Events & Exhibits - Spring 2005

Mulberry Poets Launch Anthology

Members of the Mulberry Poets & Writers Association gathered in the Heritage Room of the Weinberg Memorial Library on Thursday, December 9, 2004, to launch the publication of an anthology of their poetry, Palpable Clock: 25 Years of Mulberry Poets. The evening had the air of a family reunion, and indeed it was a reunion for many of those attending according to Bernie McGurl. McGurl is a member of the 2004-2005 Advisory Board of the Mulberry Poets & Writers Association, or MPWA (pronounced meep' wa), as it is affectionately called by its members. He remarked, "Some of us don’t know all of us, but all of us know some of us." He hadn’t seen some of the poets who attended the program for "10…15…20 years."
Brian Murray welcomed everyone to the event, sponsored by the Friends of the Weinberg Memorial Library, on behalf of his sister, Diane, President of the Friends, who was unable to attend. The highlight of the evening was the reading of their poems by nineteen of the poets featured in the book. Tom Blomain, Emcee and also the Vice-President of the MPWA Board of Directors, introduced each of the poet/readers.
Poets read in the sequence that their poems appear in the anthology, that is, in alphabetical order. The first reader, Richard Aston, strode back and forth in front of the audience in a dramatic "telling" of his poem, "Using the Tools of My Ancestors," complete with sound effects. Unfortunately, those who followed him were requested to remain behind the microphones on the podium because the program was being recorded by Channel 61.
The anthology was available for sale both before and after the program, and poets were busy signing copies for those in attendance. The Mulberry Poets presented a signed copy of the book to Dean Charles Kratz for the Weinberg Library's archives. All of the poets in attendance signed the book which was published by the University of Scranton Press. Its Director, Father Richard Rousseau, noted that Coalseam, MPWA's first volume of poetry, was one of the first "local" books published by the University Press. The University of Scranton is the only University Press in Northeast Pennsylvania.
As the title states, the book marks MPWA's silver anniversary. Jerry Grealish, the organization's founder, describes the anthology as embodying "the work of many of the poets who have been featured at MPWA events over the last quarter century--from the very first season through the 25th--a kind of time capsule, a palpable clock of our existence." Grealish was the Chairman of the Editorial Board whose task it was to choose which poems to include from the many entries submitted. They selected 119 poems for inclusion, the work of 68 different authors. In his introductory remarks about the undertaking Grealish commented, “Who figured that poetry would last 25 years in Scranton?” Grealish, a poet and an attorney, is the founder of Mulberry Poets. Several of his poems are contained in the book although he was not among the readers.
Some interesting comments by readers in their prefatory remarks included D. Brett McHale who said that he began coming to Mulberry Poets' readings, possibly so that his mother wouldn't need to get a babysitter for him. Brett's mother is Karen Blomain, one of the association's original members. She was an editor for both Palpable Clock and Coalseam, is on the current MPWA Advisory Board, and is the sister of Tom Blomain. Ann LaBar Russek mentioned that her husband, Karl, gained a lot of points courting her by "hanging out at poetry readings." Karl is a 1989 graduate of the University of Scranton. Other MPWA members also have ties to the University. Jerry Grealish is a 1968 graduate; Bernie McGurl was also a Scranton student and his father was a faculty member; and Gilbert Sorentino, whose poem "Calafawnya" is included in the anthology, was the Edwin S. Quain Professor of Literature at the University in 1979.
Poets came from far and near to be a part of this special event. Among those who traveled a distance were Lamont Steptoe from Philadelphia, Maggie Martin from New Hampshire, and Joanne Growney from Bloomsburg, where she founded a spin-off organization called the River Poets. Those who came from Scranton included Suzanne Harper, Scott Thomas, and Rondo Semian. Rondo was a co-founder of Mulberry Poets and according to Bernie McGurl, he "breathed life into it every now and then" to keep the organization together. Also in attendance was Erika Funke, WVIA-FM personality. To promote the book's release, Erika arranged for the radio station to broadcast some of the poems--read by their authors--weekday afternoons at one o'clock beginning on November 15.
With all the electricity in the air that night, could it have been just coincidence that on that same evening the "Scranton, The Electric City" sign was relit?
Bonnie Oldham