Mike Breiding's Epic Road Trips

Joe Gatski

In Memoriam

A Tribute By Tom Rodd, Tim Terman, Cat McConnell and Helen Panzironi

Joseph Gatski, poet, songwriter, naturalist, beloved drunk, scoundrel, bighearted passionate and sometimes tortured spirit, truly beloved by so many, and absolute expert on all things wild in the Alleghenies, died at age 51 on November 27, 2007 at his apartment in Morgantown.

Source: joeygatski.blogspot.com

Joe Gatski on the S. High Street Bridge, Morgantown - West Virginia - Photo by Tim Terman

Photo by Tim Terman (Click for original image)

Joe Gatski, West Virginia's Poet of the Highlands
By Tom Rodd

Joe Gatski is a painter, poet, craftsman, and singer/songwriter who lives and works in the Morgantown area. Gatski’s multifaceted creative art reflects his love of hunting, fishing, canoeing, horseback riding, wild herbs, edible plants, and mushrooms. He has published three volumes of poetry -- Promontory, Annie’s Stick, and Cranberry Way.

I first met Joe Gatski when I moved to our farm outside Grafton in 1977. He was then in his early 20s. "Joey" introduced me to the Otter Creek wilderness. I remember a snowy fall day on Otter Creek in the late 70s, Joe and I creeping up over the bank of a tiny fishing hole. Keeping low so our shadows were off the water, we snuck our lines into the pool. I remember the crisp cold, the wet snow, a sharp exciting tug on the line, the glistening body of a native brook trout in my hand.

Joe’s poems are similar to my memory of that fall day in the woods – spare, vivid, and charged with an unforgettable awareness of the mystery, grandeur, and tragedy of the natural world.

Joe’s poems are not fanciful. They are rooted in his life – his solo treks along the spines and hollows of the Alleghenies, his evenings around a wood stove, strumming tunes with old-timers.

I have selected three poems that I think exemplify Joe’s best work. The first, "High County Morning," is an evocative poem that reminds me of Gary Snyder’s work.

The second poem is "Anthem." Again, I make a comparison -- this time to the poet Robinson Jeffers. Here the narrator vents his anger at human abuse of the natural world.

Finally, there is the title poem of Gatski’s first book, Promontory. I like the poem in part because it leaves me confused -- what is the poet’s "little bird?" And I recall the promontories I have stood on in my life.

Thanks, Joe Gatski, for your art.


High Country Morning

High country morning
in fall
you can tell where the
rivers are by the fog
The thickest bands
are as snakes
winding through valleys
out of these mists
we must return
to threads of darkness
as each sun sinks
to be received unto
ever and ever
over and over
the cyclic void
from which we sprang
play your heart strings
for all your worth
give freely
with all your soul.



Say goodbye to the good earth
from Virginia to Alaska
the country is dying.
Say goodbye to fresh clean streams
the trout therein
the raptor on the wing.
Say hello
to the holy human right
there’s a stranger
in the forest
a face I’ve never seen.



There’s a rhythm in walking
Joy and sorrow
listless leaves are seething
raincrows mournful tune
Seasons are flyin’
Faceless and dyin’
the plover in the meadow
From this airy place
Looking down upon
the flight of eagles
a lamb's pitiful cry
so helpless . . .

Sheep look so peaceful
In their pasture
a peasant naps,
a cattle cane across his waist,
day dreaming, unaware of
the summer squall.

The flock is scattering
Among the rocks and heather
I stand till I fade
protecting my tiny bird
So she might fly at all
Gaia’s long forgotten song
blue mountains like whales


Joe Gatski as painted by Morgantown, WV artist Helen Panzironi


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