Few poets get the kind of recognition that Ken Siegelman received in his lifetime, a tribute to the complex, creative and accessible artist that he was. A published author who penned more than 200 poems, Ken was Brooklyn poet laureate from 2002 until his death in 2009 and even more recognition will come posthumously when a Gravesend intersection is renamed “Ken Siegelman Way.” Before his death a docudrama called Fading to Zero, based on Ken’s life and poetry premiered at Kingsborough Community College in 2008.
Ken’s published works include Off Brooklyn Bridge, Cluster and Panicles, Urbania, American Imprint and City Souls, as well as a middle school text book, Learning Social Studies and History through Poetry. Ken’s experience as a public school social studies teacher for more than three decades no doubt informed the latter work and it was in the classroom at Abraham Lincoln High School that Ken developed a poetry curriculum that could reach his students, many of whom were native Russian- and Spanish-speakers. “Language was the only thing that stood in their way,” said Siegelman, “so I used my poetry to bridge the language gap.”
Marty likes to say that selecting Ken Siegelman for the post of poet laureate was one of his proudest acts as borough president, and for good reason. For more than eight years, Siegelman founded and hosted Brooklyn Poetry Outreach, a collaboration with Marty and the Park Slope Barnes & Noble that features monthly poetry readings and discussion by some of Brooklyn’s best and aspiring poets. The initiative continues to this day. Ken also participated in Marty’s student poetry project.
But all the recognition—the Siegelman street sign, the poet laureate title, even the celluloid fame—will eventually be eclipsed by Ken’s poetry, the words that live on to attract new readers, inspire young artists and encourage Brooklynites and all citizens of the world to keep on navigating the highs and the lows of the human experience.
Ken Siegelman is survived by his beloved wife, Pearl; daughters Karen and Tara; grandchildren Brooke, Matthew and Rachel; and sister, Mona.
Ken Siegelman’s Way
By Karen Siegelman-Serebryansky
You always said the pain you felt was unimaginable
And those who heard you made wistful glances as they too were afraid to share your pain,
But knew that you had been the martyr of pain for most.
You were born within a realm of uncertainty and those who doubted tried to chastise with disapproval,
Like disapproving parents with their first bout of childhood discipline.
You heard them but followed your voice of pain that kept you strong, that made you experience of more than most
And led you down the beaten path to the road of redemption.
You-in the eyes of many may not have had a single pulpit on which to preach,
But through your own voice you became the pulpit to many.
Sharing their dreams and nightmares
Of turning our suffering to peace,
We turn to you on your day of rest
And thank you endlessly of the unimaginable becoming a reality
For us to live comfortably in life.
Check out the work of Brooklyn's own Ken Siegelman...