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Outfront and center: Bad poetry returns!

Pam Kelley
Pam Kelley is the Reading Life editor for The Charlotte Observer.

When the Observer's Doug Robarchek retired in 2005, the humor columnist known as the Outfront Guy single-handedly caused a citywide shortage of cheesy jokes that make you laugh in spite of yourself.

For readers who've been jonesing for an Outfront fix ever since, great news: A new book, “The Best of the World's Worst Poetry: 20 Very Odd Years of OutFrontery,” ($14, Main Street Rag).

Most of these goofy poems appeared originally in the Observer. Here's a taste of Robarchek's style:

The amoeba has a single cell,

Like a monk or a battery,

And yet I think he's really swell,

And that's not merely flattery.

He reproduces on his own,

As mother and as father.

If people did it all alone,

I doubt we'd even bother.

Robarchek still lives in Charlotte. He says he's enjoying retirement and traveling, and he doesn't miss newspapers or the pressure of coughing up humor columns on deadline. “Forty-four years was enough,” he says.

His poetry collection is one of several new books with Charlotte-area connections. Others include:

“Big Water” ($14.95, Main Street Rag). Edited by Charlotte's Craig Renfroe Jr., this anthology includes short stories from Charlotte's Julie Townsend and Sam Howie, who teaches at Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C.

“Nazi POWs in the Tar Heel State,” by Robert D. Billinger Jr. ($27, University Press of Florida). Billinger, a Wingate University history professor, explores a little-known slice of N.C. history. During World War II, military camps in North Carolina housed more than 10,000 German prisoners of war.

“Unspoken,” by Gene Naro ($16.95, Glidden Publishing). A son breaks free of his domineering father in this debut novel. That father, head of Charlotte's largest bank, launches a daring bank takeover. In what must surely be a first, his book weaves the world of high finance in Charlotte with a gay man's coming of age in New York.

N.C. Writers' Network

For the first time, the N.C. Writers' Network is offering its summer writing residency outside the Triangle – at Queens University of Charlotte.

The weekend workshop, July 25-27, includes classes in fiction, nonfiction and poetry, plus faculty and student readings and a publishing forum. Deadline to register: July 9. More information:

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For a story, I'd like to talk to folks who use Kindles, Sony Readers or other digital book readers. Contact me at 704-358-5271 or

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