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By: Patricia Ann Chaffee

Faith Vicinanza published her first poem in the Republican-American newspaper when she was in third grade and didn’t publish another for 40 years. Her mother was a poet but was very “Hallmark” in her work where Faith is very free form. She admits to picking up a love of poetry from that exposure to her mother’s work and started writing seriously as a way to deal with misfortune in her life. 

Faith & PeterFaith & PeterFaith VicinanzaFaith Vicinanza“I have done a lot of work in my life to have some emotional balance and perspective on things. But my early work had a lot to do with my father being a very dysfunctional human being. A lot of artists, in my experience come to art as a way to exorcise their demons,” she says.

Although her early work was about her father, writing in general, particularly poetry, has become a comfort, and a healing practice. Her brother took his own life when he was 43 years old and she wrote a series of poems to deal with that grief. When her husband Peter died in 2007, they had been together 20 years. Again she immersed herself in poetry, writing continuously for a year after.

“Here I am eight years widowed, and still on the anniversary of his death or if I’m feeling sad or grieving that loss, writing is my comfort,” says Faith. “So I come to writing more out of a desire to be in a healthy relationship, with the writing, with myself, with family and friends, and writing is my partner.”

Writing provides perspective for her and reading what other people write and then writing herself and being involved in writing communities gives her balance. She didn’t have much time to write while raising three kids, but has been writing seriously now for the past 30 years, since she was in her early 30’s. She is 61 years old.

Faith is an accomplished poet who has been widely published and is the author of four collections of poetry. She has been a poet laureate nominee, a Pushcart Prize nominee and was the 2003 recipient of the Connecticut Commission on the Arts Advocate for the Arts Award. She was involved in bringing slam poetry to Connecticut in 1993 and ran the slam for over 10 years. Whenever she got involved in poetry communities, she found herself supporting other writers and not doing so much writing herself. The past ten years she has been more focused on her own writing rather than creating events and programs for other writers. Now she is focused on her own projects.

“I’ve been writing a memoir,” says Faith. “In 2005 Peter and I bicycled from St. Petersburg Florida to Canada. We carried everything. I kept a blog. We were on the road for 98 days riding 2500 miles. It was a pretty amazing experience.” Before they left for their trip, they had decided to make some changes to simplify their life including selling their house of 15 years. They returned home in August of that year and in December, Peter was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer. Peter lived for 20 months.

Within the first couple years after Peter died, Faith went on pilgrimages to India and South Africa. She even did a Vision Quest, a Native American tradition aimed at helping one discern spiritual guidance and purpose, often done to help with life transitions. She was trying desperately to figure out what she was going to do with her life.

“The grief can be paralyzing. And the challenge is figuring out, how to honor and remember, but still live your life. You live with one foot in the light and one foot in the dark. This grieving and melancholy I call the underworld. Some people go there and never come out. Others do everything they can to resist feeling that way because they’re afraid of it. But there is something to be gained. And for me, writing is a portal that provides me access to go back and forth between those two worlds. Maybe it’s something as simple as gratitude, or re-commitment to do something with my life. I have learned not to force the art or poem or photograph but to give myself to it and it will go where it goes. Poetry is an awakening to the unconscious, a conversation with myself and it is always interesting to see where I end up. It definitely guides me, like keeping a journal. So much can be gained.”

Faith just shows up at the page, and without forcing it, enters into the mystery of each poem bringing her into a place that is more insightful, more introspective.

Faith and Peter were each divorced when they met. She was developing a sales team and Peter was one of them. She was a project manager in the field of information technology and her team was going to be made up of seven consultants. Being an aggressive interviewer, she asked him, “Why should I hire you?”

Faith & Peter on a biking tripFaith & Peter on a biking tripHe was arrogant, she remembers. He smiled and was a brilliant man with his 172 IQ and answered, “Because you’re not going to find anyone better than me.” She liked this. He just sat there, comfortable, calm, cool and collected. He was hired. A year later he invited her to the theater. They became very good friends. Fourteen years her senior, Peter was not the kind of guy she usually went for. She liked the bad boys, younger ones. She had just broken up with someone who was 27 years old, who had proposed to her. Peter asked her out. They started dating which went on for two years with no one the wiser at work. They got married in May 1997. She was no longer allowed to sign his time sheet.

Life was interesting as two lives merged. Negotiating became a daily affair between their tastes in furniture, décor and design and her three kids. Both were art lovers with different and distinct tastes. He liked white walls, contemporary and modern, and she appreciated the beauty in re-furbishing antique furniture.

“There was a lot of negotiating,” says Faith, “Usually around kids and around money. He was financially comfortable and I was more frugal. We had a couple of significant fights about things. The one thing that happened to me out of our marriage is that Peter would do anything to support my work as a writer. He showed up at my readings and workshops and supported every aspect of my work. The writer that I am is because of him.”

Eventually he started doing his own writing. What he gave her was the ability to lead a more conservative and more thoughtful life. What she gave him was the ability to accept himself creatively. He was always in his head and she was always in her heart. He lived from a place of intellect and she lived from her emotions and creative side. This was a challenge but they balanced each other.

“What I miss most is that he was my best friend. He was the best friend I ever had. I could tell him anything. He went out of his way to cater to me, and that doesn’t make someone your friend, but he was a good listener and I could say anything to him. The one thing he wouldn’t accommodate me in and we argued a lot about it, was that I wanted another child. I was in my 30’s. He wanted no part of it. I wanted his child. He had two kids from a previous marriage. Peter was essentially a father to my three kids. There was a special commitment he had to me.”
The first year after he died Faith wrote about him often, publishing a collection of grief poems titled, Husband. Her involvement with poetry programs is very limited now. One of the key things that she did, was take custody of a three year old grandson. “I think that children are a life raft when you’re lost.”

When her brother died back in 2001 she was completely depressed and didn’t even want to leave the house. She was invited to teach third graders as a visiting artist for 13 weeks in Bridgeport.

“I tell you what…you spend a whole day with third graders and it wakes you up. It provided balance. It saved my life. It doesn’t make the grief go away but it certainly provides solace. After Peter died I spent a lot of time with my 13 grandchildren. They provided me with a place to find joy.”

She dropped out of everything when Peter was ill, taking care of him took all her time and for a five year period, she was just unavailable. Once she started to find some balance again she chose not to fill her schedule to overflowing. The things I do now are collaborative efforts. Once a month she co-hosts a poetry program at The Spoken Word in Waterbury but she says she’s not out there creating events.

“I really want to get my memoir done. I have the support of friends and peer groups that I belong to. She works full time as an information services consultant, teaching companies to implement better security to prevent data breaches and has worked in the information technology field for 40 years.

When Peter was sick, they burned through his retirement money and life savings. There were huge medical bills after he died and Faith is disheartened by the way society has not addressed issues that are all too common. “One of the real complications in the way society works is that if you have survived a spouse that has been dealing with long term illness, you are exhausted as a caregiver and often you have to take a significant financial hit. So you lose your best friend and you are underwater financially. I fought the bank for two years to stay out of foreclosure. Things are not wired in our systems to find stability and be nurtured in this loss. You just lost your partner and now you’re going to lose everything else too. It’s not the way life should be.”

“About writing poetry, I think it’s unavoidable that grief has to have a place to manifest. It just has to. If it doesn’t manifest in your art, if it doesn’t manifest in your friendships, it will manifest internally. Grief kills people,” says Faith. “To me, writing poetry was medicine. It had to manifest somewhere. Writing for me was my life raft. It was very healing. I was angry for a long time. Peter had fought for a long time. He was tired of the fight and I didn’t want him to give up. Hospice said, “You need to let him go.” I was angry at Peter because I didn’t want him to leave. I have forgiven him now. It took a while. I can’t imagine a better friend than he was. I felt like he should have given me what I wanted. He should have stayed longer.”

Poetry by Faith Vicinanza 

(untitled)

Half dreaming, I hear my name, more echo
than speech. It is Death, no doubt – my name
a query on his tongue, then silence
as he waits, patient, for my answer.

Were it your voice, I’d come this winter night
from this pretense of sleep, barefoot,
hem of nightgown adrift in the snow.
Days bulk up, become weeks, months,

gather a chill in the lining of their coats,
and should they find me wandering, alone
in darkness, they will tender a promise
of comfort in their wintry arms – a promise

of sleep, where I might hear your voice
whisper my name.

           

Husband

Peculiar – how love finds us
looking at our shoes, the starry sky,
the wind turning leaves in the trees,
but not for a man to love us,
to love me.

At first, you were the father figure,
fourteen years my senior. It wasn’t
an undeniable love –
not at first.

It was, in time, predictable,
comfortable, warm. It was, in time,
an undeniable friendship.
In time, it was

unshakable.

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