Ridgewood Publishing Exec Writes Poetry on NJ Transit

Many of the poems in George Witte's fourth collection, An Abundance of Caution, began on his Manhattan commute to St. Martin's Press, where he is editor in chief.

A photo of the author and his book jacket
Many of the poems in George Witte's latest collection were written on his commute from Ridgewood to Manhattan.

When George Witte, the editor in chief of St. Martin’s Press, takes the train to work in Manhattan, the Ridgewood resident is more than a passive passenger. He’s a productive poet.

Witte finds a seat in the quiet car, pulls out a pen and notebook, and starts writing poetry. “I don’t have a plan in mind,” he says of the writing process. “I try to find a line and feel my way along.”

Many poems written on his commute are featured in An Abundance of Caution (Unbound Edition Press), his fourth book of poetry. The collection offers insightful reflections on life during the pandemic and climate change, plus more personal themes, including a series of poems on the death of his mother.

“Visiting Hours” highlights the range of emotions felt during a trip to see her at a hospital. “Cemetery Geese” details a graveside encounter with nature after her passing, while “As Is” analyzes his feelings at putting his mother’s home up for sale. “The Virgin of Perth Amboy” was inspired by an image that some thought was the Blessed Mother.

Witte says the train poems require revision.

“I go back and rework them, a minimum of six drafts, and sometimes a lot more,” he notes. “I know it’s finished when there’s a certain sense of balance or equilibrium reached—kind of like balancing a very full cup in your hand.”

Witte, 62, began writing poems as a high school junior. Some of his earliest published writing came as an intern at New Jersey Monthly in 1979 after his freshman year at Duke University. “I had at least two articles published in the front of the magazine,” Witte recalls.

He says he plans to keep writing poetry in the future.

“I feel I’m still growing as a writer,” Witte says. “I think I have a lot ahead of me.”

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