By Pat Loeb
CAMDEN, NJ (CBS) – Nick Virgilio was an internationally celebrated haiku poet. Fans from his hometown of Camden are celebrating a new book of his work, A Life In Haiku, just published, 23 years after his death.
In the 1950’s, “Nickaphonic Nick” was a DJ in Philadelphia, but romantic disappointment and the death of his brother in Vietnam led him to bear his soul in poetry.
He fell in love with the spare lines of the 17-syllable Japanese form called haiku, but poet Kathleen O’Toole says Virgilio gave it a distinctly American voice.
“Nick was one of a small group of pioneers who figured out that you didn’t have to write it in 5-7-5 syllables and it really could reflect not just nature as in beautiful, lovely, the countryside but it could be the streets of Camden.”
O’Toole was among those celebrating a new book of 100 previously unpublished Virgilio haikus, at Camden’s Sacred Heart Church, where, pastor Michael Doyle recalls, he’d test his work during mass.
“At the peace-giving, he would be whispering in some woman’s ear a new haiku.”
His most famous lines– “Lily, out of the water, out of itself”– are inscribed on his headstone at Harleigh Cemetery in Camden.