by Susan Senich
As you have been exploring websites about Youngstown, Ohio, you have seen many different images and representations. I would like to share with you some other types of images of Youngstown. So, attached for your reading enjoyment are two poems that express views of Youngstown, written by local poets. Jim Villani, author of "Old School, Young’s Town", and E.G. Hallaman, in his poem, "They Came at Dawn", share their unique visions of life experienced in Youngstown. These two views couldn’t be more different in illustrating images of Youngstown. Jim’s moving and lyrical poem highlights his heritage as an Italian-American and his family’s contribution to the cultural landscape in this area. E.G. Hallaman’s poem, although about a serious subject, the decline of industry and the economy in Youngstown, is more whimsical and very entertaining.
As well as these images, I would like to share with you some other thoughts about this poetry and about the artists who created it.
Old School, Young’s Town
Everyone’s older family members tell stories – Grandpa, Uncle Joe, Aunt Mae, Georgie’s cousin, Bubba’s ex-wife’s neighbor. We hear these stories again and again, sometimes to the point that we don’t hear them anymore. Yet, at a certain point in our lives we realize the true meaning of these stories. Besides the factual, historical information they contain, these stories are the method by which we learn about ourselves. We learn the facts of our own personal histories and how those histories connect to the reality around us. We try to understand the past and use that knowledge to move into the future. We bring our pasts with us no matter where we are from or where we are going. The secrets are in the stories. We only need to listen.
Jim Villani listened. He took the stories into his bones and with his gift for using words and creating images he brings the stories to steel mill nurtured, blast furnace fired life. Jim Villani wears his past as a Youngstown-bred Italian-American proudly. His poem "Old School, Young’s Town" is an example of Jim’s ability to transform his family stories into art. It is tender, expressing warm thoughts of home; filled with strong family, good friends, good homemade wine, Grandma’s sauce, and more. These are the things that make life good. Jim’s fond reminiscence of his family in "Old School, Young’s Town" taps into emotions of every kind for the reader. His images are of growing up in a steel town. He describes "The red steel scud air, Shading the industrial hollow-hood." These are images and places in Youngstown we know: the hollow, the north side, the old neighborhood, and memories of the things that happened there.
Along with a history of work, Jim Villani layers on images of old world color, of wine and family blood, with the new world color of the red sky of a steel making town, and the red of Alphonse’s hair and the lit tip of Pop and Zio Mike’s cigars transposed against that and the strong backs of the men who hauled bricks, built the city’s buildings, and gave life to the city. Then, sipping wine on Sunday, waiting for Grandma’s glorious spaghetti dinner. Il vino fa canta. (The wine makes one sing.)
Families like Jim Villani’s built Mr.
Young’s town. They changed the landscape of work and the cultural fabric
of Youngstown, but now they are old school. Yet, they do have something
to teach us – We only need to listen.
They Came at Dawn
E.G. Hallaman was the son of Greek immigrants. He was born in 1931 in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, and while in high school worked nights and weekends as a laborer in the J&L steel mill. After graduating in 1953 from Slippery Rock College, Hallaman taught at East High School in Youngstown and eventually became an administrator with the Youngstown City Schools. He moved on to being an instructor in the Youngstown State University History Department.
Hallaman began writing poetry late in life, not until he was 48 years old. His writings include the collections "Noon Hour on Federal Plaza" and "Dr. Zhivago on Belmont Avenue." Hallman’s poetry has a great spark of life. Although some of his work deals with serious subjects, as "They Came At Dawn" does the decline of Youngstown, there is a great deal of humor in Hallaman’s work. Humor is necessary in dealing with what life throws at you, good as well as bad. A reading of his work displays Hallaman’s joy for words. He wants the reader to enjoy his words; they make you laugh, but they also make you think.
"They Came At Dawn" is the history of Youngstown on acid. The city in decline is related as "The bombing had stopped, leaving behind a valley filled with thick sweet cream." Then the Mayor had to go for help – his aunt drove him to the airport. This is funny stuff if you were here and can remember what was happening!
E.G. Hallaman mentions in "They Came At Dawn" many spots of local interest and areas citizens of Youngstown know well. The knowledge of these familiar places makes the poem more amusing, yet melancholy. The cream is bittersweet. The one thing that Youngstown was known for, its great steel making tradition, is gone. The cream stick that coated Youngstown with glory had been manufactured, spread, analyzed, packaged, sold, wagered on – gone – it was ephemeral. "Will the giant cream sticks come again? Maybe they will, Youngstown waits and hopes."
Watch the skies.
These poems were taken from Young’s Town, A Reverie. Published by Pig Iron Press, Youngstown, Ohio. Jim Villani, Editor.
Young’s Town, A Reverie, Noon Hour on Federal Plaza, Dr. Zhivago on Belmont Avenue, and other works by local writers are available at Pig Iron Press, 26 North Phelps Street, Youngstown, Ohio 44501.