Poets’ Forum welcomes members

The North Shore Poets’ Forum met on March 18, 11 a.m., in the Barnet Room of the Beverly Public Library and welcomed the promise of Spring and a new year of poetry meetings.

In attendance were Director Cathryn O’Hare (me), Nancy Pantano, Susan Piccole, Tom McDonald, Ray Whittier, and new members Kate Boyle and Ellie Nelson. Unfortunately, some others were discouraged from coming because of the warning that an ongoing library HVAC project might take up much of the parking lot. Beverly patrons must have been warned off, too, because there was plenty of parking. We hope you can join us on April 15, again in the Barnet Room.

One of the first items of business was deciding what time we wanted to begin and end our meetings within the four hour time slot given to us, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. NOTE: we have changed our meeting time! We will now meet from 10:30 to 12:30 or so, due to popular demand — not too early or too late. Members can still bring a sandwich and soda to enjoy discreetly (food is generally not allowed).

We also set up program schedules. New member Ellie jumped right in and volunteered to present a program on April 15, 10:30 a.m., for National Poetry Month, in the Barnet Room.  She will research the when and why of the creation of this month honoring poetry.

Susan Picole will present the May 20 program, topic to be decided. We will meet in the Sohier Room at the Library, as we have in the past.

We will have a June outing, possibly in Beverly at Gillis Park, a quiet one near the Bass River with lots of parking, per Susan. Because we are not in the library, we can choose a date that suits the majority.

Nancy Pantano will present a program for the September 16 meeting, also in the Sohier Room.

We hope other members will volunteer to present programs for October 21 and November 18. If you are very shy, you could team up with another member, which might be fun.

For the March meeting, I presented a brief program on Eavan Boland (1944-2020), a distinguished poet who was one of the first female Irish poets to be honored in Ireland and internationally.

We then took turns reading our own poetry and offering helpful (one hopes) tips and suggestions.

Please join us April 15. Bring a poem of your own creation for gentle critique. Remember, the meeting will be at 10:30 a.m., Barnet Room, Beverly Public Library.

And, here’s a little Spring-time poem.

An Earth Song

Langston Hughes – 1901-1967

It’s an earth song,—
And I’ve been waiting long for an earth song. 
It’s a spring song,—
And I’ve been waiting long for a spring song. 
    Strong as the shoots of a new plant 
    Strong as the bursting of new buds
    Strong as the coming of the first child from its mother’s womb. 
It’s an earth song, 
A body song, 
A spring song, 
I have been waiting long for this spring song. 

Come to the meeting

Join the North Shore Poets’ Forum meeting on Saturday, March 18, 11 a.m., in the Barnet Room of the Beverly Public Library for a happy St. Patrick’s Day (late) and a welcome to Spring (coming soon) gathering. I will be presiding, something I haven’t done in a few years because of taking a Saturday job. I’ve quit that. Many thanks to Jeanette Maes and Roberta Hung for calling you together periodically — until Covid scuttled all sorts of plans. We’ve been free of the constant Covid worry for a while now, so here’s to a great new year of poetry.

I will present a short program on Eavan Boland, 1944-2020, an Irish poet who taught at many universities both in Ireland and the United States. We will then take some time for gentle critiquing of our own poems.

Below is a poem by Boland that I hope you will enjoy. I look forward to seeing you Saturday.


Eavan Boland – 1944-2020

In the worst hour of the worst season
    of the worst year of a whole people
a man set out from the workhouse with his wife.
He was walking—they were both walking—north.

She was sick with famine fever and could not keep up.
     He lifted her and put her on his back.
He walked like that west and west and north.
Until at nightfall under freezing stars they arrived.

In the morning they were both found dead.
    Of cold. Of hunger. Of the toxins of a whole history.
But her feet were held against his breastbone.
The last heat of his flesh was his last gift to her.

Let no love poem ever come to this threshold.
     There is no place here for the inexact
praise of the easy graces and sensuality of the body.
There is only time for this merciless inventory:

Their death together in the winter of 1847.
      Also what they suffered. How they lived.
And what there is between a man and woman.
And in which darkness it can best be proved.

From New Collected Poems by Eavan Boland. Copyright © 2008 by Eavan Boland. Reprinted by permission of W.W. Norton. All rights reserved.

A New Year at the Poets’ Forum

Happpy New Year! I have booked the Beverly Public Library for the Poets’ Forum meetings on the third Saturday of seven different months, as follows: 

March 18; April 15 (National Poetry Month); May 20; September 16; Oct. 21; Nov. 18; Dec. 16. The March and April meetings are in the Barnet Room; all others are in the Sohier Room. 

The library has allotted us from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for our meetings. We will go back to our 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. time for the March meeting, since most of us are used to it. The library is allowing us to bring our inidivduals lunches, which is very nice since food is usually forbidden. We can discuss at the meeting whether we would rather meet from 10 to 12 or 12 to 2. We can also decide if we want a summer outing, which we’ve enjoyed in the past.

It has been a while since we met regularly. The Covid virus was a big culprit. And, someone getting a job on Saturdays (i.e., me, the former and now current Forum director), set things back a bit. Both Jeanette Maes, Mass State Poetry Society President, and Roberta Hung, her right-hand woman, did their best to add the Forum to their busy lives, but each sighed with relief when I quit my Saturday job and offered my services again.

We have in the past presented programs on different poets or poetric forms or periods. I will think of something for March 18th — perhaps an Irish poet. I’ll let you know closer to the date. Other members are encouraged to make presentions. We will also politely critique one another’s poems. Sharpen your pencils and start writing your fabulous poems. And, if they aren’t quite fabulous, we’ll help you get there!

Note, that the Mass State Poetry Society has regular meetings. Check them out at https://mastatepoetrysociety.tripod.com.

Now for some inspiration. You probably know that Pulizer Prize winner and US Poet Laureat Charles Simic died this month. He immigrated from Siberia as a teenager and taught at the University of New Hampshire for more than 30 years. But, I am bringing you a poem by David Slavitt, since it is about death and mourning. Also, it is set in Boston, on Arch Street, near the old Filenes. I was charmed. I hope you like it.


On the Autumn Agenda

Autumn glory

The leaves are leaving us in spectacular fashion, as usual for this time of year, showing off their colors in the cool breezes while promising lots of cleanup ahead. So, it is time for new beginnings, in a sense, and I will try to send news more frequently of other poets and groups, as well as share favorite poems now and then.

First, it is with great sorrow that I relay the death on August 11 of my dear friend and poet Melissa Varnavas. She was only 48 years old. We shared the same birthday, many years apart, which was a nice note on which to build a friendship that started at the Beverly Citizen in 1996 or 1997. She was kind enough to think of me as a mentor in the news business and, because I encouraged her to join the North Shore Poets’ Forum, in poetry as well. She outstripped me there, for sure, gaining her MFA in poetry and publication in a number of journals. I loved her, and I will miss her forever.


On a cheerier note, I have been asked to tell you about the Massachusetts State Poetry Society meeting at the Winthrop Public Library on Saturday, Oct. 15, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Ever since the pandemic unnerved us all, we no longer serve food or drinks at the meetings, but attendees are encouraged to bring their own. Bring a pen and paper, too, since Jeannette Maes, president of the society, will present a “mystery” program and  will no doubt ask you to jot down a creative thing or two. In addition, the Waterfront CREW Poet group will present a challenging program entitled “The Meaning of Life.” Google maps or other such site will help you find the library.

The Winthrop Library also hopes you can attend a special program by poet and Winthrop native Cynthia Bargar, who will discuss and read from her new book of poetry, “Sleeping in the Dead Girl’s Room,” on Wednesday, Oct. 12, 6 to 7:30 p.m. The poems deal with mental health issues and possible suicide of a dear aunt.

Click to access wpl-sleeping-bargar-horz-1-4.pdf

And, now for a favorite poem, this one by Stanley Kunitz

End of Summer


An agitation of the air,
A perturbation of the light
Admonished me the unloved year
Would turn on its hinge that night.

I stood in the disenchanted field
Amid the stubble and the stones,
Amazed, while a small worm lisped to me
The song of my marrow-bones

Blue poured into summer blue,  
A hawk broke from his cloudless tower,
The roof of the silo blazed, and I knew
That part of my life was over.

Already the iron door of the north
Clangs open: birds, leaves, snows,
Order their populations forth,
And a cruel wind blows.

One for Sorrow

I haven’t posted anything in a long while. I should really change the name of this blog, since it no lonter represents the Forum, which hasn’t met in some time and from which I resigned as president. But, I thought the following poem was beautiful. You can find it in Rattle magazine. I get daily poems from that source, which you might want to check out.


by Carmel Buckingham

A crow once gifted me

pine needles tucked into a paperclip.

She left it on my windowsill, right beside

the birdfeeder. I think about love languages,

about how long it’s been since I’ve felt

the smooth warmth of another’s skin,

firm muscle wrapped around me,

heavy and solid and safe.

Did you know crows can recognize faces?

She definitely knows me, she lets me get close,

she’s brought me more gifts—a Stella Artois

bottle cap, a glittering earring, a screw head,

and a few shiny pebbles.

I stack them inside, right by the window,

so she can see that I’ve kept every one.

I wonder if she’d recognize me with a smile,

she’s never seen me like that.

Crows stay faithful to their partners

until one of them dies. I only ever see her

on her own. I wonder if she hasn’t found

her partner yet, or if she is mourning

after a lover now lost.

Crows recognize voices too, so I sing to her

when she visits. Sometimes I crack open

a pomegranate and she pecks at the arils

right in front of me. I wonder if she sees

the stones behind my window; I wonder if

she knows she’s the reason I’m still here.

She always flies away, wings black as midnight,

sails into the sky. I wonder what it is about

people like me, who love spiders and crows,

who let dandelions conquer the garden, who

keep the one-eyed teddy bear, and sand the

shattered glass.

I am a defender of all the other broken things,

unwanted things, forgotten things,

things the world finds monstrous, worthless,

things that I find kindred. She deserves

her hazelnuts, to hop from foot to foot, she

deserves to exist.

And when she brings me another stone,

gray with shimmering specs of silver,

and sets it outside of my window,

I think, maybe I deserve that too.

from Ekphrastic Challenge

Time Does Not Bring Relief

I just saw this exquisite sonnet, Time Does Not Bring Relief, by Edna St. Vincent Millay in an email from Reddit, which for some reason I receive. It speaks to the grief of losing a loved one. It seems to me there are probably quite a few people who have lost loved ones to Covid-19, which makes this timely. But, of course, it is timely anytime for anyone who has lost a love.

Time does not bring relief; you all have lied

Time does not bring relief; you all have lied   
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!   
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;   
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,   
And last year’s leaves are smoke in every lane;   
But last year’s bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide.   
There are a hundred places where I fear   
To go,—so with his memory they brim.   
And entering with relief some quiet place   
Where never fell his foot or shone his face   
I say, “There is no memory of him here!”   
And so stand stricken, so remembering him.

No North Shore Poets’ Forum Open Mic

I am no longer able to head the North Shore Poets’ Forum, because I have a conflict on Saturdays. In any case, the regular attendees decided NOT to host an Open Mic this year in honor of National Poetry Month. There are, however, other open mics on the North Shore. You might want to go to the Tin Box Open Mic at the Swampscott Library, April 1, 6 p.m. to closing, or to Zumi’s on April 20, 6 p.m., for the Ipswich Poetry Group Open Mic. I’m sure there are others.

As I usually do, I am sharing a poem, this time in honor of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s 100th birthday (March 24, 1919). He’s still kicking.

The photo is Ferlinghetti at 99.

The Changing Light

	The changing light at San Francisco
	                         is none of your East Coast light
	                                          none of your
	                                                                 pearly light of Paris
	The light of San Francisco
	                                                is a sea light
	                                                                      an island light
	And the light of fog
	                                    blanketing the hills
	                        drifting in at night
	                                     through the Golden Gate
	                                                          to lie on the city at dawn
	And then the halcyon late mornings
	                  after the fog burns off
	                          and the sun paints white houses
	                                                           with the sea light of Greece
	                                with sharp clean shadows
	                                       making the town look like
	                                                     it had just been painted
But the wind comes up at four o’clock
                                                                    sweeping the hills
And then the veil of light of early evening
And then another scrim
                                when the new night fog
                                                                          floats in
And in that vale of light
                                           the city drifts
                                                                    anchorless upon the ocean

From How to Paint Sunlight by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Copyright © 2000 by Lawrence Ferlinghetti. Reprinted by permission of New Directions Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

A new season

Winter is in its throes, and I for one am waiting impatiently for Spring. I also have to beg forgiveness for not updating this page in such a long time. I think someone may have expected a February meeting, but the members decided the weather was too iffy to have meetings in the winter. I believe they will meet March 16, 11 a.m. in the Sohier Room of the Beverly Public Library.

I am no longer able to make most of the meetings because of other obligations. Therefore, don’t count on me for up-to-date information.  I may try to post now and then, just for the heck of it.

So, as usual, I leave you with a poem that seems fitting. This one is a lovely example of Mary Oliver’s great legacy. She died in January and will no longer weave a new tapestry of words.


In winter
    all the singing is in
         the tops of the trees
             where the wind-bird
with its white eyes
    shoves and pushes
         among the branches.
             Like any of us
he wants to go to sleep,
    but he’s restless—
         he has an idea,
             and slowly it unfolds
from under his beating wings
    as long as he stays awake.
         But his big, round music, after all,
             is too breathy to last.
So, it’s over.
    In the pine-crown
         he makes his nest,
             he’s done all he can.
I don’t know the name of this bird,
    I only imagine his glittering beak
         tucked in a white wing
             while the clouds—
which he has summoned
    from the north—
         which he has taught
             to be mild, and silent—
thicken, and begin to fall
    into the world below
         like stars, or the feathers
               of some unimaginable bird
that loves us,
    that is asleep now, and silent—
         that has turned itself
             into snow.
Source: Poetry (Poetry Foundation, 2002)

Summer swan songs and September meeting

The North Shore Poets’ Forum meets on September 15, 11 a.m., in the Sohier Room of the Beverly Public Library. Ray Whittier is on tap to present a program called “Along the Way.” Afterward, attendees are invited to share an original poem. Please bring six to 10 copies for gentle critique.

The group will also try to decide the programs for the 2019 calendar year (see under Meetings and Events for dates). I hope we’ll have lots of members anxious to present a new poet they’ve discovered, perhaps, or a  favorite form, or an interesting theme, etc., so that we can all grow and learn more about the art of poetry.

We are always open to new members and visitors, so please join us if you are interested in poetry and want to share and learn. We usually finish by 1:30 or so.

As usual, I am sharing a poem by an established poet that I think somewhat apropos, and I hope you agree this fits the bill for what has been a hot, hot, wonderful summer. It is by Dick Allen, and says so much about what we love about summer.

If You Get There Before I Do

 Dick Allen (1939-2017)


Air out the linens, unlatch the shutters on the eastern side,
and maybe find that deck of Bicycle cards
lost near the sofa. Or maybe walk around
and look out the back windows first.
I hear the view’s magnificent: old silent pines
leading down to the lakeside, layer upon layer
of magnificent light. Should you be hungry,
I’m sorry but there’s no Chinese takeout,
only a General Store. You passed it coming in,
but you probably didn’t notice its one weary gas pump
along with all those Esso cans from decades ago.
If you’re somewhat confused, think Vermont,
that state where people are folded into the mountains
like berries in batter. . . . What I’d like when I get there
is a few hundred years to sit around and concentrate
on one thing at a time. I’d start with radiators
and work my way up to Meister Eckhart,
or why do so few people turn their lives around, so many
take small steps into what they never do,
the first weeks, the first lessons,
until they choose something other,
beginning and beginning their lives,
so never knowing what it’s like to risk
last minute failure. . . .I’d save blue for last. Klein blue,
or the blue of Crater Lake on an early June morning.
That would take decades. . . .Don’t forget
to sway the fence gate back and forth a few times
just for its creaky sound. When you swing in the tire swing
make sure your socks are off. You’ve forgotten, I expect,
the feeling of feet brushing the tops of sunflowers:
In Vermont, I once met a ski bum on a summer break
who had followed the snows for seven years and planned
on at least seven more. We’re here for the enjoyment of it, he said,
to salaam into joy. . . .I expect you’ll find
Bibles scattered everywhere, or Talmuds, or Qur’ans,
as well as little snippets of gospel music, chants,
old Advent calendars with their paper doors still open.
You might pay them some heed. Don’t be alarmed
when what’s familiar starts fading, as gradually
you lose your bearings,
your body seems to turn opaque and then transparent,
until finally it’s invisible–what old age rehearses us for
and vacations in the limbo of the Middle West.
Take it easy, take it slow. When you think I’m on my way,
the long middle passage done,
fill the pantry with cereal, curry, and blue and white boxes of macaroni, place the
checkerboard set, or chess if you insist,
out on the flat-topped stump beneath the porch’s shadow,
pour some lemonade into the tallest glass you can find in the cupboard,
then drum your fingers, practice lifting your eyebrows,
until you tell them all–the skeptics, the bigots, blind neighbors,
those damn-with-faint-praise critics on their hobbyhorses–
that I’m allowed,
and if there’s a place for me that love has kept protected,
I’ll be coming, I’ll be coming too.


May poets’ meeting: Black poets confront racism

Members of the North Shore Poets’ Forum met Saturday, May 19, at the Beverly Public Library. It was my turn (Cathryn O’Hare) this time to present a program, so I chose, “Black poets confront racism in America,” featuring such poets as Fenton Johnson, Paul Laurence Dunbar, Claude McKay, Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes.

lynching2I had recently read “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson, a lawyer writing about his work to free poor and black people unjustly imprisoned and facing execution. He is co-founder of the Equal Justice Institute. He is also a founder of the new National Memorial for Peace and Justice and The Legacy Museum, which both opened in April in Mobile, Alabama. I read in news stories about the goal to bring awareness of the injustices of slavery, the tyranny of racism, and the horror of lynchings, so that one day we may all stand up for peace and justice.  To do my bit to spread the word, I decided to study more about the savagery of racism as seen through the eyes of black poets .

Here are just a few links to information:

“The sadism of white men”

“African American Protest Poetry”

“Crash Course in Poetry – Harlem Renaissance”

The Legacy Museum

The National Memorial

And, here are two poems by Langston Hughes

One way ticket 

I pick up my life, 
and take it with me, 
and I put it down in 
Chicago, Detroit, 
Buffalo, Scranton, 
any place that is 
North and East, 
and not Dixie.
I pick up my life 
and take it on the train, 
to Los Angeles, Bakersfield, 
Seattle, Oakland, Salt Lake 
any place that is 
North and West, 
and not South.
I am fed up 
with Jim Crow laws, 
people who are cruel 
and afraid, 
who lynch and run, 
who are scared of me 
and me of them
I pick up my life 
and take it away 
on a one-way ticket- 
gone up North 
gone out West 
Daybreak In Alabama
When I get to be a composer
I’m gonna write me some music about
Daybreak in Alabama
And I’m gonna put the purtiest songs in it
Rising out of the ground like a swamp mist
And falling out of heaven like soft dew.
I’m gonna put some tall tall trees in it
And the scent of pine needles
And the smell of red clay after rain
And long red necks
And poppy colored faces
And big brown arms
And the field daisy eyes
Of black and white black white black people
And I’m gonna put white hands
And black hands and brown and yellow hands
And red clay earth hands in it
Touching everybody with kind fingers
And touching each other natural as dew
In that dawn of music when I
Get to be a composer
And write about daybreak
In Alabama.