Nick Virgilio


I have something very special in store for fall — through an independent study, I’m going to be working with the archival materials of the haiku poet Nick Virgilio. His family gave his papers to my university, and they have been awaiting archiving for some time. The time seems to be here — our library’s new special collections area is almost finished, and my “invisible hands” are ready to work on something I strongly want to see preserved for the future. I am so thrilled to have this opportunity.

Virgilio is of course someone who reimagined Haiku for 20th century America, but he is also important to me because he is one of my own: from my gritty, concrete area of origin, from the same Italian American background. I’m not only doing an intellectual activity here; I’m helping out my paisan. I’m making sure that his (my) reality has a chance to stick around.

The professor supervising my independent study said that I can start sooner than fall, and as soon as I have handed in my spring work I am going to take him up on that offer. National Poetry Month? Let’s just say that I love poetry and I want to work with it and on it. I get what this interview with poet and Rutgers professor J.T. Barbarese is trying to say about these cutesy little months, and feel chastened:

Get rid of National Poetry Month. It strikes me as another one of those bad ideas invented by people of good will. Or by editors. Or a marketing group. Umberto Eco, years ago, suggested that the only way to save civilization was to abolish compulsory education. I am not sure he was just kidding. Truly interesting people – I think Hitchens said this – are always autodidacts. “Poetry” is a thing that is taught in school by consumers for consumers as if it were a sacred cultural commodity or a kind of vaccination against abomination. Poetry is something else.

Something else, indeed. I’ll let Nick Virgilio talk about this something else:

always returning
to the terminal patient’s toe-
autumn fly



my spring love affair:
the old upright Remington
wears a new ribbon



adding father’s name
to the family tombstone
with room for my own



the sack of kittens
sinking in the icy creek
increases the cold



on the darkened wall
on my dead brother’s bedroom:
the dates and how tall



(image: photograph of Virgilio by Bob Bartosz, 1974, Courier News)





  1. kaggsysbookishramblings

    How wonderful – what a great way to spend Fall! I kind of agree about the poetry (or any gimmick) thing – reading of anything from prose to poetry to non-fiction to whatever should be constant, not just for a particular time. I suppose it makes sense if people turn to poetry who wouldn’t normally do so – but, still, it *is* a gimmicky thing!

    • jackiemania

      The thing that really struck me (and was also a theme of the Do What You Do and Love What You Love piece I posted last week) is that poetry is not a commodity. We are so conditioned in the West to see everything as a commodity — like you shouldn’t do certain things if you can’t derive your living from them. So not true. Incredibly liberating to hear this voiced.

  2. noir-realism

    To me poetry has and will always be the last estate of the Real. Only in poetry do we once again open ourselves to the flood of desire that for so long lived like a small rivulet in our hollow souls. Simple, elegant, and ultimately sublime – not in the sense of standing in awe, but in that immanent sense of letting reality back into our inner self, releasing us from the enslavement to things of civilization and allowing the simplicity of moments to register their uniqueness, stamping us with the finality of life’s own life beyond us. Nick could distill in this ancient form the nuggets of time that endure.

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