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Shelter Island Library’s Friday Night Dialogues: Poetry Reading to echo Whitman

Shelter Island poet Virginia Walker and three distinguished Long Island poets — Kathaleen Donnelly, Daniel Kerr and Robert Savino —  will bring the joy of poetry to the library in a special Zoom webinar on Friday, June 17 at 7 p.m.

Curated by Ms. Walker, the reading features works recently published in the anthology “Paumanok Transition,” edited by Kathaleen Donnelly.

Paumanok, which means “fish-shaped,” is believed to be the Algonquin or Montauk aboriginal name for Long Island, which was favored by its celebrated poet, Walt Whitman. “Starting from Paumanok,” the lead poem in Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” sets the stage for the book’s year-long anthology, with each month prefaced by a Whitman poem, conveying personal transitions of mind and body.

“A tour de force — an impressive performance [by] Whitman’s fellow travelers … who vividly relate their transitions with spontaneous awareness or aching recall — involving a movement or shift that is transformative for both poet and reader,” said Cynthia Shor, executive director of the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association, about the book, which is available on Amazon. 

In addition to the readings, which will include selections from the Varney Collection as well as from “Paumanok Transition,” Ms. Walker will speak to the memory of Richard Varney and interview the poet-readers about their own favorites and ideas in poetry.

The late Richard Varney grew up in Garden City, summered on Shelter Island, and was educated at Harvard, where he served on the board of its Poetry Journal. After he moved back to the Island full time, he was the facilitator of the library’s popular Art Barnett Poetry Appreciation program, named in memory of its creator, and now called the Art/Rich Poetry Roundtable.

Richard was also the inspiration for the library’s Richard Varney Poetry Collection. “His brilliance was startling,” said Ms. Walker, who has described him as a Buddha: calm and enlightening. “He read prodigiously and believed that good poetry held the best of philosophy and the best ideas of humanity.”

A resident of Hay Beach, Virginia Walker has been a finalist for Suffolk County Poet Laureate and her work has been widely published, locally and nationally. She has mentored many poetry workshops on Long Island for Live Poets and has been a visiting poet in East End Middle Schools, as well as creating numerous events at Dowling College for East End Poets.

She holds a Ph.D. from New York University and teaches English and Humanities courses at Dowling College and Suffolk Community College. She is best known for co-authoring Neuron Mirror (with Michael Walsh), which raised more than $10,700 for the Lustgarten Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research and Cure.

Kathaleen Donnelly is a nurse practitioner in cardiology at Stony Brook Hospital, who writes very moving poems. In addition to “Paumanok Transitions,” she produced “Paumanok, Poems and Pictures of Long Island,” and “Paumanok Interwoven,” and is published in many anthologies.

Daniel Basil Kerr is a certified public accountant, holds a Ph.D. and writes hilariously funny poems. He works as a cross-cultural consultant and teaches accounting at St. Joseph’s College and Suffolk Community College. He is the moderator of the monthly All Souls Church “Second Saturday Poetry Readings,” and is also widely published.  

Robert Savino, Suffolk County Poet Laureate 2015-2017, is a board member of the Walt Whitman Birthplace and Long Island Poetry & Literature Repository Center. He was awarded the Oberon Poetry Prize and is the co-editor of two bilingual collections of Italian American poets — and a wonderful mentor to young poets.

As all Library programs, the “Annual Richard Varney Memorial Poetry Reading” is free with donations gratefully accepted. Registration is required with early sign-up encouraged, not later than 5 p.m. on the day of the program at silibrary.org, at the library or phone 631-749-0042.

Next Up: July 1, Jim Dougherty, on the late Nancy Dougherty’s book, “The Hangman and His Wife.”