As a poet who is also a community advocate and counselor, I look for ways to bring poetry into the community and the community into poetry, to encourage the well-being and self-expression of all people. With this intention I have created Poems Written by Communities and Poems Written for Communities.
Poems BY Communities
Asking people at an event to write a few words about their community prompts a spontaneous response. People write their lines on paper and put them in the “Poetry Jar,” where the lines marinate into a poem, to be presented later in the event. I craft the lines into a poetic, rhythmic form and voilà! I perform group poem for the group. People enjoy hearing “their” line, and are delighted by the creativity of their group. The community poem later serves as a mission statement crafted by the group, a self-affirmation to attract further support.
Letter from Jennifer Fowler, Cutchogue New-Suffolk Library.
The following communities now have their community poem:East End Arts School (25th Anniversary Celebration)First Baptist Church of Riverhead (Christmas Celebration)Family Community Life Center, Riverhead, NY (Benefit)Cutchogue/New Suffolk Free Library (100th Anniversary)Expressive Therapies Summit (2014, 2015)
Poems for Communities
Sometimes I am called by a community to write a poem for an occasion.
First Presbyterian Church of Southold.
Commissioned by the 375th Anniversary Committee, “Our Calling” was written and performed in July 2015. At the request of Rev. Peter Kelley, “Our Calling” was performed for the Anniversary Service on October 18, 2015 as a choral reading by soloists with the congregation, and was published in a commemorative book.
“‘Our Calling’ was spiritual, funny, and historical. It defined the relevance of our church with the community outside our doors and into the world. It will be a lasting part of our church legacy.”—Marguerite Schoendebare, Chairperson, 375 Art and Artisans Fair, First Presbyterian Church of Southold
Other times the occasion calls to me.
Writing poems for occasions presents the risk of sentimentality or editorializing, thus compromising artistic merit. I take my chances.
In June 2010, when 1st Lt Joseph J. Theinert, the son of my friend Chrystyna Kestler, was killed in Afghanistan. I wrote a poem, and the following year was asked to write a second poem for a ceremony welcoming his fellow soldiers on the first anniversary of his death. Performed at the VFW, Shelter Island, NY, June 2011. Travelling with a Gold Star mother, I wrote a poem to honor Vietnam veterans, which performed at ceremony at Calverton National Cemetery, June 2012.
Journey of Souls by Steve Alpert“Benediction” was written in response to a painting, “Journey of Souls,” by Steve Alpert based on a photograph taken by Paul Dargan at the memorial service held at Quang Tri for those slain at Khe Sanh. I performed the poem in 2014 at the Church of the Living Water, Riverhead, NY, for Memorial Day in Quoque NY and at the National Museum of the Marines, Quantico, Virginia.
After current events involving the needless deaths of young black men at the hands of white police, I have been writing poems examining the stereotypes, assumptions and attitudes I grew up with as a white woman in Baltimore. Sharing these poems in workshops, reading poetry like Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen,” and being a member of the local Anti-Bias Task Force in my town have heightened my sensitivity to bias and my commitment to social justice and multi-cultural diversity.
‘Respect and Civility’ candlelight vigil in Southold
Poem for the cutchogue volunteer fire department at 3am