The physical, mental and emotional impacts of aging are rich ground for poets. Ashland, with its large population of retirees, is a perfect place to seek out poets with something to say on the subject.
The Osher Lifelong Learning Institute is looking for writers to submit their original poems about aging and/or retirement. They can be in traditional form or free verse, serious or humorous. The contest coordinators, Charlotte Abernathy and Mary Ann Mason, urge Rogue Valley residents of all ages to submit their work.
"It's open to everyone in the valley; you don't have to be an old person to write about being old," says Abernathy. "We're all going through it."
Aging is a recurring theme in Abernathy and Mason's monthly poetry group. "We're all in our 50s and 60s, so it's inevitable that our writing would touch on aspects of growing older," says Abernathy.
"Whether it's a poem about searching for your eyeglasses and then realizing they are on top of your head, or whether it's a poem about grieving for a deceased friend, poetry is a beautiful way to express feelings that are almost inexpressible," says Mason.
Abernathy says she started writing poetry after her husband died in 1999. "Poetry helped me work through my grief," she says. "It was just a way for me to focus my thoughts. Now, I write all the time."
Mason recently lost her husband, and says writing poems has helped her. "I think writing is a comfort to a lot of people, and I'm looking forward to reading more poems from people in the valley."
Mason adds that the theme of aging is broad, and poems don't have to be sad. "There's a lot of humor in aging," she notes.
Local poets and contest judges Vince and Patricia Wixon will select a number of poems for prizes, which include both cash and books. Winners will be invited to collect their prizes and share their work on March 6 as part of an OLLI community program.
Both organizers encourage people of all writing skill levels to enter, even those who have never written a poem before. "This is about sharing experiences and having a conversation," says Mason.
Abernathy advises everyone who is interested to just relax and write. "Don't worry about the contest or the judges, just open yourself to your own words, be yourself and the poem will happen."
Mason agrees. "Our judges are terrific, and honestly, when people read a poem, they look for the best in it. I think sometimes we're too hard on ourselves."
For those who have trouble getting started, the women recommend books they turn to for inspiration or help with crafting a poem. Abernathy suggests "How to Read a Poem: And Fall in Love with Poetry," by Edward Hirsh. Mason recommends "The Poetry Home Repair Manual: Practical Advice for Beginning Poets," by Ted Kooser.
"I refer to this book all the time. It's full of good writing advice. I keep it right next to my typewriter," says Mason.
"Regardless of how you do it, I'd say to anyone, just be courageous. You won't know the satisfaction of writing until you give it a try."
To enter the contest, submit two typed copies of each poem. Include your name and contact information on only one of the copies so that the second copy can be judged anonymously. Mail to: OLLI Poetry Contest, OLLI at SOU, 1250 Siskiyou Blvd., Ashland OR 97520. The deadline for submissions is Feb. 2, and the entry limit is three poems of up to 40 lines each.
The March 6 award presentation and reading will be from 1 to 3 p.m. at OLLI Classroom A, 655 Frances Lane, Ashland. For information, contact Maryanne Mason at email@example.com.
Angela Decker is a freelance writer in Ashland and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.