Even though I’ve been writing poetry for more decades than I care to admit, I’m always hesitant to define myself as a “poet”. My reluctance has less to do with the enormous shadow of the “classic” poets who make us all feel like worker ants, and more to do with the absolute absurdity of devoting one’s energy, day after day, to something so seemingly tangential to the mechanics of the larger world. Add to that, in the mind of whoever may be listening, everyone who dares to call himself or herself a poet instantly bears responsibility for every bad, trivial or self-important poem ever written. Awhile back, a poetry journal invited me to contribute an essay on writing poetry. My piece was titled, “A Life in Poetry Ain’t for Sissies.”
Trying to craft a decent poem has very little to do with the nomenclature of being a “poet.” For those who take it seriously, the highs are never as high as the lows are low. And as for one’s public persona, let me paraphrase an old joke: “Don’t tell my mother I write poetry. She thinks I play piano in a whorehouse.” All that aside, as William Carlos Williams wrote: “It is difficult to get the news from poems yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”
And truer words were never spoken.
For what it’s worth, my personal history goes like this. Born in Queens, New York, the third son of a middle-class family coming apart. Still, always clothed, always fed, no material suffering. My real interest in poetry began in college, first at the University of Illinois and later at the University of Michigan, where I was fortunate enough to win first prize in the annual Hopwood Awards, the nation’s largest collegiate creative writing competition. The judges were Hudson Review founding editor Frederick Morgan and poet May Swenson. Mr. Morgan subsequently gave me my first national exposure by publishing a few of the poems from my winning manuscript in the Hudson Review. Add to that the thrill of introduced to Philip Levine, who happened to show up at the Hudson Review offices the same day I was there. From that point on, through the years, the story becomes more journeyman-like: focused on the poems, grateful for the highs, working through the lows. Interspersed between hundreds of rejection slips, I’ve been fortunate enough to publish nearly two hundred poems in dozens of literary journals big and small, have my work included in more than a half-dozen anthologies as well as in two published collections; Waiting for Poppa at the Smithtown Diner and All That Remains.
Which brings me to now and the forthcoming publication with Regal House Publishing of The Purpose of Things, a collaboration of poetry and photography with my good friend, award-winning art director and photographer, Pieter de Koninck. Naturally, a lot has changed through the years but some things remain the same. I write every day. I find inspiration in the great poems of others and thanks to a long and successful career in advertising, I’ve never had to be a starving writer.
Regal House Publishing is delighted to bring you this evocative work of poetry and photography, The Purpose of Things, in 2019.