I came across a post on Facebook the other day titled ” ‘How to Write the Great Jersey Poem’ by Danny Shot.” Now, since I’m always on the lookout for anything new and different that pertains to the arts in New Jersey, there was no way I wasn’t going to click on that.
The post was devoted mostly to the poem itself, and I loved it. It’s not as dryly instructional as its title might imply: It really captures something of the essence of the state, I feel. Shot gets it all in there: The Meadowlands, the Shore, the corruption, the lure of New York, Springsteen and Sinatra, even the North Jersey/South Jersey divide.
“No matter what Camus says/New Jersey is the birthplace of existentialism,” Shot writes at the end of the poem. “Who can argue with a pair of longhaired/boys smoking Winstons/in front of 7-11 on a Saturday night?”
I contacted Shot, and he graciously gave his permission for me to repost it here, so you can read it below.
But first, a few words about Shot. He grew up in Dumont and went to Rutgers, and now lives in Hoboken; he works as a high school teacher in Brooklyn but is also the poet in residence at the Hoboken Historical Museum. In 1982, he co-founded the literary magazine Long Shot, which summed up its mission with the phrase “Writing From the Real World.” He edited it for more than 20 years.
CavanKerry Press has just published a collection of his poems titled “Works” — visit cavankerrypress.org/product/works — and the Hoboken Historical Museum will host a book launch party for it, March 11 from 3 to 5 p.m., also featuring the poets Eliot Katz (Shot’s Long Shot co-founder), Joel Lewis and Alicia Ostriker.
The Bowery Poetry Club in New York will also host a book party for “Works,” March 25 at 3 p.m., with Marc Williams, Bob Holman, Nancy Mercado, Timothy Ree and Melissa Goodrum.
For more on Shot, visit his Facebook page.
And now, without further ado, here is “How to Write the Great Jersey Poem.”
“How to Write the Great Jersey Poem,” by Danny Shot
Start in the meadowlands
or the Turnpike
or on the Turnpike driving
through the meadowlands
in a car, a fast car
with a broken muffler
and faulty air conditioner.
Wind up down the shore
listening to a bar band
drinking beer in a plastic cup.
Have a secret rendezvous
with a beautiful girl
or boy (your choice)
Born to Run plays in the background
or Sandy or My Way …
anything but New York New York.
Working class roots
must be explored in depth:
Factory work, waitressing
while attending state college,
convenience store clerkery,
and drunken poetry readings
in extraterrestrial bars
topics worthy of consideration.
Wax poetic over holiday celebrations,
Fourth of July fireworks,
suburban Xmas light displays,
Thanksgiving homecoming games,
blaring salsa street festivals
Memorial parades with hobbled
veterans and firetrucks,
inebriated St. Patrick’s bar crawls
feasts for saints, brass bands snaking
through streets with statues
carried on ancient Italian shoulders.
Go sparingly on the adjectives
and adverbs, the grammar
of New Jersey is built
on nouns and verbs.
Scatter the ashes of a loved one
in the Hudson
the Atlantic Ocean
according to temperament.
Occasionally, write about family,
the family you grew up with
or the family you raised:
A daughter talking to a god
beheld in empty hands,
a malingering son
slapped on the cheek,
the tears that follow,
your Dad the Jersey City cop
who dragged you off the shadowy
streets and thereby saved your life.
Journey though ravenous tunnels
with the promise of strange music,
glamour, adventure in the night.
Rail against, but accept corruption
for what it is—employment
opportunity for the village idiots
of your town and county.
Keep open relationships with
our friends from the South (Jersey),
an exotic people
whose antic descriptions
of devils, piney woods,
crosses burning in moonlit fields
Atlantic City hijinks provide
fodder for many a homey tale.
Mourn the suicides and overdoses
of friends and lovers
who ventured to the City
with oversized dreams.
Record your melancholy
as the casket rests in the
ripped green grass.
Admire the gleaming Gotham
skyline from a distance.
Remember, it was erected for us.
Let the unknown unfold organically.
No matter what Camus says
New Jersey is the birthplace of existentialism.
Who can argue with a pair of longhaired
boys smoking Winstons
in front of 7-11 on a Saturday night?