Press-Republican

Out & About

October 11, 2012

Four decades of poetic excellence

PLATTSBURGH — Charles Fort reads new and collected works at Black Poetry Day Wednesday evening at SUNY Plattsburgh.

His works in progress are a novel, “The Last Black Hippie in Connecticut,” and a book of poems comprised of 100 villanelles.

He is equally adept at formal poetry as well as free verse.

“The writing started as far back as second grade, reading everything I could in the public library,” said Fort, who is back in Connecticut caring for his mother.

A jock-poet, he studied English as an undergrad at Siena Heights College in Adrian, Mich.

A McDowell Fellow, he attended Cranbrook Writer’s Conference thrice in Michigan and Bread Loaf twice in Vermont.

“I just knew where to go and how to get there, literally, in my hippie-hitchhiking days,” he said.

During one of his Bread Loaf stints up on the mountain, Robert Hayden, poet/essayist/educator, was a guest reader.

“They mocked him and started making fun of him because he was black and nearly blind,” Fort said. “He never called himself a black poet even though he wrote powerful work about lynchings, Frederick Douglass and other — quote, unquote — political poems. I wrote a poem for Robert Hayden in honor of him.”

Fort holds an old-school Master of Fine Arts in creative writing from Bowling Green University in Ohio.

Then, it was rare for an African-American to participate in creative-writing programs, but he points out that in those typewriting days, there were very few such programs, and one could count them on his hands and toes and those of Carolyn Forche.

His teachers, mentors and guest poets to the various colleges he has taught at are a Who’s Who of American letters: Isaac Asimov, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, Mark Strand, Donald Hall and Maxine Kumin.

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