An e-mail. A rope swing on a tree branch. A message on an old answering machine tape. A brook. Dr. Michael R. Catanzaro found poetry everywhere during a time when he needed it the most.
His mother passed away in 2007, and his brother in 2006. In 1994, his father died, and two years later his brother-in-law passed away on his wedding anniversary.
The losses weighed heavily on the lecturer in the English Department — and his six sisters and four brothers. Catanzaro turned to poetry.
“I’m an unconscious writer; it’s just an outpouring when I do it,” he said. “I dump all my thoughts on the computer in a short time. Revising was my saving grace — taking away a word here or there. That’s what kept my mind occupied was the revision process of trying to make it say as succinctly as possible what I was feeling. It was good for me to occupy my time with that because I don’t know what I would have done.”
His book, Beating Hearts, was published in February. The poems cover an array of subjects — from holiday memories and a childhood trip to the seaside to mourning and the support of family and friends.
“For the most part, Beating Hearts represents a lot of closure for me, for my family,” Catanzaro said.
He shared the poems with his siblings as he wrote them. His sisters encouraged him to publish his words.
“They felt that other people would benefit from having read the poems. I didn’t believe it; people are not interested in your problems,” Catanzaro said. “And they said, ‘You don’t understand: Your problems are other people’s problems. You’re not burdening them, you’re unburdening them.’”
He wrote about 70 of the 86 poems in the book during a three-month period.
“My point with the poems, I think, has been sometimes we need to redirect the anger and the hurt and the misplaced love and do something constructive with it,” Catanzaro said. “I wish everyone could find the opportunity to heal — whether it’s a poem, whether it’s a painting — but I think you need to find a healthy outlet for those emotions.”
The native of Ambler, Pa., said he considers many of his works to be narrative poetry, as he combines stories with metaphorical language. He also dabbled with concrete poetry, where the words themselves resemble shapes.
Catanzaro has been at UT 15 years and teaches mostly freshman composition classes, as well as introductions to poetry, fiction and drama.
“My purpose has always been a reader’s response to poetry,” he explained. “I don’t really care what the critics say we’re supposed to understand; what do you feel about this poem? That’s always my point with students: What do you think it means?”
He hopes his words connect with readers.
“It’s not until you lose something that you’ve taken for granted that you really realize how important it really was,” Catanzaro said. “Life is going to take you unexpected places where you don’t want to be and if you didn’t prepare yourself to be there and if you didn’t say all those things when you had the opportunities to say them, those are lost moments.
“People should go home and tell their husbands and wives and boyfriends and girlfriends, friends and partners ‘I love you’ or ‘I’m angry at you.’ You don’t have to be lovey-dovey all the time. The key is to express those thoughts.”
The 162-page book is $19.95 and can be ordered at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Borders and from Publish America.
Will there be a sequel to Beating Hearts?
“I started a file called ‘second book.’ Many subjects still deal with dark images, but I want to get to the point where we focus on the good things — laughter, love, life. Maybe it’ll be called The Heart Beats On.”