HOMETOWN, USAThe Chronicle
Glens Falls, NY

Throng Attends Michael Cleary
Reading at the Hyde

by Tom Calarco

Glens Falls native Michael Cleary returned home to give a poetry reading Sunday afternoon before a Hyde Collection crowd so large that some people were seated on the stage.

It was the first public reading from Cleary’s new published volume, Hometown, USA, whose title is taken from the LOOK Magazine series about Glens Falls in 1944, a year before he was born.

A 1963 graduate of St. Mary’s Academy, Cleary moved out of the area in 1975 after teaching for seven years at Queensbury High. He has since become a bald and gray-bearded English professor at Broward Community College in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, with a long list of publication credits.

Cleary “relieved” his life, to borrow his five year-old son’s unintentional pun, and provided us with a precise and vivid picture of his family and experiences. Often he softened his seriousness with humor.

“Who’da thunk that I’d be in the Hyde Museum?” he joked at the outset, recalling his paper route through the neighborhood surrounding the Glens Falls art museum.

One of his poems, “Kill All the Poets,” was an admonition not to take himself too seriously. It considered the irony of his not spending time with his young son so that he could write a poem and “relieve” his own childhood.

Many of Cleary’s poems begin with epigraphs, short prefaces by which he incorporates quotes from other sources that inspired the poem.

One of his most graphic poems, “At Mud Lake in the Morning,” results from a newspaper account from which he quotes in the epigraph. It was also, incidentally, his first published poem and has since been included in a St. Martin’s Press anthology that also features poems by such luminaries as Robert Frost, Shelley, and Shakespeare.

“Mud Lake” tells the story of a town overpopulated by rabbits. Men and boys remedy the situation by going out and clubbing the rabbits to death. Graphic, the poem depicts the frenzy of “churning snow into a crazy quilt/of scarlet specks and patches of deeper red.” It makes us feel the violent longing of boys experiencing the “thrill of wood on bone.”

Much of Cleary’s work deals with water. “Colossus, Wobbling” recounts the amazing ability of his father to stay under water for long periods. This was a source of anxiety for Cleary as a boy, and we shared his relief and joy when his father surfaced like a colossus and “thumped waves of beerbelly laughter all the way to shore.”

There were poems about logging, ice ponds, sexuality, and growing up; there were poems about babies, close relatives, his mother and stepfather; and there was the poignant, “My Father’s Room,” which told of his father after his lobotomy.

Cleary worked well at recreating sound, as in “January Crossing, Lake Champlain.” He made us feel the extremes of hot and cold, as in “The Sunshine State.” He vividly portrayed the color and activity of men working on “Hovey’s Ice Pond.”

And he sensitively evoked the intimacy of family life, as in “The Graduate Student Learns, in Spite of Books.” With his art, Cleary was able to share significant moments in his life which he described in one poem as “a dream you don’t dare trust.”

Cleary, whose mother and step-father, Betty and Mike Sovetts, still live in Glens Falls, obviously made a lot of friends in his years here, judging by the warm, overflow audience. When the poet autographed copies of his book after the reading, the line stretched all the way to the back of the Froelich Auditorium.


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