October 2016 Poetry Feature

This month, we are featuring a collaboration between poet Tina Cane and visual artist Esther Solondz, in response to Elena Ferrante’s fiction. Their work in full will be featured in the book, Dear Elena: Letters for Elena Ferrante from Skillman Avenue Press in November.


Letter for Elena Ferrante: Cosa Nostra 







Our thing is the story     a 23-day affair     or an affair at 23

summer on an island     or lust in a closet     everything entirely

made up     from two halves of not enough     the geometry of love

makes a tenuous equation     any way you write it     I will read it

as confidant and friend     for what is friendship     if not a story

we agree to share     what is family     country or faith

when the truth is unfair     we can tell it slant     call it our thing


Letter for Elena Ferrante: Flirt 







Not on Twitter     not my lover     not named or made famous for nothing

but for words you won’t claim     same as my origins     traced to a single kiss

with which you lead me through      a series of rooms     murky in Neapolitan light

like water where lust     like drowning is a baptism     and flesh rubbed raw

from factory work     is how meat flirts with death     and the floor’s

all wet     with a red     we  conspire to call velvet

Forever yours,


Letter for Elena Ferrante: Falcons

As the dream expands     as only a dream can     spontaneous and unaccountable

we could covet the neighbor     or kill the dog     break dishes in our minds

either way     we are flying     for a craft wants nothing     but to work

released from speech     complete to unfurl its days     in transition

and silence     as a falcon would     gliding majestically

just out of frame     beheld     but not beholden



Letter for Elena Ferrante: Frenemy 

Instruct me on the workings of love     dear friend     for all its brilliant parroting

the ode is a one-way street     and I am not one      to suffer unanswered letters

with grace     or the textbook text reply of yep     with no flicker of rage

to write is to want     and I have     shed the old haunts with some regret

my people my neighbors     the cities and streets that raised me     pushed me

to write words     to sew them into my skirt     as a talisman for clarity

it’s a fictional need      but I have grappled like you     for my tools

true and good     as a cobbler’s daughter hammering in the dark



Tina Cane and Esther Solondz, Poems and Images

Esther Solondz and I have been sharing space for nearly a decade.
We’ve had countless conversations over the years about everything
from winter’s unrelenting snow to the state of the world, the state
of our children, my pregnancies, her hamstrings, my aching shoulder.
Sometimes we have to shout over the sound of the shower.
Sometimes we speak with haste as she heads to her art studio in Pawtucket
or I rush off to teach in Central Falls.  Invariably, we are in a state of undress
with our hair wet. Always, we are in the locker room at the East Side Y.Last winter, Esther and I finally took our conversation outside.
Or rather, it took us, for we had discovered a shared love of the Italian writer
Elena Ferrante. Once we started talking, we didn’t want to stop. Standing
by our parked cars, holding our pool bags, our noses faintly marked by goggles,
we spoke of the Neapolitan novels, Ferrante’s women and the visceral response
they evoked in us. I mentioned that, having finished reading Ferrante’s entire oeuvre,
I had begun writing epistolary poems for her as a means to fill the void.The way I remember it, we were talking fast. But that might have just been me,
for Esther has a composed, deliberate quality about her that I have noticed,
even as she swims laps in the pool. To consider Esther’s portraits, rendered in rust,
is to witness this quality expressed through process—a process in which she “draws”
faces with iron filings and steel wool, covers the image with gauze, water and salt
and then leaves it to be released by time and exposure to the elements.
A kind of rustic fine art photography, it involves a rough chemistry that yields
compelling and ephemeral results. The faces she creates transfix, are gentle and
diaphanous yet direct—almost ferocious—in their gaze. They captivate me the way
Ferrante’s women enthrall and take hold of me. With their dissolving borders and slant
complexity, these could be the faces of those Neapolitan women, of any woman, really.
In creating a book where our work can share space, (Esther and) I hope to move the
conversation outside of  the place we usually find ourselves—from the pool to the
parking lot to the page and beyond.
                                                                                                            Tina Cane


Tina Cane was the 2016 recipient for the Fellowship Merit Award in Poetry from theRhode Island State Council on the Arts. 

Esther Solondz is the recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship.


October 2016 Poetry Feature

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