When former New England Poet of the Year John L. Stanizzi decided to compare Bob Marley’s lyrics with the biblical excerpts that had inspired them, he didn’t expect to experience such a profound change in his own sense of the world. Over a period of five years, he found himself wanting to go beyond simply finding the passages that spoke to Marley; he wanted to experience the union of the biblical quotes and the essence of Marley’s songs, and apply it to his life, his relationship with others, and his poetry. This is the result. “If we accept, as we should, that in the best of roots reggae there exists this wonderful convergence of sensuality, political awareness, spiritual intensity and communal celebration while achieving the most elegant moments of lyric grace and vulnerability, then we must accept that John Stanizzi’s Hallelujah Time is a sequence of poems wholly steeped in the reggae aesthetic, and we are the better for this.”
~ Kwame Dawes, author of Duppy Conqueror: New and Selected Poems“
Spirituality played an important role in my Father’s lyrics, life, and vision of hope. We are blessed to see his message translated into such divine poetry alongside scripture.
-Cedella Marley – Bob Marley’s daughter
When former New England poet of the year John L. Stanizzi decided to compare Bob Marley’s lyrics with the biblical excerpts that had inspired them, he didn’t expect to experience such a profound change in his own sense of the world. Over a period of five years, he found himself wanting to go beyond simply finding the passages that spoke to Marley; he wanted to experience the union of the biblical quotes and the essence of Marley’s. songs and apply it to his life, his relationship with others, and his poetry. This book is the result.
-The Editor of Big Table Publishing – Robin Stratton
About John L. Stanizzi’s Hallelujah Time!, Carl Dennis writes — Without straining, without raising their voices, these poems enact a lively dialogue between religious archetype and secular experience, juxtaposing a timeless ideal world with a time-bound world that has to discover its own peculiar, wayward path toward celebration.
-Carl Dennis — Pulitzer Prize for Practical Gods
John L. Stanizzi’s Hallelujah Time is a religious and cultural blend of lyricism and beaut. It takes the Rastafarian mindset and weaves it into the poet’s life experience. It unfurls Biblical parallels between the story of God and Christ with the loving words, lyrics and lifestyle of Bob Marley. He explores sadness and loss in poems such as Pass it On and Guiltiness where he takes on the subjects of suffering and death and fills them with promise and hope. In Exodus, he describes the exodus of fall and likens the coming of winter to “…the cold coming in, a frigid white horse.” Beautiful! This is a poetic mix of secular and spiritual, living and dying, past and present, and it works brilliantly. It is one I will revisit frequently. Can’t wait to read more from John L. Stanizzi.
-Jim Landwehr – author of On A Road
If we accept, as we should that in the best of roots reggae there exists this wonderful convergence of sensuality, political awareness, spiritual intensity, and communal celebration while achieving the most elegant moments of lyric grace and vulnerability, then we must accept John Stanizzi’s Hallelujah Time! is a sequence of poems wholly steeped in the reggae aesthetic, and we are much for this.
-Kwame Dawes — author of Duppy Conquerer New and Selected Poems
A great tribute to Connecticut and music as well as a political statement and a coming of age take, poetic, imagistic, and flowing.
-Christine M. Rau – author of WakeBreatheMove
The poems in Hallelujah Time! are presented in two groups of ten poems each, in sections titled Burnin’ (1974) and Exodus (1977), after two albums from Bob Marley and the Wailers. Within each section, the poems are titled and sequenced after the ten tracks included on the original release of each album. The back cover states that this book is the result of the poet’s decision “to compare Bob Marley’s lyrics with the biblical excerpts that had inspired them” and that, in the course of that exploration, he found himself going beyond the scope of an academic exercise in scripture references: it became a personal experience, one he wanted to apply “to his life, his relationship with others, and his poetry.”
Of the twenty poems, sixteen take the form of lyric memoir, poems about the poet and his family, personal interactions and relationships, including his own childhood experiences of being falsely accused (“I Shot the Sheriff”) and disillusionment when meeting the actor who played Superman in person (“Waiting in Vain”). The title poem captures the joyful mystery of a moment when the poet’s 21-month-old granddaughter turns and runs to him. “Burnin’ and Lootin’” offers an account, in fine traditional verse, of an incident that occurred when his son was twelve, an incident of a group of young boys’ careless play resulting in a full-scale police take-down. The poem ends with a question of whether the police response was over-much, and whether the long-term impression left on young minds by the violent display of authority was a desirable and worthwhile result. Each poem in the collection has a biblical text as an epigram; the one which prefaces “Burnin’ and Lootin’” is Psalms 44:5 – Through thee will we push down our enemies: through thy name we will tread them under that rise up against us.
The poems range across several forms and styles, and some change styles between sections of the same poem, transitions one might also find in a piece of music. In each case, the style / form employed matches the content and context of the poem, so free and formal verse are intermixed without either feeling contrived. Among the poems in traditional or created forms are a triolet and (in the poet’s words in the end Notes), one that “resembles a renga” which depicts delusions held by his father during later stages of Alzheimer’s disease.
There are also three poems set after his father’s death, including the immediate experiencing of it with his mother, and his mother later clearing out his father’s clothing. The third, and one of my favorites in the collection, is “Natural Mystic” which is prefaced by 1 Cornintians 15:52 …for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised…. “Natural Mystic” opens with the following lines:
She sits on my father’s Barcalounger
on his imaginary lap
and speaks to him,
thanking him for visiting today.
The poem offers a tender listing of all the places she has seen him (“plain as day”), places as wide-ranging as a license plate and a hummingbird, and: that she’ll look for him again tomorrow, and closes with a beautiful sense of certainty and reassurance, her unwavering confidence she will know:
that it’s him,
he’ll always be there,
she doesn’t have to worry.
The final poem in the first section (“Rastaman Chant”) is divided into three parts – thunder, funde, akete – after three types of drums used in a communal meditative practice. (The Notes section at the end of the book offers helpful reference on terms, personages, and background to give the reader sufficient vocabulary and context, particularly for the poems that are more autobiographic / socio-political history than childhood and family memoir.) “Rastaman Chant” is a transitional poem, still personal memoir, but one that describes the poet’s first serendipitous encounter with Bob Marley and the Wailers’ Burnin’ album, one that takes place in a variety discount store called Spag’s when the poet is a young man:
I didn’t know a thing about the music,
the players, or who Ras Tafari was.
But I laid down my buck, and without a bag, I left
with Burnin’ and my free tomato plants.
Later in the poem, the poet offers a second look at the experience, this time seasoned with a measure of skeptic’s humor:
All you needed was a short stack of cash,
and the sense to know you’d see the unexpected;
after all, shopping here was an adventure.
But a religious experience? Let’s be serious.
Converse All-Stars, seedlings, tee shirts, Ban,
and stuff you never even knew you needed –
a horse’s head and mane attached to a stick,
a bottle of Bayer with a thousand pills inside…
the list goes on, and ends with: ….remarkable for sure, but not religious. “Rastaman Chant” is filled with vivid details from this first encounter, an encounter that is not yet over:
…all the while the funde kept the beat,
a steady rock in lockstep with my heart,
from those first clean turnings of the vinyl on
that little Crosley by the fireplace,
Each of the three poems that delves into the autobiographic and socio-political history realm begins with a personal note. “So Much Things To Say” begins with I thought I’d write a dramatic monologue / where I’d profess to comprehend this league // of men who stared injustice down. “One Love / People Get Ready” (homage to Dennis Brutus) is how the poet envisions the imprisoned anti-apartheid activist’s time in solitary confinement on Robben Island, the occasional glimpse of a star as the prisoner’s tether to inspiration, truth, and the light of one love many millennia old.
The third of the autobiographic / historic poems, and another personal favorite from this collection is “Jammin’” – it opens with a personal stanza briefly recounting the experience of purchasing the Burnin’ album at Spag’s, and begins with the poet’s attendance at Bob Marley and the Wailers’ 1975 concert in Hartford, Connecticut. In the six pages of this poem, the poet starts us at that small, poorly attended 1975 event, then takes us forward in history through the bloody violence and socio-political unrest in Jamaica of the late 1970s, including two much more well-attended events, the Smile Jamaica and One Love One Peace concerts. In each concert, Bob Marley’s presence was far more than mere musical performance – it was a call for peace, unity, and hope. This poem is filled with tension and compassion. I was caught in its grip and turned page after page until the end, then started over and read it again more slowly. I remain stunned by how much historic context the poet packed into this poem without it beginning to drag or bog down; it retains and builds power from beginning to end.
The single poem that is neither memoir nor autobiography is “Get Up, Stand Up” and is actually the first one in the collection. I have saved it until last in this review because it is the only one addressed to the reader, and (as the title implies), is about overcoming personal inertia, about waking from a comfortable state:
…you may be tempted to turn over,
curl up, and resist the sunrise.
Before you Save the Children,
Feed the Homeless…
…You’ll have to acknowledge the tonnage of your legs,
the pain and weakness,
the monumental focus necessary to move them…
In conclusion, the poems in Hallelujah Time! are a captivating chronicle of the poet’s exploration of Bob Marley’s lyrics, one for which “Rastaman Chant” could be read as an allegorical microcosm: in the middle of all the conflicting things the world (as a global Spag’s) has to offer, one poet has encountered and continues to explore the essence of Burnin’.
Laura M. Kaminski
Laura M. Kaminski grew up in northern Nigeria, went to school in New Orleans, and currently lives in rural Missouri. She is an Editor at Right Hand Pointing, and has had several poems appear in The Lake.
Published in the The Lake, April, 2016.
GET UP! STAND UP!
Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.
~ John 5:8
Before the love-in, the sit-down, or the uprising,
you will notice,
from the vast valley of groundless sleep,
that the light has begun to shift,
to move imperceptibly across the dark room
in widening stripes of bright light,
and you may be tempted to turn over,
curl up, and resist the sunrise.
Before you Save the Children,
Feed the Homeless
or chant down the Tea Party,
you must confront
that ascending cocktail of dust,
the pollen and hair,
paper and fibers,
minerals and soil,
the burnt out meteors
and human cells
that waft in lengthening cones of sunlight.
You’ll have to acknowledge the tonnage of your legs,
the pain and weakness,
the monumental focus necessary to move them
and feel the cool floor solid beneath your feet.
Stand up into that massive reach of light
and move past the maple’s marbled disease,
the pond wimpling the trees and the sky,
touching the entire landscape at once,
beyond the unwrapped birches,
into the far hills rolling over themselves,
devouring the air deeply,
out beyond the inconsequential words
spoken under low yellow lights,
and farther still,
out to where listening
is the prayer spiriting your fears,
while behind you always
the great voice
sounds its trumpet.
-Published is Solo Novo 122 Days — 2012
ONE FOUNDATION (Triolet for Carol)
For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
~ 1 Corinthians 3:11
So many things that still feel new are old, and that’s the way it goes. This is what always happens to
so many things that still feel new.
I think of how I have loved you
all these years, and that just shows
so many things that still feel new
feel new because of the life we chose.
-Published in Rattle, Winter 2012
Big Table Publishing Company, 2015, 74pp.