An Introduction

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.

“Rocky!”

“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.”

“Oh…”

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

Photo courtesy of Moonstone Arts Center.

Photo courtesy of Moonstone Arts Center.

A Prison Song

the continuation of Philadelphia’s Market Street on Delaware’s eastern bank

is poisoned atmosphere discontinued thru abandoned structures

there are no stores in designated places

along the one way four lane formerly city street [this is no longer a city]

with no fear of getting hit [it’s already hit]

on its own accord the blood moon once full

bled out and yet the gray visage remains

if only because of parting clouds and in that instance poetry is seen

by some the few walking this still street

what liquid courses thru our veins tonight Walt Whitman?

as ghosts stride by your beloved Delaware they try and catch a glimpse

of your penultimate abode only 200 yards south of Market

and yet the view is obstructed

by the panopticon prison

rising as the one of countless American/Babylonian towers

in the cluttered but abandoned Camden air what thoughts course thru ghosts’ minds of you tonight

Walt Whitman?

the date is Thursday April 17th 2014

and there is a fair situated on the former foundation of another prison tonight

directly north of the big pale blue Ben Franklin bridge

imagine the revelry

the prison was only torn down a few years ago

and now it’s a big fucking party America screaming drunk children revitalizing the cities

kicking out the residents

redistributing the poor not the wealth

the prisoners shipped to the suburbs in privacy

not so subtle slavery what do you think Walt Whitman?

how long is the party going for? will we overstay our welcome?

there are no peaches left, no penumbras,

what fun is there in eyeing the grocery boy now?

“the sodomite is dead!” they said and still the phantom mob stands

on what used to be known as Mickel Street

America changed the name to MLK Boulevard in mock honor

and all the blacks incarcerated are laughing thinking of you Walt Whitman

our precious American saint rise from your tomb at Harleigh

and break the tower’s foundations once and for all

 

When I Was a Witness to Murder

I witnessed this on the

white stone steps of

a building named after

Walt Whitman.

 

Two hawks were

fighting to the death.

Flying in between and

over abandoned ten story buildings.

 

Vocalizing like seagulls,

but deeper and menacing.

The birds would arc higher than

skyscrapers, and then dive at one another.

 

And when they collided

mid-air my insides shook.

No other humans around seemed to notice,

but neither did they notice us.

 

Then the third joust occurred

and one of them made a triumphant screech,

a trumpet achieving beauty

in a single note.

 

But it was not finished.

They kept fighting, lower and lower,

until one fell.

Until it was silent.