Robert Abbate stood at the podium before a crowd of 100, set his glasses to rest on the edge of his nose, and began reading words dear to his heart.
The English teacher from Rowan-Cabarrus Community College was sharing his poetry during a recent celebration at the college of his newly published collection, "Courage of Straw."
Listen to his poems - many deeply steeped in religion, others contemplating the complexities of human relationships - and you might wonder from where a poet's thoughts and ideas grow.
Hear about Abbate's life and you will begin to understand.
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Twenty years ago, the tranquil man with a gentle voice was in a seminary in California. But after taking his temporary vows with the Capuchin Franciscan Order in 1985, Abbate began to reconsider his decision, and ultimately decided to leave the priesthood before taking his final vows.
"I felt my calling was for other things," he said.
He has never doubted his choice to leave. Abbate met and fell in love with Sue, who also studied in a seminary and holds master's degrees in divinity and theology. Married for 18 years, they have two daughters: Emily, 11, and Amanda, 7.
"I don't regret leaving at all," Abbate said of his departure from seminary; still, many of his poems reflect that earlier life. In "Brother Quastor," Abbate writes of a friar who hands out rosary beads to eagerly accepting but violent offenders in an overflowing county jail.
"Some of these poems are not that happy," said Abbate, who often uses current events in his poetry.
"Pastoral Tragedy," a poem that touches upon the abuse scandal of the Roman Catholic Church, exposes a deacon's dark intentions.
Growing up outside Philadelphia, Abbate said, he always knew he wanted to be a writer. "I saw myself as a storyteller. I felt it in my bones."
His interest in poetry was nourished in college at Penn State University in 1977, where he studied under many poets and graduated with a bachelor's degree in creative writing.
In 1982, five of his poems were selected for The Katey Lehman Creative Writing Awards at Penn State. In 2007, he was selected as a finalist for the James Hearst Poetry Award, given by The North American Review, whose contributors have included such writers as Mark Twain and Walt Whitman.
He's been published in such literary journals as "Alehouse", "Iodine" and "Kakalak: An Anthology of Carolina Poets".
Abbate keeps a dream journal by his bedside. "I find that it's very productive," he said; many of his poems first began in his sleep.
"A Gift Outright for Carole Anne" is one of those poems. In 2002, Abbate donated a kidney to his sister Carole Anne. He had dreamt he would do so one day, symbolically giving her a "fist-sized purple pendant" in his dream.
Abbate returned to school in 2001, earning a master's degree in composition and rhetoric from UNC Charlotte.
For the past eight years, he has taught expository writing, argument-based research, logic and ethics at Rowan-Cabarrus.
"I find most of my writing is done on margins," he said of correcting student papers.
Even so, after reading "Paper Grading Blues," another poem from his collection, it's clear Abbate can find his inspiration there, too.