Joseph S. Salemi is editor of Trinacria and has published poems and translations in over seventy journals throughout the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. He has published four collections of poetry: Steel Masks (White Violet Press); Masquerade (Pivot Press); The Lilacs on Good Friday (The New Formalist Press); Formal Complaints (Somers Rock Press); and Nonsense Couplets (Somers Rocks Press). He has translated poems from a wide range of Greek and Roman authors, including Catullus, Martial, Juvenal, Horace, Propertius, Austonius, Theognis, and Philodemus. In addition, he has published extensive translations (with scholarly commentary and annotations) from Renaissance texts such as the Faunus poems of Pietro Bembo, the Facetiae of Poggio Bracciolini, and the Latin verse of Baldassare Castiglione. He is a recipient of a Herbert Musurillo Scholarship, a Lane Cooper Fellowship, an N.E.H. Summer Seminar Fellowship, and the 1993 Classical and Modern Literature Award. Salemi is also the winner of numerous individual prizes for his poetry. He is currently completing an epic-length satire on modern American life titled A Gallery of Ethopaths. A native of New York City, he teaches in the department of Humanities at New York University, and in the Classics Department of Hunter College, CUNY.

Read an interview with Mr. Salemi here.

View poems by Mr. Salemi published by The Society of Classical Poets here.

Below is a piece on Mr. Salemi republished from The Pennsylvania Review.


 

Me, Myself, and I

By Joseph S. Salemi

Sev­eral read­ers over time have asked me to give some account of myself and my back­ground. I would nor­mally decline such a request, since ful­fill­ing it inevitably smacks of vanity—a vice that all lit­ter­a­teurs suf­fer from, but that we all go to great lengths to keep hidden.

Notice the for­mu­laic self-effacement of every schol­arly intro­duc­tion to a crit­i­cal work or edi­tion, for exam­ple. The author takes elab­o­rate pains to thank oth­ers pro­fusely, and to sum­mon all blame for errors to him­self alone. This polite cus­tom has been around since the Renais­sance, and its pseudo-modesty was as false then as it is now.

In any case, I have decided to give the per­sonal infor­ma­tion here to stave off any fur­ther requests. If any­one takes it amiss, well… honi soit qui mal y pense. Below is a brief sketch that was intended for a spe­cial issue of a mag­a­zine that, for var­i­ous rea­sons, never appeared. I speak of myself in the third per­son, since that is what the edi­tor requested. Here goes:

Joseph S. Salemi was born in New York City in 1948. He grew up in Wood­side, one of the old­est set­tled com­mu­ni­ties in Queens County. His father, Sal­va­tore Salemi, was a dec­o­rated World War II com­bat vet­eran who also served in Mil­i­tary Intel­li­gence. His mother, Lib­erty Previti Salemi, was a legal sec­re­tary for a major New York law firm.

Salemi’s grand­fa­ther, Rosario Previti, was a Sicil­ian poet, trans­la­tor, and jour­nal­ist who trans­lated the FitzGer­ald ver­sion of the Rubaiyat into Ital­ian, and who was the Amer­i­can cor­re­spon­dent for the news­pa­per Don Gio­vanni in Messina. He wrote a series of satiric columns on Amer­i­can life and habits. “What I am as a satirist comes directly from my grand­fa­ther,” writes Salemi.

Salemi attended Ford­ham Uni­ver­sity, a Jesuit school in the Bronx, where he majored in Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture and phi­los­o­phy. He did his grad­u­ate work at New York Uni­ver­sity, receiv­ing a Ph.D. in Renais­sance Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture in 1986, with a spe­cial­iza­tion in the polem­i­cal pam­phle­teers of the Marprelate Con­tro­versy and their rhetor­i­cal styles. He also stud­ied Clas­sics at Brook­lyn Col­lege and the Grad­u­ate Cen­ter of the City Uni­ver­sity of New York.

Salemi has been blessed with some stel­lar teach­ers and men­tors, who trained him in a rig­or­ously tra­di­tional style of schol­ar­ship. He stud­ied Old and Mid­dle Eng­lish lit­er­a­ture under Robert Lumi­an­sky, Lil­lian Her­lands Horn­stein, and Robert Raymo. His teach­ers in Renais­sance stud­ies were Roger Deakins, Richard C. Har­rier, J. Max Patrick, and C.A. Patrides. He read eighteenth-century lit­er­a­ture with George Win­ches­ter Stone, Roman­tic and Vic­to­rian lit­er­a­ture with Aileen Ward and Leonard Dean, and twentieth-century lit­er­a­ture with M.L. Rosen­thal and John Kuehl. He did his clas­si­cal stud­ies with John Van Sickle, Seth Bernardete, Eth­yle R. Wolfe, Hardy Hansen, and Floyd L. More­land. His men­tor in Neo-Latin stud­ies was Fred J. Nichols.

“I insisted on tak­ing classes with the very best tra­di­tional schol­ars,” explains Salemi. “I refused to sit in a lec­ture hall where some politi­cized poseur would dish out race-class-gender dri­vel, or fraud­u­lent French the­ory. I wanted gen­uine schol­ar­ship, and I knew it was dis­ap­pear­ing fast in the Amer­i­can acad­emy. I was very, very lucky. Almost all of my teach­ers have retired or died within the last decade. Many of them have been replaced by fem­i­nists, queer the­o­rists, and affirmative-action nonentities.”

Salemi pub­lished his first schol­arly arti­cle in 1975, when he was still a grad­u­ate stu­dent. “It was an analy­sis of William Gaddis’s The Recog­ni­tions, at that time a much-discussed novel,” says Salemi, “and since then it has been reprinted three times, in three sep­a­rate antholo­gies of crit­i­cism.” He has con­tin­ued to pro­duce schol­arly crit­i­cism on a wide range of authors, includ­ing Chaucer, Machi­avelli, Pietro Bembo, Cas­tiglione, William Blake, Ernest Dow­son, W.H. Hen­ley, Stephen Crane, Samuel But­ler, and Willa Cather. His 1980 arti­cle on Blake’s The Gates of Par­adise is con­sid­ered a major con­tri­bu­tion to the under­stand­ing of Blake’s debt to the ear­lier emblem-literature of the Renaissance.

Salemi has also worked as an inves­tiga­tive jour­nal­ist, writ­ing for Sid­ney Hook’s monthly newslet­ter Mea­sure, and for the California-based pub­li­ca­tion Het­ero­doxy. He was per­son­ally respon­si­ble for expos­ing the per­se­cu­tion of con­ser­v­a­tive fac­ulty mem­bers at the Uni­ver­sity of Texas at Austin, a school with a rep­u­ta­tion for vicious, polit­i­cally cor­rect intol­er­ance. Salemi con­vinced Pro­fes­sor Alan Gribben, a tenured mem­ber of that school’s Eng­lish depart­ment, to go pub­lic with the facts of that per­se­cu­tion, and Salemi then wrote the explo­sive follow-up arti­cle in Mea­sure that led even­tu­ally to the total restruc­tur­ing of UT Austin’s Eng­lish depart­ment and the res­ig­na­tion of a dean and sev­eral fac­ulty mem­bers. “Gribben and I didn’t coin the phrase polit­i­cal cor­rect­ness,” says Salemi, “but we sure as hell made it a house­hold word in Amer­ica. The main­stream media and Chron­i­cles of Higher Edu­ca­tion fol­lowed our lead on the issue. The aca­d­e­mic left has never recov­ered from the dam­age that we ini­ti­ated in that case.”

He has writ­ten sim­i­larly dev­as­tat­ing exposés that caused major shake­ups at Dal­las Bap­tist Uni­ver­sity, and at Pace Uni­ver­sity Law School. In the lat­ter case Salemi faced down Robert F. Kennedy Jr. and his team of lawyers, and brought about the res­ig­na­tion of another dean.

“I real­ized that, since acad­e­mia is a closed cor­po­ra­tion, its only vul­ner­a­ble spot lay in the realm of pub­lic­ity and pub­lic scrutiny,” says Salemi. “Once we got edi­to­ri­al­ists, colum­nists, alumni, and politi­cians to see what was really going on, the left­ists ran for cover so fast that you would have thought they were sprint­ers. But you need right-wing fac­ulty with the courage to speak out pub­licly. Aca­d­e­mics as a class are defi­cient in that area. And when you are a hated minor­ity, the pres­sure to be silent is even more intense.”

Salemi has pub­lished three books of poetry. The first two were For­mal Com­plaints and Non­sense Cou­plets, both from Somers Rocks Press. The lat­est is Mas­quer­ade, from Pivot Press. He was a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor and book reviewer for the Expan­sive Poetry On-Line web­site, a task he now ful­fills for The Penn­syl­va­nia Review. Besides his own poetry, Salemi has pub­lished trans­la­tions from a wide range of Greek and Roman authors, includ­ing Cat­ul­lus, Mar­tial, Juve­nal, Horace, Prop­er­tius, Auso­nius, Theog­nis, and Philode­mus. He has also pub­lished exten­sive trans­la­tions (with schol­arly com­men­tary and anno­ta­tions) from Renais­sance texts such as the Faunus poems of Pietro Bembo, the Face­tiae of Pog­gio Brac­ci­olini, and the Latin verse of Castiglione.

Salemi is a recip­i­ent of a Her­bert Musurillo Schol­ar­ship, a Lane Cooper Fel­low­ship, an N.E.H. Fel­low­ship, and the 1993 Clas­si­cal and Mod­ern Lit­er­a­ture Award. He is a four-time final­ist for the Howard Nemerov Prize, and the win­ner of numer­ous indi­vid­ual prizes for his poetry. His work has appeared in over one hun­dred jour­nals and ten poetry antholo­gies. He is cur­rently at work com­plet­ing an epic-length verse satire on mod­ern Amer­i­can life titled A Gallery of Ethopaths. Twenty-five indi­vid­ual sec­tions of this poem have already appeared in print.

He is mar­ried to the trans­la­tor Helen Palma, and lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn.

 

 


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