Louis C. McKee, longtime teacher at Father Judge, poet, dies at 60

Posted: November 25, 2011

LOUIS C. McKEE once said that it requires a large dose of arrogance to think that anyone would be interested in "something you have thought and written down."

That's why, he said, writers who think they are poets are advised to hide their poems "in a box under the bed."

Fortunately for those who enjoy the kind of poetry that Louis McKee was known for - "clarity and candor," as one critic observed - he didn't hide his work under the bed. He published his poetry in more than a dozen chapbooks while also serving as an editor and reviewer of the efforts of fellow scribblers.

Louis McKee, who taught English at Father Judge High School for 36 years while publishing poetry that gained a wide following, died Monday of congestive heart failure. He was 60 and lived in Holmesburg.

He was editor of the Painted Bride Quarterly in the '70s and '80s. He also operated Banshee Press, and was editor of the literary magazine One Trick Pony before its demise in 2007.

Louis was born in Philadelphia to Louis McKee Sr. and the former Mary Jane Barrett.

He was raised in Upper Darby and Juniata. He attended North Catholic High School, where he was on the basketball, football and track teams. In his junior year he was named All-Catholic in the shot put.

He became interested in writing while in school, and he wasn't above thievery to pursue his passion.

One of his teachers lent his students anthologies of British and American literature, which Louis neglected to return and didn't feel the least bit guilty about it.

His influences began with the likes of Wordsworth and Yeats, but in the '60s he fell for the Beats: Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, Gregory Corso and the others, and, of course, every nascent poet's favorite, Bob Dylan.

Of the Beats, he once said, "They were so different from the hammered and chiseled meters we were reading in school."

From North Catholic, Louis went to La Salle and received a bachelor's degree in English, and launched his teaching career.

Louis became the review editor of a small literary magazine, Carousel Review, a job that he said "forces me to read poems more closely, and to consider how and why a poem works." He was also on the reviewing staff of Library Journal.

Of his own work, Louis said, "I write a personal poem. Regardless of what the poem is about, it is likely to be full of 'I' and 'you.' "

"To read McKee is to witness drama and struggle," a critic once wrote. "If the art is hard-won, the human victories are, too."

One of his poems, "The New Theory," begins:

A butterfly's wing

moving gracefully

in a still Asian dawn

works up a storm

that beats the hell

out of us in Pennsylvania.

He is survived by a sister, Michele Hocker, and nieces and nephews.

Services: Will be private. A memorial service is being planned by the Mad Poets Society and Cynic Press. Donations may be made to the Mad Poets Society, Box 1248, Media, PA 19063.

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