The Flapper Press Poetry Café: The Poetry of Tom Squitieri
Updated: Sep 2, 2022
By Annie Newcomer:
The Flapper Press Poetry Café features the work of poets from around the world. This week, we highlight the work of Tom Squitieri.
Tom Squitieri is a three-time winner of the Overseas Press Club and White House Correspondents’ Association awards for work as a war correspondent. His poetry appears in several publications and venues. He writes most of his poetry while parallel parking or walking his dogs, Topsie and Batman.
We reached out to Tom to talk about his career, influences, and his love of poetry.
Meet Tom Squitieri!
AN: Tom, I experienced your poetry as romantic and full of hope, longing, and optimism. So I would like to ask you how you describe your poetry? What is your style that forms your signature pieces in this genre?
TS: I think you have captured most of it, except not so much longing. I stopped longing long ago and instead wonder and ponder and muse unbridled about the “what if” of love and being with that special person. I often feel I have been many times, in many ways; if you read more of my poems, you will see an expansion of this idea. I also try to think of what I would say to my younger self and to let him know it is okay to love in different ways, to embrace it and not weep over what does not happen. I feel lucky to feel these emotions and have experienced love—from war zones to college, to passions of the moment, to decades of love, to heartbreak and unrequited love, and—I say boldly—the love that only I can give. I want others to see that they are like me as well.
But oh yes, I decidedly am a romantic in all the ways possible and feel great when those who read my work feel they are being romanced.
My friend Lindon, who I just asked your question about if my poetry is romantic, said, “There should be more of a word for what it is (meaning beyond romantic).” I agree with her.
When people read my poems, they tell me they feel good, happy, excited, and innovative. Men see how they can be more romantic; some women say that I write just for them. Whispering poetry to one’s self or partner in bed as the day ends guarantees—at the minimum—sweet dreams and sunny mornings, regardless of the weather. The dreams are indeed poetic—joyous, a dancing string of mirth, romance, and creativity.
My styles are varied, but in the last year or so, the genre addresses how darkness sends uncertainty into many; in truth, it is our liberator and ally. It opens the mind and soul to the whole of the world, to all of our emotions, as we often are daring in the night when with others, yet fearful of what we say to ourselves when alone.
The flow of these poems and the body of my work goes through Today, Character, Spirits, Renewal, Intimacy, Embrace, Wounds, Challenge, and Tomorrow, evoking the blur of morning’s small hours when the cares of the day are eclipsed by the calls of the night—to be in the place and space for anyone so that they can easily and energetically find their way to you, and you can find your way to yourself.
To me, it is clear that poetry is the opera we all can enjoy if we are brave enough to sing. It is the Prosecco in the vineyard of words. When you write someone a poem, you can find the words that before could not come out of your mouth.
AN: When I read your bio and saw that you are a war correspondent, I imagined that your poetry might address that subject matter, difficult as it is. But your selection didn’t. So I wondered if you ever write poetry about war? Or is poetry a release from that serious world for you?
TS: I rarely write about war directly. There was one early poem I wrote about how I was wounded, and there are references in later poems to Bosnia, Haiti, and other war zones—mostly as it strengthens “me” (I put me in quotes because I tell people my poems are never about me or one person, but things we all share or seek).
The three poems sent to you were the most recent that I wrote (I then finished another on March 23), and they do not mention war.
Here is something I find cool: when the war in Sarajevo was winding down in late 1995, I was walking down the hill from where I was staying to go into town; as always, I was looking around for details for a possible story. Roger Cohen of the NY Times was walking up the hill; he observed my glances, my pausing and jotting words. He smiled and said aloud in his British accent, “Ah Squitieri, writing poetry again.”
He was correct, and I had not realized it. My dispatches from the war zones were often written with a poetic song as the binding for the story.
I used the horrors of war, where love dared only to be shown in quiet, faraway places, to fuel the song shared by those who would not give up in the face of horror. Soon I realized that poetry is the window to not just capturing love but liberating love. The love most prevalent during the war was of those giving up everything to save someone they love. Nothing seemed more powerful. That is manifest now in writing the pleasure of love—not when love is a joy crushed under the boots of bully boys and rapists.
No, I do not write poetry as a release. Some of my poems are funny (like when friends and I overheard three women telling the fourth over drinks how to get her boyfriend more amorous by feeding him certain food). I started writing poetry a few Aprils ago (National Poetry Month) to keep my writing fresh, creative, energetic, and to say things I could not say as a reporter.
AN: I was impressed and also smiled when you shared that you write while parallel parking and/or walking your dogs. By the way, great names for your dogs—Batman and Topsie. Might you share more about your writing process? Do you enjoy “polishing your gems” through editing? Or do you find that for you writing is spontaneous and complete as is?
Who are some of your favorite poets and why? I think the work that we read influences our own poems.
TS: I've loved writing for decades, and now poetry reflects what I have learned, who I have saved, how I have fallen, and the wings that make me and others fly. I love poetry for many reasons, from listening to Dr. Gargano in freshman English reading "To His Coy Mistress" to Jackie Gleason reciting "Casey at the Bat." I think it started with “Twas The Night Before Christmas” and continued to “Dream a Little Dream of Me” and “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow.”
It is usually in the morning, as the coffee’s aroma is in a duet with the waking up songs of the birds, that I write. The more I write poems, the more places I find inspiration. Sometimes it is something I see that triggers a line, or that I hear or read, often a combination of seemingly disparate moments or thoughts or events or prods that weave themselves on my typing fingers. I carry paper and a pen and write down the line, word, or stanza. Then when I get home, I write what I have.
I usually write most of a poem in a rough draft and, yes, then I polish the gems. I edit a word, move things around, read aloud to the dogs for final approval. A few close friends will read different ones and help me see things I have overlooked or presumed. One friend, at the beginning of COVID, yearned for someone to be there with her, so the beautiful poem “I Will Be There” emerged. I was having dinner in a small French town a few summers ago and pretended I needed a cigarette, and three French girls offered me one (“French Girls Smoking Cigarettes”). One morning in the grocery store, I was able to hold a baguette fresh from the bakery, and it was still warm, and thus “Warm Bread at Morning” was born.
Poetry liberates me from the false rules many impose upon us; that is the potion to happiness, sensual invigoration, the bounty of a robust sex life, and embracing fun for couples. Poetry to start the day means you are alive. It is what truly sweetens that morning kiss.
So my styles are a mix, just like me (smile).
I am sorry, I do not have a favorite poet or poets; many are marvelous, and each time I read a poem, often blind, I think how privileged I am to be sometimes called a poet We are too often overlooked.
AN: What question have I not asked that you would like to answer?
TS: You got more out of me than anyone ever has.
This poem captures how I take the battering of yearning for my love and the frustration of her hesitancy and recast it as a loving song to sway her to see the positive, the optimistic, the truth that our love—the gem—is a rare gift being given to us. It plays to the old saying of “she (or he) is out there somewhere”; I have believed that for many years.
Can you run through the night with me,
And not be tired for my sunrise.
For that is where I am now.
That is where the bells chime
The truth comes clamoring,
Clanging, a churr,
Of your tentative
Run through the night with me
In my arms as I hold your slumber
In my words as I hold your heart
In my touch as I hold your soul
The truth is there, as a benign poltergeist
For this morning I was very close in our
Open up for me
Stop denying the
Gem we have at our fingertips
That awaits our polishing.
The words race to be written for you
When you take a deep pause, I will send
we blush together and sigh in harmony
I have combined all those elements for you
so we are not leaving;
My dreams made you curious
Made the morning alive
For a fleeting moment
My eyes reveal my secrets
Not writing. Just doing
In the rumble of mystery
Comes a morning duet
Your gleeful sounds
with Northern Cardinals
This poem is a pivot between the uncertainty night often brings to people and how I have transformed it into my Fortress of Creation and Embrace. The title is a phrase often said to me by friends who are coming to my home to share my amazing, excellent coffee—"Make it stronger," they say in advance. Since I write often best in the mornings as the coffee brews and then is enjoyed, I always make my coffee stronger and have taken that mantra to my contributions to the world.
Make It Stronger
The night says no to sleep
The mind does not complain
Thoughts are crisp
Sounds communicate with rare ease
Awakening and arousing anima
No need to move
New strength surprises
Embraced with no questions
The shortlist of what steps to
As they say to me
make it stronger
Balance joins now
To help with the unsteady days ahead
Quick whistles of the past add herbs to
This night’s tropism
Expresso suggests joining the other beans
It is a different night
A firmament for many tomorrows
Gleeful yapping outside
Of different animals
Inviting me to join
My true calling, they insist
For them I shall bring
My secret coffee
Together we will roam
As they help me