World War II veteran. Sports broadcaster. Disc jockey for Jerry Blavat. Yoga enthusiast.
Camden native Nick Virgilio was all of these, but what he is most remembered for is his passion for haiku poetry, and the eloquent way in which he expressed what he saw and felt.
Born on June 28, 1928, in Camden, Virgilio graduated from Camden High School in 1946, and served in the Navy during World War II.
In 1952, he graduated from Temple University, and after time spent as a sportscaster in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Texas, he worked under the moniker “Nickaphonic Nick” with South Jersey disc jockey Jerry Blavat.
Virgilio discovered haiku, the Japanese style of poetry in 5-7-5 syllable verse, while exploring the Rutgers-Camden University library in 1962. Soon after, he was published in “American Haiku” magazine, in 1963, and went on to write thousands of haiku poems, many unpublished. In 1985, a collection of some of his haiku was published.
In the Camden community, Virgilio was devoted to sharing his writing and becoming an advocate for poetry. He helped to found the Walt Whitman Center for the Arts and Humanities (now the Walt Whitman Arts Center) and served as its artistic director and poet-in-residence. He was a longtime member of the Haiku Society of America, and was the first co-director of the First International Haiku Festival, held in 1971 in Philadelphia.
He often appeared on National Public Radio as a guest commentator, and had a radio program on WKDN-FM, out of Camden.
On Jan. 3, 1989, while taping an interview on haiku for CBS’ “Nightwatch” television program, Virgilio died of a heart attack at the age of 60.
He is buried in Harleigh Cemetery in Camden, not far from Walt Whitman, the famed poet who provided constant inspiration for Virgilio.
Engraved on Virgilio’s gravestone is one of his well-known haikus, “Lily.”
Out of the water…
Out of itself
In his eulogy at Sacred Heart Parish in Camden, where Virgilio was a parishioner, Msgr. Michael Doyle, pastor, remembered his longtime friend, saying that Virgilio “came alone and his Camden was poor … and he elevated its tragedy in kernels of beauty….That is his greatness. In the midst of that which was failing and that which was desolate and that which was dead, he broke life out of it.”
Researched by Peter G. Sánchez