Jakiela, Newman, Matcho and Catello Pack the Brillobox

John Maurer

-John Maurer

Standing room only is a rare sight at a poetry event. But such was the case the evening of August 4th, 2022, as dozens of people convened on the top floor of the Brillobox Bar and Restaurant in Lawrenceville for a four-author book launch. The size of the audience truly spoke to the impact of the featured poets. The night of poetry was emceed by Phelan Newman, daughter of two of the presenting poets of the night (Lori Jakiela and Dave Newman), who warmly welcomed the audience to the reading. She followed this by introducing the first poet of the night and her “best friend,” Cilia Catello, who read a selection of her work.

Catello, filling in for Kareem Tayyar, read a selection of poems and a short story, Lucky Lotto, which was a story set around modern themes but relatable to all generations. The story depicted a group of teenagers loitering outside a convenience store chiding each other into having the confidence to walk in and try to buy cigarettes without being carded. Catello’s associative and referential skills were clear in lines of the story such as her reference to a pack of Marlboro Reds as being “the Gucci of cigarettes.” After the reading, in conversation, when asked if she had any upcoming publications, Catello responded by saying, “not right now, I’m just focusing on finishing high school.” There is no doubt that Catello is an up-and-coming poet to watch here in Pittsburgh.

Brillobox Bar and Restaurant
Next to take the stage was Adam Matcho who read a selection from his latest book, Ask Your Undertaker, the cover of which was illustrated by Ms. Newman. In his poem, Petra from Work, Matcho conveys the way we work next to people for years, people we do not intend to become close to, but over time we learn their entire life story. What is so captivating about Matcho’s writing is that it does not read like narrative poetry, but by the time he reads the last line, you realize you’ve arrived at the end of a narrative arc you did not even notice. Matcho is also able to inject poignant and resonant lines through character dialogue, such as a conversation had with his wife in this poem, where his wife says, “Kindness is helping someone who can do nothing for you.” When asked why he chose to focus his poems on the topic of retail work, Matcho replied, “I think it’s something everyone can relate to; we all work.”

Dave Newman
Next, Dave Newman did something unusual for any poet, let alone a poet of his caliber and level of accomplishment; he stepped onto the stage and read just one poem. Before starting his reading, Newman said, “I’m old, I’m sensitive, I’m reading about a friend who’s dead. I apologize if I get really emotional.” To which Jakiela responded from the audience, “You said you weren’t going to cry.” Newman responded, “I know, I said I wasn’t going to cry. I’m such a fucking pussy.” (A comedic exchange which juxtaposed the serious and challenging subject matter of the poem to come.) The audience sat captivated through the longer narrative poem and quickly understood exactly why Newman felt he did not need to read any other poems alongside it. His poem told a heart-wrenching story about watching a friend struggle with drug and alcohol abuse, going on a bender, and arriving on his couch where his wife offers to make him food. It is a story of being witness to a loved one in a vicious cycle and wanting to help them but not being able to when they cannot recognize their own problem.

Lori Jakiela
The last poet of the evening was Lori Jakiela who sat down at the microphone with the sense of comfort and calm one would expect from a poet of her experience and achievement. Before beginning her recitation of poetry, she prefaced it by saying, “A lot of what I write about is death…but it’s funny.” She read a number of poems from her newest collection, How Do You Like It Now, Gentlemen?, a title that leaned on an Ernest Hemingway quote. When asked why a quote of Hemingway was used as the title, as well as being inserted between poems in the collection, Jakiela said “because he’s the fucking best.” She started off with a poem from her collection titled, Former 90s Super Model Cindy Crawford Says People Shouldn’t Worry About Aging, a poem about how we perceive our own aging as compared to the media. It was about a number of photos of Crawford that showed wrinkles and scars, something many reacted to with joy as it made them feel more confident in their own skin; only to have those pictures turn out be fake and for Crawford to post pictures of herself still looking as unattainably flawless as ever. After the show, Jakiela was asked about another poem from her collection, In Line at the Drive-Through Pharmacy, in which a man was screaming obscenities at her and her daughter while they waited for her daughter's medicine. If her daughter wasn’t with her, she said, "I would've got out of my car and fought him." This answer may seem unexpected, but certainly show’s Jakiela’s Hemingway-like bravery and the concise and direct voice with which her poetry speaks.

Overall, the evening was filled with as many moments of uproarious laughter as it was with groans of heartbreak and moments of contemplative silence. This slate of poets delivered poetry that was set in Pittsburgh, a setting seen, understood, and shared by every audience member, making all the poetry feel more relatable and grounded within this topical constant. Beyond just sharing their work, every author shared a great deal of themselves, staying after their reading to talk to every audience member who wanted to speak to them as well as signing autographs of their own books.

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