Newark High School Poetry Festival: Joe Weil

This fall, we’re hosting the second biennial Newark High School Poetry Festival. Groups of students from every public high school in Newark will be coming together at Rutgers-Newark’s Paul Robeson Center for a day of poetry readings, conversations, and performance workshops. Joe Weil is one of the poets who will be joining Newark students for this exciting event.

Joe Weil blog photoWhat is something you have recently discovered about poetry?

I’ve discovered I still like to rhyme and have been exploring everything from nursery rhymes to old Irish forms where the rhyme schemes are very tricky.

What poem by another poet do you wish you had written and why?

I wish I’d written “The Soldier and the Snow” by Miguel Hernandez because of its beauty and its amazing control which I guess he picked up while reading the classic Spanish poets.

What is the funniest/strangest response you’ve ever gotten to telling someone you are a poet?

My old neighbor Mrs. Sacchia was still alive when a camera crew from NJPBS took me to the street I grew up on. She saw me, remembered me, and embraced me. She was over 90. She said: “Joseph! A Camera? What have you done?” I said: “I’m a poet Mrs. Sacchia.” She crossed herself and said “Well it’s better to be that than a murderer.”

Have you ever written anything you were afraid to share?

The first time I read a poem, the podium was on an uneven floor and I shook so badly, it started knocking about as if it were possessed. I am always a little nervous. Sometimes I write things people might not be able to hear yet. Sometimes I tell unflattering truths about myself.

Do you have any advice for those who are trying to help students engage with poetry?

Don’t over define what poetry can be. Start with the phrase “Acts of language.” What’s an act of language you really like? What’s something you think has been said just so, where the how it was said was just as important as what was said. Begin there. Collect these acts of language, then have them start playing with words, with spacing, with shapes. Go from there.

Do you have a favorite memory from time spent in Newark?

I worked construction in my 30’s, at least part-time, and I worked with these guys from Brazil. We sat on a porch in Down Neck drinking beer, and eating chicken hearts on tooth picks with hot sauce. The beer was really cold and we had worked all day breaking concrete and pouring cement. I remember letting the tiredness drink me while I drank the beer. It was off of Olive Street. Chicken hearts taste really good, though I guess they’re not for everyone. You do need the hot sauce.

What are you currently reading?

Student’s poems!

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