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Making peace with poetry

Novices write to work their way through life's difficulties
 Posted: 2:00 AM April 16, 2013

Patty Farrell is calm when she talks about working 30 years as a police investigator and cop confronting tough guys. But on Sunday night, when she was asked to read a poem out loud to friends, she was anxious.

The 61-year-old Ashland resident quickly confessed to being intimidated by verse.

She doesn't remember reciting a poem without being required to in high school. But here she was, at a potluck dinner, with a copy of "Meeting the Peacemaker" by Clifford Browder in her hands.

A month of poetry writing

Write a Poem a Day for 31 Days in May is a $1-a-day Internet course taught by counselor Ann Barton and writer Beckie Elgin. The course is open to anyone with access to Facebook who is in transition, feeling stuck in any area of life, struggling with difficult emotions or wanting to stimulate creativity. Participants will receive suggestions, support and guidance.

Peace is not [a]

Sterile gauze, a snowflake, an insipid dove

It's feisty and rich

In the group was Ashland counselor Ann Barton, who is offering an Internet course in May to encourage nonpoets to ignore their inner critic and work through grief, stuck relationships and other feelings by writing a poem a day.

Over the month, Farrell and other hopeful poets will receive daily emails from Barton and Beckie Elgin, a writer and registered nurse, prompting them to capture their thoughts on paper through rhymes. Or maybe not.

They may be asked to flip through magazines and old books, cut out words that appeal to them and then arrange the words into sentences. Or unscramble Google search results to create poems called Flarfs. Or spend time constructing haiku.

"I know there's a formula for haiku, but they're going to have to tell me what it is," says Farrell, who is comforted that she won't be critiqued and there is no pressure to perform.

The Write a Poem a Day for 31 Days in May isn't a language arts class, says Barton, but an opportunity to use the writing process as a tool for self-awareness and expression.

She says giving herself time daily to author a poem helped her mourn her father, who passed away in May.

"It's transformational," says Barton, who has a master's degree in counseling psychology from Antioch University and three decades of counseling experience. "After I wrote, I felt a sense of accomplishment and peace I hadn't felt in a long time."

She says even Carl Jung recognized the power of committing to being present, as Barton says, with "a feeling and image, a sense, a memory, and then putting that experience to words."

At Sunday's dinner in Ashland, group members read poems of their choice. Farrell was relieved to hear classic, contemporary and original works. "Who knew there were so many types of poems?" she says.

Farrell decided to read "Meeting the Peacemaker" because she says she spent the first part of her life creating peace through law enforcement and now she wants to find another way.

Peace is potency

Reaching and sprouting

Budding and branching

When she reached the passage, "The vertigo of mind and dancing/With the fecundator/To the music of need," she stumbled.

How do you pronounce "fecundator"?

And what does it mean?

She looked the word up in the dictionary and discovered it refers to someone who nourishes something to make it fruitful, perhaps like nurturing inspiration.

"It was the poem's content, the title that got me," says Farrell, who offered it up at the dinner alongside her apple quinoa and kale salad. "There is no way I could write something like this, but I'm willing to see what shows up."

She exhales, then adds: "I wasn't this nervous facing a bad guy with a gun." Then she laughs.

"Maybe I can start by exploring my resistance to something as benign as a poem," she says.


Is for the star-biters and the rooted.

Don't be dainty

Go at it.

Reach reporter Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or

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