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Poetry Moment: 'Pennsylvania Journal', by Jay Parini

This is poetry moment on WPSU – a weekly program featuring the work of contemporary Pennsylvania poets. Your host is poet Marjorie Maddox, a 2023 Monson Arts Fellow, author of 20 books, and professor of English and creative writing at the Lock Haven campus of Commonwealth University. 

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It’s 2024! What are your plans for New Year’s Day? A list of resolutions? A meal of sauerkraut and pork? Or maybe your traditions include a fresh calendar for the wall, or a blank journal waiting for you to record what the year brings?

 In today’s poem, “A Pennsylvania Journal,” Jay Parini explains, “Year by year,/... I wrote my way./...Time told me gradually what I could say.” This year, what will “the touch of pen to paper” tell you?

Born and raised in northeastern Pennsylvania, Jay Parini frequently revisits the area. He spent most of his young life in Scranton or attending Lafayette College in Easton. Parini is a poet, novelist, biographer, and author of thirty-odd books, including new and collected poems: Anthracite Country (1982), The Patch Boys (1986), Borges and Me (2020), and The Last Station (1990), which was made into an Academy Award-nominated film. He teaches at Middlebury College in Vermont and has written biographies of Steinbeck, Frost, and Faulkner, among others.

A child in northeastern Pennsylvania hides a journal beneath his pillow. What begins as letters spilling onto the page become poems, novels, biographies, and even a movie.

This new year, encourage a child to write or begin writing yourself! No matter our age, words have the power to open new worlds, to become, as Jay Parini explains, “ten thousand eyes” that witness, imagine and inspire.

With Scranton as muse, here’s “A Pennsylvania Journal” by Jay Parini

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I had a mostly silent boyhood,
shifting in the streets that wobbled underfoot.
The coal mines tunneled underneath my life,
and corners of my house would fill with soot.

 I listened as the women weaved about me,
offering their stories, naming names.
I didn’t always care what they would say
in those repetitive and heated rooms.

 The neighborhood was ice or mud or dust
in yards where I would often stop to think.
Words are the world’s ten thousand eyes:
I opened some of them with my own ink

in that thick journal underneath my pillow.
All the empty pages meant so much,
could still be formulated, gathered
in my hand, a new life wakened by the touch

of pen to soft, white paper. Year by year,
through seasons of the skin, I wrote my way.
My steps were wandering and often slow.
Time told me gradually what I could say.

“A Pennsylvania Journal” is in the forthcoming anthology Keystone: Contemporary Poets on Pennsylvania (PSU Press 2025).


That was “A Pennsylvania Journal” by Jay Parini. Thanks for listening.

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Listen for Poetry Moment with Marjorie Maddox Mondays during Morning Edition and All Things Considered on WPSU. You can more episodes at

Our theme music is by Eric Ian Farmer.

Marjorie Maddox is the host of WPSU's Poetry Moment for the 2023-24 season. She has been a professor of English and creative writing since 1990 at the Lock Haven campus of Commonwealth University.