I’m a long-time camp counselor, I did it for nine years; worked at three different camps, a day camp, a reservation camp and an old-school summer camp. I’ve had a long time involvement in the staff life and it’s one of my greatest muses as a writer.
In the summer of 2010, I received the biggest honor of my life as a writer; I was named Poet Laureate of Camp Krietenstein. It was nice to get some “official” recognition for lack of a better term; my poetry had been a part of my staff life since my days at Ransburg, but it was always underground. The management there didn’t exactly appreciate my edgy rebellious style.
Krietenstein was different though; when I was named Poet Laureate I started performing at the Opening Campfires. Now this wasn’t a full tilt boogie performance like I normally did, this is a Boy Scout camp after all. So I read poetry from Seamus Heaney and one of my own, a piece called “The Wise Old Man”, written about a man at Krietenstein named Al Siebenmorgen. Al is 90 years old and still comes out to camp every week; he’s been going since the 1930’s.
Fast forward to 2011, I was still Poet Laureate, but we had a different camp director and program director. And both of them were very supportive of my writing; they let me take a day off from training to go perform at my first out-of-state gig, Printer’s Row Lit Fest in Chicago.
During the first week of camp, I made a special presentation; my poem about Al, “The Wise Old Man”, had been published that spring in the Indiana State University literary journal The Tonic. So at dinner, I presented a signed copy to the camp. It’s on the shelf in the camp office.
I was still reading poetry at the opening campfires and let me tell you, the kids really dug it. I would look out on the crowd and watch those eyes light up. After the campfire throughout the week, the kids kept asking me about poetry.
But it went beyond the kids; the staff really latched onto poetry and soon I was teaching staff members how to write poetry, loaning out my poetry books and journals, stuff like Allen Ginsberg, Charles Bukowski, Seamus Heaney, Jack Kerouac and underground poetry journals like Assaracus and Off the Rocks. I performed poetry at the staff campfires, which are quite a bit raunchier than the Opening Campfires. Those were full-out Walter Beck poetry performances; I used stage blood one night, another night I wrapped myself in my Pride flag. I even convinced a few of my brothers & sisters on staff to perform on stage with me in Terre Haute at the Coffee Grounds.
They read books from my collection, we’d listen to live poetry records on our rigged stereo down in Staff City (the campsite where the staff lives) and Steve Tucker, our Handicraft Director and well-known Scout artist, did three pieces based on my poetry; “As the CK Soul Sings” was done in oil, “Voices Drifting from the Wilderness” was done in pencil and “The Wise Old Man” was done in colored pencil.
At the end of the summer, as a going away present I gave Jorge Pérez, our international staff member from the Dominican Republic, a copy of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and the poems I read at the Opening Campfires. He was touched.Poetry was alive and well at Camp Krietenstein in the summer of 2011 and this year, as Krietenstein celebrates its 90th Anniversary, I hope it continues to live on.