Spring 2001



by David B Axelrod

“It’s me, Leo. Do you have time to listen. Listen, they just put my work on
a website in Maine. I gave my daughter
Amy the computer so I can’t see it but you can take a look at it. I’m one
of the people they picked as Maine’s best.” It’s Leo Connellan on the phone
burning my ear. I’ve known him since the 70’s and it’s always interesting
when Leo calls. Poet Laureate of Connecticut, Poet in Residence for the
United Universities of Connecticut.

You know, I wish I could hear Leo on the phone again. It was a Thursday
evening, February 22 this year, it was
daughter Amy who called to tell me Leo had a massive stroke. The body
lingered on but soon enough Leo was
completely gone. The large physical presence of Leo, that is. Luckily, a very
large body of Leo’s poetry remains.
It’s impossible to think of the poetry of Leo Connellan without thinking of
the man. That’s not a biographical
fallacy. Leo’s work was deeply personal, torn from the hard-scrabble
childhood of Maine’s coast. He turned the
premature death of parents, the abuse at the hands of those who “cared for
him” into a tough American kind of poetry.

His views were somewhere between paranoid and cruelly honest. If he observed
it was with a zeal-that part of him that was tough and genuine. Here’s a
fellow who found his way into the literary world with a salesman’s savvy.
But Leo was never a con-artist; he had the real goods to sell-quality poetry.
Leo was no language poet, even as his
plain style evoked instant detail. He was not afraid to write longer than
most magazines would publish even as he
could scalpel a poem down to just the essentials.

Readers, with luck will find more and more of his poems in anthologies. But
it is the man I want to remember here, in ways those who didn’t know him
might only hear in odd anecdotes. Leo, who could tell a politically incorrect
joke with aplomb. Leo who loved his wife Nancy and daughter Amy more than
life-so that when he was on booze,
with the greatest strength of character, he stopped to stay with them and be
a good husband, father, citizen. When he was broke, he’d climb the steps of
high rise buildings with a broom, swallowing his pride and sweeping for a few
extra bucks.

Luckily, hard times didn’t hound Leo. He persisted even as the Muse stayed
steadfastly with him. He got
himself a coveted poetry sinecure in Connecticut. Fancy-ass poets, stunned
by his successes, often tried to
leave him out. Hurt as he was, it never affected his creativity. Leo came
to poetry later than many of the
wonder-boys and girls birthed yearly out of the M.F.A.’s of America. But his
quantity and quality are stunning. Look at the links. Look into Leo. If
ever there was an adage that would apply as inspiration looking at the life
poetry of Leo Connellan, it would be simply “Don’t let the bastards beat you
down.” (I miss you Leo. Maybe give me a call…)

Shelly Memorial Award, Poetry Society of America
Honorary Doctorate, University of Maine Poet Laureate, State of Connecticut Appointed Poet in Residence for United Universities of Connecticut Selected on of Maine’s top ten writers by Maine’s website. New and Selected Poems reviewed on front page of Sunday NY Times Book Review Section.

Recommended Links
An interview with Leo Connellan by Rebecca Bearardy
Excerpts from the book Providence Town:

Here’s the information the State of Main provides: Leo Connellan (1928 - 22 Feb. 2001) Connellan was born near Portland, grew up in Rockland, and lived at the time of his death in Sprague, Conn. (with wife Nancy and daughter), working as a poet-in-resident at Connecticut State University and acting as Connecticut poet laureate from 1996-2001. He considered himself an "everyman," a working man, and his poetry concerns itself with the human condition. The content of much of his poetry is also highly influenced by his early proximity to the fishing and lobstering industry in Maine. Connecticut State Univ.'s Connellan web page lists many links for more information about Connellan; there's also biographical information on Connellan in an interview posted on Curbstone Publishing Co.'s website. A fairly lengthy analysis of many of Connellan's poems, with specific reference to his moral vision, is also available through Writers Online. Maine Public TV featured Connellan on its Summer 2000 program "A Good Read" and provides a bio, works list, excerpts, and a list of Connellan's favorite books on its site. Works include: Penobscot Poems (1974); Another Poet in New York (1975); Crossing America (1976); First Selected Poems (1976); Death in Lobster Land: New Poems (1978); The Gunman and Other Poems (?); Massachusetts Poems (1981); Shatterhouse (1983); The Clear Blue Lobster-Water Country: A Trilogy (1985); New and Collected Poems (1989); Provincetown, and Other Poems (1995); Short Poems, City Poems, 1944-1998 (1998?); The Maine Poems (1999)




top of page

send comments to info@poetrybay.com

first electronic copyright 2000 poetrybay. 
all rights revert to authors

website comments to dpb@islandguide.com