By Blake Nelson
He took the podium with a calm repose that can only be earned after years of handling large matters. Joe Crowley wasn’t beginning to speak to the University of Nevada, Reno, or even to a very large group of people. Rather, Crowley was giving a reading at Sundance Bookstore of his recently published book of poems, “Hats off to the Cap.”
Crowley shared both his poetry and some reflections on life in general. His book, released on April 17 earlier this year, is filled with 40 poems, each a rumination on different aspects of life.
His reading only lasted a little over an hour, but the topics jumped all over — early life, the writing process and the waning years of an accomplished man were all subjects discussed in the intimate setting of Sundance.
The most surprising part of all this is Crowley’s age, 82. After 23 years of being a president of UNR, it seems that taking up poetry might not be the next step, but Crowley has always enjoyed writing.
“Writing has been a passion for me since I was a senior in high school,” Crowley said. “I had been thinking about writing serious poetry for sometime, but I never thought I’d be releasing a book.”
Writing multiple papers and a plethora of articles throughout his career, Crowley was no stranger to the written word, yet he didn’t begin writing the poetry that would compose a large part of his book until 2006, after stepping down as the acting president of UNR. Although Crowley’s poetic career didn’t start until much later in his life, what he doesn’t have in years of experience, he makes up for in effort.
Through, attending workshops with Gailmarie Pahmeier here at UNR alongside students, being critiqued by our very own peers, and taking workshops in Iowa and New Hampshire, Crowley has worked to hone in on his style and voice.
Crowley’s poetry can be best described as plain-talking free verse with an easygoing tone. It depicts scenes of youth as well as age, all with somber wisdom and an eye for humor, just as to be expected of a man who has lived such an eventful life.
The response to Crowley’s poetry has been collective appreciation, with one review by Steven Nightingale calling the book a blessing. All of this proves that even late in life a person can find something that they truly love to do.
The story of Crowley at UNR doesn’t need to be retold here; his history is all over the university, a building was erected in his honor and he set the record for longest-standing president. The remarkable aspect lies in Crowley’s ability to simultaneously lead his life and let his life lead him.
Crowley attended two years at the University of Iowa, but eventually dropped out to join the Air Force, then eventually returned after his term was finished.
“After being a failure there, I still wanted to go back to college, and I grew to love the college life,” Crowley said. “Then I came to the University of Nevada, Reno, and stayed.”
And now, over 25 years after coming to Reno, Crowley has allowed life — or life has allowed him — to publish a book of poetry. Crowley doesn’t necessarily know where he would have gone if he had pursued poetry early on, but he appreciates the experience that a long life beforehand has given him.
The lesson here is not to worry too much about where life takes you, and if your passion is not apparent at first, just wait and explore. Life seems to take its time, not necessarily taking you where you want to go at first. It took Crowley much of his life to start to pursue one of his greatest passions. If you haven’t found yours yet, at least you’re in good company.
Crowley doesn’t have any definite plans to release anything large anytime soon, but he intends to release a shorter book sometime in the future. His current book, “Hats off to the Cap,” can be picked up at Sundance.
Blake Nelson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @b_e_nelson.