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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

and rails.

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

Floyd.)

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.

D&R Canal Park 25th Birthday Party, Canal Society of

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.

An Evening with Gerald Stern, Delaware Valley Poets,

Barnes & Noble, MarketFair, 609-897-9250. Free. Monday, October

11, 8 p.m.


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