Reason #9 to Love Pittsburgh: Billy Nardozzi and Pittsburgh’s Literary Underground

by jbloodwell

Today I was paging through the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and saw this guy’s face in the section for paid announcements:

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It was the second time I’d seen Billy Nardozzi and his poetry in the Post-Gazette, and I thought, “What in the world?”

I did some research, and apparently he’s a known quantity here in Pittsburgh: NPR wrote a piece on him in 2011. That followed a Post-Gazette feature from 2009 by Brian O’Neill, a great PPG reporter.

Nardozzi drops $50 to $100 every Tuesday to have his poems published, along with a photo of himself with that ridiculous mullet and, at the bottom of each poem, his phone number, with a note beneath it saying, “((( All Calls Are Welcomed ))).”

Some people do call him, he said, many with words of encouragement and thanks, and others with advice to cut the mullet. Both pieces take pains to make the point that, no, this is not ironic at all. You’d be forgiven if you thought it were an elaborate joke, because these poems kind of stink.

I could explain why in detail, but instead, here’s a Tumblr of the poems of Billy Nardozzi.

Reading about Nardozzi reminded me of The Dirty Poet, a Pittsburgh fixture whose poems tend to appear overnight, yellow 8 1/2 x 11″ yellow sheets of paper taped to poles in Squirrel Hill, Friendship, Bloomfield, and other neighborhoods. This Pittsburgh Quarterly piece talks briefly to The Dirty Poet.

I met The Dirty Poet once, setting out his poetry at great Pittsburgh bar the Brillobox. He said to me basically what he said to the Pittsburgh Quarterly: that he gets more feedback on his poetry from taping it to phone poles than he ever has publishing in small literary magazines. (He was a little snide when he heard I was a writer, and asked if I’d published anything. I said I had, which occasioned his little soapbox speech.)

This New Yorker blog piece also namedrops The Dirty Poet as it extols Pittsburgh’s literary scene. As good a job as the writer does, I feel there’s an obvious indicator of the depth and richness of Pittsburgh’s literary culture that Ms. Macy Halford missed: Pittsburgh has not only a literary scene but a literary underground, populated by writers who so burn to be heard they bypass the machinery of that literary scene and pay to publish their work, and sneak out in the dead of night to tape their work to traffic poles (or, go out at 9 p.m. to distribute it at bars). That is what I call a literary culture.

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