Brooklyn Poet Laureate Ken Siegelman dies at 63

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Ken Siegelman, Brooklyn’s poet laureate, died in his Gravesend home on June 20th after a decade long struggle with kidney disease. He was 63 years old.

Over his accomplished career, Siegelman authored over two hundred 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 captive, 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.

As poet laureate, Siegelman hosted Brooklyn Poetry Outreach, a collaboration with the borough president and the Park Slope Barnes & Noble that features monthly poetry readings and discussion by some of Brooklyn’s best and aspiring poets.

Last year, “Fading to Zero,” a movie based on Siegelman’s life and poetry, premiered at Kingsborough Community College. Ken Siegelman’s poetry, including “Stage Fright,” written just last month, can be read at the Web site of the Brooklyn Borough President at www.brooklyn−usa.org. Click on “Poetic Brooklynit­es.”

In Siegelman’s eyes, poetry was everywhere. In “Dying Dog,” he wrote: “I whispered to him, as I bent upon one knee⁄

And I know it didn’t matter what I said⁄As long as another’s voice reached out to him as company⁄Not to hold him to this graveled naked grave⁄But to let him slip more easily⁄Into the place he had to go…”

Ken Siegelman is survived by his wife of 45 years, Pearl; twin daughters Karen and Tara; grandchildren Brooke, Matthew and Rachel; and sister, Mona.

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