Richard “Dick” Allen, beloved professor emeritus at the University of Bridgeport (UB) and the former Poet Laureate of Connecticut, shared his magisterial work with millions of listeners on November 21, when he was invited to perform on “Prairie Home Companion,” the nationally-recognized variety show hosted by Garrison Keillor.
The show was broadcast live from the Palace Theater in Waterbury, Connecticut, and aired on approximately 700 public radio stations across the U.S., American Forces Networks, Sirius XM Radio, Radio New Zealand, and KPRG in Guam.
Allen’s work has been published in Poetry, The New Yorker, Atlantic Monthly, Hudson Review, New Republic and other anthologies. His numerous awards include the Pushcart Prize, the Robert Frost Prize, and the 2013 New Criterion Poetry Prize, which he won for his collection, This Shadowy Place.
During his 33 years of teaching creative writing at UB, Allen worked with generations of writers as the former Charles A. Dana Professor of English and chairman of the English Department.
He was previously interviewed with UB’s alumni magazine, Knightlines, in 2010, soon after he was named Poet Laureate of Connecticut. A diligent writer who works up to 18 hours a day, Allen has been prolific in his retirement.
His eighth book of poetry, The Zen Master Poems, will be published in the summer 2016 by Wisdom, Inc.
“There’s life after retirement,” Allen told Keillor, before reading a variety of works, including free verse and the sestina, “If You Visit Our Country, Sleepy Old Towns.”
“It’s a love poem to America,” said Allen, before regaling listeners with the poem.
If You Visit Our Country
At night, in the little towns that crop up in America
Where the highway curves beside a riverbank
Or lifts you suddenly up a drumlin to the lights
Left burning in closed restaurants and filling stations,
Someone is always walking with a dog, and someone
Is always standing at a window looking pensive.
And if you drive on further through the pensive
Fields and leaning forests of America,
Singing or dreaming, and you share the wheel with someone
You love, you will likely see a bank
Of stars in the west. Tune to an all-night station
Playing crazy rock. The world will be blinking lights
Racing toward you or away, your headlights
Picking up old things along the highway: pensive
And dilapidated barns, abandoned railroad stations,
The culverts, junkyards, flagpoles of America
That never left the Thirties–the small-town bank
Closed for the Depression, then reopened. Someone
Is always starting out or starting over; someone
In jeans and open shirt has seen her name in lights
Or told a cowlicked boyfriend he can bank
Upon the future. In every town a pensive
Father reminisces to his son about America,
Or a priest is walking slowly through the Stations
Of the Cross, praying he might rise above his station
In this anguished life, becoming someone
Truly worthy, truly, truly worthy. All across America
You will find embracing lovers under streetlights,
Tiger lilies, Queen Anne’s lace, the pensive
Look of high schools closed for summer, empty banks
Of bleacher seats at baseball games; and if you bank
Hard where the highway curves, and if you station
Yourself securely at the wheel, sooner or later pensive
Thoughts will overcome you. Try to be someone
For whom the country opens, for whom traffic lights
At empty crossroads signify America:
The shades and awnings of America, the kid who banks
A billiard shot, fizzed neon lights, the military station
High on Someone’s Bluff, the sentry walking pensive.
– Dick Allen