Teacher, sailor, gandy dancer, boatbuilder,

POET

retriever at his Grafton home near the tarp-shrouded sailboat, a 28-foot gaff-rigged cutter, he built himself. He finds inspiration in walking and sailing and his rich and varied life experiences. Photo by Sam Arendt
By 
MITCH MAERSCH
Ozaukee Press staff

For poet Gary Beaumier of the Town of Grafton, inspiration comes in all shapes and forms.

But one element is consistent.

“I have to feel an emotional connection to it in some way,” he said.

A collection of Beaumier’s works was recently published in a book titled “Dented Brown Fedora,” a reference to his father.

Beaumier, 70, found his poetic voice later in life after working at an eclectic variety of jobs, including gandy dancer (the colorful term once used to describe a railroad maintenance worker), teacher at a women’s prison and others that became sources for poems.

“A lot of times it’s harvesting memories,” he said, to which he adds “poetic license.”

One poem, “How She Grieved the Old Piano,” is about his father dismantling a piano in the basement that his mother wanted to get rid of. At one point it fell on his mother’s foot and caused her to bleed.

Beaumier, about 10 at the time, remembers his father carrying his mother upstairs.

“Night Train to Paris” came from a trip Beaumier and his wife’s took on a train through a tunnel from England to Paris. The poem ended up addressing the afterlife.

Experiences and mysteries that become stuck in Beaumier’s head often get put on paper.

“Sometimes I say to myself I would like this to be a poem,” he said.

Their beginnings can be humble.

“Initially, I would write something on the back of a grocery list and never touch it,” Beaumier said.

Inspiration also comes from long walks with his English cream golden retriever and sailing on Lake Michigan.

Beaumier, who says he is “crazy about the lake,” owns a sturdy double-ended 20-foot sailboat that he keeps in the Port Washington Marina. A 28-foot wooden sailboat he built himself in a decade-long project starting in 1996 sits under a tarp in his backyard.

Whether sailing on Lake Michigan’s waters or walking on its coastline, as he does frequently on a route between Port Washington’s north and south beaches, Beaumier is inspired by the movement of the water and the colors of an ever-changing seascape.

“For me, it’s almost a kinesthetic experience. I have to be moving. I can capture it right there,” he said of poems.

Once he decides to write a poem, it can take time. One week is a quick turnaround. He hangs on to the most inspiring nuggets to “look at it from all angles.”

Editing can be difficult but necessary. Beaumier referenced the movie “Kill All Your Darlings,” which in part means eliminating all the glamorous words and phrases, even if they’re clever.

Beaumier grew up enamored with language and said he used big words before he knew what they meant. His wife Mary said he is an auditory learner.

Beaumier’s father was an accountant, but he said that skill skipped at least one generation.

“I have no math skills,” he said.

He started college at Mt. St. Paul in Waukesha, but it closed the following year. Beaumier then attended the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee with “no idea” what to study. He finally chose literature and years later earned his teaching certificate from Cardinal Stritch University.

Varied jobs helped shape his potpourri of poetry topics.

In 1970, he worked at the railroad yard in Butler. Some of the strongest men only took three swings to pound in stakes, but he “would usually hit the rail and miss the spike,” he said.

Beaumier worked as an aide on the front lines of a psychiatric care center where some of those being treated sometimes became combative. He later helped teach sex education there.

He then ran Waldenbooks at Brookfield Square — “they were kind of the McDonald’s of book stores” — for more than seven years, where he met his second wife.

Then it was back to the psychiatric care center before he earned his teaching certificate.

Beaumier spent two years at Willowglen Academy in Milwaukee teaching boys 15 to 17, including many from gangs, without having summers off.

“There are times when I thought some of those kids could have broken me over the knee like kindling,” he said.

“I am still intact.”

He also taught at a women’s prison in Milwaukee.

“I quite liked it. Your stereotypes go by the board,” he said.

After a stint as a stay-at-home father — with a son, daughter, three dogs and horses — Beaumier went to work as a study hall supervisor at Homestead High School, where his wife used to teach English. She often serves as his first editor, and Beaumier said his books wouldn’t have come together without her.

He began to write using the traditional tools.

“I would buy these old beat-up notebooks at Goodwill,” he said, adding he now also uses his phone.

He has submitted several works to a host of places, usually through submittable.com.

Some get picked up while others are “not their flavor,” he said.

“The old saying is you’ve got to get off on rejections,” he said.

Beaumier is reluctant to submit a poem right after it’s finished. He keeps it for a couple of days and looks to add something or give it more direction or color.

Finishing Line Press in Kentucky published his first collection, “From My Family to Yours.”

“There’s something really gratifying about somebody saying, ‘Hey, we like your stuff.’ I was just thrilled about it,” he said.

He has won awards for his poetry and been a finalist in several contests. “Night Train to Paris won first place in a 2019 contest by “Streetlight Magazine.”

Poetry, he said, is like music in that it doesn’t need to be fully comprehended in order to appreciate it.

“You can like a poem without perfectly understanding it,” he said.

With a couple of published works under his belt and a few feathers in his cap from contests, Beaumier remains motivated to keep writing.

“I’m constantly looking for the next poem,” he said.

“From My Family to Yours” is available at finishinglinepress.com. “Dented Brown Fedora” is available at therawartreview.com and other websites.

Beaumier will read poetry from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 27, at Locally Inspired in downtown Port Washington.

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Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

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