Cy Dostal

Cyril (“Cy”) A. Dostal (b. 1930-2002) was the founding president of the Poets’ League of Greater Cleveland and moderated the league’s monthly poetry workshop from 1973 until his death in 2002. Dostal’s first collection of poems, Emergency Exit was published by Cleveland State University in 1975. The Cuyahoga Valley Nature Writers Workshop was formed by Dostal and Jill Sell in 1994, and for several years Dostal was publisher and editor of Tributaries, a national literary magazine devoted to nature writing.

Dostal was a college instructor, technical and advertising writer, senior editor for reference books, public relations director, freelance writer and forever a poet. He was in his sixties when a near fatal e-coli infection landed him on an operating table and doctors predicted he had a one percent chance to survive. In an anesthetic haze, Dostal recited his entire portfolio of poems. During a painful eight-month recovery when Dostal couldn’t hold a pencil, he memorized new poems he wrote in his head.

Cy Dostal claimed he became a poet because he never had the “blocks of time” that were needed to write fiction. But he spent much of his life agonizing over the selection of one or two “correct” words in a poem. “I didn’t get serious about writing poetry until 1967 when someone told me about Cleveland State University’s monthly Forum,” Dostal once told a reporter. “I went down to sneer at the academics and didn’t miss a meeting for the next five years.”

Cy Dostal said he quit writing poetry at least 13 times in his life because it was “something no sensible person would do.” In a poem titled “Where Do You Get Your Ideas? (Someone is Sure to Ask?)”, Dostal wrote: “How do you write a poem?/ The air is full of them./Catch one and put it down./A good poem?/Ah! There’s another question.” Dostal’s inspiration often came from the gritty, unpleasant side of life, disappointments and injustices he felt and observed. Poetry was his antidote.

     - Jill Sell


The Flag in Front of the Federal Building
by Cy Dostal

The flag in front of the Federal Building
hands limp at three-quarter staff.
Pulley’s all jammed and
they can’t get it up.

The posters say
“The New Army Wants to Join You.”
Uncle Sam Wants You.
Uncle Sam wants you.

He doesn’t want me.
It’s 1972 and
I’m forty-two and
he’s already had me twice.

Too damn old and no longer dumb, and technically obsolete.
(You’d never believe how we clobbered them at Wonsan!)
No more use for me. Time for some fresh young blood.
Uncle Sam Wants You.

The flag in front of the Federal Building hangs limp and
he can’t get it up,
he can’t get it up,
he can’t get it up, today!

             (from Everyman 1973)


by Cy Dostal

(The poet makes a hopeful statement
concerning the validity of his work.)

in 1933
when i           me?
     was         am         to be
sixty      three

see      saw      have seen
     will                would                could
here         there
     sat      sitting
now          then

wrote             write           wrought?
shall      was      writing

this        that
         was                to be      other?

          (1969 Beloit Poetry Journal)


please excuse the hole in the woodwork
by Cy Dostal

my morbid sense of humor
and hair-trigger reflexes
have often proved my undoing
as they did an hour ago

when it became perfectly obvious
there was no point in continuing
and i took the long look
down the black tube
released the clever mechanism
with my thumb
saw the momentary bright ring
before the blunt shape
leaped toward me
felt the swift wind
snuffle at my hair

and in the last possible
infinitesimal fraction
of a microsecond
jerked my head away
and almost died laughing.

          (Moment in Cantos and Essays 1970)