Press Club poetry reading raises funds for the Committee to Protect Journalists

The Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site and Interpretive Center in Huntington Station was the backdrop for the Press Club of Long Island’s first-ever poetry reading on Aug. 23. For more information on the Birthplace, click here.

The event, which was open to the public, attracted 16 poets and journalist-poets to the site of the farmhouse where the great American wordsmith Walt Whitman was born on May 31, 1819.

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The Walt Whitman Birthplace State Historic Site and Interpretive Center, where the Press Club of Long Island hosted its first-ever poetry reading Aug. 23. Photo by Scott Brinton/PCLI

The reading at once celebrated the life of Whitman while also raising funds for the Committee to Protect Journalists, an international nonprofit organization that advocates for press freedom around the globe by working to protect journalists threatened by violence and imprisonment.

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Cynthia Shor, the Birthplace executive director, welcomed participants of the Press Club’s poetry reading. Photo by Scott Brinton/PCLI

After all expenses, the reading netted $150 for the CPJ. The Press Club is encouraging individual donations to the organization, which can be found on the web here. Look out for additional PCLI fundraising efforts for the CPJ.

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Zach Gottehrer-Cohen, assistant editor of the Glen Cove Herald Gazette, was among the participants who read original poetry. Photo by Scott Brinton/PCLI

Whitman was best known for his free-verse poetry that examined many of the biggest social issues of his day while also extolling the virtues of democracy and celebrating the young American nation that was still finding its place on the world stage throughout the 19th century. At the same time, Whitman was a great poet-journalist who wrote on all manner of subjects, including the Civil War. He was included in the first class of the Press Club’s Hall of Fame in 2014. 

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Alyssa Seidman, reporter for the Sea Cliff-Glen Head Herald Gazette, was also a reader. Photo by Scott Brinton/PCLI

The poetry reading was the brainchild of PCLI President Scott Brinton, executive editor of Herald Community Newspapers. “It was just a great night,” Brinton said. “The poetry was amazing. It was wonderful to hear the English language elevated to such a high level, particularly given all the anger, derision and simplicity of our national discourse these days. It was as fun as it was enlightening.”

Most participants read original works, samples of which can be found below. All works are copyrighted by the poets and published herein with permission.

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Photo by Scott Brinton/PCLI

Suburban daredevil
By Domenick Graziani

Yes, you grasp the art of nuance
Not like those showoffs – Knievel, Petit or those high wire Wallendas
You’re of the colonials, the capes, the cottages
Of the pesticized, dandelion-free lawns
Fences that hide hot tubs, hammocks and bird feeders
Of those who fly under the radar
And live quiet lives of separation

Yes, you’re ours

Yes, no documentary funding will be made available
About your rappel down the railroad overpass billboard
Risking a midnight death in the shadows
Twenty-five feet high with your worn Halloween Ninja costume
And your weapon of choice: a thick, black Magnum Sharpie
That Alfred E. Newmaned the top left incisor
Of the bald one from the legal duo that
Yes, collects one-third of your pain and suffering

Yes, Sunday morning, hot bagels in bag
Eyes rising toward your work, smiling
The corner of 109 and Pine is my Hollywood and Vine
Yes, you’re ours and yes, you’re mine

Unshakable
By Domenick Graziani

braced on a wheelchair pillow
fiddle forty-five degrees

in front, cello-like
veiling your torso, revealing your essence

bare big toe saddles, balances the fiddle’s waist
f-holes are contorted twisted smiles
short, distorted arms support
brittle bone hands that guide the bow

double stops loop large, ringing
as three fingers finger strings

and we all linger in the sun
watching the clipped wing bird
sing so free her melody lasts the ages
moving me to fields where peat burns
lament echoing from the unshakable past

Inspired by Gaelyn Lea, NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert winner for 2016.

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Photo by Scott Brinton/PCLI

Untitled
By Mary Sheila Morrissey

Do you think the withered leaf
is happy or sad when it falls
from its tree?
Happy because it is some
beautiful color and lays down
to rest as a crimson or gold individual?
Or sad because its work is done
and it is no longer relevant and vital?
I’ve been a leaf on a tree, too.
Have you?

Published in “Northport Poems,” June 2018.

Untitled
By Mary Sheila Morrissey

Late October was my vernal equinox,
my life beckoning.
Emotions, buried under years
of debris, pushed up towards the
sunlight.
It all crystallized. I soared—
free in its brilliant, fertile solstice.
What followed was my personal
autumnal quagmire.
Changes, rearrangement.
In the letting go, things withered,
died and
fell away.
Cathartic molting.
I hibernated in my self-created winter,
pulling my thoughts and feelings inward.
I eagerly awaited my personal denouement.

Now I sleep, fetal, sometimes fitfully,
dreaming of awakening, emerging
into my true, free Spring!

Published in The High Road,  March 2016
Featured on the Hofstra University’s radio program, “Calliope’s Corner, Poems from PeopleLike You,”  Sept. 28, 2017 broadcast.

 Starshine
By Scott Brinton

I envision…

An ancient ember, burning
White-hot in the blackened
Firmament,
A speck of silver light
Beamed into space
So many supereons ago.

I turn to the night sky,
And there you are,
A miracle in the making.
I know not the precise
Coordinates whence you came.

They matter not.

You descended here,
At this instant,
Connecting me, this miniscule creature,
To a distant, unimagined land,
Borderless and lawless,
A deserted island in the
Great stream of galaxies.

In the yellow light of morning,
You will vanish,
Into the vast recesses of my mind,

Where you shall lie,
Undisturbed,
Cloistered,
A memory of the universe
Swirling about me,

To be revisited in fleeting daydreams.

Dance of the Gulls
By Scott Brinton

Herring gulls converge
In a capricious dance,
Streaking like
Electrical impulses
Across an azure plain,

Compressing
Space and time
In a strange singularity,
Intended, it seems, to delight
This lonesome observer,

Bound by gravity’s rapacious grip.

Hero
By Geneva Hagar

Sprung tears are worthy
as a good man lay dying;
deemed a calamity
like a ship lost at sea.

In daytime slumber
his pain has subsided;
pale hands like tallow
in stillness recline.

His thunderous voice fading,
now just an echo.
Behind closed eyes
he dreams hero dreams.

But time confirms life
in breaths and in heartbeats.
The intrepid warrior fights
an un-winnable war.

Mankind needs its heroes,
thus in sorrow we mourn.
A goodness left empty,
so we fill it with tears.

Bridget Downes and Nadya Nataly, both of Herald Community Newspapers. Photos by Scott Brinton/PCLI

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