Local poet publishes inaugural book, offers new voice

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WEST ORANGE / SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — West Orange High School English teacher and South Orange resident Victor Alcindor recently made his entrance into the publishing world with the release of his first book, “Stand Mute.” The collection of poetry came out of Alcindor’s creative writing classes during his doctoral work at Drew University, when he amassed a collection of approximately 70 poems, which were then edited for publication.

“I took a few creative writing courses at Drew and I started writing poems,” Alcindor said in a July 26 phone interview. “I’d always been interested, and over seven years I collected close to 70 poems. This publisher wanted to publish voices that weren’t always heard.”

“Stand Mute” is published by Get Fresh Books, LLC, a new press that has only published six books. Alcindor said the publisher wanted to publish writers whose work hadn’t been read yet, and he was a good fit. Alcindor’s poems focus on themes of abuse, subject matter that is not often discussed.

“As a Haitian-American and a man of color, if you look at whoever is popular it tends to be the same people,” he said. “So it’s getting new voices out there. And that’s not to take away from those writers, but now others can identify with my worldview. Students have mentioned being moved and interested by life in the 1990s, and my young adulthood.”

It took years of hard work for Alcindor to reach this point in his writing career.

“I’ve been published in journals before, but this is my first time anywhere else,” he said. “I would get letters back saying ‘we like your work, but go back and work on it.’ So it’s been a learning process.”

Alcindor was drawn to poetry while he was teaching it. For the last 15 years, he has taught the curriculum of every English class offered at WOHS, including American literature and SAT prep. He also spent four years teaching eighth-grade English at Roosevelt Middle School.

“I modeled them after the poems I would assign,” Alcindor said. “And we would have workshops and I would write with them. I’ve always been impressed with how poets are able to take so few words and reveal a universal truth. I’ve dabbled in fiction, but the response with the poetry I’ve written has been so great.”

There are writers that Alcindor looks to for inspiration, such as James Baldwin and F. Scott Fitzgerald. In addition, the poet Sylvia Plath has had a tremendous influence on Alcindor’s work.

“These poems scream ‘we have to do better.’ Kids are cruel but humanity can be crueler,” Randall Horton, the author of “Pitch Dark Anarchy” and “Hook: A Memoir,” and a professor of English at the University of New Haven, said about Alcindor’s book in a press release on July 19. “Sure, these are initiation and coming-of-age stories, but more importantly, these poems are baptismal and, if you listen carefully, you cannot emerge from this book unchanged. We often read blurbs with words like ‘necessity’ and ‘must read’ and they are actually not, but ‘Stand Mute’ is the real deal.”

Alcindor said he has been hearing from former students who have read his book, and they often bring up lessons that they learned while in his classes. But while he said connecting with them has been great, he will probably not bring his own poems into the classroom anytime soon.

“There’s something a little narcissistic about that,” he joked. “I want to expose them to all types of poetry, so I maybe would use some. I do have colleagues who have told me they want to use the book, which is flattering.”

With a little more than a month left until school starts again, Alcindor is working on new writing projects.

“I’m working on another poetry collection,” he said. “I’ve also outlined two short novels. But I’m not a methodical writer, I don’t wake up and have a schedule. I just let it come as I think of it.”