Oak Bluffs poet Barbara Peckham elevates everyday thoughts


“A Jar of Summer And Other Poems,” by Barbara Peckham, Jelly Jar Press, 2010, 102 pp. $17.

Whatever latent creative aspirations the demands of former routines or priorities may have thwarted, they seem to awaken after living on the Vineyard. So the lawyer sings, the banker builds, the doctor sculpts.

And the teacher writes poetry.

In her poem, “Lost Muse,” former teacher and Oak Bluffs resident Barbara Pope Peckham writes about the struggle to articulate thoughts and ideas, to get them from inside to out, and concludes:

“To find among the brainwaves

A way that I could choose —

A path at last that beckoned me

To find my errant muse!”

Ms. Peckham has filled the 102 pages of her self-published book, “A Jar of Summer, And Other Poems,” with more than that number of poems. They are thoughtful notations on the seasons, family, memories, wins, losses, and feelings. In other words, using biographical details, they describe the human condition.

Her poem “Me” begins, “The body people never see, Is the one I keep inside of me,” and goes on to say, “When I’m not looking in the glass, I never feel the years have passed.”

In a direct and accessible style, she writes about rain, wind, hairstyles, family pets, home movies, and her dentist (Dr. Herman).

“I do not write New Yorker-style poetry, the 82-year-old Peckham says. “To me, it’s obscure. It’s not easily understandable to the average person.”

So she doesn’t observe formal structure — “It’s too stilted” — she writes for pleasure. She expounds on that in her poem, “Acceptance,” which concludes:

“But I’ve grown old enough to find

That all of us seek meaning differently,

That I, writing in clearer, plainer,

Less convoluted language,

Still can scale the heights and

Depths of understanding,

Still communicate in simple words

Which stir the heart and mind

And reflect a deeper meaning

For those who wish to see.”

“A Jar of Summer” was conceived as a way to pass on her creative work to her children. It was published with the help of Janet Holladay at Tisbury Printers, but poetry has been a natural form of communication for her family. Ms. Peckham’s late mother, Marguerite Pope, wrote poetry, as do her children, although they are established in other professions.

In 1962, the Peckham family — husband, photographer Douglas Peckham (whose photographs accompany her poems), and children Douglas, Jr., Jonathan, and Jennifer — became regular visitors to the Island. After a career as a copywriter in advertising and public radio, the Connecticut-raised Peckham, who completed her bachelor’s degree at night schools, worked for almost 25 years as an elementary school teacher outside the family’s home in Syracuse, N.Y.

“I think [poetry] is the thing that catches your attention,” she says, “things that strike you in a different way, and that you want to say something about.”

She has always written poetry — “It just comes to me” — from her days as a teacher when she wrote poems for the classroom bulletin board. Since 2001, with their grown children scattered around the country, she and Douglas permanently moved to their old Victorian house in Oak Bluffs. In addition to being an active member of First Federated Church in Edgartown, where Ms. Peckham sings in the choir, she’s a member of Judith Campbell’s writing group at the Oak Bluffs Library — whose benefits and support she acknowledges.

“I’m constantly editing down,” she says, “leaving out what’s extraneous and what doesn’t belong.

“A Jar of Summer” is a touching collection, one likely to make the reader smile in recognition and laugh with understanding. It is a book of lofty feelings and thoughts, lightly and deftly delivered.

Poetry Reading with Ms. Peckham and Donald Nitchie, 4 pm, Saturday, Feb. 26, West Tisbury Library. 508-693-3366.

“A Jar of Summer And Other Poems” is available at Edgartown Books or directly from the author at dpeckhams56@comcast.net.