National Poetry Month: A Poet Laureate's Potpourri
By Kathleen O’Toole
This will be my last column as Takoma Park Poet Laureate. I’m coming to the end of my term, and my husband John Ruthrauff and I are preparing for a move to a retirement community this spring. So, here’s a potpourri of parting reflections.
On Poetry and Solidarity
It’s April again − National Poetry Month, and hard to believe that only one of my four as Poet Laureate was pre-pandemic. We’ve weathered a lot, and I’ve been asked to offer poetry as consolation and have encouraged writing poems as a daily practice for wrestling with it all − finding beauty and hope in a world of loss. And now, just as we seemed to be emerging cicada-like from our COVID hibernation, the onslaught of war in Ukraine.
In my 20 years here, I’ve known Takoma Park as a community in solidarity with those suffering from conflicts around the world, one that rallies in hope for a better world. I wrote a poem “Storm” in 2004, a year after the start of the Iraq War, inspired in part by the Buddhist peace flags I passed on Westmoreland and Walnut each day walking to the Metro. An excerpt seems timely: “Afternoon of March winds −//surprise cloudbursts drench the fat squirrels // in my yard. Sunshine, blowback // disheveled branches:// litter of a year of war. // …. On the corner // rows of Buddhist peace flags//raveling with each new storm.”
A Return to In-Person Poetry Readings!
Our Takoma Park Arts team kept poetry programming alive during COVID lockdowns with online readings and our sidewalk poetry contest (look for more poems under your feet soon!) Finally, after omicron-related delays, we’re looking forward to the first in-person poetry readings since February 2020 at the Community Center. Mark your calendars!
The Free Minds Book Club will be returning at 7:30 p.m. on May 12 in the auditorium. Their first reading here in 2020 of poetry created by those incarcerated in the D.C. jail and the federal prison system and presented by formerly incarcerated poet-mentors drew a large crowd and was riveting.
Then on June 2 at 7:30 p.m., we’ll host a themed reading: Poetry of Migration with Indran Amirtanayagam, Luz Stella Mejía, and Sofía Estévez, again in the Community Center auditorium.
Poetry and “Mixed Emotions”
W. H. Auden reportedly said: “Poetry might be defined as the clear expression of mixed feelings.” So, my own feelings – about leaving my post (with many plans upended by COVID), not to mention leaving this community − a mix of gratitude and sadness: delighted that on April 29, I’ll do the poetry workshop for the residents of Victory Towers that was set for March 2020, and regretful that a reading of local Ethiopian poets will have to wait for the next Poet Laureate.
As for leaving this community − our neighbors and our home here, I’m reminded of lines from poet-friend Rob Soley’s “Moving Day”: “It’s time to walk through your home//with the eyes of one who will no longer be there…no longer look at the sun as it comes in a room at a certain angle//and plays like newborn light across the kitchen floor.” Still, I’m comforted by what we’ll take with us: friendships, the spirit of Takoma Park, and spring days we continue to savor.
This article was featured in the April 2022 Newsletter. Visit the Takoma Park Newsletter webpage to see full list of past newsletters.