Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Cmu Professor Knew His Calling since Childhood

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Cmu Professor Knew His Calling since Childhood

Article excerpt

As a young boy, Gerald "Jerry" Costanzo didn't dream of becoming a pilot, police officer or superhero when he grew up.

Unlike other boys his age, he wanted to be a teacher.

"I knew I wanted to be a teacher by the time I was 10. Isn't that weird?" said Mr. Costanzo, now 70.

"I loved books, I liked to read, and I had a lot of teachers I liked. School was my salvation. I was only in trouble when I was at home," he said.

Mr. Costanzo is a professor of English at Carnegie Mellon University and founding director of Carnegie Mellon University Press, a publisher of contemporary poetry.

He has published more than 400 poems, articles and literary essays as well as seven of his own poetry collections.

Currently, he's working to finish a book, "Regular Haunts: New and Selected Poems," which, he said, "basically deals with American myths and my fascination with them."

Mr. Costanzo, who lives in Mt. Lebanon, credits his mother, the late Verna Costanzo, for introducing him to literature early in life in his hometown of Portland, Ore.

"She would read Donald Hall's poetry to me. It's kind of interesting because Donald and I are friends now, and every time I think of him, I think of my mother. She pointed out things for me to read, too," he said.

His early love of reading spurred him to be an avid book collector. His first important find -in a used bookstore for 33 cents - was an advance review copy of the 1950 novel, "The Town and the City" by John Kerouac. It was Jack Kerouac's first book.

"I still have it and it's worth a lot more than 33 cents," he said.

Mr. Costanzo began his career at CMU as an assistant professor at age 24, shortly after he graduated from Harvard and Johns Hopkins universities.

As an English professor, he teaches classes in the writing and history of poetry. He has his students examine the history of American and English poetry as a way of learning to write their own poems, he said. He tries to make learning fun.

"That's extremely important to me. As a professor, you can never control the group dynamic - the way the students interact with each other. Sometimes it's phenomenal and not of your making," he said.

He rejects stereotypes that peg wealthy students as being too complacent and comfortable in life to produce insightful, creative works, he said. …

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