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A celebration of poetry

The second Tuesday of each month, accountants, lawyers, biologists, machinists and Intel “lifers” shed their calculators, microscopes, brief cases, cell phones and ratchets. by: COURTESY PHOTO: STEPHANIE ADAMS - Charles McAvoy of Forest Grove has been known to start his readings off singing or even in a fake accent.

They go to the Walters Cultural Arts Center for open poetry night, drawn by the need to share their written words. These Washington County residents brave February snow and spring rains, and sacrifice tranquil summer evenings to share their most personal insights — snippets of themselves put on the page as best they can.

“There are some important things in this world that are difficult to put into words, but poetry gives us our best shot,” said Leslea Smith, a Hillsboro attorney and director of Oregon Law Center.

Regulars stand behind a podium in front of the room and reveal their tortured thoughts, peaceful observations, secret longings, most joyful experiences and instances in which they’ve found the most beauty.

They all write for different reasons, but one notion most seem to agree on is that writing with the intention to share with others — suggesting the desire to write is social — distinguishes “writing” from journaling.

“I think all writers want to share,” said Smith. “It would just be a diary otherwise.”

“As a species we want to communicate; we’re soulful animals,” said Fred Melden, a retired machine builder.

“It’s welcoming for people who enjoy writing to find like-minded people,” said Julie Caulfield, who retired a few years ago from the accounting and real estate business. “Different people bring different things to the table, and it helps us share a little bit of what’s in us.”

Kevin Peterson, a Hillsboro resident who works at Intel, finds sharing his work “humbling, but motivating.”

Peterson uses the actual writing process to strengthen his faith and spirituality.

He dedicates at least 45 minutes every day to contemplative practice with scripture readings, reflection and writing.

“Poetry makes you look at things differently; it makes you stop and think in a creative way,” Peterson said. “It also makes me look at my own theology. How do I express my faith so it’s not in your face but still true?”

Others find the craft therapeutic.

“I discovered early in my legal career that I feel much more mentally healthy if I have a creative outlet,” said Smith, who has been writing a lot about grief, loss and death after recently losing her “sweetheart.”

Ten-year-old part-time Hillsboro resident Amelie Rotola came to the March Open Poetry to read some of her work. According to Stephanie Adams, who works at the Walters Cultural Arts Center and occasionally shares her poetry at the gatherings, Rotola’s mother was recently diagnosed with cancer and started chemotherapy treatments.

Emotional healing

“I think poetry is a particularly powerful mode of processing difficult emotions, and is crucial to emotional healing,” Adams said.

“I have ideas I need to get out of me,” said Gary Kirby, 72, a retired college teacher. “I think what I’ve got to say is worthwhile, hopefully.”

Kirby read at the Walters open poetry night for the first time two years ago, and has been writing poetry consistently for the last eight years. He was almost forced to start writing, Kirby said, while standing on a forest bridge. “I made a vow right there to write poetry and praise the beauty of the world.”

Peterson started writing poetry for his wife, Nancy Peterson, who loved the song lyrics he wrote in a card for her when they were newlyweds.

“She loved it so much, I thought, ‘I can do better than that,” Peterson laughed. “Poetry is a very personal thing; you’re baring your soul, but it’s a really encouraging place and I can tell what’s working by how (people) respond.”

“You have to dig into yourself. What is it I’m really trying to get at?” Melden said. “It’s a self-discovery process.”

Some of the poets are published, some are amateurs. Some have been writing for years, some have never written before. Some come to share, some come just to listen — but all are welcome.

“I recently surveyed our participants to find out more about their experience, and was thoroughly moved by the responses,” said Adams.

“One person wrote about how Open Poetry night has made the dark moments in her life more bearable, and another wrote that he appreciates the sense of camaraderie that allows him to put forth unfinished ideas and experimental pieces,” she said.

Feedback from participants was practically all positive.

“The overwhelming majority of responses exalted the work of their friends and strangers, indicating that one of the most crucial aspects of Open Poetry is the connection to other perspectives and the affirmation that each being in the room is a unique and valuable gift to the group,” Adams said.

“I’m not sure how we’ve done it, but we’ve created a really positive, welcoming, uplifting, encouraging group,” Smith said. “Poetry is alive and well.”



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