Dan Masterson, the poet laureate of Rockland County, is currently celebrating his 50th year as a member of the faculty of Rockland Community College and as a Pearl River resident.
In conjunction with his fifth book of poetry “That Which is Seen,” which focuses on paintings from around the world, he is encouraging Rockland high school students to submit a sample of their work to his web site Poetrymaster.com.
“In my role as poet laureate, I want to do something special for the high school students, the Rockland County kids," Masterson said. "I want them to send me poems. I have already asked high school students to paint pictures based on a poem or poets to find art work.”
Students may access the “Rockland” slot on the site menu for complete information.
Masterson created Poetry Master over eleven years ago to nurture unknown talents and serve as a counterpoint to what he calls “sham” sites that abound on line.
“I am going to do something about this because there is no place where kids can send poetry and have a legit poet respond,” Masterson said.
As far as he knows this is still the only site where a person can submit a piece of work and is guaranteed to receive a detailed analysis in 24 hours at no charge.
The site launched on May 5, 2000,
“I had no idea what to do," Masterson said. "I did research to see if there were any legitimate poets with credentials providing this type of service and there was nothing. My wife Janet and I designed the pages and created the copy. There has never been any promotion for Poetry Master.”
Currently over 42,000 people have visited the web site.
“At the beginning, responses started to dribble in," Masterson said. "From the first day, I promised that they would get a response in 24 hours. The analysis of the first poem is free. I go line by line and suggest revisions. I am looking for the spark. If I find that needle in a haystack, someone who needs more help and shows promise, I charge $39.99 to analyze and help them with three more poems. I choose about one in 200 or 300 submissions. I use the fee to weed out people who would just deluge me with poems.
“It takes me about an hour to analyze each free poem and to recommend books to help the writer. The analysis is single-spaced on two pages. I feel good when I am doing a good poem because I am giving back. If they are selected and determined to submit more poems. I recommend that they send one poem at a time. Some people, over time, actually build a manuscript. As of yet, I haven’t found the next Billy Collins. For the people that sign on, I tell them right off the bat that poetry comes from the gut, travels through the mind and brushes against the heart ever so lightly.”
To those would-be poets he outlines the four elements that he considers critical:
- Memorable language—a line good enough to go on a
- Remarkable imagery—an image that rises up off
the page and bites you on the nose
- An engaging story line—man bites dog.
- Residue of pain or experience that lets you know
that the poet is legitimate. Did they
actively experience the emotion?
“I am always waiting for the chicken bone to lodge in my throat," Masterson said. "Then I know this is a poem that I will be working on for months.”
Poet or Game Show Host?
Masterson’s success as a poet and educator might very well never have occurred except for a strange twist of fate in 1958. Before he embarked on his eventual career path he considered making his full time profession in the world of radio and television.
It was then that he got an inside look at a memorable event in entertainment history, the television quiz show scandals of the late 1950’s, when many a career was destroyed and the face of television changed forever
Masterson graduated from Syracuse University in 1956 with a B.A. degree
from what would later become the Newhouse School. While at school, he was a member of the Reserve Officers’ Training Corps of the United States Army.
“When I graduated I spent time as a D.J. in Buffalo before being sent to Fort Monmouth in New Jersey to begin six months active duty in the Signal Corps,” Masterson said.
He was later based in the New York City area and, looking to earn extra money and use his on-air experience, explored the business of voice over work.
After active duty, Masterson and his young wife decided that he would give himself two years to break into show business.
“We lived in Sunnyside, Queens at the time and things were very difficult," Masterson said. "Janet had a job at a bank that was keeping the family together.
“I spent day after day dropping tapes, resumes and pictures at casting agents trying to get voice over work. I even went to WNEW radio and asked to see William B. Williams (for many years a legendary broadcaster in the New York City market). To my surprise, he came out and I asked him how to break in to the radio industry. His advice: Go to the networks and ask to be an announcer and tell them that you are willing to go anywhere.”
In the era that was the late 1950’s, radio and television stations were still using staff announcers to voice live commercials and station breaks. Shortly thereafter, having established a relationship with the person in NBC’s radio division responsible for hiring announcers, he did get a major audition.
“Unfortunately I didn’t do well,” Masterson said.
Nearly two years later, after endless phone calls and ceaselessly pounding on doors, Masterson was desperate.
“I fudged an appointment at the NBC television network because at the time the network had executives hiring people to host quiz shows,” Masterson said
Quiz shows dominated the prime time lineups of the three major networks throughout the 1950s and garnered consistently high ratings that drew top dollar from ad agencies and advertisers.
What Masterson had done was to call the secretary of a major network division head to “confirm his appointment the following day at 11:30 in the morning.” Of course, no such appointment existed but the secretary, not wanting to admit a possible mistake, told him yes it was on the schedule.
The next morning Masterson went to the network’s Rockefeller Center offices and was greeted by the division head who had absolutely no idea why he was there or why they were having a meeting.
“After 15-20 minutes of playing dodge ball I was asked what I was doing there?” Masterson said.
He told the truth about how he had conned the secretary
Figuring that there was nothing to lose he then added, “Quiz shows are
going crazy. I want to host one of the quiz shows. The man was absolutely
But the executive was so impressed by Masterson’s determination and ability to sell himself that incredibly he said that they had three shows in the works and one would be Masterson's. The situation progressed so quickly that Masterson was told to look for a home on Long Island because, “People are going to do stories about you.”
Amazed at this turn of events, Masterson was then asked to come back and meet with producers Jack Barry and Dan Enright who were responsible
for a number of hit quiz shows on the network at that time.
“They thought I was right on target for the show,” Masterson said.
He then spent a half day with network announcer Hugh Downs and game show host Gene Rayburn who told him he was going to be making a lot of
money. An appointment was set for the following day for him to meet with the network executive to finalize all the arrangements. Masterson and his wife could not believe their good fortune.
When he called to confirm the appointment he was told that it had been moved back a day. That was repeated the following day. The next morning he picked up the New York Times and was faced with a headline that crushed his dreams and brought him back to earth: Quiz Scandal Rocks TV. The story had broken about quiz show contestants receiving answers from the shows’ producers to boost their ratings.
“I never heard from them again," Masterson said. "It hit like a thunderbolt and I was out of work.”
Rayburn and Downs had even gone so far as to give him tips on his profile and camera presence.
“The people that I met in that world were nice," Masterson said. "They weren’t bad guys.”
Shortly after this demoralizing episode in his life, Masterson saw how other people’s careers had been irreparably damaged. He had gone to work as a copywriter for a small ad agency that promoted touring versions of Broadway shows. Part of his job was to interview actors from these shows.
“My boss was going to Hal March’s ( former host of “The
$64,000 Question”) house because March was going to star in Two for the Seesaw," Masterson said. "He asked me to come along and interview him. So when the show opened in Philadelphia I went out to dinner with March on opening night.
“We talked for several hours and March said that he didn’t know his (quiz) show was fixed but realized that no one on the outside would ever believe him. He said that I am in this play because I am a celebrity--all because of being disgraced.”
Masterson closed this chapter in his life by saying, “I knew that there was something out there. Not just by luck but through fate. I knew to have faith in the future.”