In addition to all the other essentials, it takes drive, passion, and courage to be a poet. It is not for the faint of heart to stand at the West Tisbury Free Public Library in front of a wall of popular culture magazines touting, “Dazzling Holiday Desserts,” and read the poems that reveal your creative heart and mind to those 25 or so men and women who have gathered.
At this past Sunday night’s poetry reading in the library, two poets with different styles and messages accepted the challenge as if it was a privilege: Patrick Phillips, executive director of the nonprofit Vineyard Voice, author of the poetry book “Ruin” (1995), an essayist, journalist, a former adjunct college professor, inner city teacher and graphic designer; and Fan Ogilvie, West Tisbury’s Poet Laureate, author of “Poems from the Gray Bar Hotel” (2010), a poetry teacher at Featherstone Center for the Arts and at Dukes County House of Correction, a director of the Featherstone Festival of Poetry, and with Justen Ahren, founder of Martha’s Vineyard Writers Residency at Point Way Inn in Edgartown.
A calm, easy-going Mr. Phillips began by explaining his use of the word “plié” in the title of his five-part, in-progress lyric poem, “We Plié.” It translates to “fold,” in this case applied to the continuing folds in one’s life — beginnings, togetherness, dissolutions, endings.
As he read “life living life,” the fourth section of the 100-poem compilation, his voice played the melody of his words and soothed. It was music articulated in pauses and short phrases, each deserving consideration, but moving on lyrically, sliding between the literal and abstract.
The room was completely silent, as if people were collectively holding their breaths, as Mr. Phillips, slowly and with dramatic inflection, read:
“where hands are circular
where hands describe a circle
in air. idea run out.
our split, recombinant ways
spill it. A recurrent vacuum
drawn down a fit of dawn
to what will be remembered as one.”
It is only after he completed reading the verses that the room broke into enthusiastic applause.
Ms. Ogilvie then took the podium; a pale wisp of a figure, she gathered force as she spoke, explaining that the poems she was about to read represent a departure from her established process to, “something more associational, more subterranean, more preternatural or less predetermined than I had ever written.”
She quoted someone who, in response to a discovery of an aberrant form of bacteria, said that it does not suggest the discovery of aliens, but instead, only the discovery that we do not know how to look for them.
“My poems,” Ms. Ogilvie said, “are helping me figure out how to see my familiars and my aliens.” She read several of her poems, including “Hart, beautiful flower,” her poem about her brother Howard, who has Alzheimer’s disease.
One couplet runs on to the next, fast-paced, an incantation played on a snare drum, no pauses for shifts and turns. It includes the lines:
“to hart hurt brain a home for all the plaques to take up residence
and live his connections pulling all the wires replacing all his
connections with theirs silent as they speak in sign language use phones and
computers with silent messages have no human
contact so how are you hart and do you think he should be elected oh yeas…”
And when it was over and people were invited to ask questions there were conversations about style and process, at one point comparing it to a Jackson Pollock painting — “becoming freer and more childlike” — and when asked if poems are written for the poet or for the listener, Ms. Ogilvie answered: “I’ve never understood the concept that you write for yourself. I’m a communicator.”
Mr. Phillips explained that in his poetry, the personal is political, and speaks to the way he lives his life.
Here’s to the poets among us.