When the Poet Comes to Town

“I have not lived everything that I write about. I look at things that happen around me. I take those things in. I want to make you see what I see.” It’s a Friday morning and Gary Lilley is talking to 7th grade students at Hamilton International Middle School. In the distance, there are sounds of a bus backing up, young voices trilling together in chorus, but in this auditorium, all ears and eyes are trained up front.

Raised in the Great Dismal Swamp region of North Carolina (he says it is the most beautiful place on the earth), he moved to Port Townsend last March after many years in Washington, D.C. and other cities in the South. Of his time in D.C., he recalled for the students that there was a lot of trouble on the street where he lived. “The one thing I could do about that was use my art,” he said.

His belief in the transformative power of poetry shone through as he talked about his 10 years on a Navy submarine which he had never written about until the Kursk disaster in 2000, and his efforts with the clean-up effort in New Orleans after Katrina. The students are transfixed. The bell rings. The period ends. They go back out into the day, but with a new blues buzzing in their heads.

–Rebecca Hoogs

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