Island poets will read their work at the Carnegie

Justen Ahren. —Gabrielle Mannino

The Vineyard Trust hosts “Poetry Together: A Reading by Island Poets” at the Carnegie in Edgartown on Saturday, April 20, at 2 pm. Who is the Vineyard Trust, you ask? It’s the organization formally known as the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust. What, you wonder, is the Carnegie?. It’s the neoclassical building on North Water Street, the former Edgartown library. And which of the Island’s many fine poets will be reading? They are a trio of Martha’s Vineyard and/or West Tisbury’s former poet laureates — Justen Ahren, Fan Ogilvie, and Arnie Reisman.

The Vineyard Trust helps to sustain the Island’s historic buildings, called “living landmarks,” which include Alley’s General Store, Flying Horses Carousel, and the Whaling Church, among many others. Funi Burdick, the enterprising executive director and CEO of the trust, who came to the trust in 2017, is filling the big shoes left by the organization’s previous longtime director, Chris Scott. A trained architect and experienced leader in the field of historic landmarks, Burdick says of the Carnegie’s interior remodel, “Some of the fun in historic preservation is how one can reimagine the space, function, and feel of a landmark building. Honoring the past is just as important as conceiving a 21st century facility that has meaning for the community.”

The Carnegie opened originally in 1904 as a Carnegie Library, one of over 2,500 libraries gifted by Andrew Carnegie worldwide. No surprise, other philanthropic gifts of his foundation include Carnegie Hall and Carnegie Mellon University. The Vineyard’s building, formerly the Edgartown library, which moved to another site in order to expand, was added by the trust to its stable of historic buildings, opening in its current form in 2018.

Burdick has conceived the renovated space, designed by architect Patrick Ahearn, to hold a locally inspired permanent exhibit illustrating the historical development of Martha’s Vineyard through the lens of the landmarks under the trust’s care. It acts as the starting point for their walking tours, has a locally sourced gift shop, and regularly hosts free events.

Each of the poets will read his or her own poems, and the variety in style and content should make for interesting juxtapositions. All three acknowledge that poetry, while quite popular on the Island, isn’t as popular in the U.S. as in many other cultures around the globe.

Their musings on this idea were similar, and included thinking that the way poetry is taught in U.S. high schools, in a somewhat mechanical way, might have something to do with the lack of popularity. Another thought is the U.S. isn’t an old enough culture, perhaps hasn’t gathered enough collective gestalt to generate a wide interest in this soulful, contemplative form.

Arnie Reisman, whose wit and word wizardry mask a clever and deep-thinking mind, adds, “Poetry could become your language if you allow it, if you don’t fear it. A poem is a framed painting done in words. A good poem can be worth a thousand paintings. Another way to think of it is a poem has a rhythm all its own. In a sense it is a song, and the poet is the instrument.”

Poetic structure has evolved from strict rhythmic and rhyme structures all the way through to free verse, which, even when arranged like a poem on the page, can read and sound like prose. But it’s still poetry.

“The only thing I can say about it is that it is one’s innermost truth,” says Island poet Fan Ogilvie. “I suppose not everyone is in the mood for truth in this form. For me, it’s a deep involvement in language, an explanation of truth. Some people have a poetry gene, for some it’s a hard sell.”

Earnest and searching work is Justen Ahren’s trademark. “I think people can enjoy a poetry reading whether or not they expect to,” he says. “It’s best not to try too hard to feel like you’re getting a poem. Just listen to it, appreciate the sound, like you listen to music. Let it wash over you, think about it later maybe, and how it makes you feel, not how to analyze its meaning.”

Like any artist worth their salt, Ahren, Ogilvie, and Reisman will bring surprises, food for thought, and, in combination, the makings for a worthwhile addition to your Saturday afternoon. Whether you’re a poet yourself, a fan or a sceptic, give this event a try.

“Poetry Together: A Reading by Island Poets” is free and takes place Saturday, April 20, from 2 to 3 pm at the Carnegie, 58 North Water St., Edgartown.