Even though I’ve been writing poetry longer 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 apparent absurdity of devoting energy to something so seemingly tangential to the mechanics of the larger world. Add to that, in the mind of many, everyone who dares to call himself or herself a poet must instantly bear responsibility for every bad, trivial or self-important poem ever written. And it’s true that bad poems make us all look bad. So let me offer my apologies to all who’ve suffered. 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.”
The truth is, trying to craft a decent poem has very little to do with the nomenclature of being a “poet.” It’s work. Constant work. There’s joy to be had but it comes at a price. 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, what William Carlos Williams wrote nearly a hundred years ago is more true today than ever: “It is difficult to get the news from poems, yet men die miserably every day for lack of what is found there.”
For those interested, 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 as an undergraduate 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, publishing several poems from my winning manuscript in the Hudson Review. Add to that the thrill of being introduced to Philip Levine who happened to show up at the Hudson Review offices the 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 and working through the lows. Interspersed between hundreds of rejection slips, I’ve been fortunate enough to publish nearly two hundred poems in literary journals big and small and have my work included in more than a half-dozen anthologies. My previously published collections are Waiting for Poppa at the Smithtown Diner (University of Illinois Press) and All That Remains (WordTech Editions).
Which brings me to now and the forthcoming publication of The Purpose of Things, a collaboration of poetry and photography with my good friend, award-winning art director and photographer, Pieter de Koninck. We’re proud to be part of the Regal House family of authors and look forward to sharing our book with poetry readers, general readers and photography enthusiasts alike. We think they’ll all find a lot to admire and enjoy. And if not, trust me, I’m prepared to blame it all on the photographer.