now I know it’s not the butter
creamed with sugar, not the eggs or anise,
but your Italian dash of hands
and heart into the loaves, into a flavor
laced with your lilt,
your saltarello
in cross-stitched apron and quilted mitt,
from flour bin to breadboard,
table to stove—the knack
you learned from Noni for dance,
for timing to that exact half-step
what tint the slices must gild
before the cymbal clang finale of sheets
slid off the oven’s racks.
I picture your fingers, dusted white,
fitting one crisp rib per year, each
cookie into this cowboy-
decorated tin we’ve shuttled
east to west to east for God knows
how many refills
tucked between napkins and lid. How snug
you bundled-up this canister
in the latest Daily Globes, perfect
box addressed in your bold roman—
all to a medley of made-up prayers
whispered to some fantasy Patron
Saint of Fragile Deliveries.
I'll spoon broken bits of the toasted
quarter moons into coffee
all day long, dip those few
that made it whole
tonight in milk, tilt
and tap the hollow tin, lick,
dab and lick again, crumb by crumb,
each fingertip. I’ll savor every dunk,
smack, nibble, then send the tin back filled
with poetry, these 41 years of lines
to the licorice aroma I loved first
from my highchair perch in your kitchen,
where cutting my first teeth
I gripped warm biscotti with both fists.
© Paul Zarzyski. All rights reserved. These poems have been reposted with verbal permission from the author.

DISCLAIMER: Posts published in i-Italy are intended to stimulate a debate in the Italian and Italian-American Community and sometimes deal with controversial issues. The Editors are not responsible for, nor necessarily in agreement with the views presented by individual contributors.
This work may not be reproduced, in whole or in part, without prior written permission.
Questo lavoro non può essere riprodotto, in tutto o in parte, senza permesso scritto.