Poet Gladys Henderson, of Nesconsett, was named LI Poet of...

Poet Gladys Henderson, of Nesconsett, was named LI Poet of the Year. (Nov. 14, 2010) Credit: J. Conrad Williams Jr.,

Gladys Henderson, named 2010 Long Island Poet of the Year Sunday by the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association, credits her old day job with pushing her into the woods and wetlands around her Nesconset home that are the setting for many of her poems.

Her title was regional shortage coordinator for Macy's, and she spent her days investigating people accused of stealing from the store.

"Retail owns your soul," Henderson, 68, said before a ceremony held in the Interpretive Center on the grounds of Whitman's birthplace in South Huntington. "It was a relief to get out and see nature and beauty, to balance that really dark side of human beings."

One poem, "Two Women Fishing Orient Point Beach," is about joy at a good run at the end of a day of fishing with a friend: "Our lures passed through a school of tommy cod, hooking each one without effort . . . Fish were splashing in the bucket. We laughed together."

Later poems turned "more bristly, more about betrayal, more about war," she said.

In "Warning on the 6:05," a poem she read, a mundane morning commute on the Long Island Rail Road is turned ominous by the knowledge that two men have been arrested for plotting to blow themselves up in the LIRR's Atlantic Avenue Station.

In "For the Oaks," mournfulness eclipses the narrator's guilt over having cut down the tree that stood innocently outside her kitchen: "Your death grinds my teeth this June morning. I mourn your passing, miss your shade on my garden, wish I had not wished."

Richard Bronson, a Birthplace Association board member, said Henderson's work "captures something of the spirit of Long Island. There are aspects of the nature of the place and of things that have been lost."

Henderson, the association's 12th Poet of the Year, described herself as an avid Whitman reader. His words and photographs are all over the interpretive center; an excerpt of his masterwork, "Leaves of Grass," is displayed at the nearby Walt Whitman Mall.

Asked what Whitman would say about the ceremony, Henderson replied: "I think he would be very happy."

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