PATTI TANA, When You Make Your Way Across This Bridge, Whittier Publications, 2003

When Make Your Way Across This Bridge, new and selected writings by Nassau Community College educator Patti Tana, was released earlier this year, there was plenty of reason for those who know her work to cheer.

Tana, whose impact on regional writers has ranged from years of teaching poetry at NCC to serving as a co-editor of the seminal Long Island Quarterly since its inception, is author of several collections of poetry, both regionally and nationally. Perhaps her best known poem is "Post Humus," which was collected in the much-quoted anthology "When I Am Old I Shall Wear Purple." And as a writer whose work was released through Papier Mache Press, an organization with a highly reputed distribution record, her work has made the rounds of national poetry circuits.

Patti Tana grew up on the Hudson River in Peekskill, and has made her home on Long Island for many years, where she is professor of English and coordinator of the Creative Writing Project of Nassau Community College.

Among her publishing credits are five previous chapbooks, including the 1981 How Odd This Ritual Of Harmony, Ask the Dreamer Where Night Begins (1986), The River (1990), Wetlands (1993) and the 1998 When The Light Falls Short of the Dream.

This collection contains selections from her five earlier books and a section of new poems. Of the work, William Heyen praises her "sense of loveliness...always in conflict with darker knowledge," and calls the work "strong poems to my ear." And Hedda Marcus says that Tana "keeps the heart of things visible."

From the first, Tana's voice reveals an individual enthralled with the visceral and tactile elements of personhood, weaving a spell into the moment to produce images and situations that are richly passionate and illuminated with a balance of grace and intensity.

The 'stories' of her poems vary widely - from a child sledding in the snow to an adult dancing by the ocean at night; from a woman watching her son leave the nest to a daughter feeling her mother's embrace as she, in turn, embraces her child. We hear, with Heyen, in her phrasings a gently insistent music, richly textured and affirming.

At times the work is frankly sensual: "Drawn to the silk of your skin/my body follows your hollows and hills/warm in the early chill." "The Soul needs sweets." "She feels someone watching/and lays a ribbon across the page/to hold her place/and looks up at the near man/swaing with the motion of the train."

Other times the moment is more philosophical, as in Night's Eye, which in five lines rushes to the heart of the moment:

Outside my window birds call.
Go to your day, I tell them.
Fling yourself dizzy.
Sweep the empty sky.
I want to stay in night's eye.

Tana also demonstrates she is not averse to paradox and conundrum, as in "Touched By Zero."

No matter how many
march along the rim of the hill
zero follows like a hungry shadow

Patient steadfast absolute
it collects the bill
charged at birth

One brother then two
One two three fathers
A child in my small round womb

Anyone touched by zero
equals zero
in time

Her early affinity for place, particularly the wetlands of Long Beach and the river vistas of the Hudson, remain an element in her writing as well, though there is a sense of halting departure present, as opposed to the flush of new discovery - almost as if she wishes to stop the sun in its progress through heaven, as in the recent poem "Long Beach": "For twenty-five years/we've walked by the sea on this/narrow strip of land/Now beneath a sky/tender with the blush of pink/you reach for my hand."

These are mature works by a poet of considerable accomplishment, written with a tenderness that mercifully eschews embarassing the reader.



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