In the atrium at the Gibbes Museum of Art, next to a window overlooking the beautiful gardens, a 77-year-old man stood in front of an audience and proclaimed his love for lying.

“Telling the truth is boring, that’s why I became a poet,” David B. Axelrod, the poet laureate of Volusia County, Florida, said during the Tuesday performance.

Alexrod’s poetry reading was a part of the 2021 Piccolo Spoleto Festival series “Sundown Poetry.” He was the sixth performer in the series, which will feature nine different poets in all. Axelrod has published 22 books of poetry, including his newest collection, All Vows: New & Selected Poems. He was also China’s first Fulbright poet-in-residence.

Axelrod

Alexrod took the floor in front of a microphone, dressed in a classic beach dad outfit: blue shorts, a polo and sandals. Standing next to the Pegasus statue in the museum’s atrium, he brought more than just poetry readings to the audience. Axelrod is a remarkably funny man, and took every opportunity to crack a joke. After reading a poem about the impact humans have on other lives, he stepped away from the mic stand and broke character.

“And now, a word from our advertiser!” he said, holding up a copy of All Vows. 

He proudly shouted out his oldest daughter Jessica in the audience, referring to her as a “wonderful artist.” (She created the cover art for the book.)

Axelrod is a New England native, born and raised in the coastal town of Beverly, Massachusetts. His New England accent could be heard as he read different poems, though sometimes he was purposely poking fun at Massachusetts phrases and lifestyles. He now resides in Daytona Beach, Florida. Since he has spent most of his life on the coast, many of his poems are inspired by the ocean and coastal living.

One poem he read from his book, Mother Tongue, was titled, “Sea Life.” Another from the same book discussed something known as “deeded beach rights,” which refers to one’s right to roam on the beach. Some beaches are privately owned, and thus walkers cannot approach.

Throughout the night, Axelrod shared anecdotes about his life. And after many laughs, he closed out the event with a touching poem he wrote for his late wife, who died last year after a minor surgery went wrong. The final words of the poem were heartbreaking, but held a bit of Axelrod’s signature humor as well.

“As if death were mythic, when in fact, death is highly overrated,” he said.

Sarah Connor is a graduate student in the Goldring Arts Journalism and Communications program at Syracuse University.