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The Guilford Poets Guild sprung from a desire to assemble a collection of poems in the late 1990s to anthologize and commemorate the zeitgeist of writers who had been sharing their work in the town for many years.
Two decades later, the guild is releasing another anthology as a prestigious, well-respected organization that sponsors popular poetry readings, contests, and promotions as it celebrates its 20th anniversary.
The new anthology, titled Our Changing Environment, will be featured at a reading on Thursday, Nov. 14 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Guilford Free Library, 67 Park Street. The event will include poems by guild members as well as submissions from local poets and winners from last year’s Guilford High School poetry contest.
Guilford’s Poet Laureate Gordy Whiteman, who has been involved with guild and its predecessors since 1985, said that the town’s history and landscape is rich with material for local poets that have been gathering and sharing their literary experiences of the town for many decades.
“I’ve written poems about Guilford history,” said Whiteman. “I’ve written poems about the Guilford Fair going back into the 1930s when I remember it as a kid. I’ve written poems about the war effort in Guilford. I’ve written about the local businesses...That kind of local color usually attracts a lot of interest.”
The guild was born out of a group called the Shoreline Poets, which formed in the 1970s, according to Whiteman. A Guilford poet named Katrina VanTassel incorporated the group under a new name, The Guilford Poets, in the late 1990s, laying down the foundation of what would become the Guilford Poets Guild.
The 20th anniversary anthology offers a heavy focus on climate change, Whiteman said, with writers exploring their experiences with a shifting, uncertain future and the loss of natural beauty and resources. He said that most of the 200 submissions or so came from people living on the Connecticut shoreline.
He added that “changing environment” isn’t limited to ecological issues, however, and can include anything that people feel or see in their surroundings.
“One lady submitted a poem having to do with a great decisions about what color paint she was going to put on the outside of her house,” said Whiteman. “That was kind of unusual, but it shows you the variation there, which is kind of nice. When you’re opening a book, you don’t want all 100 poems or so be all about the same thing.”
A big part of the guild’s mission is fulfilled by putting together collections like this one, bringing local writers together and promoting their work, Whiteman said, but over the last 20 years, it has found many other ways to do that.
One of the guild’s most popular and long-running programs is held annually at Guilford High School to commemorate National Poetry Month in April. Members of the guild host readings at the school that include guest readers as well as students. That has evolved to include a contest with cash and other prizes for outstanding student poets, who are honored at another ceremony and have their work printed and promoted.
The guild also brings in prestigious poets from around the country for a monthly reading called Second Thursday, Whiteman said, where the visiting poet gets to share their work and also is able to hear the kind of writing that Guilford poets are producing.
Looking back on all his experience embedded in the Guilford poetry scene, Whiteman said he can only see the guild’s reach expanding as they reach out to other towns and continue to find new ways to promote rhyme and verse here in town.
For more information on the Guilford Poetry Guild or to purchase a copy of Our Changing Environment, visit guilfordpoetsguild.wordpress.com. To register for the reading, visit www.guilfordfreelibrary.org.
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