The first poem in Barbara Wiedemann’s latest book reads, “I’m sorry but I didn’t get your message, I’ve been out of the country listening to the bells of Rome.” What follows is a Frances Mayes’ “Under the Tuscan Sun” style collection of poetry that highlights the beauty and simplicity of Italian life.
Recently released by Finishing Line Press, “The Death of a Pope and Other Poems” is the AUM English professor and director of creative writing’s third chapbook.
In the title poem, “The Death of a Pope,” Wiedemann gives a first-person account of the atmosphere in Rome during Pope John Paul II’s final days, death, and funeral in 2005, as well as the ascension of his successor. At that time, Wiedemann was on leave from AUM to serve as a visiting artist at the American Academy in Rome. Other poems in the collection focus on her observations during her travels to Italy – from stray cats that lounge in historic temples closed to human visitors to peddlers hawking imitation designer bags.
“The poems all connect in some way with Rome – the people, the history, the art and culture,” Wiedemann said. “I have been to Rome a number of times over the past 15 years and each time I visit I stay a month or two. I happened to be in Rome when Pope John Paul II died and I was present at most, maybe all, of the events surrounding his death. I am very interested in ritual.”
Wiedemann has also published “Half-Life of Love,” which centers on her love of nature, and “Sometime in October,” an effort to recover family stories before there is no one left to remember them. She spends her summers off from AUM travelling West – camping out in her van on public lands with her dog, Angel, and hiking, exploring, and writing poetry.
“Inspiration for my work comes from what happens around me,” she said. “It could be a conversation that I overhear, an article that I read, or a particularly compelling landscape.”
Wiedemann grew up in the rural, Finger Lakes region of New York. She holds a B.A. in English from the State University of New York at Buffalo and an M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of South Florida. She has taught at AUM for the past 20 years.
This fall, Wiedemann is sharing her talents with budding poets by teaching a Poetry Writing Workshop to AUM students. She is also teaching American Literature. In the spring she hopes to teach a course on the American writers who lived in Paris in the 1920s. Each April, she helps plan AUM’s celebration of National Poetry Month, during which she hosts a poetry writing workshop open to the community.
Wiedemann will participate in a reading and signing at Capitol Book and News on Sept. 20, 4-5:30 p.m. Copies of the book are also available on amazon.com.
Barbara Wiedemann on a Roman rooftop.