Bellefonte Art Museum Bellefonte, Pennsylvania 16823
By Dana Ray
On the first Monday of the month, a little group gathers in the back room of Cool Bean’s coffee shop, sipping their afternoon coffee. They gather to be together, as old and new friends, and to celebrate a love they have in common: poetry.
The Bellefonte Poetry Group works like this: each poet reads their poem aloud and then the group gently and carefully discusses it. The point is not to critique or correct. The point is to encourage each poet to realize what s/he wants to say. It is dynamic process. One poet makes the group chuckle and they ask for a second reading before commenting. Another poem about changing seasons prompts a discussion on how to be clear with abstract spatial references. There’s good-natured teasing and digressions into childhood memories. They each belong in the conversation.
Teresa Stouffer launched the current iteration of The Bellefonte Poetry Group in response to the Bellefonte poetry reading series “Poetry Out Loud.” PSU Professor and local poet Julia Spicher Kasdorf created the series in Fall 2014 in partnership with the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Society. Teresa knew it was time to invite others to join her in bringing beautiful words into their lives after a particularly moving reading.
In many ways, this recent group is a revival of an older Bellefonte poetry group; many of those original members have passed away. The revival is part of a fresh poetic spirit forming on a national level over recent decades. This upsurge in poetic fervor can also be seen in other local poetry gatherings from Aaronsburg to Millheim to State College.
Both experience and novice poets are included in this support network. Some of them had never written poetry before joining the group. Others have written poetry over the years but never had an audience. Nancy is one such poet. What began as her expression of love for the ocean became a regular reading with her friends on vacation each year. She notes that she is the “youngest” in the group in terms of the time she’s attended. Nancy winks slyly at her friends as she reads a poem about what it is like to go on runs as a woman in her 70s.
Some members like Colina have lived with poetry all their lives. She grew up in the Netherlands in the 1930s where writing and reciting poetry was way of life, both personal and political. She’s the acknowledged eldest of the group and plans to make it to a hundred years like her sister and mother. “It’s a matter of endurance,” she says, and laughs.
Like any group of friends and writers, the poets carefully navigate their interactions to focus on the poetry and avoid critiquing the person who wrote the words. Sometimes, it can be challenging when different opinions arise. But as Linda noted, “If we can’t talk about what we think in poetry, where can we talk about it?”
It’s a fair question. There are so few spaces in the world where challenging conversations can happen in good spirit. Poetry can be the place we practice compassionate dialogue, making space for one another in the world.
The Bellefonte Poetry Group is a local best-kept-secret. And it shouldn’t be. The group is open and welcome to everyone. No poetry subject or form is off the table. This is a place for the “nonprofessional” poet, where poetry is a way to process life, to celebrate and grieve. A poetic “skill set” creates the platform to speak and be heard which is the great gift a poetry group contributes to the community of Bellefonte.
What to join?
When: First Monday of every month, 3-5pm
Where: Back room at Cool Beans.
Why: To share and celebrate local poetry.
How: No invitation or forward notice necessary. Come to observe or bring copies of your own poem to share!
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