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Tom Weigel, former New York School poet and New London resident, dies at 69

New London — Tom Weigel, who became a poet and publisher among the writers of the so-called New York School in the 1970s and 1980s of the Lower East Side of Manhattan, came to New London on a ferry in the early 1990s.

Weigel, who died last week at 69, left New York for his parents' home on Long Island as many of his friends and contemporaries in the New York School and the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church were dying, said Jake St. John, a New London poet and Weigel's longtime friend.

"It was just a really bad time," St. John, who met Weigel in the early years of Weigel's poetry readings at Muddy Waters Cafe, said Sunday. "He needed to remove himself from New York."

Weigel grew up on Long Island looking across the Sound to Connecticut, his sister Monica Claire Antonie said.

"We used to say, 'it's so close we can swim there,'" she said.

After leaving New York, Weigel jumped on a ferry and settled in New London, and spent the next two decades writing and encouraging other local poets to write and perform, founding a publishing company and printing work by fellow New London-based artists.

Weigel was a stubborn traditionalist, St. John said, doing all his work on a typewriter and dismissive of poetry published online. Little of Weigel's poetry or any mention of his life can be found online, aside from a couple videos of him reading his work and PDF copies of his work in the Poetry Project newsletter distributed in the 1980s.

Weigel attended Parsons School of Design and worked for architectural firms in Manhattan before marrying Frances Beeler and moving with her to Kentucky.

But Weigel missed living in Manhattan surrounded by art and artists, Antonie said, and inspired on a trip back to the city to visit his sister, threw his keys to his Kentucky house off the Staten Island Ferry.

As a poet and publisher of limited-edition magazines, she said, "he always knew what was going to be in vogue before anybody else did."

"He was a good promoter of people and things," she said. Some editions of the magazines he produced, held together with staples and among only a few copies ever published, are now for sale for hundreds of dollars online, she said.

As a New London resident, Weigel's enthusiasm for supporting young poets only grew stronger the longer he lived here, his friends said.

"He just thought that everyone could benefit from poetry, and everyone needed poetry," St. James said. "He loved getting poetry into the hands of people that might not see (it)."

Weigel hosted open-mic poetry readings at New London cafes and bars for nearly a decade.

"One thing that was always constant was his generosity in the spirit of poetry," said David Kennedy, who frequented the readings after meeting Weigel at the Lyman Allyn museum, where they both worked.

Weigel would welcome first-time poets and readers equally, mixing anecdotes about meeting David Bowie and Allen Ginsberg with honest criticism of their work.

"If there was one thing that was unique to that experience was this feeling of acceptance and of tolerance," Kennedy said. "Above the din of the coffee bar, here are people standing up for the first time and sharing their innermost thoughts and feelings. "It was surreal, it was spectacular."

In 2014, Weigel moved to Chester, N.Y., to live near Antonie and her husband, where he continued to paint and sculpt, making small pieces using material he collected on wooded trails near his apartment.

Weigel could be seen walking the streets of New London between trips to the Dutch Tavern in the years before he moved away, St. John said, wearing a blue coat and carrying letters to his many snail-mail correspondences to the post office.

Shortly before Weigel left the city, New London Mayor Daryl Finizio presented a proclamation honoring the poet for his "dedication and support of local poets, and recognizing his enormous contributions to the literary community of New London."

But Weigel wasn't one for self-promotion, Kennedy said.

"The sad part of this is that he's getting attention posthumously," he said. "He never would have asked for it, (but) he should have been received by the greater public."

"He was such a rare bird," Kennedy said. "He was a true friend of poetry."


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