April 22, 2012

Celebrating the Life and Poetry of Nick Virgilio, 4/27

Celebrating the Life and Poetry of Nick Virgilio

One of the most beloved haiku poets in the country, Camden resident Nick Virgilio was a legend to some, an inspiration to others, and this month two events are being held in conjunction with the release of a new book of his previously unpublished poems.

On Friday, April 27th, the Paul Robeson library at Rutgers University-Camden will host an exhibition of Virgilio’s papers as part of their “American Haiku Masters” collection, and on Sunday, April 29th, a community reading of the new book, Nick Virgilio: A Life in Haiku, will be held at Sacred Heart Church in Camden.

“When I found out that so many of his poems had never been published, I jumped at the opportunity,”
said Rick Black, founding editor of Turtle Light Press (www.turtlelightpress.com), a Virginia-based publisher which is releasing the new collection. “In particular I have always loved his poems about his brother’s death in Vietnam as well as life on the streets of Camden.”

Virgilio, who started writing in the 1960s, was one of the pioneers of haiku in the U.S. He wrote thousands of haiku ranging in subject matter from the Vietnam war to water lilies, from prostitutes on street corners to cicadas on a hot summer night. Haiku, short nature poems of 17 syllables or less, originated in Japan several hundred years ago; they became popular in the U.S. at the start of the 20th century and are still loved and written by many people today, from school children to Pulitzer Prize winning poets.

Edited by Raffael de Gruttola, a former president of the Haiku Society of America, the book contains more than 100 unpublished haiku as well as 25 old favorites, excerpts of an interview with Virgilio on Marty Moss-Coane’s “Radio Times” show, two essays by Virgilio on writing, a tribute by Monsignor Michael Doyle of Sacred Heart Church, an afterword by poet Kathleen O’Toole, photos and facsimiles of some of the original manuscripts. 

More than twenty years after his death, Virgilio is still a beloved poet today. He was a regular commentator on the public radio program Weekend Edition with Scott Simon in its early years and was instrumental in helping to found the Walt Whitman Center for the Arts & Humanities. Some of his poems have even inspired street murals near Sacred Heart Church and elsewhere.

“Virgilio was intensely American, with a generosity of heart and spirit that recall Walt Whitman,” said Rod Willmot, a Canadian haiku poet and publisher of Burnt Lake Press. “He was a people’s poet, touching readers through the universality of what moved him and the honesty and dedication with which he wrote.”

The Rutgers program, which runs on Friday, the 27th from noon to 1:30 p.m., highlights original manuscripts, book art, and journals. It will feature a short reading from the new book as well as remarks by the publisher and editor. To R.S.V.P. for lunch or more information, contact curator Elizabeth Moser at: haikumasters@gmail.com

Similarly, a large crowd is expected at Sacred Heart to participate in the community reading at 2 p.m. on Sunday, the 29th. Featured speakers will include Monsignor Michael Doyle, Tony Virgilio (Nick’s surviving brother), Henry Brann (president of the Nick Virgilio Haiku Association), Raffael de Gruttola, Rick Black and others. For more information or directions to the church, please call 856-966-6700 or email: parish@sacredheartcamden.org

“I think it’ll be a wonderful celebration of Nick’s life,” said Monsignor Michael Doyle, pastor of Sacred Heart. “He created beauty out of the gutters of Camden and, by reading these new poems, the entire community will be uplifted.”

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