Reviewed by Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews
They say an image is worth a thousand words: passion, the heart, a woman’s life journey, her gift of words, endurance and her resolve against life’s decohering forces: the cover art of Eva Tihanyi’s poetry collection Circle Tour, perfectly prefaces with allegory her new powerhouse of verse.
Enveloped by the turbulence of a cataclysmic vortex, the dark image of a woman holding on to a red umbrella, faces us undaunted. She stands firm on a scintillating shimmer of turquoise light, as if within the transparent base of a surfer’s wave, her back turned against the pulling dark force. She is safe for now, but for how long?
Is the gyre splintering her umbrella and coat, the event horizon of a black hole? Is it the proverbial tunnel of a near death experience? Could it be an image of one of the theories of time, in which everything has already happened and we return to moments of our lives through wormholes? Or could the poet, like Dante, be standing at the entrance of the circles of hell’s dark grove?
In Dante’s first canto we read “lose all hope ye who enter here,” but instead in Circle Tour we step into the section titled “The First Circle, with a life affirming poem entitled “Hope”, which reminds the reader that “if you’re reading this, you’re still here.” In its briefness, this epigram augurs our only sure hope of being alive.
Following Dante’s analogy, these poems, like life itself emerge as a series of circles of thought and experiences, from inner to outer, much like the pattern of waves created by a stone thrown in water, or the ripples of the years appearing as rings in a tree.
We are alive at the center of it all. In the poem “The Eye is the First Circle,” “it matters how we see it/ when you’re caught in a circle.” We learn that the only “given” in life is that “in the beginning there’s always a road, but all roads end and the world owes us nothing.”
In the poems “Eclipse” and “A Hellish Season” we read that “to take the risk of beauty amidst the sanctioned ugliness” is the poet’s divine art. “It is here we bed down with the miracle worker” , perhaps the poet’s muse. The pen treks “across the uncivilized terrain where predators binge and walls are terminal” and where “there are so many exits into the afterlife”. For all of us “sooner or later tragedy will trump distance” and “what you wish for will make not the slightest difference.”
In “Encounter” the poet alludes to Dante’s unexpected brush with the beast at the entrance of hell. Also as in Yeats’ poem “The Second Coming” we learn that “whatever was for years slouching towards us is now irrevocably born.” We feel the power of this feral animal assailing in the night when “all the things we’ve lost fall upon us/ their weight gaining in the treacherous hours of night” and “it hurts this darkness/ the fear welled up in me and I cried.” Again in this poem though, the poet leans towards the light of positivity rather than be undone by despair: “but then the carapace of longing broke and I subsided.” Even at her most steady centeredness however, there are relapses of emotion. As we read in “Tigers,” “in my sleeping night the tigers groom themselves, inconsolable/ teetering between hope and despair/ they keep vigil for the wild that riots.”
In the poem “Resistance” the poet yields to the mystery of life’s forces. There is a familiar sense of futility in the words “the world is more fucked up than it’s ever been.” Poetry cannot truly save us in the end, although it can assuage the ride. “Did you know that if you wreck yourself on the rocks of language, you’ll continue bleeding?” This is sober eyed poetry. There is no romanticization of reality. “You brandish your small umbrella in the hard fall rain/ know that soon it will be a storm/ a deluge.” In spite of the realization that nothing will prevent catastrophe, there is an incessant drive for the poet to find the words “to articulate the impossible: the inflections of shimmering, the dark universe before it ignited into stars.”
Circle Tour is a brilliant synthesis of deep philosophical concepts about life and the aesthetic of art. The poet, trailing on the star studded vision of classical poetry, leads us along on the concentric circles of the heart, to cohere words into meaning, oftentimes beauty, their only and ultimate aim.
To be alive, connected to the love of others in our life, are affirmations to be for the sake of being. Beyond all loss, love and language redeem and heal. “In your hands I thaw. My heart opens, a crater unfolds at its dark center, and heat glows forth like a buried sun lighting for the first time.”
Eva Tihanyi’s gorgeous language weaves a tapestry of poetic beauty. Resonant with Dante’s “and thence we came forth to see again the stars,” in Circle Tour we read “we came out to see the stars/ humbled by the cosmos/ we stumble into a deep knowing/ ancient fire singing back its holy light to the stars.”
Brainstorming the circle, we whittle down thought to the beginning of everything radiating out in the sacred geometry of creation from one still point. The circle of light waves; the circular shapes of galaxies and planets; the circle of life; the circle of family; of friends; of community; a close knit circle; our circle of influence; we inhabit one point in space radiating out into cycles of time.
“Everything is spirited with light, willing towards beauty.” In the concluding poem “Spiral” we “continue to spiral toward an ending” not ours “to call” and “the heart is revealed deep in the story.” Almost as if reading someone’s secret diary, the poet finds that at the deepest depths of the heart “what you find at the center is never what you expect.” The book ends on a positive note by saying “enough of this day to be enormously alive.”
What will stay with you is the beauty of these poems and most of all their encouragement to live in spite of all odds. In the poem “Conversation with my Son”, the poet gives the most precious advice. “I remind you: each day we must be lucid with mutiny against despair. It will change your life, which dark you choose, which light.”
Circle Tour is Eva Tihanyi‘s ninth poetry collection. Most recently, The Largeness of Rescue (2019) garnered a Fred Cogswell Award for Excellence in Poetry. She has also published a volume of short stories, Truth and Other Fictions (2009). Tihanyi, who taught English at Niagara College from 1989 to 2020, now writes full time. She lives in the Port Dalhousie neighbourhood of St. Catharines, Ontario. www.evatihanyi.com
Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews was born in Italy in 1955. She emigrated to Canada with her family
in 1968, at the age of twelve. She attended University of Toronto where she pursued an Honors
Degree in French and Italian Literature; a Bachelor of Education; a Masters in Educational
Administration and a Masters in Italian Literature. After graduating, she taught French and
Italian for many years at the elementary, secondary and post secondary levels. Her love of
literature eventually led her back to take writing courses through the University of Toronto and
she also joined the Ontario Poetry Society, where she is now manager for the Oakville chapter;
the League of Canadian Poets; the Canadian Italian Writers Association; and the Heliconian Club
for Women in the Literary Arts of Toronto. Josie has published seven collections of poetry: The Whispers of Stones, Beret Days Press, 2007; Sea Glass, Espresso Bar Publishing, 2008; The Red Accordion, Lyrical Myrical Press, 2014; Letters from the Singularity, In Our Words Inc. 2015; A Jar of Fireflies, Mosaic Press,
2015; Sunrise Over Lake Ontario, Espresso Bar Publishing, 2017; and Meta Stasis, Mosaic
Press, 2021. As well, she has published two non-fiction books: How the Italians Created
Canada, Lone Pine Publishing/ Dragon Hill Press, 2007; and In The Name of Hockey, Friesen
Press, 2010. Some of her poems have been translated into Spanish, Chinese, Italian and Farsi.
Her work has been widely published in literary journals, magazines and anthology collections,
among which, Ireland’s The Blue Nib, India’s Litterateur and France’s Lothalorian. Some of her
poetry is showcased on The Niagara Falls Poetry Project Website, Poem Hunter, University of
Toronto Radio, Ottawa Farsi Radio’s Namashoum Poetry Show, Eh Poetry Canadian Poetry
Podcast and BBC’s David Vickery’s poetry podcast. Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews’ poem “In Those Meticulous Rituals of Dressing for Our Sunday Best,” has recently won a jury prize in the International Poetry Prize in Rome, Italy’s Citta del Galateo poetry contest for poets writing in English. Her poem “The First Time I Heard Leonard Cohen” is being nominated for a Pushcart Prize this fall. Her poems have been shortlisted for The Malahat Review’s Open Season Award; Descant’s Winston Collins Best Canadian Poem Prize; and The Canada Literary Review’s Summer Poetry Competition. Josie Di Sciascio-Andrews passions are her sons, family and friends, nature, words, music, books and all things beautiful. She lives and writes in Oakville, Ontario, Canada.