Poet Laureate of Corpus Christi?

Yes it’s true. As of February 23, 2017, I am, by proclamation of the City Council of Corpus Christi, the poet laureate of Corpus Christi. Ever since that night, I get asked a  few of questions fairly often.

The first question is how did that happen? Basically, there is a group of poets in the Corpus area who got to know each through an open mic series that has been held at Del Mar College. This group of poets banded together and decided to host a poetry festival in Corpus. The poetry festival was going to have a big kick off night, and someone thought since we didn’t have enough money for a keynote reading that if we had a poet laureate maybe it would add interest to the event. I’m not really sure because I missed that meeting. My fellow Corpus poets assure me that my missing the meeting isn’t the only reason I became the first poet of Corpus Christi, but it didn’t hurt. I have to say the group of poets included Juan Perez, Tom Murphy, Javier Villarreal, Robin Carstensen, Odilia Rodriguez, Malia Perez, Lou Ella Hickman, Stefan Sencerz, and I’m not sure who else might have been there that night. The thing is anyone of these fine writers could have been worthy of being honored, so no matter how much I try to poo-poo the nod, because the honor comes from such talented writers and good friends, the title has meant quite a bit to me.

Don’t you live in Sinton? Yeah, I do, but Sinton is a much harder poetry market to crack. Even though I say this in a tongue-in-cheek manner check out the Dictionary of Literary Biography someday, and you’ll find a long article on the poet Ronnie Burke who was actually born and raised in Sinton. Not that many people in town seem to remember him. Burke wrote mainly in Spanish and his poetry was surrealistic and he may be more famous as an AIDS activist, but he’s in the DLB and that’s high cotton. Anyway, I digress. All the poetry events I have hosted over the years have been in Corpus at Del Mar College where I have worked as a librarian for the past 20 years. In the proclamation it says I initiated the idea for having a poetry festival in Corpus. If saying, maybe we should start a poetry festival in Corpus someday counts then this is true, but so many people worked to get the festival off the ground, I feel a little swarthy taking credit for that.

So what does a poet Laureate do? Great question. I’m not sure I’ve figured that one out. Even before I was poet laureate, I was asked fairly often by local teachers to go to area classrooms and share poetry. I often ask these teachers if they have seen my poetry? My stuff isn’t exactly G rated.  But we normally find a poem or two we can use for a short talk. But really I have no idea what the duties are which is probably a very good thing.

How much does a poet laureate get paid? Guy Clarke said it best, “There ain’t no money in poetry, and that’s what keeps the poet (laureate) free…”

When will there be a second poet laureate of Corpus Christi?It seems attendance at our festival meetings has really picked up, but someday someone is going to absent. Until then I’m happy and honored to play along.

Albert’s Eulogy

My father has always been a large part of my poetry; the reason many folks have been attracted to my work. In the poems he is a literary character who is very sure of himself. I’m not sure that was my father, who tended to be an anxious man, who would reassert himself in the damdest ways. I hope what follows is a eulogy for the actual man and not the character. The two have become married in my mind, and that has been the heavy cost for me for writing so much about him. Here’s my remarks minus the tears and halting voice:

My sister has asked me to say a few words about my father. She also told me to make my remarks church appropriate. As those of you who knew my father know, these parameters cause a certain problem. Because Albert Berecka, a onetime merchant marine, could aptly be described as salty. But beneath the crust and bravado, he was a good husband who enjoyed two marriages that lasted over 20 years each; he was a good father, grandfather and a loyal friend. He was generous with his time and talents, often volunteering at St. George’s church, or helping friends and relatives with repairs and projects. During the summers, farmers would appear at our house to ask him to weld their equipment. He would go to the farms and refuse payment for his labor. He awoke often to find anonymous offerings of produce and libations on his front porch.

His life was guided by many rules. Maxims that Janis and I called the Rules of Albert. Among these dictums were never visit someone again, until your visit is repaid; don’t look for sympathy; go to mass on Sunday; the longer the sermon, the smaller the offering. Albert, don’t worry. This talk will stay in the money.

The most important rule was to be honest. To that end Albert lived a quest to reveal hypocrisy and prick at the pretentious. He often accomplished these tasks by saying the most inappropriate things at the most appropriate times.
He lived this way to the very end. While his health and memory failed in his last days, Janis would remind him daily that I was coming in from Corpus to visit. Each day he’d ask, “Why’s he coming?” Not wanting to say that I was coming to make sure I got a chance to say good bye, she would make up a different excuse each time. One day she said, “Alan’s coming because he misses me.” Albert gave her that look that only Albert could give and said, “I don’t think so!”

As you all know, Albert was not a saint, but was as unique and authentic as they come. And in spite of his flaws, he was a good man, who tried his best. And if we are really honest about it, what better thing can be said of any man.

Remembering more than the Body

Don Wall passed away about a year ago from some rare blood infection.  I never met him, yet his absense is a huge hole in my life. I suppose we were  pen pals, but I counted him as a dear friend.

Getting to know him was a small miracle.   Another friend from graduate school, Randy Bowley, was living out in Washington,  working as a librarian at a boarding school in Yakima. He had bought a copy of my  first chapbook from UNT.  He then lent the book to a friend on the English faculty  were he worked. His friend belonged to a writers circle which included his creative  writing teacher from Eastern Washington University, professor emeritus Don Wall.  Don was taken by the chapbook.  He tracked me down via email, I think through Randy, and our correspondance began. It started with Don writing me a fan letter. But it didn’t stop there.  He did everything he could to promote my writing.  I think he must of bought close to a dozen copies of the book, giving them away to friends, former students and colleagues.  He was certain that it was only a matter of getting the book in the right hands to foster my literary career.  He was an ebullient man. Not manic; I never encountered a down Don, at least when his health was good.

Don asked me to look at his poetry and make suggestions to him.  I’m a librarian. The man was a professor emeritus, but I tried my best. He told me often that I needed to get out of the library biz and teach creative writing, telling me often that I had a light but deft touch. When the Flaw came out Don, worked to place it in independent book stores in the Northwest, sent copies to Scandinavia, and kept buying and handing them out.

Our notes to each other touched on many things: worries for our children, and our shared love of soccer(Don captained the Syracuse U men’s team as an undergrad, I kept the bench secure for the University of Dallas). Don sent me his favorite books to read. He was an agnostic, and we wrote and explored notions of belief and doubt. Last year at spring break, I had planned to go out to Washington and meet him.  His health failed around the New Year, and he passed away before the break. I miss him. I wonder what he would have thought of Remembering the Body.  I’m excited that the new book is out, but it’s bitter sweet for me.  I keep thinking about all the folks who have lent my writing their support over the years who aren’t here anymore.  Men like Randy Bowley, Les Palmer and Don.

Thanks and Welcome

Welcome!  Folks have told me for years, “Alan, you need to get a web page.”   It sounded so easy.  But I soon found out, it was a task far beyond my limited technological skills and knowledge.  Questions like where to host; who should I get a domain from; who has idiot proof web page tools as part of the deal; who might be patient enough to talk a  neophyte through this process?  All these questions left me feeling like Matthew Arnold’s Empdeocles on Etna. I was frozen, unable to make a decision, from either too much or too little information. At one point in the quest, I thought my daughter might have saved me by marrying a web engineer.  But, for newlyweds who moved from Dallas to Chicago and then Berlin in little over a year, an extra web project was easily lost in the bustle of a new life and jobs.  Not wanting to seem a complete schmuck, I let the project go to a back burner until I figured the pilot light went out. But now what?  I figured I’d ask my friends one last time to try and find some answers. Friends with web sites actually didn’t seem to know much more than I did. Many had received pages from friends, family or fans. But then I asked Steven Schroeder, the Renaissance Man of Chicago and VAC Poetry,whom he would suggest.  Steve told me who he used to post VAC’s excellent site vacpoetry.org.  But then he said he was willing to hire on as a web master, taking care of design and domains all for a reasonable fee.  I signed on in a heartbeat. In about two months, the site is up and running.  Steve has endured an onslaught of questions, mainly me asking how I screwed things up and if he could fix it.  For years, I’ve been awed by Steve’s poetry, intelligence and zeal for life.  Now, I need to add his technological savvy and patience to the list. My gratitude to him for doing this is boundless.  The picture above was snapped at The Scissortail Festival in Ada, Oklahoma in 2008.  The caption is supposed to say, A wise man suffers a wise ass, but it didn’t quite work; maybe someday Steve will fix that too.