Wise words and reasoned rhyme
June 9, 2008 · Updated 2:55 PM
"Stored magic. If boxes of tricks or treasured memories spring to mind, think again. Twentieth century English bard Robert Graves coined the phrase to describe poetry - small wonder islanders have such diverse views on what good verse means. ''This island stores magic in so many ways,'' says Cindy Harrison, coordinator for An Island's Stored Magic, Sunday's reading in observation of National Poetry Month. ''We have a rich poetic heritage here on Bainbridge.''Led by Guggenheim Fellowship award winner Linda Bierds, a bevy of Bainbridge poets and selected students will read at 4 p.m. April 16 in the Bainbridge Library. Scheduled participants include John Willson, Kristen Henshaw, Ellen Wright, Sue Hylen, Janet Knox, Nancy Rekow, Pat Loken and more.Poetry, Harrison says, is a tremendously creative medium. The observation of poetry month has snowballed.And local poets are a talkative bunch. Interviewing Willson, winner of the Pushcart Prize, feels a little like being back at school. He speaks with the clarity of a well-rehearsed lecturer as he sips on his calm Tazo tea, leaving plenty of note-taking time between sentences. Willson takes inspiration from Bainbridge's natural environment, and when talking about the island, he can't resist gesticulating.The sense of space and air is important, he says, and the fact that every other person is an artist.Fellow poet Ellen Wright shares his enthusiasm for this weekend's event, and said she's proud to be reading with some of her own students.She is keen to stress the importance of allowing promising young bards to rub shoulders with published poets, saying, Age may have wisdom, but youth can bring the truth. She and Willson have plenty to say about teaching poetry.I always felt the need to teach more verse, says Wright, who works at Hyla School. The more children are exposed to poetry - not necessarily the meaning, but the rhythm - the better off they'll be. Willson's experiences as a poetry workshop leader have led to a similar ethos. Everyone should read more, he says, particularly out loud.Wright is the first to acknowledge the difficulty of bringing children into contact with poetry. If a child is introduced to poetry too old, it can come as a slap in the face, she says. Kristin Henshaw elaborates: The image of poetry stuck in some ivory tower can get in the way. Kids start to feel like the verse has nothing to do with ordinary life. A new program called Poetry Corner could be the answer. Islander Elizabeth Irving has undertaken the project, encouraging island businesses to feature poster poems for public viewing. We want people to have a poetry experience as they go about their daily business, she says.Her insistence on poetry as the most democratic art form touches on a sensitive issue for local poets. Of course a poem must be able to stand alone on the page, they agree. Nonetheless, all are excited by the possibility of fusing poetry with music, photos and drama.New cool stuff is happening, says Henshaw, citing the emergence of performance poetry. If the circulation of the library's poetry books is anything to go by, verse is definitely becoming more popular. Harrison, director of the Bainbridge Library branch, offers the teaching of creative writing in schools and the lyricism of popular music as possible explanations. In contrast, Bainbridge Island Mayor Dwight Sutton - scheduled to read an original poem at 4 p.m. April 18 at the library - regards poetry as something of a blast from the past. It's a great shame that young people no longer memorize poetry as part of their education'' he says. Whether you view poetry as a nostalgic experience or a hip, versatile art form, you should find plenty of magic in store this month. Come dig up a little literary gold this Sunday and show your support for those reading."