Several weeks ago I was invited to give a talk to the local Rotary Club at their regular luncheon meeting. I was happy to accept the offer as one of my passions is widening the audience for poetry, bringing poetry to people who might not ordinarily be reading it. The meeting took place this week. I must confess to generally being a bit more nervous when I read and talk in front of local groups. What if I'm terrible and then I have to run into these people at the grocery store!
But I didn't need to be nervous. The group was wonderful and the whole experience was delightful. We had around 30 people, not bad for peak vacation time in July. The meeting began with the Pledge, a song, and a prayer. Then a bunch of announcements. There was decorum, procedures, etc. But also a lot of good humor. We had lunch and then my host gave me a lovely introduction.
I'd been asked to speak for approximately 20-30 minutes. I began by reading one poem, "Linguini." Then I talked a bit about how I became a poet, how I learned the craft, and what I've been doing as a poet since leaving teaching. Then came the Q&A. I'd brought along some emergency questions just in case no one asked any. Again, no need to worry. They had lots of questions and theirs were much more interesting than the ones I'd brought.
Someone asked about my reading style which he likened to singing, a comment I just love as I'm a terrible singer. I talked about the importance of slowing down for poetry, of paying attention to syllables and the pattern of stressed and unstressed, of feeling the poem in your body.
Someone else asked me for a definition of poetry. A trick question! I used Stafford's definition: an artistic arrangement of words on the page. Music came in again. And some of the special techniques of poetry. Line breaks. Stanzas instead of paragraphs.
Someone asked about the value of poetry with disadvantaged students. My theory is that poetry is good for all students but is a kind of magic for those who are experiencing hard times. I talked about how poetry makes people more compassionate and offers an outlet for all kinds of feelings. How it lets us know we are not alone.
Someone asked about poetry as therapy. Again, yes, yes. It's not therapy, but it's certainly therapeutic.
And then before I got to my second poem, my host gave me the hook. Our time was up. But I was able to talk individually with people as the meeting broke up. A few said they were going to buy my book. A few said they'd like to try writing poetry. The conversation continued. I hope it's still going on.
Thanks to Robert Markman for the photo and for the two appropriately chosen vocabulary words that were part of the program: metrophobia and rhapsodomancy. Look them up!