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The Origins of Pumpkins and Giottos

Reliquary of Debt by Wendy Vardaman
Lit Fest Press, 2015


Wendy Vardaman takes readers on a European tour of museums, cathedrals, famous writer’s homes, and other must-see locations through many of her poems in Reliquary of Debt. In the fall of 2008, Vardaman and her family moved to Florence. Through her journey in Florence, Pompeii, London, and other cities in Europe, readers see the quirks and perks of family relations within her memories, such as her children’s declined interest in museums after seeing over seventeen of them, yet excitement about seeing the play Ivanov and the Harry Potter Platform 9 ¾ .

During her stay in Florence, Vardaman also spends her time researching the origins of pumpkins in Italy, which sends her on a spiral from the first pumpkins seeds in Mantova to tortelli di zucca to a fresco painted in 1515 to beyond sanity. Her research process can be seen in a humorous light through her modernized Skype poems scattered throughout the collection. She essentially digs herself a research hole and worries she might not be able to create a poem from her findings: “I just need to boil down 25 pages of notes into a 20-30 line poem, and I’ll be good… :)” Through spirited determination, she finds a way through. Once completing her poems, she feels like she “cooked down 1000 lbs of watery pumpkin to a cupful.”

In the third section of Vardaman’s poetry collection, we see the fruits of her research in her Wikiprosepoem. She lists her findings in alphabetical order from Anselm of Lucca to Zucca (Cucurbit) with all poems strung together by relating directly or indirectly to pumpkins. All the while this prose poem captures Vardaman’s brilliance and humor up until the end, which includes External Links & Sources.

Vardaman also created a new form called giottos, inspired by the painter Giotto di Bondone. The stanzas are round with one single stanza centered, two sets of stanzas across from each other, and a single stanza centered at the bottom. Each stanza has a syllable count of 2-5-7-5-2, and each stanza after the first begins with the final two syllable line from the stanza before, fitting together architecturally. The poems refer to specific paintings by Giotto in the Arena Chapel as well as stories about Giotto. Vardaman wrote that the form is meant to “capture and imitate the way that individual paintings in a fresco cycle stand on their own but connect with other paintings to create a larger story.”

Wendy Vardaman is also the author of Obstructed View (Fireweed Press). She received her PhD in English from the University of Pennsylvania and was one of two Poets Laureate of Madison, Wisconsin (2012-2015). To learn more about Vardaman and her works, visit her website:


Kathrine Yets is working towards getting her MA in Education from Wisconsin Lutheran College. More poetry collection reviews by Kathrine can be found in Verse Wisconsin, Mom Egg Review, and Gently Read Literature.


Issue 3 >