The following is the foreword to Rocky Wilson’s upcoming book of poetry, which will be published by Whirlwind Press. It was a pleasure editing and collating Rocky’s poems for this collection. Mr. Wilson has been a friend, mentor, and inspiration. His collection should be released by the end of this year.
The bus ride to Camden from the JFK Airport felt longer than I’d expected. The passing scenery of post-industrial New Jersey was depressing in contrast to the rolling green pastures of western Ireland that I’d grown used to in the past week. I owed a fellow traveler a couple hundred Euros borrowed out of desperation. I was to immediately head to an ATM as soon as we arrived at the Rutgers campus in Camden, and pay him back with even more borrowed money from my parents. Human Resources decided that I didn’t work enough hours to earn vacation pay.
It was hot for early June. I was a sweaty mess. My mindset was in self-centered, pissed off at the world mode. As my friend and I got off the bus we encountered a bronze figure on a bicycle calling out in a high pitched voice to passer-bys while waving a monkey puppet. I smiled, but my creditor-companion had a look of mild concern on his face. I turned back and saw the figure approaching us while walking his bike. This man was darkly tanned with wavy gray hair, wearing a black tank top, shorts, and sandals. His bike basket was filled with fruit and miscellaneous items. He was dazing off at the Philadelphia skyline behind us.
“Sean! I thought you were in Ireland!”
We hugged each other.
“I just got back. You’re so tan.”
“I was in Atlantic City. Where’s my post card you promised?”
I apologized to Rocky for not being able to send it due to something called a “Bank Holiday.” I almost didn’t recognize him without one of his signature rainbow tie-dye shirts. We talked briefly about the Aran Islands and western Ireland, as he’d been there a few years earlier for a poetry festival. He said he stayed in the same house on Inishmore as John Synge. I asked him when the next Pizza and Poetry reading was taking place (the date changes every month, a reflection of Rocky’s mercurial personality). I told him that we’d have to meet up for a Blue Moon at The Victor beforehand, but that I had something I had to take care of at the moment with my friend. Rocky said hello and introduced himself, as well as Bongo, his monkey puppet, then they both took off toward the Delaware River.
My friend was baffled.
“Was that a hobo?”
“No. He’s a poet.”
Serendipity allowed Rocky to welcome me back home, making me smile in the moment I needed it most. Rocky actually lives one block away from where we had stood, on Penn Street in Camden. His house is a beautiful three story brick row-home built over a century ago. This wasn’t the only time that I’d introduce Rocky to someone and they thought that he was an eccentric homeless person. This is because Rocky Wilson is the epitome of what it truly means to be anti-establishment. Although he grew up in comfortable Haddonfield, he’s far from a bourgeois poser. In the 70’s, Rocky felt the need to return to the decaying city of his birth, Camden, not to evangelize, but rather to spread enlightenment. And to Rocky that involves both poetry and puppetry.
“The puppet man” some people call him, he prefers to declare himself the Puppet Laureate of Camden. Why not? Rocky Wilson is one of the few who actually makes a difference in America’s most infamous city, along with priest and poet, Father Michael Doyle (famous for being one of the Camden 28). However, Rocky isn’t a grassroots activist. He’s much more than that. He is in the grass, one blade among many; he lives the pure life that the beatniks could’ve only wished to have led. Rocky brings joy to the hearts of strangers, especially children. As a substitute teacher in Camden, Rocky has built relationships with residents of the city that have endured for decades. It seems like every time I walk down Cooper Street with him someone calls out “Mr. Rocky! Where’s Bongo?” Rocky replies with heart-warming sincerity, a virtue which is present throughout his poetry as well.
At first glance Rocky Wilson’s poems could be dismissed as confessional or romantic. The former being over-killed by the beat poets of the last century, the latter even more so in the century before that and since. However, there’s something deeper here, a myriad collage based off of an awareness of all that has preceded it, but with a subtlety that does not explicitly acknowledge it like too many contemporary, “post-modern” poets do. The status quo has been stagnant for decades. In the age when Anne Carson is touted as the avant-garde of North American poetry, Rocky Wilson brings us back to our poetic roots. He does this in the spirit of Walt Whitman, which may seem trite to some, but it’s necessary in our fragmented and bewildered society.
Rocky Wilson proves that what’s needed isn’t art which reflects more confusion, but art which cures confusion. Rocky does this through recognizing subconscious pain stemming from a lost baby brother, bearing witness to natural beauty surviving in urban ruins, reflecting on the potentiality of love, observing camaraderie between whales, and in many more ways. These poems may seem more like stories at times, prosaic, narrative driven, and even conclusive. That’s because Rocky sees life as poetry, and vice versa. He does all of this and still manages to avoid cliché, which is one of the many remarkable yet simplistic traits that can be found in his poetry. This is what America needs.
-S. W. Lynch