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Spring 2009, vol 7 no 1
 

Featured Poet: Nicholas A. Virgilio
Edited by Alan Pizzarelli

 

nick letter


Reading Nick’s letter now, years later, I can fully appreciate the truth of his words. The hard work ethic is especially relevant and essential to the seemingly simple poetic genre of haiku.
 
I first met Virgilio back in December of 1974, when we appeared on a television show in Philadelphia, along with Cor van den Heuvel, Bill Higginson and Virginia Brady Young to promote The Haiku Anthology. Later, back in our dressing room, Nick took me aside saying:  “You know, you got a gift, kid.  Stay with it and you’ll be one of our greatest poets.”  “But, Nick,” I kidded, “I already am.”

Nicholas Anthony Virgilio was born at West Jersey Hospital in Camden, NJ on June 28, 1928, “under a full moon” he would later say. He attended Camden City Schools, graduating Camden High in 1946. He served in the US Navy for two years, and returned to Camden attending South Jersey College (now Rutgers University) and then Temple University under the GI Bill.  He graduated from Temple University in 1952, and set out into a career in Radio and Sports Broadcasting.

He’s best known in South Jersey and Philadelphia as “Nickaphonic Nick” who worked dances and radio gigs with Jerry Blavat in the 1950s. He began his haiku apprenticeship in 1963, after reading Kenneth Yasuda’s A Pepper Pod.

His first published haiku appeared in The American Haiku magazine in 1963. His most famous haiku:

Lily:
out of the water…
out of itself

served as a model for original English language haiku form by dropping the common 5-7-5 syllable count in favor of shorter forms. This poem is particularly unusual because the majority of what Virgilio wrote in those early years adhered to the 5-7-5 dictum then prevalent.

In 1971, he co-directed the First International Haiku Festival in Philadelphia. He helped establish the Walt Whitman Center for the Arts and Humanities in Camden, and was its Poet in Residence for five years.

After his Selected Haiku was first published in 1985, Virgilio was interviewed on NPR’s Morning Edition and later become a regular commentator on Weekend Edition Saturday aptly combining his love of haiku and his earlier radio experience.

Nick Virgilio died of congestive heart failure while taping a television interview for the CBS program Nightwatch on January 3, 1989. His well-known "Lily" haiku is engraved upon his gravestone at Harleigh Cemetery, near Whitman’s tomb in Camden.

Though his work has been designated as haiku through the years, among Virgilio’s poems are a number of excellent senryu inspired by urban life and the death of his brother Larry in the Vietnam War.

January 2009 marks the 20th year of Nick’s passing. On January 25, 2009, the Nick Virgilio Haiku Association paid a tribute to the life and work of Nick, hosted by Rutgers University, Camden, NJ.

Simply Haiku joins this tribute and salutes the senryu poetry of Nicholas Anthony Virgilio.      

Senryu

     taking a hard look
at myself from all angles —
     the men’s store mirrors

 

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

 

in the singles’ bar
magnifying loneliness
her thick eye glasses

 
my palsied mother
pressing my forehead on hers
this Ash Wednesday

 

Thanksgiving alone
ordering eggs and toast
in an undertone

 

 alone on the road
in the wake of the hearse
dust on my shoes

 

Thanksgiving dinner
placing the baby’s high chair
In the empty space

 

telegram in hand
the shadow of the marine
darkens our screen door

 

My gold star mother
    and father hold each other
       and the folded flag.

 

my dead brother               
   hearing his laugh
             in my laughter       

 

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

 Nicholas A. Virgilio

Credits:

Photograph of Nicholas A.Virgilio, copyright © 1974 by Bob Bartosz, Courier News.
 
All poems from Selected Haiku, Burnt Lake Press, © 1985 by Nicholas A. Virgilio; by permission of Tony Virgilio.

Grateful thanks are here given to Kathleen O’Toole, Raffael de Gruttola, Henry Brann, Tony Virgilio and the Nick Virgilio Association for their dedicated assistance.