This past Saturday, nestled at the edge of the sprawling sloped lawn at the Tisbury Waterworks was a small stage where Island artists presented poetry, dance, and music to a masked and socially distanced audience.
Among the talented performers of the day were Judy Belushi, Nate D’Angelo, Jesse Keller Jason, the Pickpocket Band, Phil DaRosa & Friends, Kat Soni, and John O’Toole.
The event was organized and hosted by Pathways Arts, and proceeds went to benefiting the artists.
Former poet laureate of West Tisbury Fan Ogilvie gave a special presentation of her new book of poems, “The Berth: American Themes in Poems and Images.”
Before beginning her reading, Ogilvie acknowledged the tragic passing of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and thanked her for her dedication to the advancement of women in society, and society as a whole.
She said Ginsburg’s legacy will live on, and noted how closely this relates to her collection of poems. “The message there is remember, just remember,” Ogilvie said.
According to Ogilvie, the book took four years to come to fruition, and much of the success she may receive from its publication should be largely attributed to Janet Holladay — her friend, editor, and inspiration for “The Berth.”
“I am very excited about this book, it is actually about something. The other two books were just kind of flying in the wind,” Ogilvie said. In 2008, Ogilvie published “YOU Selected Poems and Knot: A Life,” then in 2016 published “Easiness Found: Poems and Paintings.”
But this book, according to Ogilvie, is organized using segmented themes that connect the past and the future.
Ogilvie’s book was inspired by a poem she wrote based on the life of a fictional female passenger aboard the Mayflower as the ship traveled to America.
In going back to that Early American experience, Ogilvie wrote in her introduction to the book that the fictional female character is her “noiseless patient spider,” a clear nod to Walt Whitman’s poem of the same name in which a spider “launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself,” and sought to make connections between the individual self and the surrounding world.
Ogilvie’s book captures the sense of a woman aboard the Mayflower, and what she is living, writing, and thinking about 400 years in the past.
One major theme of the book is that although long periods of time may separate people’s experiences, sometimes their aspirations remain the same.
“It would be as though you got a letter from someone in 2420 and they told you what happened between now and those 400 years. It is fascinating to me to think about that kind of time movement, because you can almost never figure out what is going to happen next until it happens,” Ogilvie said at the reading.
“My Mayflower passenger and I have separate minds and souls, but our goals for freedom and connection to this land are the same,” Ogilvie wrote in her introduction.
For Ogilvie, that connection to the land is something that should be cherished and upheld, just like the Wampanoags who have existed here for thousands of years continue to do to this day.
“There is something about poetry that transcends time and place. We know the heart of Penelope, the courage of Ulysses. The right words connect minds and souls for all time,” she wrote.
By connecting with our past, Ogilvie suggests that we can more thoroughly connect with ourselves.
She said she has always been fascinated with time, and quoted T.S. Elliot in saying, “Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future, and time future contained in time past. If all time is eternally present, all time is unredeemable.”
And although they do not necessarily illustrate the poems, Ogilvie said her paintings and pictures in the book are meant to resonate throughout the content, and be fodder for further thinking and discussion.
In the opening poem of the book, “The Last Berth on the Mayflower,” Ogilvie takes on the identity of her fictional female poet and traveler, and writes, “I dreamed of a life of a farmer and a place to raise my children. It could be possible as so many dreams could be possible here. It was a place for dreams, and work. It wouldn’t be easy. But in time we be told.”
Ogilvie’s poetry also recognizes the immense plight of the Wampanoag people who existed here long before the arrival of white settlers.
Throughout the collection of poetry, connections are made between past trials and current tragedies; historical strides forward in society and modern-day progress — all woven together with a fine filament that fastens an unbreakable web.
“The Berth” is available at Bunch of Grapes in Tisbury and at Edgartown Books.