Around the Island

A February poetry gathering at the Shelter Island Library

Nine passionate poetry lovers met last Tuesday for the Art Barnett/Richard Varney Poetry Roundtable. 

They Zoomed in from Scotland (Walter Snedden), Florida (George Nemeth), and Shelter Island (Martin Ambinder, Roz Dimon, Daria Hong, Karen Kiaer, Irene Cornell Meenan, Carol Benedict Russell and moderator Yvette Janssen. Jocelyn Ozolins from the library coordinated the event.

The roundtable is a memorial to Island poetry lovers Art Barnett and Richard Varney and meets regularly at the library. There will be a special memorial reading for Mr. Varney on June 18, Ms. Ozolins reported.

Carol Russell read a poem by Rudyard Kipling called “The Gods of Copybook Headings.” She was enthusiastic and involved and read with lots of spirit. In the poem, Kipling warned of hucksters in the marketplace and urged readers not to believe everything that they see and hear. He also said that since the beginnings of humankind, things have a way of repeating themselves.

Martin Ambinder chose to read “Auguries of Innocence” by William Blake, a poem about Christianity and redemption. Blake deals with many tenets of faith, so the reader must be a believer to appreciate his words, it was said.

Karen Kiaer noted that Blake used upper case to emphasize his words. That was his style in this poem and it worked as he described life’s joys and woes, Ms. Kiaer added.

There is also a theme of forgiveness in which the animals seem to forgive the humans.

“The lamb misused breeds Public Strife

And yet forgives the Butcher’s knife.”

“At Melville’s Tomb”  by Hart Crane was presented by the moderator, Ms. Janssen. She said she could not help thinking about “Moby Dick” the whole time she read the poem. Crane talks about all those who died at sea and had the dead men speaking to him.

Walter Snedden offered that the poem was about “man and the sea as well as man and eternity.”

“… High in the azure steeps

Monody shall not wake the mariner.

This fabulous shadow only the sea keeps.”

“Monody” is an archaic term for an elegiac poem, an ode lamenting a person’s death.

The plight of Native Americans was the subject of a poem read by Irene Meenan. “American Arithmetic” by Natalie Diaz. It was explained that Native Americans make up less than 1% of the population, but are killed more than any other race.

“When we are dying, who should we call?

The police? or our senator?

Please, someone, call my mother.”

It was noted that Native Americans have also been hit hard by disease brought from explorers and settlers.

And from Scotland, Walter Snidden read “For a’ That and a’ That” by Robert Burns. This poem showed the reader that it’s values, and not position in society, that really counts.

“The honest man, tho’ e’er sae poor,

Is king o’ men of a’ that.”

Roz Dimon said that “your brogue really brings the language to us.”    

The roundtable was originally called the “Art Barnett Poetry Roundtable” after Art Barnett, who was a poetry lover and longtime writer for the Reporter.

According to Virginia Walker, a past facilitator of the group, she met Richard Varney in 2016.

She said she and Mr. Varney were hoping to boost membership in the Roundtable and began a vigorous advertising campaign.

Mr. Varney was leading the group after Roger McKeon left to work with a literacy program at the Library.

“Rich and I believed in full immersion in a poem, deep reading and empathetic criticism,” Ms. Walker said, adding that “he asked me to run the group.”

She became the facilitator of the Roundtable after Mr. Varney lost his battle with cancer and died.

And the group is now called the Art/Rich Poetry Roundtable.