Poet, about to turn 102, still spinning verses for Lantana neighbors: Meet the ‘Bard of Carlisle’
GERSON FABE STARTED writing poetry when he was 74. Stung by the death of his wife, he channeled his grief into emotional verses.
That was in 1996. He has been dabbling in poetry ever since.
On Sept. 28, Fabe will celebrate his 102nd birthday doing what he has done nearly every day for the past 15 years — sharing his “Poem of the Day” with his neighbors at The Carlisle, a senior living community in Lantana.
Every morning at breakfast and every evening at dinner, Fabe wheels his chair into the dining room where he hands out printed copies of poems — his poems, crafted around themes sentimental, melancholy, whimsical and romantic.
“He’s our resident poet,’’ said Carlisle resident Burt Scholl, 91. “He's an inspiration to youngsters like me.’’
For a long time, Fabe wrote new poems just about every day. But lately, as his vision and hearing have waned, the old poet mainly tweaks and revises many of the originals he has written over the past 27 years.
“I write an original occasionally, but just occasionally,’’ he said with a smile. “Somehow or another my brain doesn't act like it was acting at the time these were written.’’
A lifelong creative spirit from Cincinnati, Fabe said he was probably in his 50s or 60s when he first dabbled in poetry. He got serious with his prose after the death of Joan, his wife of 20 years.
Sorry, he says, but those early poems, inspired by his love and grief for Joan, are not for public consumption. “The majority of those have never been printed because they belong to me and I don't want to share them with anybody,’’ he said.
But since 1997, when he rolled out his first public offering, “A Prayer for The Best,’’ he has shared hundreds of poems. In the 2000s, he published “Gerson’s Verses,’’ a six-week series of his poetry, in the Palm Beach Daily News — as paid advertisements.
"It's a stroking of my own ego," Fabe, who was living at The Biltmore on Palm Beach, told a Shiny Sheet reporter in 2006.
In the 15 years he has lived at The Carlisle, the process of sharing his poetry is quite a production. At a desk in the bedroom of his sixth-floor apartment, Fabe crafts and tweaks his poems each week on a computer.
He may be on the verge of 102, but this old poet can work a computer like a seasoned techy. He enlarges the type so he can see what he's doing. He changes a verb or noun on a few old favorite. Then he prints 50 copies of each poem. He prints different poems for each day of the week, except Sunday, his day off.
And when he arrives in the lobby with his satchel of poems, residents often approach him, their hands reaching out, before he gets to the dining room.
“I think it's adorable,’’ said the old poet’s daughter, Sondra Fabe of West Palm Beach.
“It wasn't something he intended to be a big deal. It started off as a very small, very private handing out of poems to his small, little group of friends, the four or five people he eats breakfast and dinner with. But then they started passing them around to their friends, and then other friends started passing them around, and pretty soon he's giving away like 50 poems a day.’’
Sondra offers a mischievous laugh. “And needless to say,’’ she says, “the ladies love his love poems.’’
It takes lots of paper and lots of ink to share his poetry, but the bard gets plenty of help from his adoring friends and fans, who donate ink cartridges and reams of paper purchased from Office Depot.
“There are a few people in this building who know me as ‘The Bard of Carlisle,’’’ he said with a laugh. “I think that’s pretty good.’’
Fabe also writes short stories and published a collection in 2014. One of his stories was recently adapted into a dramatic performance by The Carlisle Players, a troupe of residents in the senior community.
“We do stage readings where we have a script,’’ said Scholl, who participated in the performance based on Fabe's story. “We don't memorize lines and we don't get up. There’s no action. We are seated at a table and recite lines.’’
Fabe’s late journey to poetry might seem unusual, But he has been something of a creative spirit all his life.
Born on Sept. 28, 1921, he grew up in Cincinnati. After studying mechanical engineering for two years at the University of Cincinnati, he became an Air Force test pilot, tasked with flying newly repaired planes.
His missions, flying around the United States, made sure the planes were airworthy for combat pilots to fly on World War II missions in Europe and the Pacific. He followed that up with a career as a New York insurance executive.
But as a teenager, he aspired to sing opera. That never happened. But as the years went by and Fabe worked his usual day job, he sang and performed in community theater.
In 1959, he performed in a Shubert Theater production of “Mr. Roberts,’’ which starred David Janssen (who would star in the television series “The Fugitive'' from 1963-67). He also performed in a show with Ava Gabor, his daughter said.
“He always loved performing. I must've inherited that from him,’’ said Sondra, who in the early 1970s sang in Vietnam on USO tours with a band called “Everybody’s People.”
As for her father’s late-blooming stint as a poet, Sondra attributes that to the “streak of creativity” he managed to ride alongside his 9-to-5 professional life.
“Once he retired, I guess the words just came and out came the poetry,’’ she said.
Flying is another passion for Fabe, and a theme in his poems, although it’s been more than 10 years since he was in a cockpit.
“He continued to fly until he was well into his 80s,'' Sondra said. "He would take us over to (Palm Beach County Park Airport in) Lantana and rent a plane and fly us around. And before we took off, he’d crawl all over that plane to make sure everything was OK.’’
The flying poet enjoys reading Edgar Allan Poe and O. Henry. A favorite poem is “If” by Rudyard Kipling. His verses are inspired by the daily happenings at the senior community and memories of his long life.
“Many of his things are poems he has written because he loved his wife,’’ Sondra said before offering another mischievous laugh. “Although there have been several (wives), and he loved them all.’’
Sondra will join her father and his dinner companions at The Carlisle dining room on Sept. 28 for his 102nd birthday.
He may not be the oldest resident in the building. “Some lady here is 104,’’ he said. But he’s fairly certain he’s the oldest poet in the building.
“I never expected to be here,’’ Fabe said with a laugh when asked about his secret to a long life. “My mother died at 90. I had an uncle who died at 99. My maternal grandma died at 99. Beyond that I have no idea how I progressed here at all.’’
Turning toward his computer screen, where he was about to tweak another “Poem of the Day,’’ he said, “This keeps me busy. This gives me a goal to get to, to deliver these every day. Except Sunday.’’
The Lament of Old Age
by Gerson Fabe
My stamina and I
Are no longer speaking.
My left knee joint
Is loudly creaking.
But I’m glad to be here.
My blood pressure
Whirls out of sight.
My eyes can’t tell
If it’s day or night.
But I’m glad to be here.
My right arm ignores
My other hand
My heart is pumping
To beat the band.
But I’m glad to be here.
My kidney ignores
The plight of my liver
And I’ve been totally rejected
As a whole blood giver
But I’m damn glad to be here.
© 2023 ByJoeCapozzi.com All rights reserved.
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About the author
Joe Capozzi is an award-winning reporter based in Lake Worth Beach. He spent more than 30 years writing for newspapers, mostly at The Palm Beach Post, where he wrote about the opioid scourge, invasive pythons, the birth of the Ballpark of the Palm Beaches and Palm Beach County government. For 15 years, he covered the Miami Marlins baseball team. Joe left The Post in December 2020. View all posts by Joe Capozzi.