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Joe Weil in the New York Times

January 4, 2009
New York Times

New Jersey
Joe Weil, 50, consistently draws on the muse of Elizabeth, where three generations of his family attended St. Mary of the Assumption High School. His books include “Painting the Christmas Trees” (Texas Review Press) and “What Remains” (Nightshade Press), which includes an imagined encounter between the actress Susan Sarandon and a boozy and besotted narrator.
Mr. Weil explained the long-gone setting of the poem, a seedy bar on the Newark border called Two Friends: “It was owned, literally, by two friends who then stopped being friends, but still ran the bar together for 25 years. We called them Surly and Surly. They were both absolutely bald and never smiled.”
He added: “It’s not just people who are in love with each other who start to look alike. Sworn enemies start to look alike after 25 years.”
For Mr. Weil, Elizabeth has become part of his muscle memory. “In a poem, it becomes part of the rhythms, the speech patterns, the rhythm of your lines. I speak Elizabeth. I have a voice somewhat like Joe Pesci’s, but two bus stops over.”
BJ Ward, 41, is the author of “Gravedigger’s Birthday,” “17 Love Poems With No Despair” and “Landing in New Jersey With Soft Hands,” from North Atlantic Books. He grew up in Warren County and lives there in Changewater, which straddles the Musconetcong River. His poems don’t tell us about where we live so much as they create places that are even more compelling.
“For me it’s a question of does the place help define your poetry, or can your poems help redefine the place you live in? Would Rutherford be the same if William Carlos Williams hadn’t lived there?” he said during an interview at the Dodge Poetry Festival.
Later, he said: “Place is what we reinvent in a lot of poems, in order to make it truer. So often we forsake what people might call accuracy for the sake of truth or truthfulness. If my hometown needs a priest to try to shut down the library, I will invent a priest to shut down the library if that’s what my poem needs, even if that’s not what occurs. In the act of writing a poem, your fidelity shifts from the world outside you that you observe at first, to the world inside that’s asking to be expressed.”
He loves living in rural Warren County in part because “it’s largely unimagined.”
“I’d find it much more difficult to reinvent Manhattan,” he said.
Morning at the Elizabeth Arch
The winos rise as beautiful as deer.
Look how they stagger from their sleep
as if the morning were a river
against which they contend.
This is not a sentiment
filled with the disdain
of human pity.
They turn in the mind,
they turn
beyond the human order.
One scratches his head and yawns.
Another rakes a hand
through slick mats of thinning hair.
They blink and the street litter moves
its slow, liturgical way.
A third falls back
bracing himself on an arm.
At river’s edge, the deer stand poised.
One breaks the spell of his reflection with a hoof
and, struggling, begins to cross.

— From “What Remains” (Nightshade Press, 2008), by Joe Weil. Reprinted by permission of the author.
What I’m Waiting For
What I’m waiting for is Susan Sarandon.
She can bring Tim Robbins if she wants to;
I liked him in
"The Shaw-Shank Redemption."
He was good in "Bull Durham."
Very good.
Susan Sarandon certainly thought so,
but I’d prefer her alone.
I want her to arrive in late November,
while I’m sitting in a bar,
a double Jameson before me,
and only two dollars left in my pocket.
She would say: So, what do you
think of the French Revolution?
as she slides onto the stool beside me,
her light green dress cut on the bias,
her red hair like the soft
glow of a cigarette
from a dark porch in winter.
And I would say:
I try not to think of the French Revolution.
I don’t want to lose my head.
Has anyone ever told you
you are like the soft glow of a cigarette
from a dark porch in winter?
Yes, she would say, then, assuring me
originality is not her chief interest,
she would lean in, and kiss me once,
briefly but fully, and without any tongue.
She would say:
You’re left wing. I can tell. You have
a true commitment
to the end of war in the Middle East.
I can tell by the way you kiss.
Kissing me again, she’d whisper:
Help me bring justice to Hollywood.
Of course, I would.
I would do anything for Susan Sarandon.
I would go to my closet
and pull out my mask of Che Guevara.
I would march through Beverly Hills
singing songs about the Wobblies.
I’d even buy a CD of Joan Baez,
if she insisted,
and spend all night wooing her
in the back of the protest rally.
But right now, I need a drink.
Susan do you have any money?
I am three dollars short of Valhalla.
Sure, she says, sure,
and, lifting up my trouser leg
with one dainty and silk-stockinged foot,
she pulls down my black crew sock
with her pedicured toes,
and tells the barkeep
to bring us the bottle.
— From “What Remains” (Nightshade Press, 2008), by Joe Weil. Reprinted by permission of the author.
BJ Ward, 41, lives in Changewater in Warren County. His books of poetry include “Gravedigger’s Birthday” and “Landing in New Jersey With Soft Hands.”
Burying Father
In Seaside Heights, NJ, my father would shade us
with his huge beer belly that curved down
over the copper snap of his red cut-offs.
My brother and I found refuge from the sun there,
beneath the frame that was a delight to bury.
He stood over us for the length of digging,
positioning so his shadow would shelter us.
The surface sand was easiest, ran through our hands
quicker than dimes as the ocean registered
the latest items of its ancient complaint. Then
the lower soil, compact, years of compression
(what did we know of compression?), harder
to get through, pull up, finally discard. We knew our father
wouldn’t fit in any shallow ditch — too immense
for that easy burial — and so in the darkness we pushed.
Back then I hadn’t read much but I had read about treasures
in Boy’s Life, all sorts of value too deep for detectors,
covered by years of tidal shifts and wind’s constant backhoe.
We never found anything. How I miss those days now —
in 20 years, my brother and I would be friends
who hardly speak, but in those days we’d shovel together,
doing our best to bury Dad. How we enjoyed his shadow —
a good darkness then — never thinking about the unhealthiness
of such an imposing frame, or anything as grave.