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Lynbrook writer publishes debut book of poetry

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Shakira Croce said that as far back as she could remember, she wanted to write poetry.

“My mom said she always remembered me with something in my hand, writing . . .,” Croce recalled. “I think it was just something that I always wanted to do, just a way of expression. I think everyone kind of has a gravitation, and for me, it was to explore creatively.”

Croce, 33, recently fulfilled her dream when her debut book of poems, “Leave It Raw,” was published by Finishing Line Press. The book features 24 poems that the Lynbrook resident has written over the past eight years, chronicling her single life, in her mid-20s, to marriage and motherhood, in her early 30s. Her writing features sharp imagery and stories from her life that have stuck with her.

The poetry explores the nuances of sexuality, marriage, motherhood, the arts and ambition, and speaks to the potential of relationships to hurt and heal. The poems offer intimate glimpses into their author’s life.

Croce grew up in Georgia, moved to New York to study writing at Sarah Lawrence College in Yonkers and eventually earned a master’s at Pace University. She lives in Lynbrook with her husband, Shawn Lovatal, and their 1-year-old son, Julian Croce Lovatl.

In addition to poetry and creative writing, Croce works in Manhattan as the assistant director of communications and public relations at Amida Care, New York’s largest nonprofit Medicaid special-needs health plan. She writes articles for the company’s website and advocates for people who do not have access to health care, including those dealing with extreme poverty and mental health and substance abuse issues, as well as those infected with HIV.

“I do really care about people having access to care fighting discrimination and stigma,” she said, “so anything I can do to help that and push that forward I feel really strongly about.”

While on maternity leave from her job, Croce sorted through her old and new poems, and arranged them in a collection in the hope of publishing them. It was a yearlong process, and she said she agreed to a deal with Finishing Line Press because it has been an outlet for many strong female voices over the years.

Michael Broder, the author of “This Life Now” and “Drug and Disease Free,”  said he was moved by her work. “The poems in Shakira Croce‘s chapbook are a celebration of the elemental forces — earth, air, fire, and water — and how they can both hurt and heal, both scrape us raw and scour us clean, in body, mind and spirit,” he wrote for the book jacket.

In addition to the book, which was released on Aug. 31 and is available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other outlets, Croce’s work has been featured in several literary magazines and journals, including the New Ohio Review, Pilgrimage Press and many others.

Her poetry revolves around several themes, including motherhood, pregnancy, uprooting from Georgia to New York, her experiences playing and studying music, and working with those with HIV. She has also written about suffering through two house fires, an electrical blaze in Georgia, and living above a diner that caught fire in New York City. Though the poems were not published in the order they were written, Croce said, there is a linear path to them.

“You can trace and see the growth of the female protagonist throughout,” she said. “You can trace her growth in the collection.”

Croce said it was hard for her to choose poems in the book that stood out to her, because the collection as a whole means so much to her. She noted, however, that the final poem, “Cycle,” was the perfect closer because it speaks to where she is in her life now, and one of the lines became the title of the book.

Ther collection helped bookend a period in her life, she said, and she hopes to continue writing in the future, though she is busy now that she has started a family. She added that she was proud to have her poetry published.

“As any medium, a writer, a musician, an artist, you want people to see your work, but that’s not necessarily the motive for you doing it,” she said. “For me, it was wanting to get my thoughts out there. I think there’s still a need for more women’s voices, not just in literature, but all around, just a woman’s experience, experiencing creative life and navigating the professional world.”