Poet, critic and essayist W.S. Di Piero spent the first 21 years of his life in South Philadelphia before moving to his current home in the Bay area. He travelled to Italy on a Fulbright scholarship in 1972, where he began working as a translator. He has since completed the translations from the Italian for collections written by Giacomo Leopardi, Sandro Penna, Leonardo Sinisgalli and Euripides, as well as many short pieces that have appeared in various literary journals. He continues to produce new works, and has been published in the New Yorker, Yale Review, Agni Review, the New York Times Book Review and the Threepenny Review, among many others.
Di Piero’s strength as a poet is his ability to show rather than tell. Much of his work revolves around his formative years in Philadelphia, his experiences as an adult in the Bay Area, and musings on society and life in general. The lines “. . . Mike or Fred/ three doors down/ lays Italian tiles/ on his rebuilt stoop” from ‘Renovations’, recall the neighborhood that Di Piero grew up in. Similarly, ‘The Ash Bringer’ mentions a slew of places found in Philadelphia: “Lemon Hill”, “Boathouse Row” and “Girard Avenue Bridge”, among others.
Other poems take place in a less easily discernable time and place. ‘Having My Cards Read’ presents a real or imagined experience that Di Piero had with a fortune teller; the prediction is vague and antithetical: “A time of renewals/ though somewhere/ dark cold woe/ You won’t know what’s what.” In other poems from this same period, he doesn’t shy away from making political observations. The poem ‘Two Girls’ is actually about war, despite its title. It lists “IED’s, cluster bombs, punji sticks”, weapons used all over the world, made to maim and disfigure. He brings the poem to a startling resolution with the description of “two girls/ villagers know to be deficient” that “doll themselves up as bombs”. Perhaps he’s referring to Vietnam here, but it could be any war in any country. The idea, like so many in Di Piero’s writing, stands on its own.
Country of Survivors, E. B. Rasmussen, Berkeley, 1974
Solstice, Porch Publications, Tempe, 1981
The First Hour, The Cummington Press/Abattoir Editions, University of Nebraska, Omaha, 1982
The Only Dangerous Thing, Elpenor Books, Chicago, 1984
Early Light, University of Utah Press, Salt Lake City, 1985
The Dog Star, University of Massachusetts Press Amherst, 1990
The Restorers, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1992
Shadows Burning, TriQuarterly Books/Northwestern University Press Evanston, 1995
Skirts and Slacks, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2001
Brother Fire, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2004
Chinese Apples: New and Selected Poems, Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2007
Memory and Enthusiasm: Essays, 1975-1985, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1989
Out of Eden: Essays on Modern Art, University of California Press, Berkeley, 1991
Shooting the Works: On Poetry and Pictures, TriQuarterly Books, Evanston, 1996
City Dog, Northwestern University Press, Evanston, 2009
Giacomo Leopardi, Pensieri, Louisiana State University Press, Baton Rouge, 1981; Galaxy Book paperback, Oxford University Press, New York, 1984
Sandro Penna, This Strange Joy: The Collected Poems of Sandro Penna, Ohio State University Press, Columbus, 1982
Leonardo Sinisgalli, The Ellipse: Selected Poems of Leonardo Sinisgalli, Princeton University Press, Princeton, 1982
Photography: A History, Aperture Publications, 1985
Euripides, Ion, introduction, notes, and commentary by Peter Burian, Oxford University Press, New York, 1996