1. Verses from the Surf

The Seashore evokes days reclining in the warmth of the sizzling July sun, nights alone adrift upon the waves, and sandy boards below with neon lights above. But while these are the clarion calls that entice millions to clog our highways and fatten our wallets every year, New Jersey natives know that there is more than the trite and stereotyped image of a bustling beach to the meeting of ocean and sand. We know the stillness of snow on the shore in winter, of relying on the waves for survival and support, the singularly unique Jersonian experience of a summer spent in subservience to shoebox tourists, and that our identity is more than as a collection of beach bums. While television has its own idea of the Jersey Shore, we know the truth, and so do the poets who have walked along the Atlantic, felt its salt on their skin, and watched seasons pass on the sea and not just on a screen.

P. Mortimer Lewis III, a son of Ocean City and graduate of Valley Forge Military Academy, whose life was lost in World War II, wrote in The Water Lily of “Sea Dreams,” and of rhythmic waves from the boundless ocean, and breakers crashing upon the shore. He writes with the vividness and adoration of a surfer poet, twenty years before the board was born, capturing the Atlantic of his childhood in the 1920s.

Lewis, P. Mortimer, III. “Sea Dreams.” The Water Lily and Other Poems. Norristown, Pa.: The Norristown Press, 1929.

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The shore is the collision of two worlds where solid ground gives way to shifting sands that await their time to be taken by the tide. Theirs is a voyage round the world atop a white-capped wave. John J. Mahoney’s “XIII,” from the Atlantic County native’s Summer Tides and Cinnamon Thyme, calls for each of us to leave the comfort of land – to be bold, to be brave, and to ride the water at our whim, wrestling the reins from Mother Nature in a display of typical New Jerseyan determination and stubbornness.

Mahoney, John J. “XIII.” Summer Tides and Cinnamon Thyme. Philadelphia: Dorrance & Company, 1969.

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The boardwalks that line the Jersey shore, from Cape May to Sandy Hook, bathe the beaches in a luminescent rainbow of neon, beckoning millions to flood our state annually. And while they stroll the boards, we work the shops behind half-hearted smiles, counting the days until New Jersey is once again our own, a sentiment Ted Brohl of Washington Township captures in “Downbeach” from In a Fine Frenzy Rolling.

Brohl, Ted. “Downbeach.” In a Fine Frenzy Rolling. New York: Vantage Press, 1992.

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A wave is a disturbance on the surface of a liquid body, such as the sea or a lake, in the form of a moving ridge or swells. Charles E. Higman’s “The Wave,” in Stories from around the Bay, asks readers to wonder why a wave breaks along the shore, and then reassures them that whatever the reason, it is a gift from the sea.

Higman, Charles E. “The Wave.” Stories from Around the Bay: A Collection of Poems. West Creek, NJ: Nada Lynne Farms, 2000.

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Eleanor Burcroff, a resident of Cape May Court House, describes a meeting of two solitary beachgoers in her poem “On Stone Harbor Beach.” One, the poetic voice, is afraid to intrude upon the other, and is strangely affected by the meeting, but the other carries on as though no one had caused the slightest stir.

Burcroff, Eleanor. “On Stone Harbor Beach.” . . . The Sum of the Parts. N.p.: n.p., 1997.

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