Compilations Can Often Come from Local Streets
Glens Falls, NY
poem in Michael Cleary’s new book, Halfway Decent
I never heard a nun fart
though God knows
they were beside us all our days.
The nuns were his teachers at St. Mary’s Academy, from which
he graduated in 1963, and the irreverent tone is typical of his
poems, many of which are ruminations on his upbringing in Glens
now lives in Florida, where he teaches English at Broward Community
College. He returns to Glens Falls this week for a poetry reading
at the Charles R. Wood Theater. The event is free, but Cleary
has used publicity for the reading to solicit donations to Crandall
Library’s renovation fund. So far, he said, more than $2,000
has been collected.
owe a lot to Glens Falls,” he said. “A lot of my material
comes from here.”
of the places named in his poems, like the Paramount Theater,
no longer exist, while others, including the Hyde Collection,
are still around. But it’s the less highbrow landmarks he
looks forward to visiting on his annual trips to see family and
friends in the area.
like the things that haven’t changed, like Dirty John’s
hot dogs, Talk of the Town Pizza, and Poopie’s Diner.”
Decent Sinners is Cleary’s second collection
of poetry. His first, Hometown, USA,
also focused heavily on reminiscences of Glens Falls in the 1950s
and ‘60s—a place where, in his words, “when
you had a bike, you were free.”
that is, outside of Catholic school. In poems with names like
“Sister Lard Ass” and “For All You Doogie Raiders,”
he recalls the mild rebellious streak the restrictive environment
of St. Mary’s inspired in him and his friends.
hindsight, although he no longer practices the faith and didn’t
send his children to Catholic school, he thinks it may have done
him some good.
think you need something firm and formidable to bounce against.
We bounced off those nuns,” he said.
he began his teaching career—he taught English at Queensbury
High School before getting his Ph.D.—he avoided following
their methodology, which valued obedience over creativity.
wanted to at least be more interesting. And more modern,”
didn’t take up writing poetry until his 30s. After getting
his doctorate and moving to Florida, he started writing literary
criticism. But when he was coerced into teaching a creative writing
class, he decided to try writing poetry himself.
third poem he ever wrote was accepted by the Texas Review,
which he considered a fluke.
gave me encouragement,” he said. “I’ve been
writing poems ever since.”
from critics and colleagues is great, he said, but he aims to
write poems that aren’t “highfalutin,” that
his mother could understand.
poems don’t have any particular point he’s trying
to make, he said. “My impetus is something funny or interesting
that happened that I haven’t unraveled yet. I’m only
writing to figure it out.”