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For solstice, poems to light the night

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Ed Davis spends a portion of most days — 300 out of each 365 — in Glen Helen. He carries a small moleskin notebook into the woods. In it, he writes down what he hears.

“The trees speak, and I listen,” he said.

Davis moved to Yellow Springs in 1980 after a difficult divorce. The magic of the Glen drew him here. And the forest proved a place of sanctuary, healing and poetic inspiration — qualities that, all these years later, it retains.

“I immediately started finding poems in the Glen,” said Davis, a poet, novelist and teacher.

Some of those “Glen poems” are collected in his 2013 book, “Time of the Light.” In the title poem, the speaker is waiting for “that tiny crack between dusk and night” — sunset, and a revelation. The setting is familiar: “Deep in Ohio glen / hiking rocky hillside, / or following the creek, / I’ll see things start their gleam, / then I’ll wait and watch.” And at last the poem’s speaker finds his moment: “ … I’m a man / caught in the middle / of his life again / agape at the gods.”

Who better, then, to host the annual Winter Solstice Poetry Reading, a celebration of poetry and Glen Helen at a time of the year steeped both in darkness and light?
This year’s reading is the fifth annual winter poetry event organized by Tecumseh Land Trust, or TLT, and Glen Helen. It will be held on Friday, Dec. 9, from 7 to 9 p.m. in the Glen’s Vernet Ecological Center at 405 Corry St. Eleven scheduled poets will read their own original poems on the theme of “Forever Glen Helen: Wind, Water, Earth, Sun,” followed by a wine and cheese reception and an open mic session. A suggested $5 donation benefits TLT and Glen Helen.

TLT’s executive director, Krista Magaw, hatched the idea of a nature-themed poetry reading in late 2012. She quickly turned the concept over to Davis and the land trust’s education committee, who pulled the event together in just three weeks. That first reading featured about 17 poets and drew an audience of over 100 listeners.

“People kept pouring in. It was magical,” Davis recalled.

Magaw has always loved poetry, and the pairing of poetry and the Glen seemed likely to appeal to people in Yellow Springs. “I just had an inkling. And I’m happy to say my inkling was right,” she laughed.

The event has consistently drawn about 100 people from Yellow Springs and the Miami Valley — huge for a poetry reading, and sizable for a local event of any kind, Davis said.

The format has stayed much the same, while the number of participating poets has been pared down to about a dozen. “Listening is such a rich experience,” Davis said. “One hour, 12 poets, three to five minutes each — that’s perfect.” Davis has hosted most of the readings. And he’s invited poets from his wide circle, as well as seeking out poets new to him and new, perhaps, to audiences in Yellow Springs. Fellow members of TLT’s education committee help him to curate a lively group of poets, diverse in age, gender, race and experience.

This year’s line-up features several poets from the village, as well as poets from the Dayton area and one from Cincinnati. Each poet offers a different take on the theme, and a different set of experiences and associations with the natural world, according to Magaw.

“Listening has broadened my idea of how people experience the land,” she said. “No two people experience it in the same way.”

One of this year’s Yellow Springs poets is Christopher DeWeese, assistant professor of poetry at Wright State University, DeWeese lives in the village with his wife, poet Heather Christle, and their young daughter, Harriet.

The author of two poetry collections, DeWeese grew up in Port Townsend, Wash. He remains imaginatively haunted by the ocean landscape of his youth. “It’s still the landscape of my dreams,” he said. And images of that powerful landscape find their way into his poems. A certain line will seize him, and he’ll repeat it internally, allowing “more language to crest and pivot” into a formed poem.

But that’s not to say he isn’t also inspired by the Glen, a place he hikes frequently. “I love the feeling of descent — entering into a quieter landscape and a hidden one,” he said. “The topography of the Glen makes it feel like a secret.” Now that his daughter is old enough to go on hikes, he is excited to share that secret with her.

The natural world grounds and sustains him. But immersion in nature is also linked, for him, to concern about its fate, especially in the wake of last month’s election. People can see the effects of climate change by becoming familiar with a landscape over time, he said. And that can propel them
to act.

“The landscape is a source of both inspiration and resistance,” he explained.
A political spirit animates the poems of another local poet, Alexandra Scott. The special events coordinator for the Yellow Springs Chamber of Commerce and a former Antioch student, 22-year-old Scott is the author of two chapbooks. “I’ve been writing some semblance of poetry for as long as I can remember,” she said. She is active in poetry circles in Columbus, her hometown. Political themes — specifically, injustice and oppression — are central to her work.

While she wouldn’t call herself a “nature poet,” the natural world is present in poems that reflect her “wanderlust” — her love and hunger for the wider world. And Glen Helen is one local site of exploration. As an Antioch student, she spent a lot of time in the Glen with friends; she recalls long hikes in winter, and visiting the pine forest late at night.

“The Glen is just a thing of beauty and really good for your soul,” she said.
She hopes her poems uplift and inspire. “I always want to encourage people. I want to say, ‘There is good in the world and hope for all of us,’” she reflected.
Other local poets in next Friday’s line-up include Phoenyx Fyre, a spoken word/performance poet who works at the Emporium; Emma Amrhein and Selena Loomis Wilkinson, both Antioch College students; and retired nurse-turned-poet Joan Harris. Poets from further afield include Betsy Hughes, Judy A. Johnson, Jane Kretschmann, T. J. McGuire and Barbara Lyghtel Rohrer.

Many villagers have made the Winter Solstice Poetry Reading a holiday ritual, according to Davis. This year in particular, after a bruising election season and an outcome troubling to many in Yellow Springs, he expects the event will offer healing to all who need it.

“It’s a shot straight to the heart,” he said.


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