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An appreciation of John Gardner and the annual reading of his work at the Pok-A-Dot

By Howard B. Owens

Byron Hoot, a Pittsburgh-area resident, is a longtime John Gardner fan and scholar. He's a poet and author who has worked for years on a series of poems based on Gardner's novel "Grendel." For the first time last year, Hoot came to Batavia for the annual Gardner night at the Pok-A-Dot. He then came back in the summer for the Gardner symposium at Genesee Community College and returned this year for the Gardner Society's annual gathering at the Dot.  (To file under "It's a Small World," Hoot studied at a college in Ohio where his literature professor was Art Seamans. I also took literature classes with Seamans in San Diego. The two men join a group of writers annually for a workshop in the Adirondacks. I've not made that trip yet. Maybe this summer ... ). Here's an appreciation by Hoot of the annual local reading and Batavia's literary giant.

I do not know how many cities, towns, or villages across America that have a famous son or daughter of literature do what Batavia, New York does.

Once a year (and it almost feels like “Once upon a time. . ..”), a group gathers who are John Gardner fans. Fans is the wrong word. Friends, students are better words though it’s difficult to explain a relationship with someone dead who still so influences the living, a group of people from all walks of life not strictly academic. . . .

To say nothing of having John’s brother, Jim, and family members there to listen and recite John Gardner’s words which are still very much alive.

We came, the last Saturday of October because he speaks to us still. We come to the Pok-A Dot diner because that’s where he went. We read to honor someone whose writing is honest enough to have opened something in each of us that would have never been opened before.

Terry Abrams, one of the readers, called it — most recently, last Saturday -– a community.  It is. He said in a world where entertainment is everywhere this form where reading and listening and then later talking at O’Lacy’s is an anomaly. He’s right, of course. And I think of that old adage of writing – “to delight and to instruct.” We have forgotten that delight and instruction is of the soul. But not all.

And I suspect John Gardner would growl and say, “Of course! Of course! Write on! Write on!” and give a Grendel smile.

Batavia . . . well done.

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