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Monday, Jun 24, 2024

Town celebrates art of poetry

Last Friday evening, gathering between the “Middle Readers” and “Gardening” shelves at the back of the Vermont Book Shop on Main Street, an audience looked to whet their appetite for poetry. In conjunction with the Arts Walk, and in celebration of National Poetry Month, Friday evening’s poetry jam brought together six local poets, scholars and general lovers of poetry to read selections from their favorite works.

Jennifer Bates, events coordinator at the Vermont Book Shop, conceived the idea when the Vermont Book Shop was invited to participate in the Middlebury Arts Walk. She admits her approach to the event was unusual.

“The convention nowadays in readings is, people read their own work and not the work of other writers, and in fact I think one of the great pleasures is hearing wonderful poetry read out loud,” said Bates.

Bates wished to organize the poetry jam primarily because of her belief in what she perceives as the universal power and importance of poetry.

“I think poetry itself is really essential stuff for getting by,” said Bates.

With this in mind, Bates asked six friends and acquaintances from various community groups to read at the poetry jam. Friday’s audience listened to readings by David Weinstock, Mary Pratt, Ray Hudson, Elizabeth Stabler, Stanley Bates and Becky Dayton.

Bates hopes that these voices from the Middlebury area will further the community’s embrace of poetry.

“I think there’s a perception these days that it’s all this very esoteric specialty that’s relegated to university life where students of poetry write poems that are read by fellow student poets and they try to get them published in journals that are edited by former graduates of MFA programs and go on and get jobs,” said Bates. “In fact I don’t think that’s really the truth of it.”

Bates sees events like the poetry jam, which make poetry more widely accessible, as metaphorical rescues from the ivory tower.

“There’s just something really wonderful about a small room of people listening to great writing,” said Bates.

Friday’s offering of great writing spanned a diverse spectrum, including works by Richard Wilbur, Theodore Roethke and Alfred Noyes.

Although he doesn’t count himself among these wizards of wordplay, Stanley Bates has a long-fostered appreciation for poetry. Jennifer Bates recruited Stanley Bates, her father and Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at the College, to participate in Friday’s reading.

“I used to be the administrative director of the [Bread Loaf] Writers’ Conference and I knew a lot of poets and I’ve been to a lot of poetry readings,” said Stanley Bates, who has, at last count, attended over 700 similar events.

“I actually tallied it up one time because I was thinking, ‘I’ve been to a lot of readings,’” said Stanley Bates. “Most of the time, it’s been enjoyable.”

For those looking to compete with Stanley Bates’ total, the Vermont Book Shop plans to host another reading in the middle of this summer. Again, it will feature local poets, but organizers will augment the program with authors from the Bread Loaf School of English. Anyone seeking “the essential stuff for getting by” is encouraged to attend.