Around Town: Heartfelt poetry makes for nice prose and cons

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Billy Nardozzi wears his heart on his sleeve and, every few weeks, in this newspaper's Classified section as well.

My grandmother is a person
Who I will never ever forget
I loved her so very much
And I still miss her even yet

His poems on the Tuesday Celebrations page have their fans as well as their detractors.

"He's like a treasure to me," Ann Malady of Elizabeth Borough said when she called to urge me to do a column on him. "This guy -- he makes my day."

Others slam Mr. Nardozzi, 52, both for his rhyme schemes and his outdated mullet haircut. His photo runs with his poems when he drops the money -- he says it runs from around $50 to $100 -- on his ads.

He recalled one guy calling his house to say, "Dude, this is 2009. Lose the hair, buddy."

He took a day off yesterday from his job packing bottles into cases for the Liquor Control Board, filling orders for Strip District restaurants and bars. I drove out to his house in Green Tree, where nine plastic Santas command the front lawn, and we talked about why he shares his poetry.

He welcomed me graciously, as anyone who has read his poetry would suspect, offering coffee and fresh doughnuts from Shop 'n' Save as we sat in the family kitchen. Wearing his "I Believe in Santa Claus" sweatshirt, he told me he's been writing poems for 31 years. He began sharing them in the PG five or six years ago.

"I write them because in this crazy, corrupt, complicated, competitive world, I want people to know there's still some innocence."

Love is stronger than the wind
And it is stronger than the tide
And there is not a better feeling
Than that person by your side

Sometimes he can write a poem in 10 minutes and sometimes it takes 10 days. Lately, he's been putting his home phone number at the bottom of the page.

"Some of the calls I got -- it will move your heart," he said.

One woman called to say it was nice to know he loved and cared about his mother so much. She wished her thankless grandson could show some love to her daughter. She was nearly in tears and he was, too.

"Things like that mean the world to me," Mr. Nardozzi said.

Some appreciate him on a somewhat more ironic level. A Web site, "Masters of Gilligan," offered this in October 2008 after reading Mr. Nardozzi's "Halloween (I Remember)":

"The poet laureate of the Post-Gazette 'Celebrations' column is back, and better than ever. That's right -- the State-Store-Job-Lovin', Fifth-Grade Reunionizing bard of the personals has taken out another whopping 8-inch column of classified advertising space, this time to reminisce about his days as a trick-or-treater.

"Here's the ad ... all the hallmarks of classic Nardozzi are here: the complex rhyming scheme, the random capitalization, the bemulleted photo. It's all here, and it's all good. Enjoy."

His poems will never threaten Tennyson, Lowell or even Seuss, but as my friend Sean Cannon of Shaler put it, "I enjoy reading his pieces because they're simple and they're heartfelt and he has a gift from God that Allen Ginsberg would envy: his hair."

If Mr. Nardozzi looks like a refugee from an '80s rock band stuck in early 21st century suburbia, that's because he is. He and his older brother, Nick, used to perform 1950s and '60s rock songs as "The Nardozzi Brothers."

He grew up in McKees Rocks Terrace, a housing project, moving to Stowe and then Dormont as he reached his teens. He graduated from Keystone Oaks High in 1975 and married his high school sweetheart, Donna, on Aug. 28, 1982, "at 3 o'clock in St. Bernard's Church" in Mt. Lebanon. They've been living in Green Tree since Aug. 22, 1993. (He has a thing for dates.)

The Nardozzis have three children: Roman, 22, a history major at Indiana University of Pennsylvania; Jordan, 19, a Marine stationed at Camp Pendleton in Southern California; and Brianna, a junior at Keystone Oaks.

His wife, a computer technician for a Downtown law firm, is sometimes annoyed by his poetic obsession but she hears all the time from his fans. She couldn't talk him into getting a haircut for this column. He laughed and said, "Like Samson's hair that gave him strength, my hair gives me confidence."

Got to be a poem in that, I'm guessing.


Brian O'Neill can be reached at boneill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1947.


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