Mary Lou Sanelli
remembers eating sausages for lunch when the other kids had peanut butter and jam sandwiches.She
had to learn to put away her
high heels as an adult when she
moved to the Birkenstock-shod town of Port Townsend; she
toned down her
animated hand gestures and loud voice.
"I always felt different," she
said.Sanelli was born in New York's Little Italy to immigrants who fled Italy after WWII.
That feeling of "differentness" is one she
shares with many immigrants and first-generation hyphenated-Americans.Sanelli, a poet and dancer, has put her experience into words, both with the book of poems, "The Immigrant's Table," and a companion staged reading. Sanelli
presents "The Immigrant's Table" Jan. 28 at the Jewel Box Theatre
in Poulsbo, as a fund-raising event for the theater.
In a recent phone interview from her
condo home in Seattle's Belltown, Sanelli
didn't inherit the Italian gene for cooking.
"I don't cook," she
said."That skipped a generation." Sanelli
wrote the book in 2003 because "you have to know your history and comprehend your past before you can move beyond it.A writer has to go home to make whole her
work.People are from a particular place, a somewhere that stays a part of them no matter where they end up."
As with many cultures, Sanelli
said food plays a central role in Italian family life.The reading is set in her
mother's kitchen, complete with real food.Sanelli
walks the stage and recites her
poems; Leone cooks and comments, adding spice to each activity.Talk about dinner theater.
clear-eyed, yet loving, awareness of family members' foibles, including her
own, provides the reader with a menu that nourishes both body and spirit, a gourmet treat for the imagination."
"It's a staged reading, but it's way beyond the average reading," Sanelli
said."It has a lot of theatrics involved.I've been on stage all my life â€" it just felt natural to get out from behind the podium and make it a full body experience." As a writer Sanelli has published six books of poetry and has written numerous columns for magazines and newspapers.Her
commentaries have aired on several public radio stations and she
is a regular contributor to Weekday on KUOW.She
has a new book coming out next month.She has been a featured poet at the Jewel Box Theatre's monthly poetry reading. She is also a dancer, and ran a studio in Port Townsend â€" where she also has a home â€" for many years.She
is currently training as a dancer with several choreographers and studios in Seattle. Sanelli
paired up with Leone after Leone saw a presentation and approached the author afterward.
said I needed to have a real Italian playing the mother," Sanelli
embodies my mother to the point that it's scary," Sanelli
...Event coordinator Marilyn Miller said former Jewel Box Artistic Director David Speck knew Sanelli as a fellow Port Townsend resident, and recommended the performance as a fund raiser.