PIETÁ–a poetry chapbook review


by Frank Paino

Jacar Press, 2023

reviewed by Bethany Reid

Winner of the Jacar Press Chapbook Prize, 2023, chosen by Saddiq Dzukogi, author of Your Crib, My Qibla

Pietá is Frank Paino’s fourth book, and it is easy to understand why it was awarded the Jacar Press Chapbook Prize. All one needs to do is read through the table of contents to realize the weight and import of these poems: “Madonna of Mariupol, Ukraine,” “Matthew Shepherd,” “Emmet Till’s Casket,” “Lazarus’s Wife.” Titles of two of the poems include the word “Nocturne”; another, “Benediction.” Another is simply, “Dirge.” In the poems themselves, Paino witnesses the world’s wrongs—some ancient (historical, mythical, religious), but many drawn from our own news stories, and some projected into the near future. In each poem he bears witness, bringing the suffering before our eyes.

One would think the book would be a downer, but it is not. In “Father Mychal Judge”—epigraph, “after the iconic photo of the priest’s body being carried out of the World Trade Center’s North Tower on 9/11”—Paino draws the focus away from the towers, “their own black vanishing,” to a close-up of the priest’s body: “a glimpse of slender tibia / over which he’d pulled his plain cotton sock / when the morning was still ordinary…” He ends the poem by widening the focus to include the rescue workers who bear his body: “As if death is a burden they can help him carry.”  This is Paino’s strategy throughout the book, to look without flinching, then offer images that make the task comprehensible.

Tenderness is woven all the way through. An excellent example lies in “Dirge,” about the poet’s parents:

I watched my father gather
his final throatful of breath,
then let it go the way
a soft-mouthed retriever
will drop a fallen hatchling
unharmed, at his master’s feet,
a leaving so gentle
I could not say for certain
he’d gone until the horizon charred
to its black wick…

Not every tragedy is human. In “Topsy,” we read of an elephant electrocuted at Coney Island in 1903. Again, Paino aims straight at the center of despair, then shifts, insisting that we not look away: “who can fail to see the citrine sparks / burst like infernal blossoms / from the copper fittings / you’d tried to shake from the great spades / of your feet.”

I could go on and on. Suffice to say, I was deeply moved by these poems. Perhaps it’s because I, too, struggle with how to write about the great wrongs of the world, about death and loss and cruelty—in the newspapers and on television, sometimes in my own family—but Paino stands in the gap where I so often fail. Step up here, I can hear him say. You, too, can help carry this.


Bethany Reid’s latest book of poetry, The Pear Tree: elegy for a farm was published on January 1st of this year. Her other books of poetry, include Sparrow, which won the 2012 Gell Poetry Prize, and Body My House (2018).  Her poems, essays, and short stories have recently appeared in One Art, Passengers, Persimmon Tree, Constellations, and elsewhere, and her chapbook, The Thing with Feathers, was published in 2020 as part of Triple No. 10 by Ravenna Press. Bethany and her husband live in Edmonds, Washington, near their three grown daughters; she  blogs about writing and life at http://www.bethanyareid.com .


Get Pietá at Jacar Press

Frank Paino reading at What the Universe Is on YouTube

Frank Paino reading at Catamaran 

An interview with Frank Paino at Ex/Post by John Sibley Williams

One response to “PIETÁ–a poetry chapbook review”

  1. metalley says:

    Thanks for introducing this poet to me. Bethany, you convey much in a short review!

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