Naples Island is a small neighborhood in Long Beach, nestled in the Alamitos Bay. Comprised of small islands separated by the Rivo Alto and Naples Canals, this community is the inspiration for Phyllis Poper’s second book of poetry.
Poper, 88 and now living in Leisure World in Seal Beach, lived in Naples for 13 years beginning in 1987.
“It was an enjoyable experience to live there,” Poper said. “There’s so much challenging our country… this was a good time to call attention to something pleasant.”
In honor of the island’s European counterpart, Poper felt “it’d be fun to title the book something Italian.”
The aptly titled “Poesia di Napoli” – drawn from the community’s Italian theme – the publication includes poems and illustrations recounting the year’s events that take place within the neighborhood.
There are 21 poems, written in several types of prose, that paint the picture of gondolas floating down the canals, the streets with Italian names and annual events from St. Patrick’s Day to summer concerts to the holiday boat parade which draws people out of their homes on chilly Southern California winter nights to view the elaborate Christmas lighting and decorations.
Poper’s favorite poem in the collection is “La Bella Fontana,” inspired by the apple of Naples’s eye, La Bella Fontana di Napoli. A sort of local legend in Long Beach, the three-tiered, Neapolitan-type fountain was installed in 1971 in the area of Naples called Bella Flora Park.
Surrounded by large Phoenix palm trees, the fountain was renovated in 2008 with help from the Naples Garden Club, which Poper was a member of.
The poem employs the technique of concrete or shape poetry where the arrangement of the typography forms a picture or emphasizes an element of the poem. In the style of the rolling waters in the fountain, the words of the poem fall down the page. Opposite the poem is a hand-drawn ink and pen illustration of La Bella Fontana, done by Arvilla Luce.
“She did a darling job,” Poper said.
“Poesia di Napoli” debuted in June at Naples Improvement Association’s annual pancake breakfast (also addressed in a poem in the book). It is not sold in local bookstores but there are talks that it may be available through the Long Beach Historical Society, Poper said.
Poper has always enjoyed writing poetry, many of which address the wonders of her surroundings. Her first book of poetry, “Sprouts” (because she was a “spouting poet” and not related to the health-food grocer, she joked), featured a three-page “walking fantasy” of the city that she lived in most of her life, titled “Our Home, Our Hood, Our Long Beach.” A 2004 poem titled “Heavenly Lights” was inspired when Poper realized she could see the International Space Station from her yard.
Her pieces have been published in several collections of poetry and as a member of Leisure World’s Creative Writer’s Club, she has won writing contests for poems and short stories, including Writer of the Year in 2000.
Before Naples, Poper lived in Los Altos with her husband and three children.
Copies of “Poesia di Napoli” cost $5 and can be ordered by mail at 1871 Golden Rain Rd. #26A, Seal Beach, CA 90740. Online orders are available for one additional dollar at firstname.lastname@example.org.