BY VIRGINIA WALKER
Islander Richard Varney died on May 28 in the Kanas Hospice after a long battle with cancer. As he told his friends, he misjudged how much time he had left. In early May he and I were planning a summer relaunch of the Art Barnett Poetry Roundtable which meets Tuesdays at 4 p.m. in the Shelter Island Library.
When I visited him in the hospice, he was glad to hear that I was going forward with the ideas, many of which were his, that we had discussed.
Rich was Harvard educated and a man of great intellect and enormous benevolence. A bear of a man, he was a meditative Buddha who loved poetry for its ability to say so much in compressed language. The poetry roundtable was a vital part of his existence. When I went to his home on Bayshore Drive in Silver Beach, I saw the volumes of poetry he had collected. He believed in poetry.
Since Rich wanted to see a future for the group and placed the re-launch in my hands, I will continue with our plans.
I feel that in the last year-and-a-half since Rich took over from Roger McKeon, he was the ever-reinvigorating mind that guided us through poem after poem. He always saw something new, even in a well-known poem. He was never critical of any choice or reflections from the rest of us. I have enormous shoes to fill.
Rich wanted new blood in the group. A number of members had moved away or could not attend because of their jobs. Rich knew there were potential members in the community. We just had to reach them.
I am going to make some changes and this may upset some, but I know I need to do this.
New name: Art/Rich Poetry Roundtable.
Why change the name? I need to honor what Rich did for the Roundtable. By combining the first name of Barnett and the first of Varney, we have a name that speaks to the power of poetry. We will not forget Art Barnett, but we will enrich the title of the group.
Relaunch date August 9: I will be at the Shelter Island Library each Tuesday at 4 p.m., downstairs. But the official re-launch will be on June 9 when some key members and Rich’s friends from his Harvard days and his professional life will visit the Island. I will be promoting the relaunch in the next two weeks and will be looking for new people interested in poetry.
Did you ever read a poem that took the top of your head off? Did you ever have a favorite poem? Did you ever want to read everything a poet wrote? Did you ever read a Shakespeare sonnet and sigh? Did you ever read Walt Whitman and want to gather multitudes into your heart? Did you ever want to howl all night as you rode through the rainy streets of an unknown city? Did you ever want to hear Odysseus speak of his travels? Did you ever want to build a stone wall of words and create a hidden garden of thought? Did you ever read a John Donne poem and sit still in amazement?
If any of the above fit you, come to the Art/Rich Poetry Roundtable Tuesdays at 4 p.m. starting at the re-launch on June 19.
What will be different? Rich and I thought that our first meeting of the group should go back to basics. We will discuss what a poem is. Each member used to bring in poems, read them to the group, and then discuss them. We will still be eager to see what you bring to the group, but now we will also provide poems. We will have themes for meetings and many other new ideas. We may have local poets visit. Rich liked that idea of mine. We will plan some evening readings, too.
Refreshments: Rich playfully suggested scotch, but we will have non-alcoholic beverages and snacks. Afternoons need a zap of caffeine.
A tribute on August 9: The Roundtable and friends of Richard Varney will pay tribute to him on this day at 5:30 p.m. Come to the Roundtable and receive a book from Rich’s vast library. Come and explore poetry. No poem shall be ignored. We want to hear what you love and why.
See you at the Art/Rich Poetry Roundtable (formerly the Art Barnett Poetry Roundtable) on Tuesday, June 19, at 4 p.m. and every Tuesday after. For more information, contact Virginia Walker at (631) 749-2394.