John J. Ronan

John J. Ronan is a poet, playwright, movie producer, and journalist. He has received national honors for his poetry and is a former National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, Ucross Fellow, Bread Loaf Scholar, and Poet Laureate of Gloucester, MA. (On John’s regard for America, Gloucester and civic poetry, see his Op-Ed pieces and “The Lesson” and “Good Harbor, Home” below.) In 2010, his volume of poetry, Marrowbone Lane, won Highly Recommended honors from the Boston Authors Club. In January, 2017, Taking the Train of Singularity South from Midtown, a homage to pluralism in New York City and the nation, was published by the award-winning Backwaters Press, at the University of Nebraska. Read John Ronan’s interview with Mass Poetry.


January 15, 2023, reading of “Hymn for Gloucester at 400″

for the start of the quadricentennial year.

Also a playwright, Ronan’s works include the award-winning The Early Bird Special. A pioneer in electronic publishing, he introduced in 2002 a humorous e-book, Damned If I Dotage, on the trials of turning 50. John is also founder of the media production company American Storyboard, a teacher of film, and host of 1623 Studio’s The Writer’s Block with John Ronan which celebrated its 32nd anniversary in the 2021-22 season. 

Ronan lives in Gloucester, Massachusetts, with his wife, Sandy, and memories of their adopted Wyoming dog, Cowboy

* * * * *

The Lesson

The Newtown kids weren’t thinking of Aurora or Tucson,

They had not pledged themselves to weapons, and being kids

Could not remember Blacksburg, Columbine, Binghamton.

The earnest boys and girls of first grade

Weren’t linking patriotism to firepower and stripper clips,

Nor Christmas to domestic terror, cowardice, Congress –

Hadn’t learned the rhetoric of re-election and leadership,

Nor yet had alphabet enough to fathom madness.

Hands over their hearts, the kid-citizens

Called out justice, allegiance, republic,

The lofty thoughts of American civic prayer

Made a persuading faith by the pitch of children:

Simple witness and common sense, a mix

Of law and love, indivisible communion on a dare. 

Good Harbor, Home

(Anthem for Gloucester)

Waves break on outcrop rock: granite,

fire-formed and hard, headland granite–

no coddled cape, no sandbar,

nothing soft in her city, no knickknack:

Gloucester-by-God, attitude granite.

The beaches are broken by wetland, woods of oak

and pine, grace in paintscape chasms, coves,

the harbor of ships, sailboats, a fishing fleet

today inner-harbored, home from the beast-broth

sea, safely moored to Cape and continent:

Cookie-cut, cradle states of the seaboard,

rust-belt, Bible-belt, rivers

priming the plains, Mississippi, Missouri, Illinois,

the corn of Illinois and Iowa, the Dakotas, Kansas,

squared-away states stretching west

to the Rockies, Cascades, a rival coast and ocean–

our daily wake, the entire entrained nation.

Its originals: Ojibwe, Pequod, Agawam, Pawnee.

Later, tribes of Irish, Latinos, Italians,

Poles and Portuguese, Africans, Asians… We,

the potluck people,  this rare republic,

experiment America imagined over the land, are aged

or tender, bold or shy, yet rulers by right

and by law, the law of nature and of nature’s God,

true believers in clamor and compromise, believers

in reason, and so debating rights, wrongs, damning

terror and terrorists in just, seething sorrow,

yet protecting loudly law, the process of law,

stunned as the young to stagger and strut at once.

The noise of debate makes music. Now

playing in this sacred city hall, home

of mellow music, the oaths of public office,

friends elected in a free, local vote

to swear and serve under one weathervane,

minded by murals on history and honest government,

nothing abstract, far away or federal,

servants and citizens balanced in the same boat,

the ship of state a schooner, grand as Gloucester,

seaworthy, wise in the rhythms of salt water

and safeguarded today in the good harbor, home.

What matters happens here! We,

each of us proud, elect, the people of Gloucester,

by law and by luck neighbors in a great nation,

trust power for a term to others, themselves

strong in our common strength, the cast of democracy

in time and tide, a city’s lapstraked lives,

and so blessed, confident of grace and granite, bear

witness to America on the broad, abiding sea.

[Note: “Good Harbor, Home” was set to music by the composer Rob Bradshaw and had a world premiere with the Salem Philharmonic, John Koza, conducting, in February of 2018.]