Mr. Tuleja’s Passion for Poetry

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Mr. Tuleja’s Passion for Poetry

Tuleja with the 2019 yearbook, which was dedicated to him.

Tuleja with the 2019 yearbook, which was dedicated to him.

Tuleja with the 2019 yearbook, which was dedicated to him.

Tuleja with the 2019 yearbook, which was dedicated to him.

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Academic Dean Greg Tuleja has worn a lot of hats on campus over his three-decade career. One that’s relatively new, but offers a true window into his humor, intelligence, and facility with emotions and language, is that of a published and respected poet.

Tuleja started writing poetry around 10 to 15 years ago; he admits he didn’t read much poetry in his life until he started teaching poetry for English classes at Williston. “I started to enjoy poetry, just gave it a shot, wrote a few,” said Tuleja, who has written nearly 150 poems and been published in Maryland Review, Lonely Planet Press, Thema, and The Society of Classical Poets.

“I like the conciseness of it,” he stated, pulling out a poetry book from the shelf called Being Here from Robert Penn Warren. He opened the book to a poem and mentioned how just the act of spending time reading a poem, the concentrated effort, is an “event in itself,” but one that doesn’t require the reader to drop everything “You can start and end and go on with the rest of your day.” Tuleja’s favorite genre is rhyming poetry because of its structure and organization.

Recently, five of Tuleja’s poems were published in Sixfold, a poetry magazine. One of the poems, “The Woman in 302,” is about a woman pushing a piano out of a window.

“It’s a funny one, I don’t know, I have always been fascinated with that idea that someone might open a window in their house [or] apartment and throw it out,” said Tuleja, chuckling. When The Willistonian asked him if he was being sarcastic, he replied by saying, “No, I often think about that.”

Tuleja then  pulled up the poems in the magazine on his computer screen and explained in detail what each one is about.

“One is about two sisters who were being persecuted in their own home and they try to get away; it’s escaping,” he described about his poem called “Escaping”, the first of five in the magazine. Another poem called “Dear Oscar” was about how he felt when he visited Oscar Wilde’s (a famous Irish poet and playwright) gravestone in Paris.

Pointing out a different poem, he said, “and this one is about running out of time to read all the books that I want to read, now that I am almost seventy. There are all kind of books that I will never get to read because I don’t have enough time left like, War in Peace and all the great English novels that I have never read.”

His third poem, “Spontaneous Human Combustion,” was inspired after a Charles Dickens novel, Bleak House. The poem was “about a person who just explodes … like if you were walking across the street, all of a sudden your inner temperature gets hot and you ignite,” he said, smiling.

While he was talking, his cheeky personality behind many of his poems snuck out; it’s the same persona and energy he brings to his role as Girls Cross Country coach.

Tuleja doesn’t have much time to work on his poems during the school year because he is working all the time. “But when I go home, I have got a notebook. I start writing long hand, then I just do several revisions in two different notebooks,” he said. “And then when it is almost done, I come in here and type it in a Word document and then I print it and do more revisions.”

Writing is a lot of fun for Tuleja; he usually writes in his porch at home in a chair with a notebook. He also stressed how he has gotten rejected many times before any of his poems got published, highlighting the fact that hard work, persistence, and thick skin are important to achieving your goals.

“In the beginning, I sent them to big magazines like Poetry magazine and some of the more famous ones,” he said. “And I got all kinds of rejections, I mean my poems have been turned down consistently for years and years and years,” he added. “But once in a while you hit one and some editor sitting in some room reads something you wrote and likes it and you get in.”

Tuleja has published 20 to 25 poems in 10 or 12 different magazines; his recent five poems got published through a contest online. “This one is a contest  …you send in your poems and you read other peoples’ poems online, and you comment on them and based on all the comments and opinions, your poem either moves forward or doesn’t,” he stated.

English teacher Matt Liebowitz teachers one of Tuleja’s poems, “Two Places in Northampton,” to his Writers’ Workshop class each year. [Editor’s note: Liebowitz is the advisor to The Willistonian.]

“We discussed it for about fifteen minutes before I told them who it was by,” he said. “They were so impressed and then he came into the room and read it again, and then answered questions that the kids had about him.”

He further explained why he picked Tuleja’s poem to teach. “Well, I thought it would be really interesting for the students to see that someone in their own community published something really imaginative and poignant.”

Oscar DeFrancis, a senior, could tell how much the poem — it mentions a bar and bookstore in Northampton, both of which are no longer there — meant to Tuleja.

“As he was reading it, we could see him remembering both writing the poem and also being in the story,” mentioned Oscar.

Nina Renkert ’20, was astonished with Tuleja’s writing skills.

“I thought it was just a really great example of how the Williston community is so multi-faceted and passionate about what they do,” said Nina. “And it was an honor to read his work.”

Nina continued, “He brought his own experiences to life in a specific way that made you feel like you were part of it.”

Tuleja told The Willistonian his future ambitions for his work in poetry.

“I would love to get a poem printed in The New Yorker or Poetry magazine, one of the big ones,” he said.