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Alaskan Poet Was Inspired at NECC

Forty-five years later, Tom Sexton Fondly Recalls Time at NECC

Former Alaskan Poet Laureate Tom Sexton is a celebrated poet with 12 published books but he is also a storyteller and many of the stories he tells are of the two years he spent as a student at Northern Essex during the mid-’60s.

Photo of Tom Sexton sitting outside

Tom Sexton on a recent visit to Massachusetts, and during his time at NECC in the ’60s, (inset)

Attending classes in the former Greenleaf Elementary School in Bradford; playing chess in the student center in the basement, and trips to a local bar for some liquid confidence before delivering a speech in public speaking class are just some of the memories he shares from his time at the college.

While he is quick with a joke, Tom is completely serious when he credits Northern Essex with “giving me a wonderful life.”

“At NECC, I started paying attention to the fact that I was intelligent. I was challenged by good teachers who made me realize I loved learning.”

He stills fondly remembers many of those teachers, Marlene Molinoff and Roland Kimball who taught English; Norman Landry who taught math; and Frank Padellaro who taught economics, and says “For them, the student always came first.”

At the college, he began writing poetry, inspired by Professor Molinoff, and joined the literary society. He was the founding editor of Parnassus, the college’s student literary and arts magazine, which is still thriving. “Those were wonderful times,” he muses. “I can’t explain how wonderful it is to know Parnassus is still publishing.”

Tom transferred to Salem State, earning a bachelor’s of English in 1968. When the University of Alaskaaccepted him into its master’s program, he and his wife of one week, Sharyn, drove from Salem, Mass. to Fairbanks, Alaska in a battered Volkswagen bus.

After graduation, he was hired to begin a creative writing program at the new Anchorage campus of the University of Alaska. He taught there for 25 years, serving as chair of the English Department for 10 years, and was poetry editor of the Alaska Quarterly Review. He is currently a professor emeritus of English at the University of Alaska.

From 1995 to 2000, he was poet laureate of Alaska. At 71, Tom is writing more than ever. His most recent
book, I Think Again of Those Ancient Chinese Poets, will be followed by a thirteenth book in January. “The fact that I’ve published 12 books amazes me,” he says.

While Tom has grown to love Alaska, he still appreciates the place where he grew up. “I’d love to live in the Merrimack Valley, but Alaska has been very good to me and my wife. It’s difficult to leave.”

Tom Sexton’s book A Clock with No Hands, published in 2007, includes a poem about the now famous fight between Lowell’s Micky Ward and Arturo Gatti. Tom claims – with a smile on his face – that his poem inspired the Academy Award-winning movie.
 

Lowell’s Irish Mickey Ward

Round 2. Ward’s left eye is already cut,
but he keeps moving toward Arturo Gatti.
My wife’s gone to bed and turned out the light.
Gatti’s left hook sounds like a thunderclap.
I haven’t watched a fight in many years,
not since I moved away from Lowell.
A Celtic Cross glistens on Ward’s shoulder.
I wince as he shakes off blow after blow.
He has my uncle Leo’s fighter’s face,
with features almost as flat as a stone.
Staggered by a right, he picks up the pace.
I want to see a hurt Gatti go down.
They fight to a draw. Closed eye for closed eye.
I go to bed shamefaced and stubbornly tribal.

-Tom Sexton (c) 2007