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South Euclid poet Lawless blends life stories, family, humor in his third book of poetry

The Plain Dealer  Cleveland logo The Plain Dealer Cleveland 1/21/2021 Jeff Piorkowski, cleveland.com

SOUTH EUCLID, Ohio — Local poet Jim Lawless has drawn upon a cache of 1,500 poems he has written over the past 50 years to compile his latest book of poetry, and first in six years, titled “Family”.

While his first two poetry books covered an array of topics, this time out Lawless has selected works based on his favorite subject, as the title plainly states — his family. Known to some as president of the South Euclid Commission on Aging, Lawless, a 40-year resident of the city, the poet spent his career writing about a variety of things. He covered energy and the environment, housing, transportation, politics and a host of other subjects while reporting for The Plain Dealer from 1978 to 2005. Now 84, Lawless looks back on a career that also included stints with the Toledo Blade newspaper; Michigan’s The Flint Journal; the weekly Civil Service Leader in New York City; and running the public relations office of Kent State University, joining the school six months after the tragic shooting of students in May, 1970.

“My first two books were mostly about my life experiences,” said Lawless, of his compilations “Triscuits of Poems” (Triscuits refers to his favorite brand of cracker) and “Painting in the Eye.” Lawless considers being a grandparent quite a treat and is proud that all four of his grandchildren are fine students. As it turns out, those grandchildren, and other family members, also make for great inspiration for poems.

When asked about a couple of his favorites from his latest book, which includes a generous 100 works, Lawless quickly speaks of two whimsical poems about his grandsons. One, called “Wolfie,” is about his grandson, Evan, then about 7, having a staring contest with his father (Tim Roth) and “winning hands down,” while in another, “Homework,” Lawless tells of a conversation with his young grandson, Will.

Will, (the son of Lawless’ daughter, Jennifer, and husband, Tim Roth, of Gates Mills) now a St. Ignatius High School freshman, had a homework assignment in which he had to take words from an existing paragraph and make new sentences out of them. The boy, then 9, didn’t do that part of his homework and told his grandfather that his mother and father were quite good at helping with such tasks. Lawless reminded his grandson that he could be of help as he spent a career putting together sentences. “Really?” replied Will. “I knew you could write poems, but I didn’t know you could write sentences.”

Many of Lawless’ poems are based in humor. In fact, he recalled, the first poem he wrote back in college was something he called “Ballad of the Fat.” He wrote it about himself, recalling that his college chums at the University of Toledo called him “Heav,” short for heavy.

“I am, how you say, ‘chunky,’” he said, before reciting from that inaugural poem: “Unable to act, he thought; Unable to think, he sat, sat, sat; Sitting fatly is no way to act at all.”

The book contains poems about all four of Lawless’ grandchildren, two grown daughters (daughter Katie lives in Cleveland Heights), himself, and his wife of 53 years, Cecily. He, naturally, wrote a poem about Cecily called “My Sophia,” a reference to actress Sophia Loren, that unpredictably ends with a flying skillet and a reference to “Monty Python and the Holy Grail.”

Further subject matter found in the book is not exactly your standard fare. For example, one poem describes a certain long-married couple’s sudden fright upon unexpectedly encountering each other in the middle-of-the-night darkness after both arose at the same time to use the restroom. “Amazing it took 50 years to have such timing,” states the poem’s conclusion.

“I started writing (poetry) while in college,” said the Toledo native. “I couldn’t get it out of my system. (I was inspired by Robert) Frost (1874-1963), and then Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) and then, my favorite still, was Seamus Heaney (1939-2013), a Nobel Prize winner.”

“(Heaney) spoke here and when I wrote a piece about him (for the Plain Dealer), and about that speech, about a month later he won the Nobel Prize. And I always took credit for that,” Lawless joked. “Fabulous poet.”

Speaking about his succinct way of getting across a story and humor within his poems, Lawless said, “Poetry is entertaining that way. You get to do what you see, what you hear, what you think.”

“Family” is now about to undergo its second printing, as the first 150 were sold more than a year ago. At $15, the book will soon be available through Mac’s Backs Books on Coventry, 1820 Coventry Road in Cleveland Heights, and from Lawless at jtlawless4@gmail.com.

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