Poet Of The Week

Danielle Gasparro

     December 5–11, 2022

Danielle Gasparro is a Brooklyn-based wordsmith, songsmith and teaching artist. She holds an MFA in poetry from New England College and a BA in creative writing with honors from Florida State University. Her poetry and essays have been published in the Daily Palette, ChronogramShift: A Journal of Literary Oddities, the Red Wheelbarrow and elsewhere. Prior to 2018, Gasparro devoted nearly twenty years to performing, recording and building an avid following as a nationally touring singer-songwriter. Earning an MFA signaled a shift in artistic focus to her long-term work as a writer and Gasparro is currently developing a hybrid memoir that fuses poetry, nonfiction and photography. A passionate educator, Gasparro regularly presents poetry talks and workshops in partnership with public libraries and arts organizations throughout New York’s Hudson River Valley. A regional library tour of her popular poetry-demystifying program is slated to launch in the Northeast in the spring of 2023. On occasion, Gasparro still performs her music live along with her poetry in a dynamic solo concert called An Evening of Voice & Verse, presented exclusively in intimate, piano-centered spaces. On Monday, December 12, she will lead the Brooklyn Poets Yawp.

The Steps

You, in a loose-fitting light blue embroidered tie-neck blouse, sitting
on the living room floor, legs outstretched.
You, slouched forward chin down, the wall is supporting you.
Everyone who came to the party is gone.
You sit there a long time. Silent.
I see your stomach moving, in, out.
You sit up quick you lift your head.
I look into your eyes.
You are looking towards me. Through me.
I see the dark oblong stain on your shirt, just
below the open tie-neck, in the spot where your heart is. The stain is
bigger than an egg, but smaller than a heart.
I go and get the phone book from the kitchen pantry.
I march to my room with the phone book, passing the opening
to the room where you sit
on the floor
with your stain.
I slam the phone book on my dresser and open it and flip fast
through the big thin pages.
I’m going to call Alcoholics Anonymous!
I shout other words but these words I will remember shouting until I
die or until you
die or until you almost
die but don’t and you don’t have a wake-up call and I
want to kill you.
You are my mother.

I am ten.

Daughter: You almost died, Mom. How many times until you get it, it doesn’t mean you’re out on the streets a slobbering drunk with a bottle inside a paper bag. Your bag is in the bathroom closet. Under the bed. You’re not Uncle Mickey, Mom. But you almost. Died. Mom. Sean didn’t call 911 the neighbors were home what if they weren’t? Do you know the first time I watched you abuse alcohol? I was ten, you were sitting on the living room floor—

Mother: [storms out of room]

A vital life.
Something inborn powers it
but still, the privilege
of an artist’s life no matter what no matter rage no matter denial no matter no
curiosity no conversation no matter what
a life, grounded by a mother
and a father,
that is to say until the father dies of cancer smoking is
the number one established cause
of bladder cancer the mother will surely
drink more now what about the autistic
brother and son what about anything other
than you you you, Mom what a thing to say
when all I do is live for you and your brother I guess
I’m a horrible mother I know
you love me I want you to like me I have
no purpose I don’t need any help I’m fine
I will admit I smoke but I don’t know
what you’re talking about
I can’t remember
the last time I had a drink—


4. 5. 6. 7. 8.
Therapist: What’s coming up for you today that feels important to discuss?

             Therapist: What’s coming up for you today that
                               feels important to discuss?

    Therapist: What’s coming up for you
                      today that feels important to discuss?

                                              Therapist: What’s coming up for
                                                                you today?

   Daughter: Things would have been so much easier if my mother had just died.
   Therapist: How does it feel to say that?

   Woman: It feels true.

A life unshackled, begins.

A life unshackled, continues.

A graduate program—“We are pleased to inform you … ” A brother, a son, an adult, in a new home. A group home. Home is where you hang your Jaws movie poster … three phone numbers, hand-written, pinned to a bulletin board …

Hi Mom.

An embrace.
Tight.                True.

Small grey vomit splotches deep-stained into beige carpet.
Unplugged oxygen tank unplugged because it has never been used.
Photos in frames behind photos in frames behind frames wrapped in plastic
with photos of strangers.
An orange price tag covering a face.
A tissue or a napkin or a paper towel crumpled on the
floor by the couch near the end table leg that’s
propped onto a coaster.
Green glass shamrock bowl filled with individually wrapped Life Savers.
A stack of financial documents sitting on top of several flattened, unused
Christmas gift boxes.
Shirts and pants, ironed and folded, piled on the right side of the king-sized bed,
the one side that’s been made.
Half-empty bottle of vodka tucked
beneath a sweater in the built-in drawer located directly
below the pillow and disheveled bedding.
Dead plants on a sundeck.
Dead for who knows how long dead.
Dead as the five-years-dead father of an artistic daughter dead.
Dead as the five-years-dead man who fathered an autistic son dead.
Dead as the husband-for-forty-five-years dead.
Dead in the sunlit corner of the deck not one    not two    four mock terracotta
pots packed with ashy topsoil and the petrified idea of leaves.
A star-shaped Mylar balloon at the tip of a long, plastic stick resting
inside a cleaning bucket. Its “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!” sun-bleached to read

too much food cooked for people who no longer exist.

I should get going, Mom—
                                             Here, these are for you.

Three scratch-off lottery tickets with no winning matches detach

with love
detach with love
detach with love is how
the phrase goes I remind myself    okay
Mom, thank you
   {HUG}    for everything    as we rise
and head outside to my     Love you!     car she stays at the     I’ll call you!

The steps
are too hard for her.


Brooklyn Poets · Danielle Gasparro, “The Steps”

Tell us about the making of this poem.

I’ve thought a lot about how to answer this question, and while all I want to really say is that making this poem was acutely grueling because when I returned to refine my first draft of it—which was written while my mother was alive—she had died. Abruptly and unexpectedly, in March of 2021. And yes, it was in part a result of her toxic relationship to alcohol, but in truth, she was prematurely released from a three-week stint in a hospital to a “rehabilitation” facility, where she died two days later, so in short her death was a result of neglectful choices made by key members of a hospital medical team. Meaning, if the choices were not made, my mother would have lived. Add to that the fact that Covid prevented me and my brother from getting to see and spend time with her, and you can perhaps imagine how weighted it feels to do anything beyond present this poem with gratitude for the chance to get it out into the world of kind readers through this wonderful publication with Brooklyn Poets.

That disclaimed (and offered also, as all of those truths were essential to the somewhat cathartic making of the poem), one thing I keep coming back to wanting to share in response to this question is an excerpt from the introduction to my thesis manuscript, which I composed as a student in the MFA program of New England College. This excerpt highlights the power of my incredible mentor Sarah Manguso, who led me to discover the one sentence that would serve as the pilot light for the whole poem:

“During my first semester with NEC, in September 2018, I was plagued with a kidney infection. That same month, I also found my mother, an alcoholic, lying on her bed, unable to move after binge drinking her grief (over the death of her last of six living brothers) into the life-threatening condition Ketoacidosis, a diabetes complication that would land her (for the umpteenth time across a life, thanks to the grace of either a family member or friend finding her incapacitated) in the intensive care unit, on a ventilator, possibly-maybe-probably going to die, for days. Both of these blows came as I was working on my third packet of original material for the semester. In that submission’s love-letter to Sarah, after expressing my regret about the intensely compromised nature of my literary abilities, I noted with improvised candor that my mother’s illness was certainly not caused by her over-consumption of alcohol, but by her having no sense of identity or purpose, save for maybe cooking too much food for people who no longer exist. Sarah keenly (and graciously) highlighted this sentence in her response letter, inherently citing it as a sort of first-rate Exhibit A in the case of Highly Developed Writing Fluency vs. Writing Without Thinking. (Her words, my simile.) I was struck by Sarah’s description of my expression as “haunting, elegiac, hateful, loving.” This judicious nod was a defining moment for me as a writer. Not as it was complementary, but as it was inimitably directive. What insight into the value of trusting my emotionally charged gut to lead me across any given blank page could better serve my artistic growth at that mentorhood juncture than one gleaned from the teeming pile of horseshit real life had been handing me?”

What are you working on right now?

Artistically, a hybrid memoir that fuses poetry, nonfiction and photography. Emotional deep-dives, imaginative leaps and compositional nitty-gritties abound! As a teaching artist, I’m developing new classes and private student opportunities to be offered in the new year—with some being presented with Brooklyn Poets, of course! I’m also starting to coordinate a regional spring tour of my “demystifying poetry” workshop. On the wings of a very successful (and deeply meaningful) “prototype” public library tour that I produced throughout the Hudson Valley this past spring, I’ve grown deeply devoted to partnering with libraries to present the workshop as part of their adult programming.

What’s a good day for you?

Rising early AF without an alarm. Meditation. Stretching and toning and yoga-posture mashup. Coffee (that I make)(dark)(AF). Writing. Reading. Presence. Learning. Homespun meals. Meaningful human connection and conversation (NOTE: shitty interactions meant to reveal some higher, charitable truth included). Laughter. Wonder. Surprise. At least one headstand. Focused work turned into progress made on professional and artistic goals. Unfocused whimsy turned into a coffee refill and back to work, yo! A long-ass walk or a kick-ass run. Mamma Nature. Maybe an outing. Likely, vino. In bed by (own it!) ten.*

*I feel it’s worth noting that this description of a good day is not to be confused with that of a great day, which would include all of those things plus time spent with a dog, nor is it a near-perfect day, which would include none of those things and time spent with a dog.

What brought you to Brooklyn?

The Hudson Line to the F, yo!

Tell us about your neighborhood. How long have you lived there? What do you like about it? How is it changing? How does it compare to other neighborhoods or places you’ve lived?

I live in Sunset Park, and love it. (Full disclosure: I live in Brooklyn part-time now, splitting my time between upstate and the Sunset Park space, which I trade off living in with a close friend who’s a major touring artist.) The apartment is right across from the park, actually, which is a blessing supreme, as it is one of the most sensational places to be still and know you are with Brooklyn. If you know, you know, and if you don’t … just go, people! The actual vista you take in with your eyes from the hill that the park sits on, which includes the harbor and most of Manhattan, is equal parts humbling and awe-inspiring. And then there’s the inner reflections you can’t help but have, if only subconsciously, perhaps, on the immensity of hand-and-heart labor that has gone into—and continues to be invested in—the constructing of New York City as not so much a city, but a living poem, IMHO. The sacrifices of those who came before us is palpable from the vantage point of the park, along with the rich diversity of the people in the park, of the neighborhood. People of grit. Of gusto. Of fellowship. I love bearing witness to how important gathering is to the large Asian community of Sunset Park, in particular. For Tai Chi sessions, especially. I recall Lou Reed appearing on David Letterman once, and that there was a man doing Tai Chi off to the side, and there was no real “reason” to understand why but it all made soul-sense. I recollect and continue to cherish that brilliant performance as a deep instruction for me as a poet. Or artist in general, I guess. Or really, a truthseeking human. Anyway, the point is, turns out that man was Ren, a Tai Chi master with whom Reed studied extensively, and I read once that Reed made his way to that passion by watching people do Tai Chi in Sunset Park. Boom! Living poem sparks of inspiration for the win … I also must give a fiery shout out to Judy’s, a dreamy neighborhood gem of a watering hole. Beer, wine and sake. The best music at the right volume. The most soulful people—both behind the bar and bellied up—who know: there’s a time to say hello, and a time to leave you the F alone. The mood, the vibe … warm meets chillaxed meets festive. Fellow belly-upsters, just go! The neighborhood has certainly changed over the past few years as the money moves in, but it’s not in an invasive way that sucks the authenticity out of the air. New small businesses that are opening up are all ultra forealtho. I love the diversity, and the access to incredible food in Sunset Park’s Chinatown is not F’n around.

Share with us a defining Brooklyn experience, good, bad, or in between.

How about … far beyond?

Photo of Danielle Gasparro in front of the Brooklyn Poets space in Brooklyn Heights.

Tell us about some Brooklyn poets who have been important to you.

Whitman. Auden. Marianne Moore. Tracy K. Smith. Photographer-as-poet Gregory Crewdson. Lou Reed!

Who were your poetry mentors and how did they influence you?

I had a remarkable, wholly transformational experience earning my MFA in poetry from New England College. As they offer a low-residency MFA program, I had the honor and joy of working intimately with four astounding mentors across two years—who yes, are also extraordinary, accomplished, visionary writers whose work I implore you to seek out if you haven’t already: Sarah Manguso, Paige Ackerson-Kiely, Jennifer Militello and Chen Chen. Each of those vital collaborations lasted for a full semester, roughly five months in length. The degree, distinctiveness and quality of attention and consideration these noble artists-as-mentors gave to my writing and its growth is still fueling my self-inflicted bitchslaps to work harder, write better, kill my darlings, birth deeper truths. They all fundamentally centered their instruction on the premise that to find and reside in the sacred literary sweetspot where voice and craft are ever working in purposeful tandem, you have to be precisely where the fuck you are inside any given free-write, draft, phrase, word, emotion, and write with no regard for end results, external world outcomes or validation … stick to the business of artistic excellence being the world’s greatest inside job. And then yes, in so doing, the end results for any given poem will likely fulfill their highest potential, not just for excellence, but for being of value to readers, for offering readers a return on the investment their heart and minds are making in your work. Your voice. Your maybe weird-ass poem. My gratitude for the influence each of my mentors inimitably had on me is boundless, and to try and encapsulate the how of it all feels too daunting a task given the countless circuits they added to the fuse box of my voice.

That said, as Chen Chen was my thesis mentor, and as I cherish him as both one of my favorite contemporary poets and humans, as well as a treasured cosmic comrade, I am compelled to celebrate here not only how brilliantly he commandeered my work in developing a manuscript (or as I like to think of it, my first decent draft of a manuscript), but how he basically took my way with words to heights and depths of truth-telling and originality (the byproduct of deep truth-telling, IMHO) that I think prior to our collaboration I had subconsciously believed was reserved for those “other” writers. The real writers. The writers whose work people will actively seek out and read. But Chen changed everything about how I approach the page, and the glory is that he did this in large part by emphasizing how critical it is to fill up the wells of our souls “by being in the world, before returning to the work of writing” … how hard we must work to be “vivid and economic with language, while maintaining that emotional depth and directness” … and of course most importantly, that snacking is everything and “good poops are SO important!” My love and gratitude for Chen and his mentoring genius and grace run to the deepest place, the wellspring of meaning that now informs everything I write.

And I must close with an astonishingly fun fact: it was Chen who told me, in an enriching conversation we had after I gave my graduating lecture, as he was making some keen and generous writer’s-life recommendations and resources for me to look into, that I should check out this incredible organization he was fond of for a host of reasons, run by Jason Koo, called Brooklyn Poets. (((sniff)))

Tell us about the last book(s) and/or poem(s) that stood out to you and why.

Yowsa. Mymymy head’s a whirl of indecision. There are many poem standouts, thanks in large part to my Brooklyn Poets drop-in class, for which I’ve been curating a packet of poems for students across each of the past eighteen weeks. I’m going to go with the less-is-more principal and pick one. “Left” by Nikky Finney. Why? … Mymymy …

I selected the poem for a class that focused on how tone functions in poetry, what a poem’s tone offers its reader, how poetic devices unite through the deft hand of a poet to render a poem’s tone, and how tone can work critically to shepherd the ideas a poet is striving to communicate, especially when racial and socioeconomic injustice is the purposeful fuel of a poem’s ideological fire, if you will. Mind you, I could have selected “Left” to evidence countless source-points of poetical brilliance. Its compositional triumphs are too vast and meaningful to summarize here, so I urge anyone who’s still with me to READ IT. But as for tone, Finney’s ability to sustain an essentially acerbic tone across such a long poem, yet never cross the literary line to become a tirade, is a kind of sorcery, really. The speaker of the poem is bringing to our attention—or, animating, really—the agonizing atrocity that was the forgotten (read: unnecessarily left behind to die) victims of Hurricane Katrina. Early in the poem we see the woman that Finney’s eye (and empathetic heart) caught during media coverage of the hurricane; she’s holding up a sign reading “please” without the final “e,” and this image becomes—through an array of ingenious choices with form and content—the lightning bolt of truth that flashes through the poem to energize its gripping commentary on the problems of class and race in America.

I first read “Left” in 2020. Revisiting it for my class reminded me of its astounding ability to “save something” (a notion Finney borrows from Czesław Miłosz), but not merely for the sake of preservation or affirmation or respect. For Finney, saving some truth through poetry is the first step to passing it on to future generations, so they may understand it as a potential way to save something else that might serve humanity. Here’s what Finney had to say in a 2011 interview with Oxford American (yes, that I saved, as it was brimming with insight):

I saw a woman on a rooftop holding a sign P-L-E-A-S and I thought, This is very powerful, what can I do with this? How can I bring her into the future? Americans have such short memories about hard things and so I wanted to bring her forward. So she was the symbol for me. I wrote to her. I wrote around her. I wrote for her. Whenever I’m talking about that poem, “Left,” I say, “Do you remember the woman standing with the homemade sign?” So many people remember her and haven’t thought of her for a long time and then I read the poem and they are taken back in their memory to how much empathy they had at that moment.

The interesting thing, again, is that “Left” is a masterful poem in that it fuses imagination, historical facts, painful truths, emotional depth, empathetic witnessing and an extraordinary balance of word-crafting will and restraint to deliver its artful message (another term of Finney’s) in a galvanizing way. I’ll be striving to heed Finney’s advice as I continue to weave my memoir together. My mother died at the neglectful and insensitive hands of health “care” professionals, so I’m tasked with a paradoxical “saving,” of both her dignity and the tormenting truths surrounding her preventable death. My rage at the dark side of America’s corporatized health “care” system, like Finney’s rage at the country’s disease of racial and class injustice, is shared by countless others. I love how in the same interview she touches on the poet’s call not to extract but to craft the message from the madness:

I do feel you can’t be up on a soapbox shouting polemical things—this is poetry. Poetry is about communicating. Standing up on a soapbox is not communicating; it’s something else … For thirty-five, forty years, I’ve been listening and paying attention to the world I feel very passionately about, and how it makes its way into an art form. Because art is when you make something and you can’t just spew and say you’ve made something. You have to craft to say you’ve made something.

What are some books or poems you’ve been meaning to read for years and still haven’t gotten to?

Ohmygodsomany. Books come to me more than poems. To highlight a few on the reflective fly: Olio by Tyehimba Jess … WHEREAS by Layli Long Soldier … AWE by Dorothea Lasky … Look by Solmaz Sharif … Breezeway by John Ashbery … Li-Young Lee’s memoir The Winged Seed

Describe your reading process. Do you read one book at a time, cover to cover, or dip in and out of multiple books? Do you plan out your reading in advance or discover your next read at random? Do you prefer physical books or digital texts? Are you a note-taker?

If we’re speaking of poetry collections, I always have about three to five books—which are 150% of the time actual, hand-held books—awaiting my mind and eyes and mind’s eye and heart on any given morning. I read from at least a few books each day, going with the organic flow in terms of how much time I’ll spend with a particular poet / book. As for book selection, I’d say it’s mostly an endeavor of discovery, but this of course includes choosing titles from my working list entitled “Read These Books Yo!” I’m not sure what technically constitutes note-taking, but I do have a little system of symbols and acronyms I’ll sketch in pencil at the top corners of choice pages, so that upon any revisit of a book I can greet certain poems with a kind of personalized directive. And certainly, my pencil is always on standby to accentuate a particular moment in a poem / choice made by a poet that delights or confuses or astonishes or embraces me.

What’s one thing you’d like to try in a poem or sequence of poems that you haven’t tried before?

I’d like to use more similes throughout my poems. Like, as if I knew what I was doing with them. That’s not meant to say I haven’t tried using similes. It’s just not an inclination or defining aspect of my voice. But when I read a masterful simile, I think, “Ahhh, yes, that!” The power of an inventive, meticulously placed simile cannot be understated. Jane Kenyon inspires me; she’s a simile maven. One of my faves: in “The Blue Bowl,” a poem that centers itself around the burying of a cat, and the deep, inimitable grief of losing a pet, she describes a bird that won’t shut the F up the next morning:

… It stormed

all night; now it clears, and a robin

burbles from a dripping bush

like the neighbor who means well

but always says the wrong thing.

Where are some places you like to read and write (besides home, assuming you like to be there)?

I don’t really like writing anywhere but home. I suppose sometimes I’ll edit my work in a cozy café or bellied up to the bar of some charming or divey AF tavern in the late afternoon / early eve (read: when it’s nearly empty), but as for shepherding the thoughts to the pen to the page, I’ve learned that I can only produce my truest work in quietude, in a writing space I create. As for reading, I essentially feel the same way, but I also so love reading outside, be it on a front porch or a back deck or in some remote, natural landscape … in a park, by a lake, at the beach, in a cemetery. If people are talking or music is playing, my writing-mind’s a goner. For me, silence is as critical a tool as pen and paper to getting the shit authentically writ.

What are some Brooklyn spaces you love? Why?

Hmmm … [drops pen, grabs photo album … has faith the “why” will transmit]

Photo of the interior of Provini restaurant in Park Slope, Brooklyn, with a late afternoon glow through the front windows across a long bar and row of empty stools.
Photo of cemetery path in bright sunlight.
Photo shows sunset view of the Brooklyn Bridge from a train on the Manhattan Bridge, with part of the train's interior reflected in the window at the top of the frame.
Brooklyn brownstones on a sunny day.
Photo of interior of Brooklyn apartment, with view of distant buildings, two BLACK LIVES MATTER stickers on the window, and a white cat on the wooden sill. Photographer holds a cup of coffee in her left hand and her legs are outstretched on an ottoman. A book by bell hooks rests in her lap.
Photo from an apartment shows a hawk perched on an air-conditioning unit, looking intently through the window and at the camera.
Photo of a mural depicting gears in yellow and gray on a red-brick background.
Photo of sunlight filtering through a large tree in Brooklyn's Sunset Park.
Photo of a writing desk with a closed laptop computer and several small piles of books and pages.
Photo of students in a poetry class sitting around a long table and looking up at the camera.

Fill in the blanks in these lines by Whitman:

I celebrate truth, a good night’s sleep, and healthy bowel movements.

And what I know for a factjack at solar orbit fifty-two is that you can’t take

shit with you but you can have it all (if all is honesty, sleep, and an S-curve

in the loo I mean who’s to say where glory’s born),

For every idea image story song that’s raw and real and feels to me as good as (Write. It!) a golden-brown sausage, banana, or snake floating triumphantly below my alimentary canal

has surely, my dear, got to be a thing celebrated (secretly, too) by you.

Why Brooklyn?


Photo of a Brooklyn stoop and garbage cans, with a flower showing prominently from behind a railing.