Towering poet

Poet Tom Meschery is inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame

Poet Tom Meschery is greatly and graciously gratified by his induction into the Nevada Writers Hall of fame.

Poet Tom Meschery is greatly and graciously gratified by his induction into the Nevada Writers Hall of fame.

Photo by David Robert

Poet and ex-pro basketball player Tom Meschery witnessed Wilt Chamberlain knock down 100 points in a single game in Hershey, Penn., but he remembers most clearly something he witnessed later from the team bus: An Amish farmer driving a buggy through the dark countryside, “hurrying home in the all / too brief light of his lantern.”

Meschery’s work often illuminates these earthy details—the stuff of life and poetry.

In recognition of his writing, his life experiences and his teaching, Meschery was inducted into the Nevada Writers Hall of Fame last week during a ceremony at the university’s Getchell Library.

“Although I tell my students that adverbs suck,” said the Reno High School English teacher, “I have to resort to them when I say that I am extremely humbled and completely thrilled by this award.”

The former NBA journeyman now hammers language instead of opposing centers. “For three straight years,” read Meschery, 64, “my nose collapsed. My knees ached, / and I could never talk myself out of less / than two injuries at a time.” The audience listened to him as fans might watch a veteran ballplayer scrambling for the ball, giving everything he has, satisfaction and heartbreak embodied in the spectacle of an aging athlete whose wisdom compensates for his lost step.

Loss and consequent wisdom are major themes of Meschery’s 1999 collection Nothing We Lose Can Be Replaced, which covers family history, remembrances of basketball and his teaching career. At the heart of his portraits, one often finds redemption, never despair.

What is so refreshing about his poetry is exactly what is so refreshing about Meschery himself—a lack of pretension. Here is a man who, in the words of a former student, has filled “three lifetimes in his one.” Yet he was sincerely surprised at receiving this recognition. Born in Manchuria, China, of parents who fled the Russian Revolution, he spent his early years in an internment camp outside Tokyo after Japan invaded China during WWII. Eventually, the family moved to San Francisco, where Meschery discovered Beat poets like Allen Ginsberg while retaining respect, instilled in him by his traditionalist father, for Russian icons like Aleksandr Pushkin.

In his latest poems, gathered under the working title, Some Men, a comic sensibility assists sharp, clear meditations on masculinity, fatherhood and teaching.

The Friends of the University of Nevada Library also awarded Silver Pens to Gregory Martin and Carolyn Dufurrena. Martin has seen success with Mountain City, literary nonfiction about a disappearing town 84 miles north of Elko. Dufurrena’s a K-3 teacher at Kings River Elementary near Denio and author of Fifty Miles from Home, a memoir of Nevada ranch life.