Richard Gegick and Bob Pajich aren’t the best-known poets in Western Pennsylvania. They admittedly aren’t much for self-promotion — “I don’t even like having a biography in the back of a book,” Pajich says — and don’t have large followings.
“I want the writing to make you find out more about [the writer or poet],” Pajich says. “I have no qualms with people who want to promote themselves, but it’s just not me.”
Gegick’s Moon Over My Hammy and Little Beers by Pajich, collections issued by Pajich’s Zigler Boy Press, showcase their extraordinary grasp of ordinary situations.
“It’s about finding the little moments and little details of life that don’t feel special but are special in the grand scheme of a life,” Gegick says.
Pajich, a creative writing teacher at the Westinghouse Arts Academy in Wilmerding, and Gegick, a service industry worker from the North Side, capture indelible working-class images in their poems. Their subjects are hidden in dank bars and mom-and-pop eateries, or waiting for cabs on deserted Downtown streets long after their shifts in pubs and restaurants have ended. They write about Swissvale and Wilmerding, Trafford and Pitcairn, the former Eastland Mall in North Versailles, and Pittsburgh toilets in Munhall.
They invest these characters, these venues and places, with a dignity and grace that’s in counterpoint to how they are often viewed. “That’s very important to me,” Gegick says. “I think most of the work that I enjoy and inspires me revolves around that idea. The idea of work, of occupational poetry or fiction, is something that really hits home. Growing up in Trafford, everybody was a working stiff, and so am I.”
Each poem in Moon Over My Hammy and Little Beers has at least one illuminating description in which they balance words like ballet dancers on tightropes. In Gegick’s "Babushkas," he writes about women who “held families together with kitchen twine and cabbage.” Pajich, in describing the patrons of a bar in the poem "Planet Porkfish," writes: “If it’s true/you can look into the past by/staring into the faces of people/then the past around here/must have been rocks/and tobacco spit.”
“About 80% of good poetry is finding those moments and details,” Pajich says. “With all of this, I’m just trying to tickle myself and impress my friends with those kinds of details.”
The slender volumes — Moon Over My Hammy features 17 poems, Little Beers has 16 — are the byproducts of years of work. Gegick says he’s starting to write about events that happened, “five, six, seven years ago that are just now coming to the surface.” And Pajich says his process is one of deliberation and revision.
If he writes something that he thinks is good on first attempt, “I always reject that one and go for it again,” Pajich says. “And then I reject the next one and go for it a third time. It causes me to think about the next step, next step, next step, instead of just settling.”
Gegick and Pajich are thematically connected to a group of poets and writers —including Kristofer Collins, Lori Jakiela, Dave Newman, Scott Silsbe, Taylor Grieshober, and Jason Baldinger — who are mining the same literary vein, digging for stories and poems in the same places. They support each other but also view poetry as a competition of sorts.
“Any reading I go to I want to be the baddest ass in the room,” Gegick says. “I’m rooting for everyone to be good, but you want to go and kill it.”