Winner of 2023 Terry J. Cox Poetry Award
I am the first member of my family to be born and raised in the United States. My father’s parents were second cousins, betrothed by mail when they were children. My grandmother was born and raised in Massawa, Eritrea, a port city on the Red Sea. Her father was a colonel in the Italian army. My grandfather’s family was from Turkey, but he was raised in Kobe, Japan, with members of his extended family. My father was born and raised in Shanghai, China. He arrived in the U.S. in his mid-teens.
My mother’s family on both sides came from Eastern Europe. She was born in Canada and also arrived in the U.S. as a teenager. Like a lot of children of immigrants, I did not hear many stories about their early lives, maybe because it was suffering that drove them to come to the U.S. and Canada, and to tell their stories would be to re-live the suffering.
I was born in Hollywood, California, and cannot lay claim to that kind of displacement and suffering. My grandparents spoke with accents, but this was not a source of discomfort for me, and their food was delicious. I went to Laguna Beach High School where I could look out the window and see sailboats skimming the cobalt sea and after school, we’d dash to our lockers, change into bathing suits and run down to the beach. In some ways I had the la-dee-dah Southern California childhood and teenage years this picture might conjure. But I also had my share of troubles. In the wonderful play, Our Town, a young couple is about to get married. One father says to the other that they’ll have their troubles. The other father says that everyone is entitled to their own troubles.
After four years at UC Berkeley, during which I made life-long friends, I traveled for eighteen months in Europe, North Africa, Scandinavia, and the Middle East. It was a rich and very educational experience to be the foreigner and to try to be as respectful as possible to the people of the host countries. My traveling companions and I didn’t always succeed at being respectful, and that too, was an education.
Over the years, I continued to travel the world with various partners, lived in Tasmania with an artist well-known in his field, and spent five years in Hawaii sailing with the man who is now my husband.
Family life, work life, travel life, love life, it’s all in here, not as autobiography, but as an exploration of memories, feelings, and imaginings. These poems help make sense of who I am.
I started writing poetry relatively late in my life after earning an M.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University, and often felt like I was never going to catch up especially as I began teaching English at the college level. But slowly my work was published and started to win prizes, which encouraged me to continue writing. My poems have appeared in Puerto Del Sol, Rattle, Oberon, Nimrod, The Bitter Oleander, and elsewhere in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and England. I have won many prizes and awards including the League of Minnesota Poets Prize in 2009; the Alan Ginsberg Poetry Award and the Grandmother Earth Poetry Award in 2010; the Paumanok Poetry Award in 2012; in 2013, the Northern Colorado Writers first prize for poetry; and in 2014, the New Millennium Prize for Poetry. In 2017 I won the Mudfish Poetry Prize and was nominated for the third time for a Pushcart Prize. My chapbook Inexplicable Business: Poems Domestic and Wild was published by Finishing Line Press. I currently live in Berkeley with my husband.
Regal House Publishing is proud to bring you Rafaella Del Bourgo’s A Tune Both Familiar and Strange in 2025.