Fellow poets remember Carl Russo, co-founder of Florence Poets Society
NORTHAMPTON — Carl Russo was an entertainer, inspiration and poetry lover who “wanted to help everyone find their poetic voice,” in the words of Tom Clark, with whom Russo co-founded the Florence Poets Society.
Russo, a longtime lawyer in the city, died Oct. 7 after a long battle with health issues.
Russo’s widow, Bonnie Burnham, said poetry for her husband was a creative outlet that his day-to-day legal writing didn’t fill.
“I always felt his most interesting poems were poems he wrote from the heart,” she said.
Two examples came to mind, Burnham said. One was a poem he wrote for his daughter, Maggie, when she was in third grade and having trouble in math class learning factors. The other was written when he was young and watched a harvest moon rise into the sky of his native New York. It was called “Moon Rise Over Fourth Avenue.”
“It was a time and place that was just his,” Burnham said.
She said Russo had a deep and abiding love for the Florence Poets Society, which he founded 10 years ago with Clark, a friend, musician and fellow poet.
“He loved poetry,” Burnham said. “He loved having that group, and had the energy to keep it going.”
Burnham said her husband died about one month shy of what would have been the couple’s 30th wedding anniversary.
This week, several members of the society gathered at the regularly scheduled poetry open-mic Tuesday night at Hinge bar and restaurant on Main Street.
About a dozen people, some getting ready to read their work, others just there to listen, attended. And, while it wasn’t a night specifically to remember Russo and his work, members of the society on hand were more than happy to share some recollections about their friend.
Clark and Russo co-hosted Twilite’s Poetry Pub on Valley Free Radio in the hopes of entertaining people with poetry and music and introducing them to the art of verse.
“More than writing his own poetry, he loved listening more,” Clark said.
Russo had an appreciation for the rhythm and cadence of poetry spoken aloud, Clark said, whether it was his own annual reading of “A Visit From St. Nicholas” by Clement Clarke Moore, or hearing the words of some of his favorite classic poets like Wordsworth and Longfellow read aloud.
Clark said it was a chance meeting at a poetry event at the Lilly Library that got the society started about 10 years ago.
Both had children in kindergarten — and the soon discovered they both had an affinity for poetry.
It was Russo’s idea to create a poetry group where everyone, regardless of poetic skill or knowledge, felt welcome, Clark said.
Just a few days after Russo died, the society held its regular monthly meeting because, as Clark put it in an email, “Carl would have wanted it that way.”
Society member Lori Desrosiers said she’d been involved with the society almost from the start.
“He was such a genuine, warm, real guy,” she said. “I admired him as a friend. Everyone loved him.”
Desrosiers said she began attending the monthly meetings of the group, which usually attracts about 20 members, pretty much from its inception, and was so inspired she pursued and earned her master of fine arts degree in poetry.
She said she hasn’t composed a poem about her late friend yet, but said that “something’s brewing” and should be ready once some time has passed.
“Carl would say ‘percolating,’” she said with a smile.
“I’ll miss his sense of humor,” Desrosiers said. “He was very funny.”
She said that with Russo gone, the group will continue, but some of the responsibilities of running it may have to be delegated.
“Carl was very much a force of Florence Poets Society in a lot of ways,” she said. “We’ll have to organize a bit better.”
She said Russo took on most of the duties of running the group himself, not because the other members weren’t willing, but because he preferred doing it.
The group became a support system for area poets and an opportunity for the members to establish strong bonds amongst themselves.
Peter Smolenski, who has known and performed music with Clark for about three decades, said he had just begun to get to know Russo.
“I’ll never forget him,” he said. “I really wish I’d known him more. Some other time, some other place, we’ll meet again.”