Long Beach resident Helen Rizzuto and her husband, Tom, watched as Hurricane Sandy washed ocean and bay water over the barrier island nearly one year ago, and like most of their neighbors, they suffered losses. In her time of trouble, Rizzuto, an award-winning poet and fiction writer, picked up a pen and produced a book of poems, titled “In the Dark Curfew'd Streets: Long Beach, Long Island in the aftermath.”
This latest collection follows her two full-length poetry books, “Evening Sky On a Japanese Screen” and “A Bird in Flight.” Rizzuto, who has taught at Hofstra University, Queens College and New York State Council on the Arts, also co-authored “American By Choice: One Man’s Journey” with retired FDNY Cpt. Alfredo Fuentes, a Long Beach resident. She expects to publish a short fiction collection, of which many of the stories won prizes and were published in literary journals, next year or in 2015. Her awards include the Tiferet Annual Fiction Award, Ontario Review’s Carter Cooper Award, New Millennium Writing Award, the Hofstra Educator of Distinction Award and the Claes Nobel Educator of Distinction Award.Rizzuto sat down with Patch recently to discuss her recent collection of poems.
What were your experiences during Hurricane Sandy and its aftermath?
Like many of our neighbors, we fought the good fight, but by evening, knew the sea would win, so we lit our candles and waited. Our entire finished basement was submerged; it remains gutted. My “sacred space,” with its hundreds of books and manuscripts, was gone; we moved out for a time, but others suffered greater loss. A fond memory is a party my neighbors held the second night. Like our tribal ancestors, we gathered around their fire and shared tales.
Why did you write “In the Dark Curfew’d Streets: Long Beach, Long Island in the aftermath”?
Writing has always been my way of coming to terms with — a form of taking control, illusory though that might be. I didn’t set out to write a book, just to give expression to the inexpressible, to try to make sense of what was happening to us, and tame the chaos a little. It was a way of finding “me” in that rubble, finding all of us.What did you find?
The poet isn’t very different from an archaeologist. Katha Pollitt and the late Seamus Heaney address this idea in their work. Poets mine the experiences we all share, gathering and then painstakingly sorting through, examining, refining and finally piecing together those fragments. The answer to what I found while writing these poems will become very clear to the readers of this small collection – readers who experienced the storm and its ravages, and those who did not.
What would you like people to take away from reading your book of poems?
Someone, untouched by the storm, asked me in those early days, “So, what’s it like?” I couldn’t respond. How could one even begin to answer that question, when it wasn’t like anything. I hope this book begins to answer that question, and I hope my neighbors here in town will take away the knowledge that they never cease to inspire me. They are so much more than the storm could ever take from them. So much more.Where can Long Beach residents and others purchase your new book?
At the moment, local businesses have generously agreed to make it available; all proceeds for the $8 book sold locally will be going towards a scholarship for a Long Beach High School student. In a few weeks, I hope to have it in the Apple iBook store and on Kindle. If copies run short at any of the following, I can always be reached through my website at www.helenmorrisseyrizzuto.com.
The following local businesses and venues have copies in stock:
- The Blue Bungalow, 248 W. Park Ave., Long Beach – 516-442-7550
- Surf Glass, 457 Long Beach Blvd., Long Beach – 516-431-5220
- Above All Eyes, 264 E. Park Ave., Long Beach – 516-889-2010
- Long Beach Historical Society, 226 W. Penn St., Long Beach – 516-432-1192
- Jo Jo Apples Café and Soda Shoppe, 85 Lido Blvd., Point Lookout – 516-432-6494