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Jennifer Barone has been living in San Francisco for many years, but other than her family, the thing she misses most about her childhood Italian neighborhood in Brooklyn is clearly the traditional and authentic food.
With her book of poems “Saporoso”, an adjective used for something palatable and full of different tastes, she expresses all her genuine passion for Italian food and demonstrates her talent in writing poems at the same time.
In fact, this is not her first book, but an original collection of previous and new poems all about family, love, history, mythology, and history, all connected together. “I didn't know how it was being Italian; all I knew for a long time was about food, until I went to Italy for the first time.”
This is what Jennifer told me inside the Caffè Greco in San Francisco’s North Beach neighborhood, when speaking about her Italian heritage and personal experience; this is probably the most important source of inspiration for the creation of the book “Saporoso”.
Jennifer was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, but her grandparents on both her mother’s and father’s side emigrated from Naples. They always spoke in Italian with her, and Jennifer’s first Italian words were in the Neopolitan dialect.
On the other hand, her parents spoke mostly English with her and never had the desire to go back to Italy, although they kept alive the familiar tradition.
They lived in Bensonhurst, a neighborhood of Brooklyn where, in the past, there was a large Italian community, and where “you could find Italian restaurants and delicatessens on every street corner.”
Jennifer Barone studied the Italian language in several private schools in New York during her twenties, but it was only when she went to Italy that her interest for this culture became stronger, as she felt deeply connected to the people and the values she experienced.
After studying both in Southern (Calabria) and Northern (Venice) Italy, she liked it so much that she went more than ten times, including for the celebration of her wedding with Daniel in Anacapri, when she managed to bring to Italy her parents too.
It is together with her husband and jazz musician Daniel Heffez that she started participating Poetry and Jazz nights several years ago.
The combination of music and reciting words was the formula chosen also on occasion of the “Saporoso” Book Release Party and Art Exhibit at Live Worms Gallery in North Beach, last October 19th and 20th. It was two days of readings, music and art with specials guests. It was there that artist Lam Khong premiered his original drawings that are part of Saporoso.
With his sense of realism developed in Rome, where he achieved a Master's Degree in Arts, Lam Khong perfectly represents the natural elements described in the book. Besides being a long-time friend of Jennifer Barone, the two traveled together throughout Italy, sharing the privilege of residing either in small (in Vicenza) and important (in St. Peter in Rome they could also see John Paul II) churches, where Khong was working.
“Typically for this kind of book, the illustration comes after the drawings,” said Jennifer, “but in this case there was an unintentional and spontaneous connection between poems and drawings.”
While Jennifer was writing more poems about food—inspired both from her family and travels in Italy—Lam had a lot of drawings that perfectly represented her metaphors and ideas.
During the Book Release Party in North Beach, four poets each night were invited to recite personal poems about food, as well as extracts from “Saporoso”: Ingrid Keir (co-host with Jennifer of word party in San Francisco), Jaques Korn, Charlie Getter, Pablo Rosales, Justice Morrighan, Martin Mickel, Steven Gray, Stephen Kopel.
Both nights featured great music by Nova Jazz, joined on Saturday night by the amazing voice of jazz singer Lisa Engelken, while the opening night on Friday saw the performance of accordion Ron Borrelli.
With this original book, Jennifer uses everything that concerns Italian food, from most famous names to less known traditions, but in a different ways and very interesting point of view.
Probably inspired by an old book of an Italian professor about how pizza and pasta unified the country, Barone really believes in the creative power of Italian words: “I use food as a metaphor of religious and historical symbolism as well.”
“When I went to Italy for the first time, I had no specific goal, but then I felt like I found my own identity there.”
Food has always been a very important part of her life, as her family's identity was pretty much about that, and she became always more interested to discover the secret side of it.
“Saporoso” is an inviting Italian dinner menu divided in “antipasti,” “primi,” “secondi,” and “dolce,” where each poem is about specific ingredients, seen as a metaphor of love and sensuality, but also history and tradition.
“Pinoli,” for example, is inspired by the identity of Italian people seen as lovers, discovering how many other ingredients are considered to be aphrodisiac.
Speaking of history, “La cucina povera” comes from her memories of Brooklyn, where poor working class struggling for surviving prepared simple and cheap dishes that, as Italian food became so famous, now are consumed in fancy restaurants as an expensive meal.
Finally “The Poetry of Pasta” speaks about the way people refer to various, well-known names of pasta, without actually knowing what the names mean. Because “the countless names of pasta are also extremely poetic, and there is so much to know beyond the expression Mangiamaccaroni used to identify poor Italian people in the past.”
Jennifer Barone is promoting her book “Saporoso” and is receiving critical success. She has just read at the San Francisco Public Library last week, as a winner of the SFPL's Poets Eleven city-wide poetry contest representing North Beach, district 3.
She will also be giving a reading from the book as a featured poet at the Bird and Beckett bookstore on November 5th.
To read about all the events and for detailed information visit the poetry web site: http://www.thewordparty.com/TheWordParty/Home.html