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Al Ortolani Map

Al Ortolani
*Photo taken by Sherri Ortolani


Ghost Sign book cover

Cooking Chili On The Day Of The Dead Cover

Wren's House book cover

Finding the Edge

The Last Hippie of Camp 50


Al Ortolani


Al Ortolani was born in Huntington, New York and grew up in Pittsburg, Kansas.  He was educated at Pittsburg State University where he received his B.S. in Education, an M.A. in English and an Ed.S. in Higher Education.  He has taught secondary English in Baxter Springs, Pittsburg and Overland Park (Blue Valley) as well as an adjunct at Pittsburg State University.  He has worked as a house painter, chimney sweep, antique dealer, juvenile counselor, pony handler, canoeing instructor, gas station attendant and soda jerk.  Many of his poems have been inspired by his friends, family and students.  He once claimed to have cooked the best bowl of chili in the state of Kansas.  Al Ortolani is a co-editor of The Little Balkans Review.  He has performed with White Buffalo Poetry and Song in Kansas, Missouri, and Colorado.  His poetry has appeared in the Midwest Quarterly, the New York Quarterly, The Laurel Review, Wilderness, The Quarterly, Cottonwood Review, Coal City Review, The English Journal and many others.  His haiku have appeared in numerous journals on 4 continents.  He has published one chapbook, Slow Stirring Spoon, High/Coo Press and two collections of poetry from Woodley Press, The Last Hippie of Camp 50 and Finding the Edge. *

--- Bio provided by Al Ortolani

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Bibliography ( - housed in Thomas Fox Averill Kansas Studies Collection)  
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Writing Samples  

On a Brighter Note, the Christmas Lights Are Up

I climb the pea pitch roof
and tack a string of white lights
to the peak. In the surrounding air,
the night spreads from my fingertips

to the edge of the continent.
I am touched by the vast Atlantic,
an ocean of blue midnight
that washes my heart in waves

while the lights of shrimp boats
twinkle white on the sea.
I think Christ would smile,
balancing the rigging in bare feet,

his arms wide, spread in salt spray.
Tonight, we unwind large nets,
buoyed in the darkness of rooftops,
a string of lights, bright

as baskets of fish.

The Teacher Drifts into Daydream

The first dandelions have broken ground and wave their yellow crowns above the turning Bermuda.  I’ve brought my classes outdoors for a few minutes of writing.  Free writing I’ve called it.  I won’t worry about the product.  My attention wanders.

                        Drifting the canoe
                           in honeysuckle shade,
                                a hummingbird’s light

I looked up the word morose today in Webster’s and found that it has to do with tendencies towards gloom and melancholy.  The phrase spring fever reoccurs frequently in the hallways. A boy on the far bench folds his arm across his eyes and reclines in the sun.  He drifts with wind currents.

                        Abandoned fishing cabin,
                            Virginia creeper netting
                                  a row of catfish heads

By mid-period my head is so heavy that I can’t focus my eyes.  Conversations swirl and sputter as if fragmented by sudden whirlpools.  My canoe pushes away from shore.  The river is still and deep, bottled by a fallen ash.

                        The plop of paddle blade
                            dips ash leaf mold, whirlpools
                                  swirl away in the heat

Below the keel, schools of pebble colored shad dart upstream.  For no apparent reason, they all turn in unison towards a willow jungle.  I cannot help but wonder what signal was given.

                        Between watercress
                              the mountain spring
                                    flows out of darkness

My class has quieted.  They’ve folded notebooks behind their heads and are counting clouds, or face down, turned on stomachs, they gaze into the folds of dandelions, the creases of wild lettuce, the shadows of clover.  Somewhere a lawn mower drones.

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Al Ortolani's website

Kansas Poets website

The Last Hippie of Camp 50 on Woodley Press website

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