I’m pleased to report that the first meeting of The Cross Keys Poetry Society was a happy little success. One never knows how many to expect for a new adult program at a public library, or anywhere for that matter, and with less than three weeks to prepare we decided on a show-up, rather than sign-up approach to start.
From the beginning I wanted our group to be something more than a workshop, a place to really read, discuss and learn from the poems themselves. I wanted the group to be open to writers and readers of poetry alike. Besides, in our small town numbers are thin already, and I feared calling the group a workshop might scare some folks off who would otherwise enjoy an evening of lines and verse.
So we decided to name the group after the old Cross Keys Inn that our property once housed from 1829 until Joseph Priestley bought it in 1864 as a home as his family. Ginsburg, Kerouac, O’Hara and members of the New York School met at the (recently closed) Ceder Tavern. Tolkien, Lewis and other Oxford writer met at The Eagle and Child (or as they called it “the Bird and Baby”).
Were there poets and artists who met here at Cross Keys? Why not? Northumberland is where the North and the West Branches of the Susquehanna River meet. The Inn was right near the old Danville Highway. Commerce up and down the river via railroad and canals made this a happening little town back in the day. So why not a center for art as well, and in the building that would one day become the Priestley-Forsyth Memorial Library?
So myth or not, we created The Cross Keys Poetry Society and made plans to make the library’s upstairs board room into our watering hole. We ordered materials, notebooks and Mary Oliver’s A Poetry Handbook, and proceeded to promote our hearts out to the local paper, radio Facebook, our library website and of course to friends we thought might be interested.
I’m big on handouts, and since we didn’t know how many people to expect, and whether they would be writers, readers or interested bystanders (and I correctly suspected a mix), I approached the first gathering as something of an introduction to poetry, one that could be enjoyed even by folks who have been hanging around poems for decades.
We started with a reading of Billy Collins’ “Introduction to Poetry,” and I stated that tonight was not for deep analysis, in fact we’d be enjoying far too many poems to take the spend much time taking them apart to see what winds their wheels. Instead we would “water-ski across the surface of [poems], waving at the [authors'] name on the shore.”
One thing that informed the discussion was my dismay that more than one library patron who, having seen our sign out front, came in and asked about the “pottery classes.” When I said, “No, it’s poetry,” it was as if I had told them we’d be serving pickled pig’s feet. They would scrunch up their noses, or shake their heads, don a look that indicated an actual physical distaste, and say, “Oh, I don’t like poetry.”
So an opening session that was to be about the “What is Poetry? And Where Does It Come from?” turned into “What is Poetry? And Why Don’t People Like It?” I’ll give you the links to the audio visuals, and the main highlights in my next post. So keep your orange peeled (only because I like peeling oranges much more than eyes) for Part 2.
By the way, for local readers and writers, we will be meeting twice a month, on the first and third Tuesdays, so if you are in the area, don’t be afraid to drop by, or stop by and sign up first to get the materials for the next session!
Our August meetings will be:
Tuesday, August 5th and Tuesday August 19th. Both at 6:30 PM