Poet and publisher, Santa Fe
Morning sunlight streams into Victor di Suvero’s small apartment at Brookdale Santa Fe, a senior living facility. The 92-year-old poet sits on a beige couch and seems restless, patting the legs of his trousers or getting up, time and again, to grab a book. He pulls out his own works, then a hefty tome on Italian history, and then a 1910 edition of Dante’s 14th-century epic poem, the Divine Comedy, which his father made him memorize when he was 10 years old. He proves he can still recite whole passages by launching into the first lines of the introduction to the Inferno in Italian.
Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita.
(When halfway through the journey of our life
I found that I was in a gloomy wood,
because the path which led aright was lost.)
Di Suvero’s living room is decorated with brightly colored modern art, and most other surfaces are cluttered by framed family photos. Three overstuffed bookcases contain collections by legendary poets of international acclaim, such as Primo Levi and Wendell Berry, as well as Santa Fe favorites Miriam Sagan, Joan Logghe, and others.
Logghe was Santa Fe’s poet laureate from 2010 to 2012. In 1993, Di Suvero’s Pennywhistle Press published her first chapbook, What Makes a Woman Beautiful. In 2019, he is being honored with a Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts for his work as a poet and publisher.
Di Suvero was born in Italy in 1927 and grew up in China. After writing his first poems during a stint in the U.S. Merchant Marine during World War II, he ended up in the Bay Area with his wife, Barbara, for several decades. He flourished there as a writer in the 1950s and ’60s.
Logghe said he came of age as a writer during a very hot time for poetry, especially during the Beat era in San Francisco, and he brought that energy with him when he and Barbara moved to a horse ranch along the Tesuque River in 1988. He founded Pennywhistle Press in 1986, a small, local operation that supported many New Mexico writers. He gathered writers together for regionally inspired collections, including ¡Saludos! a bilingual anthology of 63 New Mexico poets that he co-edited and published in 1995.
“He had a vision for what poetry in New Mexico could be. He’s been persistent throughout his entire life, and he’s still persistent,” Logghe said.
Poet and editor Jeanie C. Williams, owner of PenPower Book Marketing Services in Santa Fe, called di Suvero a prolific and heart-centered poet. “He is a writer who delights in the details of his world and his poems are elegies to the seasons of our lives.”
His first book, Salt and the Heart’s Horizons (Greenwood), was published in 1952. His second, Sight Poems (Stolen Paper Editions), came out in 1968. A poem from that volume, “Canticle,” displays the elegiac sensibility that Williams described: “My life is my offering/At your scimitar feet,” he wrote. “I am your devotion transmuted/Out of gold, out of bone, out of air, out of the winter…”
Di Suvero said that there was a time when the recitation of poetry was used to inspire momentum. “In ancient Roman times, when people were rowing boats, they would sing a song which was a manifestation of poetry. Poetry has always worked to get people to gather strength. Poetry makes it possible for people to do things they would not be able to do if they did not have poetry to help.” He emphasized that he prefers poetry to prose because the former can be more emotionally direct. “When people hear poetry, they catch feelings that they wouldn’t be catching otherwise.”
Pennywhistle Press, no longer in regular operation, released From the Sea to Santa Fe: Collected Works of Victor di Suvero from 1952 to 2019: Poems Spanning a Lifetime, which is available on Amazon.com and at local booksellers. Stuart M. Ashman, CEO of the International Folk Art Market and former New Mexico Secretary of Cultural Affairs, writes, “Victor di Suvero has spent a lifetime observing the beauty of life and our natural environment. His is a poetry informed by his love of trees, rivers, and his own philosophical view of our humanity. When you sit outdoors and read his words you will have a hint of what he has captured.” — Jennifer Levin
“Four Questions,” from Moving On: New & Selected Poems (Pennywhistle Press, 2007)
How can one make a poem out of the plight
Of those refuseniks, those soldiers in the IDF
Who have seen so much of the cruelty ladled
Out over the heads of the Palestinians?
How can one make a poem out of the way
In which men and women refuse to torture
The so called enemy combatants in their power
Politicians argue about the wording of resolutions?
How can one make a poem out of the cries
Of children who see their parents taken away
Never to return while the oldest among them,
Twelve, suddenly becomes the caregiver of siblings?
How can one make a poem out of the laughter
Of mercenaries who get their fat checks always
For doing the work that our own soldiers
Will not, cannot or would not consciously do?