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This article was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on October 6, 1999. All rights reserved.
Ebb & Flow of the Poetic Canal
Water — when it’s not churning through out homes
and highways — has been known to inspire reverie. So it is fitting
that a landmark Delaware and Raritan Canal anniversary is currently
being celebrated in verse.
The D&R Canal was dug across New Jersey’s quiet farmlands more than
150 years ago, through the efforts of legions of Irish immigrant laborers.
Beginning in the 1830s, it served as an industrial transportation
network for close to a century before being rendered obsolete by roads
In 1974, the abandoned D&R provided the scaffold for a unique public
park, a a 66-mile long, V-shaped ribbon of public land just a few
hundred yards wide flanking the old waterway. Since then, the D&R
Canal State Park has been well-used and well-loved by walkers, joggers,
boaters, birders, and dog-walkers. Among all of the above groups,
include a sub-set of poets; poets by profession and professionals
for whom a walk along the canal can prove proetic.
As part of the park’s 25th anniversary celebration, the Canal Society
of New Jersey has printed a small, paperbound anthology of poems about
the canal. A publication party and celebratory reading takes place
at the Old Schoolhouse, behind the Griggstown Reformed Church, at
1261 Canal Road, in Griggstown, on Sunday, October 10, at 3 p.m. (Note
that the site of the reading has been moved, in deference to Hurricane
The antholgy’s editor Penelope Scambly Schott began compiling the
volume by sending letters to poets and posting flyers at various canal
gates and in stores and libraries. Schott says that submissions came
in abundance from people of widely differing experience, all united
by their love of the canal.
"I was most struck," she says, "by how each person feels
it to be their own canal." Schott reports that free copies
of the poetry book — including some slightly flood-damaged copies
— will be available at the reading.
The book features poems by 33 contributors, all area residents. Contributions
range from poems selected from such high-profile poets as National
Book Award winner Gerald Stern, and 1998 finalist Alicia Ostriker,
leaders of area poetry organizations, to lesser-published residents
of Bound Brook, Jamesburg, and Princeton Junction.
Each of the 33 contributors characterizes their special ties to the
canal, many of them decades long. James Firestone, whose poem is titled
"Wedding Time on the Towpath," notes that he took a ribbon
and strung 50 copies of his poem to a tree near the Harrison Street
bridge. Betty Lies reports seeing mud turtles in the canal and may
have seen Allen Ginsberg’s ghost (the subject of her poem) on the
towpath. Joyce Greenberg Lott met her husband while running on the
towpath. D.E. Steward has lived near the canal all his life, and James
Zinsmeister "has vowed never to live far from the canal."
With the help of her husband, Eric Sweetman, and a $50 scanner, Schott
has illustrated the little book with more than a dozen monochrome
photographs of canal scenes. It also includes a map of places mentioned
in the poems from Stockton to Trenton, and from Princeton, Manville,
and South Bound Brook to New Brunswick. A blank leaf is reserved at
the end of the book for its owner to write his or her own canal poem.
Contributor Gerald Stern has his own solo turn on Monday, October
11, when the Delaware Valley Poets host "An Evening with Gerald
Stern," at Barnes & Noble in MarketFair. Stern, who won the 1998
National Book Award for "This Time: New and Selected Poems,"
reads from and signs the collection, just out in paperback (W.W. Norton;
$14). The anthology encompasses a major portion of Stern’s work from
seven previous collections, and includes 14 new poems. A poet whose
work has long been associated with his close observation of the natural
world, Stern was born and raised in Pittsburgh. After living for many
years near Easton, Pennsylvania (where, he says, he regarded the Delaware,
as "his river") he moved to Lambertville, where he lives beside
the towpath of the D&R Canal.
I Saw Allen Ginsberg
by Betty Lies
on the towpath, walking with
a beautiful Japanese. He wore
his baseball cap the right side
round, bill over his beaky nose.
Trust Al to go against the trend.
He squatted, staring at the water.
His beard bristled. Look! he shouted,
a bog turtle! very rare, you know,
this is about the only place that you can find them now.
I’ve come this way for weeks, he said,
hoping I’d see one. Wonderful!
What I love is, it’s so drab,
not like a painted turtle, and anyone
can tell it’s not a snapper.
He knew that. And he liked it.
Funny, I had always thought that Allen
was an urban kind of guy.
But hey! I guess poets
can see things anywhere.
New Jersey , Old Schoolhouse, behind the Griggstown Reformed Church,
at 1261 Canal Road, Griggstown, 908-722-7428. Wine and cheese party
for "Canal: Poems of the D&R." Meet the artists, hear the
poets, and if you have a short canal poem, bring it for the open reading.
Free. Sunday, October 10, 3 p.m.
Barnes & Noble, MarketFair, 609-897-9250. Free. Monday, October
11, 8 p.m.
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