Island poet and columnist publishes third book
Joe Pacheco’s newest book of poetry sings of life on Sanibel Island.
“Sanibel Joe’s Songbook” was recently published by Limitless Press and is available in island bookstores. In an interview with the local poet, he said he no longer wanted to write “heavy” poems about death or aging.
“Here, aging and dying is popular, but I gave it up because everyone else was writing about that,” he said. “I vowed to give up writing heavy poems, poems about death.”
After the book’s table of contents is a poem called “To the Reader,” where he wrote: “No more poems on death, lamenting the past…Only the thrill and sweep of the glad-to-be-alive fourth quarter will I henceforth deliver.”
Pacheco, who turned 83 on July 21, settled on the island in 1996 after a long career as a teacher and school superintendent in New York City. When he moved to the island he hadn’t written poetry in 50 years, since he won a national prize at the age of 18. In 1999 he reignited his old passion.
“When I was a teenager, I was a poet, but then I went into teaching and after a few years on Sanibel I started writing poetry again,” he said.
His first two books centered on many of the same themes Pacheco writes about today, like New York City, politics, art, family, and life on Sanibel.
“The First of the Nuyoricans: Sailing To Sanibel” touched on the poet’s childhood as a Nuyorican or a child of Puerto Rican descent growing up in New York City. He said his publisher tried to persuade him not to use the term because most people didn’t know what it meant, but he “stuck to his guns” because the term so eloquently described his own experiences.
His next book, “Alligator in the Sky,” centered on his life on Sanibel between 2003-2005, specifically the hurricanes and his recovery from quintuple bypass surgery.
Today, Pacheco writes his own column for The Islander called “Poetic License,” featuring poems from “Sanibel Joe’s Songbook.” He said he likes writing for the type of person who sits down to read the newspaper, rather than other poets who write abstract poetry that most people can’t understand.
“Basically, I try to write poetry that is accessible, that the average reader can understand, appreciate, and enjoy. That’s why the column is good for me because I’m writing for a newspaper reading audience.”
His new book is divided into sections: ArtPoems, The New First of the Nuyoricans, Born in Bethlehem, Leftover Heavy Poems, Politically Incorrectus and Workshop Poems 2007-2011.
ArtPoems was a project created in 2006 by Pacheco and fellow poet Lorraine Vail who wanted to pair poets and painters on the island, but has grown to regional partnerships between musicians, dancers, videographers, and sculptors. In the program, poets are inspired by a painting, for example, or musicians read a poem and create a new song.
“Politically Incorrectus” included parodies and political satire going back to 2004 that couldn’t be published for whatever reason.
“Most of them were probably too strong to be published,” he said. “A few were too long.”
Since Pacheco gave up writing heavy poetry, he turned to political poetry to fill his time.
“You get written out. Everything that is worthwhile for you to remember you’ve written about, so the poems get harder to come by. That’s why I turned to lighter poetry and political poetry, because there is always something to write about,” he said.
Some of his recent political writing was inspired by Mitt Romney’s remark about funding Big Bird, deportation, the Fiscal Cliff and gun control. He said most of his new poetry is commentary on current events.
“We haven’t changed, the political climate has changed. People are saying and doing crazy things that they never would’ve dreamed. They would’ve been laughed at,” he said.
Pacheco also enjoys writing about historical events like the moon landing or Bobby Thomson’s home run in a “Where Were You” series that focused on ordinary people. He said people like remembering important days in history through poetry, but the older he gets it’s harder to find people who witnessed the events firsthand.
“There are fewer people who remember the things I remember,” he said.
“Sanibel Joe’s Songbook” is now for sale at MacIntosh Bookstore, as well as at amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com, and limitlesspress.com.