I first met Doug Pokorny shortly after taking my first job out of college, as a reporter for the Wayne County Journal-Banner. Glen Tooke, one of the pressmen at the J-B, told me almost immediately, “You need to meet Doug Pokorny,” so I made a point of it.
What I found was one of the most original individuals I’ve ever known. Doug was born in Chicago but raised in Piedmont, and was at the time the proprietor of a little tavern outside of town called the Deerpath Inn. He and his mother, Georgie, made everyone welcome, from local intellectuals to loggers stopping by for a beer and a sandwich on their way home from a day in the woods. There was often a chess game going on the counter–I quickly learned that his chess skills were way out of my league.
Doug’s curiosity and somewhat unorthodox reputation were equally well known in the area. People brought him trivia questions, math problems, and atrocious jokes, all of which he welcomed with equal delight. But his real passion was language and literature. We had many fanciful nights talking Faulkner and Joyce.
As a result, Doug and I, with the enthusiasm only the young and foolish could muster, started a literary magazine, Ozark Review, with the help of Susan Davis, Spence Lyon, and Mary Frenzel, other literature-loving types in the area. To our amazement, we received grants from the Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines and the Missouri Arts Council, and for a couple of years we published literary (and semi- or out-and-out nonliterary) works from a wide variety of Ozark writers. We held poets’ picnics and found ourselves featured in statewide media.
I returned to Columbia for graduate work, and Doug left the Deerpath to go into teaching. For many years he was the inspiration (and terror) of legions of Clearwater High School English students, who, I suspect, never knew quite what to make of him, and thus let him work his high-energy insanity and allowed his insatiable love of knowledge to infect them. How he managed to survive in the bureaucracy of a school system is a testament to the intelligence of the people within that system!
Now in retirement, Doug continues to learn and to teach in his own way, devouring ancient languages and posting prolifically on Facebook–but his posts, unlike most of our own sadly humdrum concerns, are almost entirely devoted to celebrating the beauties of art, nature, and the human spirit. He inundates my news feed with odd glories gleaned from the corners of the earth. Every so often, a former student posts thanks on his page for having stunned him into an insight in some unusual fashion–whether by reciting the entirety of “Ladle Rat Rotten Hut” from memory or by stopping a class commotion by putting the stapler to his own forehead.