HOMETOWN, USAAlbany Times-Union
Albany, NY

Hometown Redux:
Poet Revisits Glens Falls
by Martin Moynihan

In 1944, the war was raging and LOOK Magazine wanted to take a close-up look at the home front. They chose Glens Falls for what would be a six-part community profile called “Hometown, USA.”

The name stuck for decades, if only among local boosters. Now it lives again as the title of a volume of poetry by a Glens Falls native born the year after the magazine article was published.

As a teenager, Michael (Mick) Cleary won the Glens Falls Writers Club award for a short story the same year he quarterbacked the St. Mary’s Academy football team to the first of two undefeated seasons.

Now as a father of two, a scholar with Ph.D., professor of English at Broward Community College in Florida, Cleary has published his first volume of poetry, a bittersweet collection of verse spiked with humor, much of it about the experience of growing up in a specific small city in the 1950s and ‘60s.

Noting the LOOK series spent much time pondering the future of the town, Cleary said his book “was my way of saying this is my view of what did happen.” He called it “sort of like ‘Hometown, USA’ Redux.”

Cleary’s book contains numerous recollections of growing up in a small community—(“The iceman, ragman, Freihofer Bakeryman—those were the last horses on city streets”) but it is far from being a warm piece of nostalgia.

In one of his poems, he catalogs local place names—Battleground Park, Million Dollar Beach, Kaatskill Bay—and wild nicknames of high school pals—Monk, Skunk, Bat, Tarzan, Boom-Boom, Snake—and reflects:

Names I want to cup in my hands,
offer up to the common world
we took for granted, ordinary lives
so unforgotten
they might just as well been blessed.

At the end of his longest poem, “Halfway Brook,” he writes of early post-World War II years, and reflects:

Our lives seemed endless,
the sunblessed hours
of long summer days.
More patient than winter,

The Cold War waited
our turn to come out and play.

That one is dedicated to the memory of four friends and teammates, local soldiers who were killed during the Vietnam War.

Cleary had been submitting his poetry to national competitions for years, practically since the time he decided to practice what he had been teaching in his creative writing classes. But it was not until he packaged his work as Hometown, USA—including copies of text and photos from the LOOK series—that he won the 1992 American Book Series Award. Run by the San Diego Poets Press, the series annually publishes the winning collection from over 600 entrants.

“I feel good it was chosen by a press in California and I’m in Florida and it’s about New York,” Cleary said. “I think it says something about the work. It isn’t something published about Glens Falls only for people in Glens Falls.”

For Cleary, it says that his writings embrace a spectrum of modern American themes, including in his case, “reconciliation with my father, violence in society, girls and boys, and so forth.”


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