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Poetry Circle in April

My favorite moment of the April 15th meeting of the One Page Poetry Circle was when a member who attended because she had seen a notice on the board of the Bloomingdale Branch Library asked if we were going to continue the Poetry Circle in the fall. We have our last meeting scheduled for May 13th, but we have not yet talked about continuing the OPPC.

The first One Page Poetry Circle that AnnaLee and I moderated in March attracted five people. At the second meeting we had ten. I felt great that the count had doubled! AnnaLee began the night by distributing folders she had created dedicated to our theme of Poetry and Animals. On the back of the folder are two poems. She had chosen "The Eagle" a fragment by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ringed with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

I had suggested these lines from "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner" by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

Farewell, farewell ! but this I tell
To thee, thou Wedding-Guest !
He prayeth well, who loveth well
Both man and bird and beast.

He prayeth best, who loveth best
All things both great and small ;
For the dear God who loveth us,
He made and loveth all.

One of the things that I find most compelling about animals is that they have no choice and consequently they need to be protected by man as much as possible. When thinking along these lines, I always remember that sentimental song, "Bless the Beasts and the Children."

Poems that were read aloud were:

Excerpts from A Bestiary by Kenneth Rexroth

"Dying" by Emily Dickinson http://www.doctorhugo.org/synaesthesia/dickinson.html

"A Dog Has Died" by Pablo Neruda http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/a-dog-has-died/

"Sheep" by W. H. Davies http://www.worldanimalday.org.uk/Worksheets/Davies_poem.pdf

A poem by Yevgeny Yevtushenko http://lightning.prohosting.com/~zhenka/poemarchive.html

"What Do Animals Dream?" by Yahia Lababidi http://famouspoetsandpoems.com/poets/yahia_lababidi/poems/23481

The story from Homer's Odyssey when Odysseus returns home after twenty years and sees his dog Argus lying on the dung heap. Argus recognizes him but Odysseus cannot respond without betraying his identity and Argus dies.

"The War-song of Dinas Vawr" by Thomas Love Peacock http://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poem/1575.html

"Ad Piscatorem" by Robert Louis Stevenson http://www.eliteskills.com/c/3324

The evening ended by one member of the Circle reading a poem that she had written.

I read the poem "Hen Dying" by Alasdair MacLean
http://normanteigen.blogspot.com/2007/10/hen-dying.html. Usually I choose to bring a poem written by a Victorian woman because that is my field. I like rooting around inside the books of Victorian poetry that I have to find something unusual. But when I read "Hen Dying" I was moved by the process of segregation and dying that the poem portrays. It is a natural process of the life cycle, but difficult for the hen who is suffering at the time, and hard for all of us to face—particularly as we are reaching the end of our lives. I was reminded by this poem of an experience I had in the fall. I had some skin cancer removed from my nose and was left with a large bandage across my face for several months. During that time I found that people on the street avoided me. No stranger held a door for me or looked me in the eye. I think it was because I had the "stink of mortality" about me. I was damaged and people were afraid to associate with me for fear that it would rub off on them. Of course this was not true of people who know me, and I think it is an almost unconscious process for the others. People, like hens, can be inhuman.

One member of the OPPC found that when she went to a poetry site to look for a poem to bring, pop up ads appeared, and her computer crashed. She then thought to engage her bed-ridden cousin in the task of locating a poem. He found a great poem for her and then dictated it to her so that she could read it to us. Poetry became a means for these cousins, who are separated by a thousand miles, to communicate with each other.

I was astounded once again by the variety of poems that people brought which is one of my favorite things about the evening. One woman mentioned that she was afraid everyone was going to bring the same poem that she did—but it didn't happen this week. Ultimately there were many different ways of looking at animals. I kept being shuttled between seeing animals as animals with lives and experiences of their own and seeing them as metaphors for the human experience. I guess our lives are so intertwined with those of animals that it's impossible not to see them both ways.

After the Circle was over, AnnaLee, My husband Roger, and I talked briefly together. Our minds were still on poetry and we brought up ways in which poetry is important to us. Roger mentioned that he had repeated William Ernest Henley's poem "Invictus" many times when he was found to have cancer and during the subsequent surgery period and recovery. AnnaLee recited a poem by Christina Rossetti, "Who Has Seen the Wind?," that she had memorized while in kindergarten. Poetry resonates so deeply in our lives; and at different times, specific poems mean so much to us. This continues to impress me and to show me how wonderful it is to devote even an hour to reading poems and sharing our ideas about them.

I feel really grateful to everyone who came to the OPPC and who shared a poem and talked about the poems with us. It was an amazing combination of poems that I had read before and consequently rediscovered and examined in a new way and poems that were new to me and even poets I had never heard of. The One Page Poetry Circle remains a unique opportunity to spend an hour immersed in something both intellectually and emotionally satisfying. I hope we have an even larger group on the evening of May 13th when our theme is Poetry about Poetry – from 6:30 to 7:30 pm at the Bloomingdale Branch Library, 150 West 100th Street.


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