Poetry - Gianna Russo

Gianna Russo is a writer pursuing a lifetime vocation to poetry and teaching. For 30 years she has supported and been an active member of the literary arts not only in Tampa but all across Florida including her role as an Artist-Advisor to the Arts Council of Hillsborough County.

Russo is the recipient of fellowships from the Surdna Foundation, the Hambidge Center for the Arts and Sciences, Arts Teacher Fellowship, and the Hillsborough County Artist Fellowship, Emerging Artist Grant. She has also been nominated for the Pushcart Prize and served as a grant panelist for the Hillsborough County Arts Grants. Russo has poems published in many publications including Crab Orchard Review, Bloomsbury Review, The Sun, Poet Lore, The MacGuffin, Calyx, Apalachee Review, Florida Review, and Tampa Review.

She has taught English and Creative Writing for over 20 years becoming the creator and co-director of the creative writing program at Howard W. Blake School of Arts. Russo was the administrator of the Florida Suncoast Writers Conference, founding director of the YMCA Writers Voice in Tampa, and founder and editor of YellowJacket Press. Currently Gianna Russo is the Curator of Education at the Henry B. Plant Museum in Tampa.



The seagulls gather like old-time believers behind the Convention Center.
In identical gray vests, they decree their faith in fish and human hand-outs.
Some agitate over the way the wind blows,
some testify in high voices the wonders of minnows and french fries.
Seagulls are tide-readers, evangelists of moon & cloud.
Watch them congregate like the pure of heart,
sounding a come-and-get-it while the gettin's good,


The Big Question

The anhinga are still as monks,
their heads tucked in meditation.
Like deep seas divers or winged mermaids,
they swim, swim on a wish and a breath,
searching for something to fit the bill.
But when they soar up and land on the foot of the dock,
they turn into glossy black question marks,
sun-worshippers asking where, where, where?


The Cabbage Palm: Lessen You Cut it Down'

I tell you, there's no tree like the cabbage palm.
It never dies of old age, and you can't see the end of it lessen you cut it down.
from Palmetto Country by Stetson Kennedy

With a crown piercing the ferris wheel sky, cabbage palm cartwheeled
across the swampland, in olden days, or poked shadows in the understory.
These ribbons were a green rollercoaster that folded and wove through twilight.

In the hands of the Calusa, the climb and drop of days brought
sleeping mats, chickee thatch, heart-palm meals, battle spears.

Now cabbage palms are planted in queues down a thousand miles of interstate.
In Tampa, heart of palm salad is served with key lime sherbet.
In Disney World, the storied trunks tack down corners of a new town square.

But in spring drought or summer flood, salt marsh or tidal pond,
the green-gray pinwheels still prickle against sunrise and in tilt-a-whirl
winds and rain, they just give.

Even now, against the back-lit streets of Harbor Island,
air ferns clasp blackness inside the old leaf stems on the trunk,
and a black snake curls there in moonlight's sideshow.

The fronds stab at clouds drifting on the river or slice shadows on the Everglades.
Wish-you were-here fronds that seem tipped with stars,
like lights strung across a midway.


Squint and You'll See It

The river is like syrup,
and floating in its sweetness are cruise ships to take you to Nowhere,
wonderful Nowhere, that beckons you right past noon in this sun,
lures you into the channel where the wind ruffles your hair,
urges you past the cranes rusting at the port industrial site,
past the gray holding tanks, past Gulf Marine Repair and the tugboat named River Belle,
past the condos on Harbor Island painted sunnily as the Mediterranean.
Nowhere calls you out onto the bay, lures you to the gulf , and then, and then,
your mind unclasps and Nowhere becomes a real port-of-call,
a green flash at sunset, a red sky at night, a true destination of rest and joy
that you can get to just by standing on a sidewalk by a river near downtown,
just like this.


Plant's Palace

Once she sat like a grande dame on her throne,
crowned with 6 minarets, 6 crescent moons.
Rich Northerners with months to spare arrived
by train or steamer for their health and pleasure.
They called the hotel "a dream of Southern Splendor,"
a poem in latticework and brick.
The guest rooms ensured a balmy sleep,
orange blossom-full and opulent.
Everything about her was exotic.
Winters, she reigned in this Land of Lovely Dreams;
Summers, she sat empty as the coal bin in July.

But that was long before you and me.
Once she was a fairyland in the heart of the semi-tropics.
Alone, her silver spires etched Tampa's sky,
just in time for the 20th century.


from The Bridgekeeper Notices Fall

Like a stranger from up river,
a tourist without a map,

wind stumbles through the cattails
in a dappled, amber light

from The Bridgekeeper Notices Fall

Mullet flash up into the air
in a slanting hyacinth light;

but the bridgeman only listens for his boats
and turns to the sun setting over the river
like a man turning back for his sweater.

from Poem for Any Reason

The river is amber smoke coiling
into what's left of the hometown.