Ornithographers of the soul
May 8, 2010 - Bill Ackerbauer
Here we are, knee-deep in May already, and I'm still trying to catch up with my blogging about National Poetry Month. The month is over, but I have one more post on the subject that can't wait till next April.
Fulton County is no hotbed of literary activity, but we do have a small, inconspicuous population of poets and poetry lovers. The Writers Circle, which meets at the Gloversville senior center, has several members who write and read poetry and take it seriously. If you live in our area and you’d like to link up with these folks, contact my friend (and Leader alumnus) Wally Truesdell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One accomplished poet who lives in our midst is Richard Nilsen of Caroga Lake, also a former Leader-Herald staffer. His poems have been published in several nationally circulated literary magazines, including Poesia and Cornell University’s Epoch.
I know of several excellent poets who hail from my hometown of Johnstown, though they have flown in several directions of the compass. A few words about them:
Joseph Campana is an English professor at Rice University in Houston. His debut poetry collection, “The Book of Faces,” was published in 2005 by Graywolf Press. Shortly after the book was published, Joe did a reading and book-signing at the Johnstown Public Library. One piece he read at that event was memorable for me because it contains a pitch-perfect description of Johnstown’s post-industrial landscape. You can read it online here: "First Job."
Katy Whittingham teaches creative writing at Bridgewater State College in Massachusetts. Her first book of poems, “By a Different Ocean,” was published just a few months ago by Plan B Press. One of my favorites in this collection is a slightly creepy but elegantly composed piece called “The Bird.”
Joshua Mehigan lives in the Big Apple and has published an impressive number of poems as well as essays, reviews and translations. I’m not sure if he makes his living as a teacher — like Joe and Katy and every other American poet since Wallace Stevens cleared out his desk at the Hartford Accident and Indemnity Co. — but I wouldn’t be surprised. Joshua’s prize-winning collection, “The Optimist,” was published in 2004 by Ohio University Press, and he read at the Johnstown library along with Joe a few years ago. The poem of his that I remember best from that reading was “A Bird at the Leather Mill."
Have you followed the links and read the poems I mentioned above? Strange that each of these poets, from my hometown and my era, has captured my attention with a poem about a bird. More to the point than the feathers and beaks, these three poems share a sense of displacement and loss and the weight of passing time. Is it a Johnstown thing? A generational thing? Something in the water?