Vittoria repetto described herself as “a native downtown guinea dyke butch who grew up in the Greenwich Village…;” yet she defied labels; anyone who knew her saw a big personality in every sense.
The daughter of immigrant Italian parents; from Liguria on her father’s side and Lombardy on her mother’s side, Italian American writers, particularly women, queer, and trans authors, have lost a dear friend, supporter and feisty poet, Vittoria repetto, who died on March 10, 2020.
Her life was not without its challenges: Maria Gillan, award-winning poet noted Vittoria’s ability to transcend her own physical limitations: “I miss Vittoria’s feisty, angry, indomitable spirit. I love the way she kept going even when everybody else would’ve just said ‘I can’t do it anymore.’ I love the way she walked with a cane and an umbrella and said she didn’t really have a problem. I love the way she struggled to cross the street in New York City and the way she took the bus even though it was extremely difficult for her. May she be pain-free wherever she is now.”
Author Joanna Clapps Herman, wrote: “She was gutsy about reading her poetry out loud even with her speech impediment as a result of her partial deafness. Brava Vittoria!”
Vittoria’s twitter tag gives further testimony to her profound commitments: “NYC Chiropractor-Applied Kinesiologist-NeuroKinetic Therapist Since 1987, helping people feel better naturally. Poet Poetry Advocate. Italian Amer Progressive.”
She nurtured literary communities that welcomed well-published authors to read side by side with emerging writers, a testimony to her belief in establishing democratic literary forums and her commitment to “community.” As novelist Susan Stinson noted, “I know she helped make worlds I love.”
She served as the vice president of the Italian American Writers Association (IAWA) series and edited its monthly newsletter from 1992 to 2014; she hosted the Women’s/Trans’ Poetry Jam & Open Mic at Bluestockings Bookstore 1999-2018 for an 18-year run.
“The fact that she was running a Women/Trans reading series 20 years ago was nothing short of remarkable,” writes Julia Lisella, poet, scholar, and co-curator of IAWA Boston, “… she was tough and abrasive, but her actions were generous. Everyone had a voice in her series. I thought she was a great emcee.”
Playwright/actor LuLu Pascale, recalls her frequent invitations to read at bluestockings and posted Vittoria’s photo on her birthday on her Facebook page with the comment: “… miss her outspoken honesty and support for writers. “
Kathryn Nocerino, one of the original “bad girls of IAWA,” and a New York-based writer says: “Vittoria’s stance in life, as well as her art, grew out of opposition to intolerable cruelties. Her poetry was simple and heartfelt … art does not lie.” Writes B. Amore, artist, and author: “The world is more limited without her unique cadence, penetrating voice, and generous ministrations.“
George Guida, who worked with Vittoria in the early days of IAWA, recalls: “My favorite story is the one about a reading we did in Brooklyn in 1994 in the basement of Our Lady of Guadalupe Church that featured Vittoria. As she got rolling, the parish priest appeared at the back of the auditorium, smiling and nodding at familiar members of the audience. She began with a graphic poem about lesbian sex, followed by a poem whose subtitle was An Exorcism, which culminated in the autobiographical speaker’s fantasizing about slitting her father’s throat. The crowd liked it, and we never read at that church again. “
“No retreat. No compromise. No quarter. That was Vittoria…” he added.
Her chapbook, Head For the Van Wyck includes a poem her current publisher refused to print for fear of being sued by Camille Paglia. In 2006, Guernica Editions published her first full-length poetry book, Not Just A Personal Ad.
Of that collection, poet and reviewer Rigoberto Gonzalez wrote in a Lambda Book Report column, “Poems of intense sensibility and gorgeous imagery are a rarity these days; but this book of verse by a distinctly working-class, distinctly lesbian, and distinctly Italian American voice is a must for all readers of good poetry.”
Poet Edward Field said: “Her poetry has what T.S. Eliot and Wallace Stevens and the rest of them lack, clinging as they all do to their elitist view of poetry. I’d say she’s exactly what poetry needs — she returns it to the people, even if the people, as Gerry Locklin says, ‘don’t read poetry.’ But maybe if more poets start writing like her, they will, or at least listen to it.”
May Vittoria be organizing one reading after another wherever she may be, making sure the powers that be, hear her loud, clear and passionately.
To read more about Vittoria, visit her blog, https://vittoriarepetto.wordpress.com/about/
A Month at the Morgue
April 2020, in memory of Vittoria repetto
Unclaimed, no family on record.
Somehow the city found a massage therapist
who worked with you at your practice.
Now he is charged with finding someone, anyone,
who knew you, and has the legal right to bury you.
Of course, we knew you, self-proclaimed the hardest working
guinea butch dyke poet on the Lower East Side.
You gave us first chances with clear threats, “Mail me
ten of ya best poems. My name’s Vittoria not Victoria
so if ya spell my name wrong, I’m throwin’ all
your poems in the trash without reading them.”
We obeyed you and read for you, but we cannot bury you.
We cannot set a stone for you, have your name etched
in marble–Vittoria with two Ts.
-Susan Gerardi Bello
Bucks County, PA based poet and curator.