Finding truth through poetry

Lawndale resident Diane Sahms-Guarnieri released her fourth poetry book, The Handheld Mirror of the Mind, an unblinkingly truthful look at social issues and her own life.

When Lawndale resident Diane Sahms-Guarnieri goes for a walk along local park trails or the Delaware River, she drinks in every detail. She’ll take photographs and make mental notes, but she won’t sit down to write until she gets home, the place she calls her sanctuary away from the world.

Nature is a major theme in Guarnieri’s fourth published poetry book, The Handheld Mirror of the Mind. In its opening poem, Global Dreamers in Existence, she describes constellations in the sky and their similarities to cave paintings, noting how they both reflect nature and evolution.

“Blessed be the foundation/ of all the hidden then found,/ those ancient temples of global caves,/ symbolic arts unscrolling iconic scriptures,” she writes.

With this book, Guarnieri hopes to hold a mirror up to the subjects she writes about and use poetry to find the truth to them — hence the book’s title. Other than nature, these themes include her family and personal experiences, as well as social issues she sees in the world.

“Social issues are the trunk of a tree,” she said. “My poems are the schematic vehicles, or the branches of the tree. There are character poems, nature poems, dream poems, love poems, childhood poems. The roots of the tree would be everything I do, hopefully with compassion and truth. Hopefully, the roots are loved.”

She’s a strong supporter of the metaphor, but perhaps her strongest work comes out when she tells specific personal stories through her writing.

In the aptly titled Our twisted and forged fates are not but a dream, a poem, and a myth, Guarnieri laments to Joey, her son no longer in her life.

“Sometimes I think stars/ may be holes with light’s projection/ coming at us from the other side. Heaven’s hidden portals,” she writes, after recalling how she has spent 10 Christmases without him and he never returns her messages. She closes the poem finally deciding that it is her son’s decision to live that way, and maybe her handheld mirror can’t uncover every truth.

Guarnieri identifies as an observer. That means she’ll write about people she had encountered and create or retell stories surrounding them — she writes of a girl with special needs she sees walking around town, and of two elderly ladies displaced at a nursing home she visits. In one of the book’s more unsettling works, Silencing the drumming, she describes a bullied kid driven to retaliate against his detractors.

“All of the social issues I write about, regardless of concerns and thematic issues, I’m hoping are rooted in truth and love,” she said. “Inspiration comes from love.”

Guarnieri is a fluid writer. Her writing uses conceptual images and descriptions to tell her stories, her words washing over them like river water over a boulder. She often evokes disparate themes in her poems, connecting them all back to the passage’s central message.

Holding up her handheld mirror to so many adverse subjects was difficult for Guarnieri, but an absolute necessity.

“I think it would be harder for me not to be honest than to be honest,” she said. “I’d much rather be honest and truthful. When I wrote Earth Day, I cried and cried, but it’s more important to be honest and truthful than not to be.”

Earth Day follows her relationship with her ailing Aunt Peggy, who took her up on a helicopter ride in St. Louis when Guarnieri was 14.

“That crazy alcoholic pilot left the door wide open,/ engine louder than a car’s damaged wheel bearings,” she writes.

But Aunt Peggy held on to her through that terrifying experience. Now as her aunt’s health declines, it’s Guarnieri holding on to her.

“My aunt has not read this poem yet,” a concerned Guarnieri said, but she’ll let her read it now that the book is published. It scares her, but that’s what her poetry is about. Her handheld mirror is polished perfectly. ••

This book and others on Guarnieri are available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble and book stores. Find her work on DianeSahms-Guarnieri.com