Mary Jo LoBello Jerome, 2019 Poet Laureate, was feted last Sunday afternoon with a reading at Bucks County Community College, Tyler Hall.
State Sen. Steve Santerserio who said that poetry is the epitome of beauty in language, presented her with a commonwealth flag flown over the state capitol and a citation from the state Senate.
A profusion of poetry was on the palette for the afternoon. With 90 entries from all over the county judging was difficult for judges Melissa Stein and Chad Frame, Montgomery County poet laureate emeritus, who said that the caliber of writing was so outstanding, it made for a difficult decision.
Commencing with a reading by preliminary judge, Frame kept the audience rapt with his poetry, mainly concerning the recent passing of his father. “Feeding My Father Pudding While Watching Bonanza” displayed the humor often necessary to make life tolerable.
Runner-up Tricia Crawford Coscia read “You and I Never Saw What Used To Be Here” referring to the New Jersey Turnpike and salt marshes of yesteryear. Judge Melissa Stein said of her poetry, that the “skillfully employed sound and rhythm pulsed the poems along.”
Cleveland Wall read for runner-up Melinda Rizzo, “Wood and Yield,” written for her husband of 49 years and “On the Last Day” written for fellow poet Diana Weiss.
“You can feel the poet’s sheer adoration of language as each unfolding line shares the richness with the reader,” said Stein.
Runner-up Lynda Gene Rymond read “Snake in the Garden” a poem about courage, and “How Should We Then Pray.” Farm life prompted her poetry. Of her work Stein proclaimed, “the poet’s crisp, clear language while tackling matters of mortality and spirit feels refreshing and urgent.”
Carly Volpe, Poet Laureate 2018 spoke of her “unbelievable year as poet laureate and things way out of her comfort zone” and how she grew as a poet and writer as a result. Volpe read from her recently published book, “Until the Roof Lifted Off.” “Poetry is a lot like my experience of being a mom − the experience is all worth it,” she said.
As always, the best was saved for last. Mary Jo LoBello Jerome who grew up in Rutherford, N.J., down the street from poet William Carlos Williams, finds that continual reading and observing helps the power of words to flow.
“The power and beauty of words can literally take my breath away,” said Jerome. “I am so honored to have won this competition. I’m a huge fan of the work of many of the former laureates.”
The title of poet laureate did not come easily to Jerome. Traveling by bus daily from North Jersey to Fordham University, in New York, braving the elements of Times Square on her way to Lincoln Center to study poetry, literature and journalism, followed with an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts.
As a working mom she taught high school English and writing at community colleges in New Jersey accompanied by freelance work. Exploring new environments in the Netherlands and Tokyo through her husband’s job-related moves gave her a platform on which to base her writing.
“Just going to the grocery store or talking to neighbors was a challenge,” said Jerome.
Her current residence in New Hope is no challenge at all. The natural scenic beauty and the river are conducive to her writing.
Her poetry comes alive in her reading of “Gracie Clara Angie Rose” through time spent with her grandmother and her rummy card playing friends and “To Tell the Truth Bulgari Sonnets” a poem about drinking coffee, an old man and a watch.
In all she read about 10 poems making for a charming afternoon.
Ethel Rackin, who assumed directorship of the laureate program in 2019, hosted the event at Tyler Hall and the reception afterwards.