Tumor Immunotherapy Comes of Age: The New Text Book from the Society for the Immunotherapy of Cancer is out!

It was just two years ago when I received a call in my early morning while at was just starting my routing at work in my office in Doha, Qatar. It was from David D’Addona from Demos Medical Publishing: (who knows how he even figure out how to find me there!): “We are interested in publishing something outstanding in your emerging field! What do you suggest?” He said. “What about a Textbook on Cancer Immunotherapy! The field needs it! Too many want to understand the basic principles of immunotherapy as the field is coming of age” Said I.

Well, we did it!!!! Thanks to David and his team! Thanks to Tara Withington (Executive Director) and her  Society for the Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC ) staff the textbook is out! Thank you to the contributors!!! The  prominent leaders in the field not only took the time to prepare their respective chapter for the textbook, but they did it according to a tight schedule  imposed by the need to produce a contemporary publication!!!!! Thanks to all of you! I am proud and honored to be one of the Editors of this first textbook on Cancer Immunotherapy together with Lisa Butterfield (current President of SITC) and Howard Kaufman (immediate-past President). I thought it, therefore, reasonable, to publish (of course with permission from Demos and SITC) the preface that introduces the book. I want also to recognize the section editors, who accepted to take a big burden working with us toward the timely completion: thank you Tom (Thomas Gajewski), Paolo (Paolo Ascierto) and Raj (Raj Puri). And thank you readers for taking the time to scan over the preface and give us  feed back through this blog or when we will see each other at the Annual Meeting!

 

Text Book Launch

From Left to Right: Howard Kaufman (Immediate Past-President of SITC), Lisa Butterfield (Current President of SITC) and myself (Past-President of SITC) at the SITC exhibit in Chicago – June 2017

 

After a prolonged germination phase, anticancer immunotherapy has blossomed and is producing a plentiful harvest. Just a decade ago, the field consisted of a passionate group of immunologists and a handful of oncologists and surgeons interested in a peculiar phenomenon: the occasional disappearance of advanced cancer in response to immune stimulation. It was reproducible enough to transcend the threshold of anecdotal insignificance and impart sufficient legitimacy to the field to sustain a miniature ecosystem. We were inspired by rare but concrete successes and we pursued the treatment of cancer patients in experimental settings when all other options had failed. There was no need for a textbook then, because we were a selected group of connoisseurs exchanging information at the Annual Meeting of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC, then called the Society for the Biological Therapy) or similar gatherings. And we held a primer at the Annual Meeting to introduce a handful of neophytes to the intricacies of immunologic responses against a tissue that was self and non-self at the same time.

Things have changed recently with rapid developments in terms of scientific understanding and clinical outcomes. The identification of cancer-specific antigens recognized by immune cells and the mechanistic characterization of the interactions that modulate the cross talk between neoplastic and immune cells gave molecular precision to a phenomenological description of cancer regression in mice, and less frequently in humans. The increasing occurrence of clinical responses with the new immunotherapy agents, whether checkpoint inhibitors or adoptively transferred immune effector cells, and the corresponding survival benefit for patients with advanced cancer has awakened the interest of skep- tics, whether scientists, clinicians, or industry partners. Hordes of oncologists, who were never trained in clinical immunology, are embracing this new modality of treatment and they need comprehensive training to deal with the unique pharmacodynamic profile and toxicity management of immunotherapy agents, which are distinct from standard chemotherapy. In addition, a young generation of basic scientists now perceives tumor immunology as a concrete opportunity to pursue a fruitful career

Preface

bridging their knowledge with the tangible opportunity of impacting people’s lives.

Moreover, the ever-growing speed of biomedical discovery relevant to anticancer immunotherapy unrelentingly spawns a wealth of candidate therapeutics needing efficient clinical testing as single agents or in combination. Industry, hampered by the exponentially growing pipeline of candidate products that target not only cancer cells directly, but their interactions with the host’s immune environment, faces, therefore, an unrealistic challenge. Drug development and respective clinical testing need prioritization to optimize patient selection and reduce costs by enhancing the probability of successful outcomes. Nowadays, a wealth of candidate targets, resulting from high-throughput biomedical discovery, exacerbates the demand, particularly when innumerable combinations for the treatment of complex disorders such as cancer are contemplated; thus, the need to identify evidence-based tools for prioritization based on discovery of useful concepts that could feed the development of novel precision-guided therapeutics. At the same time, a strategy to identify useful predictive and surrogate biomarkers is needed. The optimization of evidence-based study design will help manage the extraordinary cost of clinical testing by guiding the selection of optimally informed choices. In association with high- quality prospective correlative studies, this strategy will improve the design of novel, second-generation precision-guided therapeutics. In accord with the rapid development within the field, regulatory and payer agencies also need to keep pace so that more rapid approval of promising drugs and patient access to high-quality delivery of such agents is possible. Finally, the ultimate beneficiaries of these efforts, the patients and their families, are becoming increasingly empowered to make their own choices but they will need guidance and a reference to make the best-informed decisions.

SITC is trying to respond to the exponential growth of educational needs from all these sectors by providing primers at the Annual Meeting, itinerant courses to clinicians throughout the United States (and abroad in the near future), expanding with topical meetings addressing specific questions related to the field, providing practical guidelines for patient management and policy development, and informing on other themes as they emerge through the SITC portal to include as many up- to-date educational activities as possible. In this context, the SITC leadership decided to collate into an authoritative compendium as much information as possible, primarily targeting young basic and clinical investigators but open to all other constituencies.

It made sense that the current presidents of SITC, supported by the SITC staff, should take on the initiative. We tried to include many of them as contributors and we cannot thank them enough for their enthusiastic response. Chapters for textbooks can be painstakingly overbearing, but all contributors managed to complete their part, areas in which they are recognized worldwide as experts, to bring together cutting edge insight that every translational investigator and practicing clinician needs to know about tumor immunology and immunotherapy. The textbook is divided into five sections: Basic Principles of Tumor Immunology, Cancer Immunotherapy Targets and Classes, Immune Function in Cancer Patients, Disease-Specific Treatments and Outcomes, and Regulatory Aspects of Cancer Immunotherapy. Each section has its own introduction and we will not dwell on the details here. Suffice to say that we tried to cover in these sections the continuum from basic principles to practical and clinically relevant information that could allow a critical understanding of the development and testing of novel therapeutics, companion diagnostics, or useful biomarkers, and could inform about the regulatory processes that support safe yet efficient commercialization.

In addition, a chapter on the history of immunotherapy was devoted to the recognition of those who pioneered and championed the field when it did not enjoy the current popularity to provide the reader with a better appreciation of its evolution.

We want to emphasize that the book is not meant to cover all aspects of tumor immunology. Indeed, the field is a compound science that includes two over- lapping disciplines: immunology and cancer biology. Plenty of textbooks cover more basic concepts relevant to each of the two areas, while in this textbook we tried to focus on converging concepts and peculiarities relevant to the relationship between the host and the neo- plastic tissue.

Furthermore, we were concerned about producing a contemporary textbook as close as possible to the cur- rent status of the field. However, considering the rapid evolution of anticancer immunotherapy, particularly in the clinics, it is impossible to claim absolute success: The number of successful clinical trials and corresponding regulatory licensing is growing at an accelerating pace. Thus, this textbook aims at guiding the neophyte through a critical interpretation of upcoming results based on a solid understanding of anticancer immunotherapy concepts within the context of alternative treatments and the potential for their combinations. Because some areas are likely to progress more rapidly than others, we are planning to periodically publish ad hoc updates either as reviews in the SITC official journal—the Journal for the Immunotherapy of Cancer (JITC)—or more formal and detailed chapter updates and new editions through this publisher.

We hope that the readers, especially the young ones, will enjoy this book and find useful information to complement other SITC activities and that they will be inspired to become active members of the tumor immunotherapy community.

I am not Italian!

Moring Fog

Morning Fog at Pillar Point, Harbor El Granada, California – Photo by F. Marincola, May 2017

I’m not Italian!!!!

I moved to the USA in 1981. I was an only child but my parents encouraged me to seek an opportunity at Stanford University. I married an American woman and I had children. It was natural to become American Citizen for them! Well it was at the wrong time.

Nobody bothered to tell me, while I was working at least 16 hours a day in the residency program at Stanford seven days a week that I would lose the Italian Citizenship. There is no excuse for ignorance of the law!!! Even when you are thousand of miles away from your home and you are struggling to survive.That was a new rule initiated by some bureaucrat, who had no idea of what it is to live as an immigrant in another Country.

Well I moved on in my career quite successfully and over and over I was asked while I worked at the National Institutes of Health as a tenured investigator to help my Italian compatriots, which I did with the warmest resolve because we Italians are hard working and smart people who still carry the ingenuity of the Reinassance in our blood.

I helped, and I helped and I helped and one can simply check my records to see how many Italians I helped. I also helped the Italian Embassy in Washington, when they had their “illustrious” politicians visit the NIH, I helped. There is no question then that I was “Italian”.

I had a lot of satisfactions being an Italian abroad! “La fuga dei cervelli!!!” So many times I was asked to help …more and more. We did great things! With Paolo Ascierto, we created “The Melanoma Bridge!” an annual meeting celebrating USA/Italian partnership in cancer research. I wrote a novel celebrating the Southern Italian life-style that received the Corrado Alvaro Award for literature. I was honored with the San Giorgio d’Oro Award as an honorary citizen of my ancestral town in Calabria, I have been granted the honor of being a Professor at my Alma Mater, University of Milan and I give lectures there for free.

…But I am not Italian. Ms Silvia Vandettuoli sent this letter addressed to “Gentile Sig.re Francesco Maria Marincola”. By the way, this woman accused me of being a lier even though she knew nothing about me and she does not know what a life of integrity I lived since I was raised by very strict parents. Who is she?

Ms Italy

…accompanied by a decreed from some guy called Lorenzo Ortona, who happens to believe he has the right to be “Il Console Generale” in San Francisco, only God knows what are his credentials!

Ms Italy 2

Who are these people? Who are they to judge? They could barely polish my shoes! They barely know what it is like to “scendere a salir per altrui scale”. They have no idea about what it was to gain respect in a prestigious place like Stanford University as an immigrant and the NIH afterwards. Do they know what it takes to be a tenured NIH investigator as a foreigner? But I guess I was not a foreigner since “I am not Italian”.

They are talking about “fuga dei cervelli”. I worked so hard to support Italy and mend such imbalances. I collaborated with the top Italian scientists there to help our …I am sorry “your Country” but now I say to all my Italian friends and the 95% of Italian, who are good hard working people. Get out of that place.

Italy does not deserve Italians, only plastic figureheads like Ms Vandettuoli and Mr. Ortona can be part of that “Animal Farm” called Italy.

And of course, I will return my passport! Who cares? I am American and you know what, in spite of Trump, I am proud of t. It is still the best Country in the world! Simply because there are not Ms Vendettuoli or Mr. Ortona here!

Metamorphosis by Anna Loza

Meet my new Pen Pal Anna! She is a Russian writer who loves Chekov just as I do but who can actually read him in his original language! And she is a spectacular biophysicist who works at the NCBI/NIH; check her out! Her real name is Anna Panchenko. This is her first short story translated in English and I have the honor to publish it. Of course, she has her own blog but it is in the formidable Russian language! Please applaud her debut and hopefully expect more to come!

 

Swan

Swan – Photo by Anna Loza

 

 

Metamorphosis

That morning, the nurse did not come. Hope was laying on her bed and listening to the sounds emanating from the stairwell. The neighboring door creaked, and two sets of footsteps echoed from across the tiled floor; one pair of feet shuffled meekly, while the other had a meaningful stride. “It must be the neighbor across the hall”, – Hope thought to herself, before thoughtfully adding – “her son must have come to visit”. The elevator began to rumble and Hope counted to herself – “One, two, three, four”. As if on cue, the elevator stopped on the fourth floor, opening its doors with a metallic bang and slamming shut once more.

Hope looked out the window and saw, as she always did, a small patch of sky and the crown of the birch tree growing near her home. ‘Birchy’, she had lovingly named the tree – it was the only living thing that had never left her side after all these years. Everything else would come and go, each year less frequently than the last. Birds would perch on the windowsill and airplanes would streak across the sky, the low hum of their engines taking Hope to a far-away places she had never been and would never return to. Some years ago, birds had nested in the birch’s crown, and Hope fearfully watched their home sway in the wind. Each time she would helplessly stare, and each time rejoice when the winged parents would return to the nest with worms in their beaks.

Often she would return to memories of her youth – back when she could run, and climb mountains, and swim in the ocean. It was so long ago, yet these sensations seemed far more bright and vivid than her everyday reality – the sensation of wind against her face, the texture of soft, moist soil between her toes, the warmth of a newly-hatched chick resting in her palms. The memories were precise down to the smallest detail: the words spoken, the wrinkles on her mother’s face, the dimples on her daughter’s and every feeling, every single tint. Hope painstakingly preserved her past, not permitting even the smallest memory to wither and die. Often, very often, she would unlock this treasured vault and experience each day anew. Whether sad or joyful, each fragment of the past held a deep importance and she would not let them go. “At least,” she thought, “I’m re- living my own life, not someone else’s”. She had walked this road many times, from end to end, first regretting something, getting angry and repenting, but always coming to the conclusion that

things happened exactly as they should have. She had finally accepted herself fully, from her harsh character to her sudden irritability, her each and every odd whim, and motionless body. She would not change a single thing. Except for one…the death of her daughter.

The disaster occurred unexpectedly, on one of the bright spring days from twelve years ago. It took them all by surprise, freezing the world like a malfunctioning stop-motion picture. The world outside petrified while her insides grew numb with unrelenting pain. Her house became deadly silent. It was not the silence itself that was awful, however – it was the absence of the sonorous chirping of a child. Hope’s daughter had been hit by a car, and soon after the incident paralysis had seized Hope’s body. Her legs were first to go out from the grief, and the rest of her body shortly followed.

As the room sank into twilight, the shadows of the birch tree grew to encompass the opposite wall, the branches trembling and leaves shaking. Hope imagined herself moving with their frenzied dance, yet her body remained in place, yearning for food and water. Down below, the building’s entrance slammed shut over and over as people returned from work, their chatter and laughter drowning out the sounds of the subsiding day. Hope tried to call out the window that had been left open on the previous day, but her voice was too weak, and her feeble call hardly filled the room.

A loaf of black bread sat on the table. Hope tried to take a deep breath, inhaling the pleasant and familiar smell. She succeeded, and conjured up images of eating the bread with a dollop of butter once the nurse returned tomorrow. Hope did not doubt that the nurse would return – Lana came every day, or had at least done so for the past two years. Once Hope’s mother had passed, Lana regularly came to wash and feed the paralyzed woman. Hope had grown attached to her, although she understood that Lana, like many others, would only remain in her life as long as payment was provided. The poor woman had accepted this, as she had learned to do for many things, with submission and humility. She did not complain when Lana began washing and feeding her less frequently and was grateful that Lana still came at all; the nurse was her last thread to the outside world.

This was not the life Hope led before her mother, who had cared for her paralyzed child for over ten years, had passed. Mother would sit with her for many weeks while her daughter mournfully stared at the ceiling; she read books for Hope and sang songs, doting on her child with such warmth and love that Hope occasionally forgot her tragic state. It was Mother who helped Hope accept her immobility and face her depression. Hope’s grief was real, and her sadness melted away the surface layers of her soul, plunging deeper and deeper into its bowels. Hope’s paralyzed body had become a cocoon for the incessant work of the spirit within.

The next day Lana did not return either, and Hope suddenly realized that her nurse would never come again. Ever. The pain and nausea resurfaced, as Hope drowned her body and mind in a sea of self-pity. She had been abandoned, and she was frightened. Like an artifact forgotten in a storeroom gathering dust, or a stray dog left to the mercy of fate, Hope had been forsaken by everyone. She moaned softly and tears started slowly trickling down her lifeless cheeks. No matter how lonely we are, we live among others and can always call out for help, hoping until the end that someone will come. If left to die alone, everything for which you have lived becomes illusory and vain.

Hope closed her eyes and licked her dry lips. She patiently waited, attempting to control her strained nerves. “It’s better to die at peace – to accept the things I can no longer change”, Hope reasoned to herself, but it was in vain. Her soul forcefully protested against the barren path before her, fighting her motionless body. The clock on the opposite wall ticked, the minute hand crawling along the circumference of the timepiece. Each minute grew more painful and dragged on even more as the feelings of hunger were outweighed by a powerful, heated thirst. Evening settled, and Hope considered the strange possibility that it might be more pleasant to die in her sleep. She shuddered at such a likely outcome.

She lay pinned to the bed, as helpless as a dried butterfly specimen in an entomological collection. The woman tried to convince herself there was something, anything that she could do. “I can do this, this time I’ve got it” – she urged herself on, pushing from the depths of her cocoon with incredible effort to try and spread her wings. A slight tremor ran through her body, but it vanished as quickly as it had emerged. Her arms would not move. Her body would not move. “I can, I can,

I can” was the only thought ringing through her brain, blaring over the feelings of hunger and thirst.

Hope awoke suddenly, screaming in horror as she felt a pair of clammy hands upon her forehead. In the panic and disarray, she could not understand to whom these hands belonged. She lay there, as she had always done, with bated breath. As the terror subsided, she realized. These were not the hands of death. These were her hands. They belonged to her.Met

Where is Franco?

Thank those who have been worrying about me: “what happened to Franco? No action in the blog since he moved to Half Moon Bay, California! Was he swallowed by a great white shark? Or kidnapped by a king wave of the big Pacific Ocean at Mavericks Beach?” Thanks for caring; …even for missing my later rambling blogs with their contorted points and counterpoints.

I am well, thank you! Just quite busy in the new job focusing on my main scientific interest: “Why only a minority of patients with advanced cancer benefit and can be cured by stimulating their immune response?” Together with other recent Presidents of the Society for the Immunotherapy of Cancer, I have been editing the first textbook on Cancer Immunotherapy:  which will be hopefully introduced this June in the occasion of the Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

I have been establishing my little but enthusiastic group of bioinformaticians, who are set to “crack the code of cancer immune responsiveness“. In other words, I am back to the old Franco, who is enjoying science rather than management …and I love it.

But I did not forget literature! In fact, I am completing the edition of the short stories published in this blog including those from my son Jamie and those from Catterina Coha. The goal is to publish all in a collection entitled: “Cat behind a window” as for the corresponding blog.

And of course, I did not forget about our friend Luca and the “Old Boys Academy“. I am working on the follow up. As a teaser I am sharing  the first paragraph of the next chapter: “The strange case of Clara’s eyes” in which chapter our beloved Luca will have a change to rebuff in person criticisms about his conducts voiced by some concerned comments of yours!

Slide1

Where is Franco? – Modified from the original TDI comic: “Where is Waldo?

 

Teaser from Chapter four, in continuation of A walk in the park, The Old Boys Academy and Sabrina

 

The strange case of Clara’s eyes

 “In the solitude I observe my own image reflected by thousand of mirrors. I am chased by the squander of anonymity while above, staring at me, hover smiling Clara’s eyes. She was an angel who lasted a day, just like a dragonfly. Yet, in those moments, so many of hers transpired; I observed multiplicities of smiles, hints of cries, myriads of misgivings and hesitations …and of hopes and joys …and of sorrows all reflected, like stars in the sky, by the depth of her eternal eyes.”

Thus was Luca explaining to the interlocutor at the “White Truffle Bar” in Corso Venezia…

“It was not a dream” (a poem by Lindley Frahm)

I am back! With a beautiful poem/story by my new California friend Lindley Frahm. I am adding an old photo that I took 7 years ago in Pizzo. I am not sure why the poem reminded me of that particular photo. May be the call for introspection and anticipation? The call for happiness in an day with an indecisive mood? The longing for a good ending? Anyways, I hope that you will like the poem and welcome Lindley in the Old Boys (and Girls) Academy!

Pizzo November 10 2010 HR

“...A day when the sun rose, and later on it set” – Pizzo, November 10, 2010, photo by F. Marincola

It Was Not a Dream

The day I met you,

Was not a dream.

It was a real day.

A day when the sun rose,

And later on it set.

And yet, in that day,

Without me suspecting it,

The world began to change,

No, my love,

It was not a dream.

And as the weeks rolled by,

And I saw your gentle smile,

Looking up at me,

A song within me began to form,

A song for you, 

For the gift of your presence. 

No, it certainly wasn’t a dream, 

When you reached out for my help,

And foolishly, perhaps,

I said yes. And we met.

Not a dream, but together,

Alone, your eyes watching mine,

As my eyes watching yours. 

When did our hearts know

That this was not what we thought?

How long did our hearts

Hide the truth from us?

Because they knew that,

This Was Not a Dream.

And so it went, month after month,

Until the day came when we knew,

What our hearts had known all along,

That we were meant to be together,

Maybe not for our lifetime, 

But at least for a while. 

No, my love,

Our hearts knew,

From the start,

That this was not a dream,

And our role in it was to simply follow.

We should simply follow our hearts. 

It had been so long that our hearts had to play this trick on us,

So that we would finally see,

The love in each other’s eyes,

And realize,

That this was not a dream at all.

A comment by Noor on “The encounter”

Here is a thoughtful comment about “The encounter” by my friend Noor. Thank you Noor, Catterina, Giuseppe for bothering to write your comments. They nurture my own interest in the stories and open new frontiers to my imagination on one side and ability to listen on the other.

Dusk HR

Dusk and the sea. From the author’s terrace – Pizzo, October 12, 2015. Photo by F Marincola

Comment on: “The Encounter

Umeiyama is not as proper as she is made out to be. While she is not active, and ever so barely reactive in the airplane encounter with this strange foreign man, her lack of disapproval was encouragement enough for George’s advancements. How proper could she be if she’s all too ready to admit to a total stranger the fact that she does not love her husband? I feel I need to shake some sense into her, and scold her to value herself. What kind of a reason is it to love someone “if you really want me to”?! George was not asking her to give up her window seat, nor to read a book he recommended. He was asking her, a stranger woman who happened to be seated next to him on a plane, based on a very one-sided conversation lasting a maximum of 20 minutes, and pure physical attraction, if she could love him, because he believed at that moment that he loves her.

George was attracted to her beauty and her submissiveness. This enough should have enraged Umeiyama to either shut him down completely or challenge him in integrity and intelligence. What would he add to her life? What is he willing to do worth uprooting her life and gaining her love in return? If sitting properly and looking pretty was all it took for him to love her, would his shallow and cowardly testament of love be enough to love him back? If he were a true gentleman, wouldn’t he have waited for her to initiate physical contact after his rushed and meaningless declaration? Wouldn’t he, at the confirmation of her willingness to reciprocate, confront the husband and inform him himself that he is going to take his wife from him?

Beauty is what attracts lust, not love. Had she been as proper as George convinced himself she was, she would have been stiffer than a board and colder than ice towards him. She even missed the opportune moment to plant a hard smack on his face after he reached out for her hand. No, Umeiyama is a rightful little tart, with no self-respect. George on the other hand is the sensitive, introverted, bullied teenage boy who never grew up. He finally meets someone who will never tell him no, loves him “because he wants her to,” is completely submissive, and even indulges his pedophile’s tendency with her eyes “of naiveté and wonder, of a little girl who loves her father.” It is rhetorical when I ask if he would have behaved similarly had a gorgeous yet assertive woman been in the same situation as Umeiyama. Whatever fantasies his colorful yet shallow mind would come up with would have stayed right there: in his mind.

Contrary to what one may conclude after hearing this one woman’s opinion, the happy ending does not bother me. However, it is not the kind of love one might wish for. I am a firm believer that men are the protectors of their women, and while both are equal, both are very different, and each is to be respected. George and Umeiyama’s love comes off to me as very convenient, comfortable, boring, and as multidimensional as a stick figure drawing. My judgment may have been too harsh, but it is based on the brief glimpse we are given in the story. Had the story gone on to say that George and Umeiyama went on to explore their compatibility and finally and truly fell in love and lived happily ever after, I may have had a less cynical reaction to the highly flawed and shallow interaction on which two people based their entire future on.

One quote from the story really stood out to me in its truth and adaptability across culture boundaries: “love is too brittle of a concept to challenge the conformities of life.” We all take this approach, the approach of building our lives as per whatever vision implanted by society, our ambitions, and our values, and as a Q3, or Q4 milestone in our lives, hope to have and may finally allow an element we perceive as love to enter our lives and conform to it. Far from criticizing this, I applaud it. Love and lust are too often confused. The former is human, the latter animal. Love, very much like hate, needs to be controlled and monitored. It should be complementary to our lives, and should not consume it. Done right, I think commitments is the factor for success. How lovely would it be to go through the ups of our life with our loved ones, the down of life with their support, and share their ups and support them through their downs?

***

Rebuttal:

Dear Noor,

Thanks for the heartfelt comment and perspective. Thanks again for reading and writing. I learn so much from you and do not worry about being harsh, as you can see others, particularly my best friends, have been quite harsh recently about my stories and their characters, and I am thankful for it!

In a short rebuttal, I clarify that “The encounter” is meant to be a humorous and benevolent snapshot of a serendipitous interaction between two shy people. It is based on my imaginary interpretation of what might have happened between George and Umeiyama (N.B. these are pseudonyms) that lead eventually to their long-term relationship. The story intentionally does not address what happened between the initial encounter and its end. So, it might have happened that “George and Umeiyama went on to explore their compatibility and finally and truly fell in love and lived happily ever after”. Just I do not believe those details are necessary and one could go ahead and built the continuum of the story of she or he pleases. In truth, I did not ask “George” (I mean the real person who narrated the story to me) what happened between those two salient moments. “George” did not offer to share such details and I felt  unnecessary and intrusive to ask. A life passed between the beginning and the end of the short story and God only would know what went by. Why should we weigh the outcome? Doesn’t it belong to them? Perhaps, it is not why and how things happen that matters as much as how well their consequence fits the lives of the recipient without affecting or hurting others. One could argue that the husband was affected but there is an account about Umeiyama’s abusive husband that justifies her unhappiness that I did not refer in the story. I believed that it did not belong to the magic of this simple short story. Why don’t we just grant to our friends the benefit of the doubt and let them be worrying about only about how the story was presented as an awkward interaction between to clumsy characters?

And I do not totally agree: “beauty attracts lust” only! Beauty in all its forms it a universal catalyst that can spark the reaction of love and devotion, which in turn could last for a life-time, through the stage when the aging gardenia is not as beautiful anymore but still impregnates the soul with the memories of its scent. I believe personally in the power of the first encounter and the overwhelming attraction that ties to human beings way before they could come up with a rationale for it.

A final update that I believe is pertinent: Umeiyama passed away, devoured by cancer, sometime ago and George is now a solitary man, who each morning sits in the veranda of his home that overlooks the Pacific Ocean from which one could navigate, in the imagination, all the way to Japan. There he drinks coffee with extra cream and a package of sweetener. At his side stands an empty armchair.

Dry Petals – Poems by Giuseppe Masucci

It is with pleasure that I post this link to the new poetry book by Giuseppe. “Dry Petals” is the first publication in English and you can learn more about it from his website but here I post my introduction to the book that I had the honor to write! Some poems have been posted before in this blog (see blog index) but most are virgin!

 

Jasmines and Basil

Jasmines and Basil – El Granada, California, March 2017 – Photo by F. Marincola

 

INTRODUCTION to Dry Petals

It is a privilege to write the introduction to the first poetry book in English by my literary twin, Giuseppe. We have inter-twined our writings inspiring each other; alike and different at the same time as the distorted reflections from a funny mirror. Giuseppe is a lost soul with a semblance of redemption like myself and many other middle aged men, who search for the absolute truth in the most unlikely of places: the image of the sky into the tranquil sea (The Sky in the Sea), so reminiscent of God extending His hand to Adam in “Judgment Day”; or talking to a bow that breaks the waves ahead (Soliloquy at Sea).

His style is dry with recurrent sounds like the breakers at shore that repeat their eternal song, yet it is never the same and hypnotizes without end.

“Fu vera Gloria? Ai posteri l’ardua sentenza” –

I am not qualified to rank the quality of Giuseppe’s poems. How could anybody judge the impalpable whisper of the wind? All I can say is that his poems “met the shoreline of my sea”, like Leopardi and Edgar Lee Masters did in my youth. Like Chekov’s stories, the poems are not meant to offer a conclusive message yet we carry them with us and they reemerge at resonant moments along customary life. Sometimes they elicit strong emotions like hallucinations in a feverish spike (Isma), sometimes soothing ones like a mother’s lullaby (The Shoreline of my Sea), sometimes disturbing like the howling of winds (Pray), or melancholic (Dozen of times).

I conclude paraphrasing Paul (the composer)’s reflections upon reading “The Timeline of Love” in my short story “Tiger (Conclusion)”.

An old friend wrote this poem sometime ago. It is beautiful! I like to read it once in a while and, although I am not sure if I understand each concept, I like how it sounds. I have been trying to translate it into music but it is impossible.”

“Poetry is the de-evolution of culture. Poets have figured how to use words to make music, …and create beautiful lyrics that appeal beyond their significance …but it is difficult to turn it into my kind of music. Perhaps, I was wrong all along. Perhaps, there is a limit to the power of notes, …of the alphabet of music, …perhaps the deeper notes stirred by emotions expressed by words cannot be reproduced by any other instrument …

Thank you Giuseppe for this beautiful collection and:

“Ad Maiora!”