Joe Crowley will tell you he finally retired on his fourth try, in August 2006. When he did, the University of Nevada, Reno president emeritus resolved "to learn how to be a decent poet."
A decade later that goal has been far surpassed with the publication of Hats Off to the Cap, a collection of 40 of Crowley's poems.
"When I first held that book in my hands I thought, 'Good Lord, this feels so good,'" Crowley said. "It was never something I was working toward, and yet there it was."
A love of words and storytelling drew Crowley to poetry. He began writing doggerel, a loose style of poetry, often humorous and with irregular verse. It was through University of Nevada, Reno workshops taught by Gailmarie Pahmeier that Crowley began to explore writing other styles of poetry.
"She is a wonderful teacher; her students are full of praise," he said of Pahmeier, who is the City of Reno Poet Laureate. "She is helpful and some of it comes in the form of criticism. The nature of workshops is that you hope to get better and some of this comes through critiques by students and the workshop leaders."
After more than three decades on campus as a faculty member and as University president, Crowley - whose name graces the University's Joe Crowley Student Union - thoroughly enjoyed returning to the classroom as a student and learning alongside other students. He initially did not disclose his identity in class. "I was just Joe," he said.
Around the third week of class his cover was blown by a fellow student who had seen his picture on the cover of The Constant Conversation, Crowley's chronicle of campus life published in 2000, in the campus bookstore. She announced Just Joe's identity to the class, prompting another student to write a note to Crowley that he could not critique the former president. Crowley encouraged his critique, noting that he, too, needed the give-and-take that leads to improvement.
Crowley's works began to catch notice and several have been published in magazines, journals and anthologies. They also caught the attention of Christine Kelly, owner of Reno's Sundance Books and the Baobob Press. He initially turned down her request to consider publication and provide her with a number of his poems, but Kelly persisted and continued to make the request over a three-year period.
"She finally wore me down," he said.
"What drew me to his poetry was his humor and his storytelling," Kelly said. "He is so relatable and he writes about things that are fun, thoughtful and challenging. His stories are heartfelt and relevant. He does a wonderful job of encapsulating humanity at its finest and kindest."
"It was most important to me to be a narrative poet, one who tells stories," Crowley said.
"Many storyteller poets are more difficult to understand, and much of the most-often seen poetry these days are poems that need a long time to understand. Also, they frequently come without punctuation, often enough without capitalization and with metaphors that are complex," Crowley continued. "I don't mean to sound critical - finer poets than I follow this approach - but I'd rather be a simple storyteller and abide by things like rhyme, internal rhyme, sounds of language and musicality."
"With the publication of Hats Off to the Cap, audiences who've long admired and enjoyed the work of Joe Crowley can hold his poems in their hands," Pahmeier wrote of the published collection. "These poems are much like the poet himself: wise and witty, both reverent and irreverent, always fully aware of what it means to be a sentient human being."
Crowley was born and raised in Iowa. He joined the University of Nevada as a faculty member in January 1966. He was named interim president of the University in 1978 and a year later was named to the role of regular president. He would serve as University president for 23 years, including a return as interim president. He also served as acting president of San Jose State University and for a two-year term as president of the NCAA. He has written five books and co-edited a sixth. He is married to Joy and they have four children and seven grandchildren. All four of his children are University of Nevada, Reno graduates.
Hats Off to the Cap is available through online booksellers, at Sundance Books and the Wolf Shop in the Joe Crowley Student Union.