Bethel Poet Laureate Richard Magee will present his work at the Bethel Poetry Club meeting on April 13th from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Bethel Library.

A Sacred Heart University professor of languages and literature, Magee is the author of several poetry books, including Green Latitudes. The collection, “presents a map to places where identity, desire, joy, and fatherhood might exist in a world that can be hostile to all of these things.”

“Rick will be invited to read a poem but also to discuss his work as poet laureate and his poetry. Remember, April is National Poetry Month,” said Michael Garry, the club’s president.

All are welcome to attend the meeting at which anyone, with any level of poetry writing, may share an original poem if they wish.

“Each person reads his or her poem aloud and receives feedback from the others; each attendee should come with 6 or so copies of their poem that can be distributed,” said Garry.

Magee grew up in California and received his B.A. in English from the University of California at Berkeley, his M.A. from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, and then moved to New York to continue his graduate studies, receiving his Ph.D. from Fordham University in 2002 for his dissertation “Sentimental Ecology: Susan Fenimore Cooper and a New Model of Ecocriticism.”

Fordham is where Magee met his wife. They both ended up getting jobs at Sacred Heart in 2003 and moving to Connecticut two years later.

Magee talked to the Grapevine recently about what it's like to read poetry aloud and discuss it.

As an English professor and poet laureate, he’s used to reading aloud in class and public settings—recently he read poetry at a St. Patrick’s Day event in Woodbury—but even an educator and professional communicator like him does experience some unease. “The same kind of public speaking panic” most people do, he said, but it passes quickly and then the experience becomes “a lot of fun.”

Poetry is a big part of his teaching. Magee’s literature classes deal with poetry, he said.

His personal writing style is free verse although he experiments with other forms, several of which appear in his book.

“The first poem in my book is technically a sonnet. It’s not rhyming, but I’m using the right meter, and the right number of lines so it does fit as a sonnet. I like to play around with things like line length, and there will be long line poems, and sometimes they’ll be short.”

Rick Magee showing his latest published works of poetry, Green Latitudes (available at Byrds Books in Bethel, CT). Photo courtesy of Rick Magee.

His work gravitates toward an old tradition of poems that don’t rhyme but have alliteration in them.”

I like the way it sounds. I tend to do a lot more than rhyming poetry. It provides this kind of rhythm that’s a little bit different from the rhyming rhythm that appeals to me in a big way.”.

An interesting dichotomy for him is seen in the difference between his approach to academic writing or prose of any kind and his poetry.

Magee does his professional writing on a computer but poetry writing manually. “My first drafts are handwritten for my poetry…I don’t know why. It’s something about the brain connection I get,” Magee said.

His poetry is personal and “heavily autobiographical.”  

Many of his poems, like Scar Maps, recall his childhood.

The best one is on my right knee

I fell on slippery limestone

And almost dropped into the Pacific

A jagged point snagged my flesh

And I hung there for a long second

Before pulling myself up

To stare at flowing blood.

A chunk of skin stuck to the rock

A tiny hair on it waving in the ocean breeze.

“With the book, I started the collection in 2017 and was focusing on places that had triggered some kind of memory. I would think about a place that had some kind of significance and dive into that, and use the place as either a launching point or memory, or a way to kind of dive into a feeling or idea.”

Magee is the town’s second poet laureate, succeeding Cortney Davis (2019-2022). He applied for the post of honorary poet laureate by submitting a letter of interest along with three of his poems. The role involves exposing the community to poetry and writing poems for local events.

He first became a poet in grade school, submitting poems to a popular children’s magazine when he was nine years old. “I got my first rejection from Highlights for Children. I still have a tiny bit of resentment,” he mused. “I sent in a couple, one about the wonders of the ocean.”

At the University of California, Berkeley, he studied poetry with Gary Soto, one of the “Fresno Poets” who studied with Philip Larkin.

He looks forward to his April debut among members of the Bethel Poetry Club.

Whether in a class or public reading event, Magee also likes listening to others read their work.

“You get an understanding of the rhythms and the music of the poetry by the way they read it,” Magee said.

In a Writing for Literature class, he teaches students to read their poetry, sometimes with a really heavy pause at the end of every line.

“I think that sometimes when you’re reading your poetry, you kind of slow down just a tiny bit. It’s like kind of a semi-pause at the end of the line sometimes, and it provides a different rhythm than that kind of overly rigid, I’m stopping here. I’m going on to the next line. And you get a much better sense of the melody of the writing,” he said.

Magee hears the poems he writes in his head. ”Sometimes I’ll come up with not necessarily a full line but a phrase or a couple of words together. This is going to sound weird, but I think about how they feel in my mouth when I’m saying them.”

Budding poets might consider these recommendations Magee uses in his courses:

Students in his Introductory Poetry Writing class are instructed to write and not self-edit, just spew it out, then pick one line where they like the way the word sounds, play with it, think about why they like the sound, and then write with a “Haiku focus” to, “just think about something meaningful and zero in on it.”

In another lesson, he passed an ordinary brick around to each student and had them describe it in only one word which they then wrote on the board. After everyone had a turn and there were many words, the writers were instructed to describe the brick without using any of those words.

“It was really fun to see how some wrote a full 10-line poem and others struggled with it. What that does is force you to think about different ways of describing using language to get your feelings across. That's kind of what poetry is all about I think.”

The Bethel Poetry Club meets on the second Saturday of the month from 1 to 3 p.m. at the library. For information, email Michael Garry at

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