In 1952 the gold medalists for the Meriden High School Hicks Prize Essay Contest were my classmates Phineas Gay, Carol Iodice, George Lallos, Doris Ravasio, Joyce Tambourine, and I. A three-person committee of teachers chaired by Mark Bollman, head of the English Department and my English Honors teacher, comprised the panel of judges. At the time I was told by other teachers that two of the three faculty judges thought my essay was the best one submitted that year, but that one judge, my instructor and the head of the English Department, Mark Bollman, refused to support it for the prize. The essay, “A Row of Hedges,” was about my gazing out the window of Bollman's class, a typical pose, and seeing a line of hedges, which I used as a metaphor for our time in high school. I assume Bollman took umbrage at my writing about daydreaming in his class, but my music teacher Tony Parisi told me years later, “You didn’t stand a chance. Bollman hated Italians.”
Although Bollman kiboshed my Hicks Prize, I won a number of prizes that year in the Scholastic Writing Awards sponsored locally by the Hartford Courant and nationally by Scholastic Magazines. I received Honorable Mentions for my sets of poems titled, “Group I” and “Group 2,” and for my short stories, "The Battle of the Primaries," and "Mrs. Brown." My long poem, “Observations of a Resurrected Corpse,” composed in Bollman's class as my English Honors project was an answer to Walt Whitman's effusive “Manahatta”; it was built around three poems I had written in my junior year preceding after my first trip to Manhattan -- this was the main one:
This is the city, the grime and the dust,
a rushing, roaring, rampant stream of life
passing, pressing, pushing along the narrow streets;
the clash and clamor of peering people
leaning from towering tenements, tainting the air
with curses and calls, the cries of Cain;
the acrid aroma, the air leaden;
the rich growing richer, the poor staying poor,
rich or poor, greedy alike
with the avarice of vermin, vicious, despairing.
This is the city, citadel of Man –
decadent, desperate, dollar-driven,
its veneer of glass a transparent mockery,
a mural of mirror masking a core
of misery and madness: humanity’s castle,
the fabulous fortress of a futile race,
the pinnacle of pride, see it clearly –
this is the city.
“Observations of a Resurrected Corpse” (later titled “The City[s Mask”) won a Key Award from the Courant, and it received an Honorable Mention in the Nationals, the only student work in Meriden to do so. Nor did any student in Meriden receive nearly as many "Certificates of Merit" as I did in the Scholastic Awards.
When we members of Mr. Bollman’s English Honors all had finished our projects, we spent several days discussing them and deciding which examples were to appear in the class anthology, The Leaky Pen. I was unprepared for Mr. Bollman’s reaction to my poem, a response more violent than mine had been to Whitman's poem -- he suddenly blew up, smashed the top of his desk with his fist, and furiously declared, “It is from works such as this that the seeds of Communism sprout and grow to bear bitter fruit!” If I had been more politically aware at the time, I might have realized that his response to a student poem had something to with the Communist witch hunts of the period. I was apparently a junior warlock allied ethnically with Sacco and Vanzetti, Italian=Amercan anarchists of an earlier period.
Mr. Bollman also refused to allow me to be the solo editor of The Annual yearbook for the Class of 1952. He appointed Arthur von Au co-editor with me, and I received a B in English Honors.Twelve years later “Observations” appeared, in a somewhat revised version titled "The City's Mask," in Quartet, No. 8, 1964.