Jo-Ann Vega’s latest anthology, Wolf Woman, presents a moving testament to her gift for illuminating and confronting human emotions in their simplest form. Her collection of fifty free-verse poems speaks tenderly of familial connections, while at the same time revealing a struggle to find that same sort of association in our modern world. Whereas tradition dictated that an Italian woman’s place was in the home raising children, that is not the life embraced by this poet. Her poems instead reveal a reckoning with forces of the past while forging ahead with confidence, and sometimes doubt, into workplaces and social partnerships of the twenty first century.
Although the anthology is preceded by a somewhat lengthy introduction, the background provided is intentional and important to a deeper understanding of Vega’s journey in search of self. The poems in each sections are written in the confessional style of poetry, a style often spoken of as “the poetry of I” made famous in the 1950s and 60s by poets such as Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg, and Anne Sexton. This informal style makes it seem as if the speaker is talking directly to someone in her life or directly to the reader, highlighting a detailed view of the writer’s own personal moments or thoughts on a subject.
One of the criticisms leveled at confessional poets by Richard Wilbur in a 1977 interview with the Paris Review is that confessional poets often complain too much. In Wilbur’s view, “One of the jobs of poetry is to make the unbearable bearable…by clear, precise confrontation.” Although Vega’s writing may take the reader on a tumultuous Ferris wheel of emotions and uncertainties, she is guilty only of confronting the universal head on. In Part 3, she writes, “How do I hold on to the intensity/of the learnings that bring joy and/lessen needless suffering…” My favorite poem, “Full Circle” speaks of knowing “in our bones” the stories of our inheritances and gratitude…”
As seasons come and seasons go, there comes a time when each of us must take the torch and carry it full circle, as the runners in the Olympics do. There is no room for seeing one as a failure who goes forward courageously and writes with such intensity and honesty. Truly, the wolf woman of Vega’s dreams is granting her “freedom, creativity, and connection” as she emerges as a writer with great stories and talent to share with others.