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Award-Winning Poet’s Start at Tunxis Helped Guide Him Toward Career in Writing

Tolides resides in Farmington

Tryfon Tolides, a winner of the prestigious 2005 National Poetry Series Award, was first encouraged to pursue his passion for writing at Tunxis Community College in Farmington, Connecticut, a starting point for continuing his education and further developing his talent.

“I had simply followed the pattern or train of most and gone off to college after high school, but discovered this didn’t work for me,” said Tolides, of his initial enrollment in Boston University’s biomedical engineering program before coming to Tunxis. “It wasn’t time for me to be there,” he explained, so he returned to Connecticut shortly thereafter where he started working at his family’s pizza place in Farmington, and spent time traveling to Greece. “Sometimes it’s equally or even more important to know where you are not, so that by something like a process of elimination, you begin to get to where you are, and to where you are going,” he continued. “After a few years of working and traveling, I thought it was time to try and tiptoe back into college, to see what would happen,” he explained, and enrolled in a couple of courses at Tunxis in 1995.

“The ‘Creative Writing’ course I took at Tunxis was a guidepost along the way for me,” said Tolides, who remembers his instructor Dr. Ed Ifkovic, Tunxis professor of English emeritus and author of three fiction and eight nonfiction books among other works, for his “brightness, his personal attention, and guidance.”

“The course made me more aware of what I was already moving toward—a life in writing. Ed encouraged me to send my work to magazines,” he continued. “His reception of my work and the class’s response was a positive affirmation for my writing. I began to send things out.”

Ifkovic is thanked first among several teachers he acknowledges in An Almost Pure Empty Walking (Penguin Books, New York, NY), an 80-page book of 63 of Tolides’ poems, published in May 2006 as part of the National Poetry Series Award.

After Tunxis, Tolides eventually transferred his credits to a bachelor in fine arts from the University of Maine, and later received a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from Syracuse University, a Reynolds Scholarship and the 2004 Foley Poetry Prize. He also engaged in doctoral work at the University of Houston.

Some of Tolides’ poetry reflects his experiences with the cultural differences that span his native Greece, where he lived as a young child and still visits, and his life in America. In “From Mount Athos,” one of several poems in the book with these themes, Tolides writes,

“I pick strawberries in the garden. Three long rows
behind the monastery, before the midday sun gets too hot.
I set down a stool every few yards and reach out
my hands, first for what is visible, then shake
and lift the leaves for fruit and color.
With a slight pull, I test each berry’s readiness
for being plucked, having found
my rhythm in the field. All morning
I fill a blue crate, carry it to the refectory, then rest
in my cell to the sound of cicadas and flies
through the open window.
The evening dessert is red glistening strawberries,
piled onto shining metal plates, next to glasses
of wine, vases of water, whole tomatoes,
bean soup, fresh bread, olives: others’ work,
all set on a common table.
Afterward, from high on the balcony, the Aegean
ripples with infinite small lights, the trees
of the mountain move like the sea, the air brings
a mixed scent of pine and iodine and night.
Beauty is more evident in this quiet. You see it
through a clearing inside yourself. It is no mystery, seeing.”

Inspiration for other work sometimes comes in doing ordinary things. “Poetry is the gift I have been given,” said Tolides. “I can’t do much else, but I keep cultivating poems, and they keep coming to me. I am grateful and more alive for that.”

When he is back in Farmington, Tolides still utilizes Tunxis Library for research and writing. “I often came to the Library with my poems while I was in the process of trying different orders for my book manuscript,” he said.

Tolides has not been in town as much lately as he travels to share readings from his book and continues to write. But he continues to keep in contact with Tunxis, and will be returning there to read from his work at the Tunxis “Writers’ Festival” on April 18, 2007.

Like Tolides, thousands of Tunxis students and alumni have transferred to some of the best colleges and universities in the nation. Tunxis offers over 60 associate’s degrees and certificates that respond to career opportunities and students’ transfer needs.

—Jan. 22, 2007