Photographers Unknown, Parts and Pieces Making a Whole: Set Fifteen
After Langston Hughes
Professor, you tell us about
your nice wife and two children.
People should be nice. I’m nice.
Sometimes I’m smug. I have
bad days. You’re straight,
a perfectly fitted back door.
Gay, I don’t fit. Is it good
to fit? You say tonight
I should write a poem
about myself. I’ve written
a few before. They stay in
my notebook like condoms
in a wallet. I’ll pull one out.
It won’t be about wives
and kids and fitting in.
Is that OK? I could fake it
for an A. You wouldn’t
dock me for following
So here’s my poem-
I colored the paper lavender
just for you.
Kenneth Pobo, Theme for English C, The Antlantis Hit Parade, American Journal of Poetry, 2019
Born in August of 1954 in suburban Chicago, Kenneth Pobo is a poet, essayist, critic and story writer. The only child of Louis Pobo, a chemist, and Myrtle Pobo, a housewife active in church activities and later.very supportive of her gay son and his partner. Both of Pobo’s parents were enthusiastic gardeners, a trait which he later emulated in his adult life.
Kenneth Pobo began his early poetic work, influenced by his love of 1960s popular music, as an outlet for emotions he could not express as a gay child in the contemporary society. His first poem, written on July 4th of 1970, was an imitation of the 1969 song “Crystal Blue Persuasion” by Tommy James and the Shondells. As Pobo stated in the introduction to his 2002 collection entitled “Greatest Hits” , he used the bubblegum imagery of pop music as an overlay for emerging sexual feelings.
Pobo received his Bachelor of Arts in 1976 from Wheaton College in Illinois. In 1979, he earned his Master of Arts in English at the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee where he studied under James Liddy, a poet both Irish Catholic and gay, who is best known for his collections, “A Blue Smoke” and “Blue Mountain”. Pobo’s creative writing thesis, later published with changes as a chapbook in 1981, was entitled “Billions of Lit Cigarettes”. Pobo was awarded his Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1983; his creative writing dissertation was entitled “A Vision Tested in the Flower: The Aaron Stern Poems”.
Kenneth Pobo writes in a wide variety of styles and poetic forms. His work contains references from all the things that enthuse his life, including music, gardening, his friends, astronomy, movie stars, naps, and martinis, among others. Pobo’s poetry covers many topics including politics and popular culture, as well as contemporary gay life with its love and passions. The majority of his poems are of medium length; however, great attention is paid to the smallest detail even though it might at first seem mundane.
The first collection of poetry by Pobo was the 1979 “Musings from the Porchlit Sea”. In this volume, he uses his knowledge of past literary verse and, by the addition of popular cultural models such as disco, gives the verse a new voice for contemporary culture. A prominent example is his poem “The Disco Version of the Love Song of J.Alfred Prufrock” which took T. S. Eliot’s 1915 canonical poem and molded it into a campy exposé of contemporary life.
Pobo’s second volume of poetry, “Evergreen”, was published as a chapbook in 1985. Inspired again by Tommy James and the Shondells, the collection takes its title from a song on their 1969 “Cellophane Symphony” album. “Evergreen” features poems about plants, places, and people he admires; the volume includes the poem “Cass” about Mama Cass Elliot of the Mamas and the Papas band. A fictional poem set during the Civil War is also included in this collection. Entitled “Joshua to Andy, Appomatox, 1865”, the poem tells the story of two soldiers who were lovers and, ironically, parted with the end of hostilities. Within this homage to previous war poems by such poets as Whitman and Melville, Pobo placed homosexual love and tenderness inside the world of warfare.
Kenneth Pobo’s 1986 chapbook “A Pause Inside Duck” contains overtly political poems that are composed in traditional poetic form. Contained in the 1991 “Ferns on Fire” is his angriest gay political poem, “Shasta”, which connects the centuries-long holocaust of Native Americans peoples with the lives of contemporary gay men. The 1996 “A Barbaric Yawp on the Rocks” contains the usual mundane details and pop references, such as The Cowsills and the Rolling Stones; however, Pobo uses these references more sharply in his depictions of both political and romantic modern gay life experiences.
Pobo is the author of twenty-one chapbooks and nine full-length collections. His most recent works include the 2011 chapbook “Ice and Gaywings” which won the Qarrtsiluni Chapbook Contest; the 2012 chapbook “Save My Place”; a collection of both prose and traditionally composed poems entitled “The Antlantis Hit Parade” and “Dindi Expecting Snow”, both published in 2019; and the 2020 “Lavender Fire, Lavender Rose” which won the Stonewall Chapbook Competition.
In addition to poetry, Pobo also writes fiction and essays which include “The Gay/Lesbian Teacher as a Role Model” for the March/April 1999 edition of “The Humanist” magazine and “But Can You Dance to It? Musical Imagery in the Poetry of Langston Hughes, Audre Lorde, and David Trinidad” for the October edition of the “Intercultural Writer’s Review”.
Kenneth Pobo taught English and Creative Writing at Widener University in Chester, Pennsylvania, for thirty years until his retirement in 2020. He shares his life with his husband, Stanley Slater, in Media, Pennsylvania.
Note: A reading by Kenneth Pobo of his poem “Sudden Fear”, titled after the 1952 Joan Crawford movie, can be found at the online crime poetry weekly, “The Five-Two”, located at: https://poemsoncrime.blogspot.com/2015/09/kenneth-pobo.html