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Fans Gather To Celebrate Late Camden Poet Nick Virgilio

By Pat Loeb

CAMDEN, NJ (CBS) - Nick Virgilio was an internationally celebrated haiku poet. Fans from his hometown of Camden are celebrating a new book of his work, A Life In Haiku, just published, 23 years after his death.

In the 1950's, "Nickaphonic Nick" was a DJ in Philadelphia, but romantic disappointment and the death of his brother in Vietnam led him to bear his soul in poetry.

He fell in love with the spare lines of the 17-syllable Japanese form called haiku, but poet Kathleen O'Toole says Virgilio gave it a distinctly American voice.

"Nick was one of a small group of pioneers who figured out that you didn't have to write it in 5-7-5 syllables and it really could reflect not just nature as in beautiful, lovely, the countryside but it could be the streets of Camden."

O'Toole was among those celebrating a new book of 100 previously unpublished Virgilio haikus, at Camden's Sacred Heart Church, where, pastor Michael Doyle recalls, he'd test his work during mass.

"At the peace-giving, he would be whispering in some woman's ear a new haiku."

His most famous lines-- "Lily, out of the water, out of itself"-- are inscribed on his headstone at Harleigh Cemetery in Camden.

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