There’s a centenarian and a soon-to-be centenarian, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated reporter who was an applicant for the NASA Journalist in Space Project, a former NFL running back for the New York Jets on teams with Joe Namath, a world traveler who’s been to the Arctic and Antarctica, a Hungarian refugee whose family escaped the Holocaust and, later, Soviet rule, a former female U.S. Marine who’s a Poet Laureate, a philosopher who had talk show host Dick Cavett’s father as a teacher and got a ventriloquism lesson from Johnny Carson, a poet who met President Bill Clinton, acted with future Love Boat captain Gavin MacLeod and slept on a resort mattress once graced by Marilyn Monroe and Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio, and a co-founder of Doctors Without Borders U.S.A. who was in the first class of women — and, first women’s basketball player — at Princeton University.
Edited by Pulitzer Prize-nominated journalist and author John A. Valenti 3rd and former Nassau County Poet Laureate Evelyn Kandel, this collection includes their work and the work of a group of inspiring amateur poets: Hattie Abbey, Hank Bjorklund, Victoria Bjorklund, Lila Edelkind, John Lange, George Pafitis, Gladys Thompson Roth, Sheila Saferstein, George Strausman, Susan Aster Wallman and Judith Zilberstein. This amazing collection of poets met in a class taught by Kandel, a former U.S. Marine Corps Sergeant who appeared on a 1952 U.S. Postage Stamp featuring "Women in Our Armed Services." Their work has been critically acclaimed and Cynthia Shor, Executive Director of the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association, said of 13 Poets: "Skillfully written and beautifully assembled, this anthology offers poems that come alive with emotions and melody."
George Strausman, a 99-year-old former ship builder and construction company owner, uses the loss of his family and friends in “Aging” and “Someday (2014, 2022)” to emphasize that “life is for the living”, while George Pafitis, battling non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, echoes that sentiment in “Entrances and Exits”: “Life is unfair at times // But, be assured, // life is worthy”; worthy, that is, of attention, presence, and celebration, in spite of its difficulties “altogether in the all-together”.
Though the poets, particularly Valenti (who, as a journalist, has interviewed people as well known as Mike Tyson and Buzz Aldrin), do criticize the state of the world—“For we are hunters disguised as gatherers, // are warmongers disguised as peacemakers and as diplomats” he writes—the collection fundamentally draws on poetry to meditate on contentment unfolding through time. “If this poem makes no sense,” writes poet and sculptor Gladys Thompson Roth, “it is because // I have not been able to make sense // of the world”. It is not the aim of this anthology to make sense of the world, but to revel in it, for all its nonsensical contradictions, grief, and, ultimately, joy.
Takeaway: Moving, reflective poems of life’s joys and sorrows.
Comparable Titles: Robert Long’s Long Island Poets, Elizabeth Schmidt’s Poems of New York.
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