Together, local poets refine their verses
- Published: August 30, 2018
By Carla Steiger
A trapped hummingbird zooms wildly in her garage, wind sweeps the trees bending branches, and a blue indigo bunting sips at her bird bath in the poems of Anne Randolph. Like her influences, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Ted Kooser, and Mary Oliver, nature inspires this Yellow Springs poet, who then crafts visually enticing verse that reflects her experiences.
Randolph has had help refining her work from a small unique group of fellow poets in the village. The group of five women — Randolph, Joan Harris, Annette Oxindine, Fran Simon and Maxine Skuba — meet monthly on Sunday evenings in their homes and have been doing so for the last two years.
According to Randolph, each writer has her own style, and they all write about different subjects, but they all benefit from the extremely supportive atmosphere and the unique critical methodology that they have learned.
“We critique each other gently — pointing out parts that are particularly strong or appealing, as well as weaker areas, things like grammatical errors, misspellings, and clunky or unclear phrasing,” said Harris.
The poets use the Greenville Method, developed by a poetry group in Greenville, Ohio. Each person in the group presents one poem over the course of the evening, providing each member with a printed copy of the poem, which is turned face down when it is first read to the group. The piece of paper with the poem is then turned over, and the poem is read a second time. Each person then has five minutes to write helpful comments on their copy of the poem. After that, feedback is given verbally.
The process has worked well for Randolph.
“It has improved my work quite a bit,” she said. “I really appreciate that people will go over my poetry with a fine tooth comb.”
Skuba, who introduced the group to the method after encountering it in Greenville as a visiting poet, agreed.
“It’s a way of digging into each other’s poems and really helping the poets improve their work,” she said.
In addition to the gentle and productive criticism of the group, which assists each member with their editing process, there is another feature of the regular monthly meetings that Harris values. Every month the group chooses a famous poet and they read a favorite poem by that author.
“This has inspired me to ‘meet’ great poets, immerse myself in their style and craft and develop a sense of what good poetry feels like,” Harris said.
Writing good poetry is the hallmark of the group, and each member comes to it from a different place. Writing about nature comes naturally to Randolph, as she has a profound love of the outdoors. She swims and hikes and is a revered volunteer for the Tecumseh Land Trust. This poet is a knowledgeable art lover and the walls of her home are filled with gorgeously painted American landscapes. Her creativity also extends to the carefully curated plot of land adjacent to her house in which she is growing a beautiful meadow filled with such indigenous plants as grey-headed coneflowers, butterfly weed, blazing stars and native grasses. Poetry however, has always occupied a special place in her life.
Randolph began writing after college and found that it was a valuable outlet, “a way to express feelings I had over family issues and relationships,” she said. In the last few years she has gotten serious about improving her craft and has taken several classes and workshops. Her success in poetry is gratifying.
In addition to local recognition, most recently an honorable mention from the Dayton Metro Library Poetry Contest, this wordsmith has had some significant success in publishing her work. Two of her poems will be published in Kent State’s magazine “The Listening Eye” this fall. A chapbook of her poems has just been accepted by Presa Press of Rockford, Mich.
Like Randolph, Skuba’s involvement with poetry was initially a way to process emotion. Her early poems were so sad that they resembled country-western songs. Her foray into poetry began when she was part of a writers’ group in Columbus in the 1990s.
“In the beginning my internal editor was soothed by writing two-word lines. Eventually, they became longer,” she said.
In an intermittent love affair with the medium, Skuba has continued to produce poems over the course of her life. This culminated in the appearance of her self-published book, “Jumping Into Stars,” in 2003, which is still available on Amazon. As an active member of the poetry group, she continues to work on her craft.
Time for poetry is sometimes tight as Skuba, who has a master’s degree in counseling, has a full-time job as a career counselor. She is also a talented textile artist and is actively involved with the Yellow Springs Arts Council.
Skuba feels well supported in her poetry endeavors by the Yellow Springs community. She cited the 30-plus years of “Women’s Voices Out Loud,” performances, which included poetry, the WYSO podcast “Conrad’s Corner,” during which Wittenberg University poet Conrad Balliet has read the work of poets from southwest Ohio, and the annual Winter Solstice poetry reading at Glen Helen’s Vernet Ecological Center hosted by local poet, novelist, and educator, Ed Davis.
“Yellow Springs is an incredibly supportive place for poets,” Scuba said.
Like Skuba, Harris found a path to poetry after most of her professional life was spent doing something else, including 24 years as a nurse. She prefers form poetry to free verse, a more open style that doesn’t use a pattern of rhymes or reptitions, since, to her, it’s easier to have rules and a framework to build on.
“My repertoire is mainly comedies and parodies. People have said I sound like Dr. Seuss and/or Weird Al Yankovic, both high compliments in my opinion,” Harris said of her style.
Harris’ poetry is a reflection of her life in Yellow Springs and is inspired by such simple things as, “hanging laundry in the back yard, having conversations with neighbors … or walking along the bike path,” she said.
Harris’ work has met with significant local success. Her poetry work has been published locally, read on Conrad’s Corner, and included in an anthology in his honor. She has participated in local readings here and in Xenia. Additionally, she won the grand prize in Literal Latte’s 2017 Food Poetry contest. She posts poetry regularly at https://justjoan42.wordpress.com, the blog that she launched in 2015.
Harris attributes part of her success to the Yellow Springs poetry group, which has helped mold her work, and she deeply appreciates how much they have shared with her.
“I have gotten to know Maxine, Anne, Fran, and Alex through their poetry and see life through their eyes — their hardships and grief, opinions, joyful moments and childhood memories,” she said. “In an age where we hide so much of ourselves from the world, this is truly a gift.”
Simon, another enthusiastic member of the group, echoed her sentiments.
“What I love about the poets group is that we are all there to hone our craft. With that in mind, feedback usually comes in the form of suggestion … we are not mean-spirited, we take pleasure in each other’s work, we receive feedback without defensiveness … I always feel excited to go to the group and come away refreshed and with wonderful suggestions about how to make a good poem better.”
*Steiger is a local writer and artist.