Poets are a special group at the Academy for Lifelong Learning. Some twenty-five or so enroll in the "So You Want to be a Poet" each semester. They are joined, on an ad hoc basis, by quite a few others who have taken the course over the years and feel they are a part of the group. They also do not stop with the semester's end but have three "rump sessions" during the summer at class members' homes. The poets are among the more senior students at ALL, average age is probably a bit over 70.
The coordinator of the class, Peter Saunders, decided at retirement age (after a life in business) to get a Ph.D. in poetry and then to teach seniors, which he has been doing for 19 years. He is a quiet, gentle soul and well loved by students who are never criticized and always encouraged. He put together an anthology about 6 years ago called Silent No More with poems by thirty or so of his students. It was aptly named. A few of the poets speak of feeling empowered in later years to write about things they only thought about writing before, and writing in verse. The book was published by a press in Provincetown, Cape Cod and took all these years to come to fruition. In the meantime a percentage of those represented have died, and the accompanying photos of those who remain look wonderfully young.
The group met yesterday on the porch of a long time member. 15 people drove 10 to 25 miles to be a part of the group on a very beautiful summer day when they might have chosen any sort of summer activity. All brought poems, read them and shared copies with everyone else. Much catching up with absent members and much concern about those who have in the last several months weathered one or another physical malady. I am not a spring chicken and was feeling a bit creaky myself having pulled something in my back causing stiffness and some pain. (Not serious enough in that crowd to merit mention.) I have rarely felt myself so much surrounded by older people.
These were not stereotypical older people. All are active, all are eager to put their thoughts and feelings in words and pleased to be able to share them with a sympathetic audience. The feeling was one of great warmth and concern but also of the pleasure of not being silent, of having found an outlet for things that they care about, be it a new granddaughter, abundant dogwood trees, the old habit of franks and baked beans for Saturday dinner, a child's dismay at not being allowed to go to a funeral of an uncle, or the fragility of age. For all of us two hours on a porch with friends, gossip, sharing our poetry, looking at the Cape Cod canal at the end of the street was the best way we could spent an August afternoon.
The mid-70s are a surprise! Part of me remains in the 50s -- age, I mean, not decade of 20th century. It's a joy ride, new experiences land in my lap and I've become a better quilter, poet, writer than I expected. It's a rich life for a person never rich financially. Hey, this is what the mid-70s are like!