One doesn’t think “New Jersey” and immediately conjure images of poets hunched over typewriters feverishly pecking away. But they do think of rock n’ roll and the iconically poetic Springsteen lyrics of the late 1970s. They also think of innovation and diversity. According to a group of poets who gathered at Hoboken’s Historical Museum on Sunday to celebrate the state’s 350th birthday through the written word, those are the traits that make New Jersey a treasure trove of poetry.
Several of the state’s most famous poets were born here and made their name elsewhere, like Walt Whitman and Alan Ginsberg. Others, like the recently deceased Amiri Baraka, made their names here and rarely left. Some, like Herschel Silverman and Alicia Ostriker, are still alive. On Sunday, these iconic poets of New Jersey were celebrated by their contemporaries, who read one poem each by their heroes and themselves.
The event was sponsored by the New Jersey Historical Commission and was curated by Danny Shot, who lives in Hoboken, and Theresa Carson, who lives in Union City. Carson works for CavanKerry Press, a Fort Lee publishing house that also contributed to the event.
“New Jersey is very rich in that it gives its residents a lot to write about.” – poet Danny Shot
Carson said that she hoped Sunday’s event would spur young artists in New Jersey to continue following their passions.
“Don’t waste your time waiting around to get published; just keep writing,” she said. “And know your history. You have predecessors that can be an inspiration to you.”
Many of the poems that were read on Sunday focused on themes familiar to many New Jerseyans: working class roots, family ties, the Shore and the Meadowlands, and the divisions between the state’s northern and southern halves.
Others had nothing to do with New Jersey themselves, but they were connected in that the living authors were somehow inspired by those who came before. Joan Cusack Handler read a section of Walt Whitman’s famous “Sing My Body Electric,” and followed it up with her own body-centric poem, “Another Life.”
Vivian Demuth read a poem by the early 20th century poet Joyce Kilmer entitled “Trees.” Afterwards, she explained that in the summer she works as a fire lookout in the forest, and read a poem called “Tree Talk.”
Other iconic poets featured at the event included William Carlos Williams, Stephen Dunn, and Robert Pinsky, in addition to Whitman, Ginsberg, Silverman, Kilmer, Ostriker and Wiler.
In addition to Shot, Carson, Handler and Demuth, local poets who performed included Joel Lewis, Eliot Katz, Reg E. Gaines, Cat Doty, and Rich Villar.
Dean DeChiaro may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org