Well-versed: Group shares love of poetry
PRESCOTT - Walled by red slab and glass, cloistered around a long-drawn table, three men and three women met Wednesday in the Prescott Public Library's Elsea Room.
They confabulated matters grave and gray: life and death, ecstasy and sorrow, truth and, um, hmm, well, something that wasn't quite the antithesis of truth but was close enough to merit the juxtaposition.
Yuck. That's horrible writing, isn't it? See the pitfalls of prose? It's not always the best way to relate this whole "human condition" thing.
Luckily there's poetry.
That's why a small group of Prescottonians gather at 1 p.m. the first Wednesday of every month to dish up their favorite-est poems.
"Good poetry never gets old. Bad poetry dies and goes away, but good poetry is always relevant," said Dr. Janet Preston, leader of the group, which launched about three-and-a-half years ago. "It might be hard to get into poetry. It takes a little bit of time to learn how to read a poem. You have to make the effort to dig, but it's well-worth that effort."
The group meets once a month for about 90 minutes to two hours. Attendance waxes to as many as 15 and wanes to as few as four, according to longtime members.
Attendance is free. Just show up if you're interested.
Room with some views
It doesn't get much better than William Wordsworth for Joan Preston, a longtime group devotee (no relation to the other J. P--).
"This man wrote these poems 150 years ago, and there's something there that still speaks to me today," she said. "I could study him for the rest of my life and still not finish."
"Steamboats, Viaducts and Railways," a Wordsworth poem Joan Preston brought for discussion Wednesday, is a surprising lamentation of others' lamentations about the loss of nature to technology.
"It reminds me that every time I get upset about new towers going up on the back of P Mountain, that is, Badger Mountain, they're never as bad as I think they're going to be," she said. "And it's funny: I get upset when I turn on my cell phone and can't get a signal."
She's also fond of Mary Oliver.
Poetry is a venue to deal with uncomfortable truths, an idea Frances Thomas, a long-time on-again off-again group member, shared after reading Laura Gilpin's "The Weight of a Soul."
"I'd never thought about death in that way before," Thomas said, discussing Gilpin's riff on the pop science adage that the soul-spirit-energy-consciousness-or-whatever-you-want-to-call-it-not-to-be-religously-specific-or-vague-of-course weighs whatever-fraction-of-an-ounce- it-allegedly-weighs. "This woman cannot bear up under the weight in a physical fashion, and, yet the soul bares this tremendous weight in a way we can't always understand."
Poetic imagery is notoriously vivid, although a peek inside readers' minds' eyes would likely reveal glaringly different interpretations. Add the language barrier, and the effect is magnified exponentially.
"I wanted to bring some Neruda or Borges, but I couldn't find a decent enough translation - not that I could do any better," said Neal Merino, who joined the group about a year ago.
Instead of anything by Pablo Neruda or Jorge Luis Borges, Thomas brought "Danse Russe," a vignette by William Carlos Williams.
"It's not a poem I'm especially fond of - I mean, I'm fond of the poet - but it's a poem that illustrates how poetry can make you more observant," Merino said, braiding thematic threads from earlier in the conversation. "This character is looking at things from long into middle age."
New, old and revised perspectives appear to be integral components of poetry. Tim Jennings pointed this out early in the meeting after sharing an excerpt from "Elbert Hubbard's Scrap Book," and later when he shared part of "RADIO ETHIOPIA (the tongue of love)," by Patti Smith. (Yes, that Patti Smith.)
"It's poetry that messes with my head, and that's my favorite kind of poetry," Jennings said amid laughter, the loudest of which was from his friend, a visitor to Prescott and the group.
Janet Preston's poetry group is passionate, albeit loosely organized.
Members were slow to react when asked why they shared the poems they chose the share. It wasn't as quiet as that Ben Stein scene in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," but it was close.
After topics were broached, however, the small group leapfrogged over a litany of ideas. It wasn't as raucous as that "Danke Schoen" scene in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," but it was close.
Preston wrote a short synopsis about the poetry group and read part of it during the May meeting.
"The poetry stirs a myriad of feelings and thoughts, and we leave more aware, I even will venture to say more human, than when we entered," she writes. "The people who attend this class on a regular basis want to keep learning in their lives, want to be ever more aware and excited about life -"
At the begging of class, Preston read T. S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," the protagonist of which is a paranoid, agoraphobic wretch - the antithesis of her vision for those in the group.
Members were quiet but attentive while she read the poem. There's not really an analog in "Ferris Bueller's Day Off," not even close.
"That was awesome," Jennings said, as he wiped tears from his eyes. "I'm crying. Man, oh my."