Our Fresh Local Lit series serves up poems and prose by Philadelphians twice a week. Today’s poet, Hal Sirowitz, has written five books of poetry and has been featured on numerous national programs including NPR’s Fresh Air. He is also the former Poet Laureate of Queens, NY. He lives with his wife, the poet Minter Krotzer, in the Philadelphia area. Read on for his poem, Casino.
What is your favorite place to give a reading in Philly and why?
My favorite place to give a reading is the Big Blue Marble Bookstore. I prefer the community bookstore over the bigger Barnes and Noble. I teach poetry workshops there with my wife, the writer Minter Krotzer. It only takes me a few minutes to get there. It’s right next to the Weaver’s Way Food Co-op, so we do our shopping before we do the readings and workshops. There’s two very good open readings at the bookstore. I attend them to stay true to my origins – I started my career as a poet through open readings.
What inspired you to use doing laundry at the laundromat as the example of a “sure bet” in your poem “Casino”?
Doing laundry at the Laundromat was a way of socializing in New York City, where I come from. Since we moved to Mt. Airy, we live in a row house and have our own washing machine and dryer. I have other ways of socializing – walking my standard poodle, Bijou, around the block where I talk to neighbors. I just discovered one of my neighbors is an authority on the Philadelphia writer David Goodis, and runs the Goodis website.
What is your next project/ what are you working on right now?
My new book, Stray Cat Blues, will be out shortly. I was the co-winner of the Noir Con 2012 Poetry Contest, selected by Robert Polito, Director of the Creative Writing program at The New School. One of my pieces about staying at the Divine Lorraine will be exhibited at Love Park next month. A poem I wrote will be in a TV Anthology with poets such as Tony Hoagland and Billy Collins. I am working on a book of prose poetry.
Father drove me to Atlantic City,
New Jersey to prove to me that he
could resist gambling, He planned
not to waste a nickel on those game machines.
He exchanged a twenty for eighty quarters
for the laundry machines in his apartment
back home. The laundry machine was a safe bet –
quarters were guaranteed to make it last
a good forty minutes. And instead of seeing
four pictures of apples in a row he saw his
underwear getting dry which brought him
internal satisfaction. He was strengthening
his will power. The lonely old women were
mentally hooked to the machines. And once
a woman hit the jackpot and tons of quarters
came tumbling out. Father had that happen
at the washing machine – he must have collected
enough quarters to wash his clothes for free for half
a year. He only had to pay for detergent.
Hal Sirowitz is the author of five books of poetry, Mother Said, My Therapist Said (Crown/Random House), Father Said, Before, During & After (Soft Skull Press) and the forthcoming Stray Cat Blues (Backwaters Press). His work has been translated into ten languages including Icelandic, Turkish, and, most recently, Macedonian. Garrison Keillor has read his work on NPR’s the Writer’s Almanac and he has included Hal’s poems in his anthologies, Good Poems and Good Poems for Hard Times. Hal has performed and appeared on MTV’s Spoken Word Unplugged, PBS’s Poetry Heaven, NPR’s All Things Considered, PBS’s The United States of Poetry and Fresh Air with Terry Gross. Awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and a New York Foundation for the Arts fellowship, Hal is the former Poet Laureate of Queens, New York.