Tony Virgilio and Kathleen O'Toole

Tony Virgilio, Nick’s middle brother, and Kathleen O’Toole

Just this week a terrific feature came out about Nick Virgilio in A Hundred Gourds by Kathleen O’Toole in which she discusses the forces that led Virgilio to haiku as well as his influence upon the haiku community and our perception of haiku today. Here are some short  excerpts:

“When Nick Virgilio discovered a copy of Kenneth Yasuda’s a pepper pod in the Rutgers University Library in 1963, a door opened that would lead to his becoming one of the most influential masters of English language haiku in the United States. Born in Camden, N.J., he earned a communications degree from Temple University and worked as a sports broadcaster. He gained some renown locally as “Nickaphonic Nick,” the irrepressible sidekick to Philadelphia radio personality and sock hop disc jockey Jerry Blavatt…”

“Ultimately, though, Nick found his voice in the elegant, Japanese poetic form of haiku. Over the course of 25 years, he refined his art, cultivating a wide audience for haiku and, more importantly, developing an authentically American iteration of the haiku form through his unique sensibility, his use of imagery, and the music of his haiku. He became one of the most well-known and beloved haiku poets of the 20th century….”

“Much has been written about Nick as an “urban” haiku poet and his ability to redefine “nature” as in his oft quoted definition of haiku: “…a moment of connection between nature and human nature” in urban terms. But perhaps the most significant influence that helped him to refine his most iconic haiku was his being deeply grounded in a community within a web of close relationships. Thus, his poems evoke the harsh realities of urban decay in Camden, but also beauty and great poignancy that can be found there…”

the old neighborhood
falling to the wrecking ball:
names in the sidewalk
the blind musician
extending an old tin cup
collects a snowflake


While discussing his work, O’Toole also quotes Virgilio from his last reading at the Painted Bride Art Center in Philadelphia: “Some people think you have to wear a robe and slippers to write haiku. You know ? Be true to your experience! I feel that since I did not study in a Zen monastery like Basho, I could not even attempt to write like Basho and I wouldn’t. It would be a phony thing. So I’m a city slicker poet-artist-musician type poet. That’s where I’m comin’ from…” To read the entire article, please click here.

Feel free to take a look at other articles that have come out in recent weeks, too, each one giving a unique vantage point on Virgilio, an American who mastered the haiku form:

Frogpond essay/review – Tom Clausen

Inside Jersey Magazine -Tom Wilk

Notes from the Gean – Rick Black

A Hundred Gourds Review – Lorin Ford

Of course, the new book Nick Virgilio: A Life in Haiku is available in our online store or through — even if you just enjoy one of Nick’s haiku without buying a book, though, that’s what it’s about.

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