Jim Irwin pounded his fist on the table sometime in 1997 and said, "Let's start a young writers program."
The first person I called was El Bardo The Legend, aka Leo Connellan. Leo knew any and all English teachers worth the title. He knew their classrooms. He knew their students.
Mark Macomber, a community-minded banker, paid for a newspaper ad to announce the program. Attorney Peter Litwin did the legal work to get 501 (c)3 status pro bono and even paid the fees.
El Bardo also knew all the great poets and writers in Connecticut and which ones were worth knowing. He helped generate the entries and recruit the judges.
In June 1998, the Connecticut Young Writers Competition hosted its first annual dinner. Prizes of $1,000 each were presented to the Litchfield County prose and poetry champions.
El Bardo inspired Bill Cibes, then Chancellor [now Emeritus] of the Connecticut State University System, to join the team.
The CSU System then partnered in 2000 with Jim Irwin's IMPAC corporation to bring the awards competition statewide.
The current Chancellor, David Carter, and hundreds of volunteers, have kept the program alive the past few years.
By June 3, 2010, the CT Young Writers Trust will have given more than $192,000 to young poets and writers.
Each of those hundreds of volunteers have been vital to keep the program going. As we convene June 3 at the Hartford Club for the 13th annual celebration, Leo's legacy is an inspiring notion to contemplate.
Following is a Connecticut Magazine profile of El Bardo The Legend, published a short time before he became Connecticut's Poet Laureate.
The Life of the Poet
During 50 years of writing poetry, Leo Connellan has kept the faith and
kept working hard. Now he's reaping some rewards.
BY ANDY THIBAULT
Connecticut Magazine, December 1995
Hear the poet who talks over the backyard fence, to the next guy on the assembly line, to the clerk, to the chambermaid:
Father, we'll meet again.
You can tell me you love me then.
Father is dead. Planted. Gone forever. But the poet, Leo Connellan, is not giving up. Not just yet. He constructs a foot race in which he defeats the bully who terrorized him as a child.
For you. Father, I imagined up a contest.
Sought out an adversary where none exists,
To win your heart beyond the grave where I
Never had it here.
Will my only child, daughter,
seek me out as I seek you out!?
Now the academics and poetry elite are listening to Connellan as well. El Bardo The Legend, as his admirers like to call him, has developed a following as New England's working-class poet, and at age 67 is producing some of his best work. His 12th book, Provincetown &Other Poems, was scheduled for a second printing after only eight months on the bookstore shelves. His 50 years of work represent a triumph of his will to be a responsible, providing father, a husband and a poet. The poems themselves are a celebration of perseverance, day-to-day survival, and a heart that refuses to quit.
Connellan, who lives with his wife and daughter in a modest apartment in the old mill town of Sprague in eastern Connecticut near Norwich, is also a top contender to succeed the late James Merrill as Connecticut's poet laureate.
BOOKS BY EL BARDO THE LEGEND
Penobscot Poems (1974)
Another Poet in New York (1975)
Crossing America (1976)
First Selected Poems (1976)
Death in Lobster Land: New Poems (1978)
The Gunman and Other Poems
Massachusetts Poems (1981)
The Clear Blue Lobster-Water Country: A Trilogy (1985)
New and Collected Poems (1989)
Provincetown, and Other Poems (1995)
Short Poems, City Poems, 1944-1998 (1998)
The Maine Poems (1999)
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