“I fell in love with poetry in high school or earlier, the poetry of Shakespeare, Yeats, Donne and others. The music of those poets got stuck in my head, and I felt a need to write my own, like when a song gets stuck in your head and only singing it will get it out,” Zirilli says. “In high school, however, my poetry sounded like jingles. It was truly awful. Slowly, I found the right music for my words. I guess it was the right combination of difficult and rewarding to make it truly addictive.”
A Healthcare IT manager, Zirilli holds a Bachelor of Arts in both Computer Science and English Literature. His hobbies are poetry, art and photography, all of which he cannot live without, he notes.
His approach to writing poetry is not to fuss over quantity or content.
“I only write if I have something to write. I’ll see something, or hear something, or a certain phrase will occur to me. The poem starts there,” Zirilli shares. “I might start right away or I might wait months before I start writing it down and expanding it. The seed, if it’s any good, will create more words until the poem is done. I rarely plan the poem. I just let it write itself out.”
To foster creativity and allow it to grow takes time.
“The trick is overcoming the blank page, which sits there like a terrible abyss. The seed image or phrase might not be the beginning of the poem, but I’ll usually put that down first just to get rid of that blank page. Often, I’ll write longhand first. A first draft might be fast, under an hour, if I don’t get stuck,” Zirilli reveals. “Then typing it into the computer becomes the first revision. After the first revision, it gets hard to revise, hard to get back into the poem again, but I’ve found that sometimes I’m able to revise old poems because I’ve mostly forgotten writing them, so I bring fresh eyes to them.”
Zirilli’s contributions to the poetry book include around 15 pages of poetry as well as a 10-page literary analysis of Williams’ work. Influenced by Yeats as much as Williams, he notes that the two use imagery differently — the Irishman who used rhyming couplets in stanzas, and the free verse poet — yet in somewhat similar poems.
“This is the man who said the poem is a machine, and sometimes you can take a machine apart and can never put it back together again,” Zirilli writes.
“I think it’s fair to say it’s a warning about [not against] editing, but it can even happen while you’re writing the poem for the first time. It’s like you’re trying to get back to the original feeling that inspired the poem, but that original feeling was wordless, and if you obsess too much about recreating it you can lose the poem, have no words left to speak it,” Zirilli explains.
His biggest poetic influences were Shakespeare and the Beatles. Of the 18 poems Zirilli contributed in the book, he writes about topics such as growing up drawn into nature, northern New Jersey malls and floods, Kanye West, and more, with imagery throughout including a butcher whose hands are covered in blood, grasshoppers staring through windows, a trip to Target and his observations there, a willow tree’s death — the latter of which is personified well. “You fell only when you were ready/I missed the crash/the noise, the squirrel trauma./You missed the fence,/the garage, fell harmlessly/after all your looming,/ a piteous serpent, a bark-bellied corpse,” he writes in Broken Tree.
Lovely metaphors and similes are throughout the stanzas filled with vivid imagination and images strung together randomly and as well as carefully thought out.
The revival of poetry in Rutherford, Williams’ home town, began when poet John J. Trause, along with Jane Fisher, director of the Rutherford Public Library, founded the William Carlos Williams Poetry Cooperative of Southern Bergen County. Trause ran monthly readings at the Williams Center, featuring poets from the tri-state area as well as further afield. The group meets on the first Wednesday of each month for free workshops at borough hall, and is open to all. Monthly readings are held at GainVille Café.
Don Zirilli lives in Sussex County with his wife Colleen, two dogs, three cats and a fish.