Joseph Bathanti

ISBN: 978-1-60489-221-5 Trade Paper, $17.95     Sale $9.00

ISBN: 978-1-60489-222-2, Hardcover, $28.95       Sale $14.50







From the Book:


After my first ever meeting with Joseph Bathanti at his favourite restaurant in Winston Salem on a sweltering North Carolina summer’s day, I came away thinking to myself, “he’s inexplicable in remarkable ways”.  Joseph’s exuberance for life, interest in people – alongside his intelligence and compassion – is difficult to elucidate unless you have met the man. His 2014 collection of autobiographical essays, Half of What I Say is Meaningless, begins to illuminate something of his persona – when reading it recently I laughed out loud to the amusement of my fellow passengers on a long train ride to London, while also welling up, nodding vigorously and then finishing the book with an affirmative grunt. (Someone next to me asked what I was reading, but I don’t think I did a good job of selling it and don’t think she jumped on her smart phone to buy it, apologies JB.) Half of What won the Will D. Campbell Award for Creative Nonfiction, given to “the best manuscript that speaks to the human condition in a Southern context”. In interview, Bathanti has confirmed he identifies as a regional poet having spent more than two thirds of his life in North Carolina. He has established himself as a seminal author/observer of America’s prison culture, particularly that of the South.

Bathanti’s preoccupation both with the South and with humanity similarly permeates his 2013 collection Concertina. These poems detail his experiences as a young Italian-American leaving Pittsburgh in 1976 to become a VISTA volunteer with the North Carolina Department of Correction. The arresting image of the Concertina wire – “a colossal Slinky / ribboned with scalpels” – metaphorically and literally encloses a world “so utterly strange”. Bathanti writes of bounty hunters and bloodhounds, the prisoners who look “like schoolboys” exposed to rape and overdoses. If prison is strange, it is also often tragic: Bathanti speaks from experience about accompanying children – including some “so young, they can’t help wetting” – to see their mothers in prison. These may be the only visitors to ever “smile at the twirling jagged grandeur”. There is the boy at prison camp who “stuffed pillows under his prison greens” and “then crabbed / up the fence like a movie creature”. Once caught in the wire the boy hung all night “undetected” until he was shot in the morning by a tower guard. But Concertina is also about the South – its religion, the spittoon, the cowboy hat, the African American cook who averts his eyes from the prison Captain.