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New effort to honor late poet laureate

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Many knew him as Brooklyn’s poet laureate, but to those who live in the tight-knit Gravesend community, the late Ken Siegelman was also a beloved friend and neighbor.

City Councilmember Domenic Recchia, Democratic Assembly District leader Mike Geller and Community Board 15 members are leading an effort to name a street in the neighborhood after Siegelman, who died June 20 at age 63 after a long struggle with kidney disease.

The plan calls to co-name either West 5th Street - where Siegelman lived - or the cross street, Wolf Place, named after the bard of Brooklyn.

“In his honor, we want people to realize what a great asset he was to not only the borough, but to our community and the contributions he made to it,” said Recchia. “This was a great big loss to Brooklyn.”

Community Board 15 Chair Theresa Scavo recalled how Siegelman was a special neighbor and gentleman with a small black dog, who still misses its owner.

“He was a very nice guy and did a lot of good work for people,” said Scavo. “Almost every Thursday night he hosted an open poetry reading at Barnes and Noble on 7th Avenue in Park Slope, and he did a lot of work for people from Phoenix House, working with former inmates to express emotions through poetry.”

Over his accomplished career, Siegelman authored over 200 published poems, which appeared in scores of magazine and other publications throughout the country, as well as several books, including “Off Brooklyn Bridge,” a financial and literary success.

Before the spotlight was cast his way, Siegelman taught social studies at Abraham Lincoln High School for 33 years. Lessons were no mundane thing with Siegelman at the helm, those who knew him said. Historical figures would speak in verse, courtesy of the poet, who would personalize their experiences for the captivated student body.

English was an unfamiliar language in his classroom — composed of Russian and Spanish-speaking teens — but Siegelman saw students wanting to learn, according to Borough President Marty Markowitz.

“Language was the only thing that stood in their way,” Siegelman once said. “So I used my poetry to bridge the language gap.”

In 1992 the teacher’s union presented Siegelman with the Social Studies Teacher of the Year John Bunzel Award at a midtown ceremony attended by hundreds.

In 2002, Markowitz appointed Siegelman poet laureate.

“Like the borough he loved and wrote about, his life was never boring, and he captured all of it — the good, the bad, the ups and downs — in his poetry. Ken will be sorely missed, but his words will remain with us and inspire up-and-coming poets for generations to come,” Markowitz said.

Recchia said he expects to introduce a resolution for the co-naming of the street in the near future.

-- with Gary Buiso

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