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Verse on display at Ashlawn Farm Coffee is part of the Poetry All Over Town project spearheaded by Old Saybrook Poet Laureate Patricia Horn O’Brien. (Photo by Aviva Luria/Harbor News | Buy This Photo)
Old Saybrook Poet Laureate Patricia Horn O’Brien updates poetry on display at the little free library near the mini-golf course at Saybrook Point. The laminated poem there are part of the expansion of the Poetry All Around Town program aided by the Parks & Rec Department. (Photo by John O’Brien )
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As Old Saybrook’s first poet laureate, Patricia Horn O’Brien has no official duties. So, similar to composing free verse, she creates the structure for the position herself.
One of the structures she built, Poetry All Over Town, has recently expanded to some far-flung locations, with poems appearing in vitrines (glass cases) at town parks, recreation areas, and book exchanges—or “free libraries”—such as the one at the mini-golf course at Saybrook Point.
O’Brien, named poet laureate in 2016, noticed the glass cases used by Parks & Recreation for notices and thought, “We could have a little poetry there, too.”
Parks & Recreation Director Ray Allen agreed.
These unlikely places for poetry widened the range of locations where poetry has appeared for just over a year: Town Hall, Acton Public Library, FoodWorks, and Ashlawn Farm Coffee.
At Ashlawn, framed poems hang on a wall or are set on a ledge, accompanied by several laminated sheets, which can be taken to a table and read over coffee. As with the other displays around town, a notebook awaits readers’ comments—or even their own poetry.
The displayed poems are primarily written by members of the Connecticut River Poets, co-founded by O’Brien, and the Guilford Poets Guild, of which she is a member. Every three months, O’Brien contacts her fellow poets with a theme.
The current theme is Impermanence; others have been Journey, Happiness, and Bend in the River. Poets who are inspired, and have the time, present their work to O’Brien for the displays.
But Poetry All Over Town is not limited to serious, experienced, published poets. O’Brien heard from a mother whose daughter wanted to contribute her own poem.
“So I put up her daughter’s poem,” she said.
She also displays some of the poems she finds in the notebooks.
The poems don’t appear there by magic, of course. They are framed and hung by O’Brien herself, with a little help from her friends from the Connecticut River Poets.
The first display went up at Acton Public Library.
“It was the former director [of the library, Michelle Van Epps] who...nudged me to apply for the poet laureate position,” said O’Brien. “Of course, the library is the perfect place to display poetry.
“I think [poetry is] part of the community around us,” she continued. “People don’t think of themselves as being poetry lovers, but I think once they’re exposed to it they say, Oh. I get that.”
‘I’m Not Alone’
For O’Brien, poetry “has so much to offer in the most mundane and also the most elevated way. To take your day and find some different meaning to it or to elevate it, to have a better understanding of what’s going on in your life or anybody’s life and say ‘Oh, I’m not alone. I’ve been there.’
“I think that’s important,” she added.
“And if it’s precious poets reading precious poetry, there’s not much point, I think,” she said. “It belongs in the realm of everyday life. It’s what I hope we come close to” accomplishing with Poetry All Over Town.
It’s not an easy accomplishment. One FoodWorks employee told O’Brien that customers are coming into the store and heading for the things they need without paying much mind to the poetry on view.
“So my challenge is figuring out a way to display that that’s going to catch their eye,” she said. “I’m not sure I’ve succeeded in that yet.”
She’s taking suggestions, such as that of a customer who advocated for increased font sizes.
O’Brien remains undaunted, likely because she understands the power of poetry. And besides, one of her hopes is to get people to slow down a little.
Poetry, she said, has “an adjunct benefit of not only individuals are getting to read it but it uplifts the town. And if one person feels better, their kids are going to feel better. It has the effect of spreading. And it’s contagious.”
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