I’m happy to announce that my reading and book-signing at the Holland-Alexandria Free Public Library has been rescheduled. I’ll be appearing there on Saturday, March 16, at 1 p.m. I’m looking forward to returning to my old turf in Hunterdon County in western New Jersey — I lived in Alexandria Township for many years and edited the local weekly paper, the now-defunct Delaware Valley News.

Here’s a photo of me posing with the statue of Rip Van Winkle in Irvington, N.Y.:
me and rip van winkle

Here’s an updated schedule of other scheduled “Rip” readings and book-signings:/em>:

Tuesday, Feb. 19, 7 p.m., Highland Park Public Library, Highland Park, NJ

Saturday, Feb. 23, 1 p.m., Howland Public Library, Beacon, NY

Thursday, April 4, 5 p.m., Port Jervis Free Public Library, Port Jervis NY

Saturday, April 13, 2 p.m., Hunterdon County Library, Raritan Township, NJ

Monday, April 22, 6 p.m., Somers Public Library, Katonah, NY.

At each venue, I’ll read excerpts from my satirical modern-day “retelling” of “Rip Van Winkle,” talk a little about my longtime affection for the works of Washington Irving, answer questions, and sign copies for people who buy the book, which will be available for purchase after the reading. Admission to all events is free.


Endless highway

I drive down the road frequently now, on my way to the bank or to the Asian supermarket (which sells delicious frozen dumplings and at least a dozen varieties of bok choy — who knew?).

But the first time I made my way down Route 27, traveling the few miles from Highland Park, N.J., to Edison, N.J. (yes, Edison as in Thomas Edison, as in Wizard of Menlo Park, which is a section of Edison where the inventor had his famous lab), what I noticed at was first was the many businesses with Chinese lettering on their outdoor signs, everything from beauty parlors to auto-repair garages catering to the area’s thriving Asian population.

I was on my way, I confess, to the locally legendary Tastee Sub Shop, where President Obama actually made a stop back in July 2010 to promote a proposed small-business tax break.

Tastee Sub Shop in Edison, N.J.

I figured a sub that was good enough for the president was good enough for me. For the record, the tuna sub with onions, tomato and lettuce was really good.

As I left Tastee Sub Shop, I noticed signs designating Route 27 — which is actually the Main street of the town where I now live — as the Lincoln Highway. The famous Lincoln Highway! Decades older than Route 66! The first real cross-country road!

A winter scene in downtown Highland Park, N.J. The main street, visible at right, is part of the old cross-country incoln Highway

It was the brainchild of a man named Carl G. Fisher. It began in Times Square and ended in San Francisco, passing through New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Nebraska, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, and California. Later, the route was changed to bypass Colorado and include a sliver of West Virginia. It was dedicated in 1913.

Opening of the road led to economic prosperity for the hundreds of cities and towns along the route. In fact, the Lincoln Highway was dubbed the “Main Street of America.” Today, after many roads were assigned numbers in the 1950s, most of the route is designated as Route 30, with sections of it designated as Route 1 in the East and routes 40 and 50 in the West. Much of its runs roughly parallel to Interstate 80. When I traveled through Pennsylvania and Ohio a few months ago, I drove on a long stretch of I-80 and a section of the Lincoln Highway ran through the town I was visiting, Richmond, Indiana. And, of course, with tha advent of the Eisenhower era national system of interstate highways, which transformed this nation, many of those same Lincoln Highway towns encountered economic hard times as time — and hurrying motorists — passed them by.

So it’s a wistful but wonderful thing to watch cars roll through town on the old Lincoln Highway and to imagine that I could get into my car, take my sweet time, and drive on that one road straight across the country, from the New York island to the redwood forest, driving through the here and now right into America’s faded past.

Sarah Palin’s visit is one for the books

Note: Traffic on this site soars whenever I mention Sarah Palin. So I’ve decided to write something about her at least once a week. Here’s this week’s Sarah Palin report:

Faithful readers of “World of Wonders” know that I posted several entries in recent weeks about the Feb. 20 grand opening of friend Steven Hart’s bookstore, Nighthawk Books, in Highland Park, N.J.  Well, the event went as well as I hoped it would — and then some!

Hundreds of people visited Steve’s store during the course of the day-long celebration.

AND….Sarah Palin made a surprise appearance!

What else can I say? Two weeks ago I reported seeing Sarah out on the New Jersey Turnpike, probably on her way to some high-paying speaking engagement, but instead saying “Well, the heck with that! I’m going to forget about that high-paying speaking engagement and help people dig their cars out of the snow!” One week ago I reported on Sarah’s amazing ice-skating performance at the Olympics up there in Canada (which is the country next to Alaska).

And now here was Sarah Palin — a highly educated woman who I believe actually attended something like six colleges but probably isn’t much of a reader because she’s so busy trying to become president – stopping at my friend’s bookstore.  In her impromptu speech, Sarah said she wanted to her “support of Mom-and-Pop type businesses and also this amazing bookstore run by Steve Hart that is filled with so many books that it makes you realize that there’s lots and lots of books you probably will never find the time to read, gosh darn it, but it’s good to know they’re there in case you feel like reading a book…”

Thanks, Sarah, for supporting my friend’s new independent bookstore — and for so graciously signing my second-hand copy of “Call of the Wild” by Jack London.

P.S. Yes, I’ll tell you what Sarah wrote: “To Nicholas DiGiovanni — Stop by and visit us next time if you’re ever up there in Alaska. Signed, Sarah Palin” And no, in case any of you were thinking about it, the book is not for sale!

Let’s help Nighthawk soar to new heights

Nighthawk Books, that is, owned and operated by friend Steven Hart in Highland Park, N.J. The grand opening this Saturday will kick off with a book signing by Mary McAvoy, who will also read from her new novel “Love’s Compass.” Other literary and music events are planned through the day and evening.

Here’s the store, which has plenty of free parking right next-door:

I’ll be there. I hope readers of “World of Wonders” will find time to be there, too, on Feb. 20. (I’ll buy you a cup of coffee).

Verse-case scenarios

Friend and fellow traveler (and fellow Writers House literary agency client) Steve Hart posts this tout of the Delaware Valley Poetry Festival (the link to his Web site’s over there in the right-hand column, listed under FRIENDS): Mark your calendars for the eleventh annual Delaware Valley Poetry Festival, which this year is spread over two days late in October. The setting is lovely and the poets — all chosen by a couple of the marquee names from previous festivals — are bound to be worth hearing.

Last year’s featured poet, for the 10th annual Delaware Valley Poetry Festival, was the great Robert Pinsky, the two-term U.S. poet laureate, who was the featured poet at the very first event in 1998. Steve Hart wrote this excellent essay in the aftermath of Pinsky’s reading last year:

How I impersonated Robert Pinsky

October 6, 2007

You couldn’t ask for a better or more generous ambassador of poetry than Robert Pinsky. I got to stand up close and watch him in action yesterday, during a reading and signing session at a bookstore cum museum called The Book Garden just up the street from the Delaware River, and I can tell you he’s the one to study if you want to see how a master does the job.

Speaking to a group of about eight people before going on to the evening’s 10th anniversary edition of the Delaware Valley Poetry Festival, Pinsky was low-key, often very funny and disarmingly gentle in the way he handled questions.

Robert Pinsky
Robert Pinsky

One woman brought up Robert Frost telling someone to “just read what’s there” instead of searching for hidden meanings in his poems, and Pinsky gave back a bit of gossip (the theatrical nature of Frost’s rustic sage routine, and how it played into the suspicion of intellect that Pinsky considers one of America’s most unattractive traits) before going into an explanation that showed Frost was at least partly right — there are always depths to plumb in a work of art, but the academic tendency to strip-mine for them shouldn’t block one’s appreciation for the lovely surface.

He also told a funny story about a writers gathering at which a woman mistook him for Russell Banks and asked him to inscribe her copy of Continental Drift. Pinsky, ever the sport, wrote “I’ll never forget the wild times we had on the beach at Maui” and signed it “Russell.” Later on, the woman evidently encountered Banks and realized her mistake. Banks, also a sport, added his own inscription about Maui, and signed it “Robert.”

The evening began with a very cleverly staged performance of Pinsky’s “To Television” (from the collection Jersey Rain) conceived by David Kucher of the River Union Stage and his remarkably poised and talented son. Pinsky read old poems and new ones from his upcoming collection Gulf Music. He also talked up the Favorite Poem Project and its three associated books, the latest of which includes a DVD of favorite poems being read. The festival is the dreamchild of writer and editor Nicholas DiGiovanni, and even though I was present when he organized the inaugural festival (also with Pinsky as the headliner), this was the first time I’d been able to attend one. My loss — I’ll bend heaven and earth to get to them all from now on.

My brush with a felony rap came at the Book Garden, where one of the customers saw me standing by the cashier in my shades and black shirt and assumed I was Robert Pinsky. She even went to so far as to say that I looked nothing like my jacket photo.

“That’s the plastic surgery,” I told her.

“I think you’re joking, but I’m not sure,” she said.

“Well, after that Mafia threat, I had to do something,” I said.

She then held up a copy of Gulf Music. “My goodness, this is expensive,” she said. “Why are the prices on poetry books so different?”

“We’re paid by the line,” I said. “Prose books, the pricing is by the word.”

“Now I know you’re kidding,” she said, and I fessed up.

After dinner, I trailed some friend as they drove out to the Unitarian Universalist church in Kingwood Township, where the festival was being held. Earlier that day, I had developed a fixation on Jeff Buckley’s version of “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen, and I was playing it over and over during the drive through the dark-blue twilight hills of Hunterdon County. Suddenly the Jeep braked, and as I followed suit, I saw the silver shapes of deer flashing through the Jeep’s headlights and vanishing into the dark farm field to our right.

Talk about the perfect visual accompaniment to that song. There was so much poetry in the air that day, I guess even nature wanted to get in on it.

And for making it possible to experience all of it, all I can say to Robert Pinsky, Nick DiGiovanni and everyone else connected with the festival is — thank you.


Also checking in with his impressions of last year’s Delaware Valley Poetry Festival was my colleague Gene Racz:

Feeling run down and worn thin, I was hoping to refresh myself last Friday with a little art … presented first-hand by a true artist.

My wife understood, but my 9-year-old twin boys were confused as to why I was so uptight about getting down to the Old Stone Church in Baptistown to hear former poet laureate Robert Pinsky speak.

Reading their body language, I could almost hear the thoughts of my boys in the backseat. Reading their
minds, my father’s intuition came up with the following: Why is daddy running so hard at the start of the
weekend? What the heck is a poet Laurie-at anyway? Why did daddy yank us cold out of a heated backyard
soccer game? Why can’t we stop for a soda? Why is daddy now lost somewhere near Frenchtown? For the sake of art beloved children, for the sake of art.

Turns out, Pinsky was fabulous. The 60-something Long Branch native and Rutgers grad read some of his poems, took questions and spoke candidly about his poetry. He served up a flood of insights into his lifelong love affair with words and spoke of his appreciation for silence and demonstrated how breaks and pauses help create the music of good verse. Confident yet vulnerable, masterful without airs, Pinsky exuded a warmth and deep sincerity that made the poetry reading feel more like an uplifting sermon. I half expected him, in minister-like fashion, to stand outside the church door and shake the hand of each member of the audience as we filed out.  He didn’t. The poetry was the benediction.

Henry Miller once wrote that, “”Art teaches nothing, except the significance of life.” At 43, I still don’t really have a clue as to what that significance is. All I know is that I’m still struggling to slow down a little and appreciate the beauty that’s right in front of me. The commonplace surrounding us can grow stale and cold.
Pinsky said he likes to look up words in the dictionary that he already knows … or thinks he already knows. He revels in discovering meanings he was unaware of – meanings that have been hiding, all the while, in plain sight.  As Miller wrote: “”The artist does not tinker with the universe; he recreates it out of his own experience and understanding of life.”

Poetry is one way to deepen our awareness and understanding of life. Pinsky spoke of poetry as being a
most personal art form. That’s because the medium of poetry is not a TV screen, a CD or a canvas. The
true medium of poetry is ultimately us, the readers, who filter the poet’s words through our own minds and
hearts.  Pinsky’s words have power, and his poems invite us to get more intimate with the world which is
always right at hand.

Poet and essayist Katha Pollitt put it well when she wrote that Pinsky’s poems give a sense of “”getting at the depths of human experience, in which everything is repeated but also always new.”

Pinsky argues that poetry has a strong presence in American culture. The finest moment of the evening came when one of my boys looked up at me as were filing out of the church and said, “”Hey dad, that wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.”

You don’t get to be poet laureate for nothing.