Poets Laureate Across Massachusetts
A note from the interviewer, Alice Kociemba
Each of the Commonwealth’s poets laureate brings his or her special perspective to the post. Rockport’s poet laureate, Sharon Chace is a “bridge-builder” who has combined her interests in art, poetry and religion in order to engage children and senior citizens, especially. Here is her take on ways to encourage interest in poetry during the isolation induced by the coronavirus pandemic.
Meet Sharon Chace, Rockport’s Poet Laureate
In 2018, the selectmen of the town of Rockport chose me as Poet Laureate, they asked me what I wanted to do with the position in addition to reading a poem of my creation at the annual spring town meeting, I responded with candor. I said that I want to serve the young and the old with poetry. The rest of you in the middle not so much! They laughed.
I wrote a children’s story and coloring book, Sycamore’s First Poem (Fairway Press, 2019) and my daughter Amy illustrated it. Sycamore is a calico cat. She walks around town and then writes her first poem. This book includes exercises to help parents and teachers invite children to writing poems. We gave copies to the children’s room at the Rockport Library and to a few individual children and teachers.
To ease children’s boredom during the coronavirus pandemic, Amy and I decided to re-released Rain and Rainbows, a poem I wrote and Amy illustrated, about life’s ups and downs that emphasizes that despite the rain that may come one’s way, the rainbows have the last word.
Before the pandemic I lead poetry discussion group at the Den-Mar, a local rehabilitation center and nursing home. I also aided some residents in writing their own poems and illustrated one woman’s poems. I collected short biographical stories and used one story about my first cousin, a former Rockport selectman, for a memorial service on Thacher Island. After the pandemic I hope to resume sessions at the Den-Mar and might find ways to connect virtually beforehand.
About occasion poems: In addition to town meeting poems, I have written poems often in advance that fit an occasion. One example is a poem that I wrote several years ago and used later at the start of a bus trip to New Hampshire sponsored by the Rockport Council on the Aging. Yes, I am in that age group, 76 to be exact. As I hoped, we did go by the tractor supply store.
Route 16—Tractor Supply
John Deere tractors
in signature green
are an army lined up
in rows, ready to go
into battle on rocky,
New Hampshire fields.
Plow and plant
pastures and dreams
savor being in
granite state beauty,
May Sarton pared to
“mountain, meadow, bird.” *
*Allusion to May Sarton’s poem, “As Does New Hampshire”
Although my focus has been on the young and the elderly, my most recent book, Biblical Poems Embedded in Biblical Narratives (Wipf & Stock, 2020), combines my interests in poetry, art and biblical studies. In the words of reviewer, James R. Scrimgeour, Professor Emeritus Connecticut State University and Poet Laureate, New Milford, Connecticut, “this book helps to connect secular humanists to Christians and poets to biblical scholars.” There are two things that make it timely. It is a message of hope and it is interfaith friendly. We need as much bridge-building between all faiths or no faiths now more than ever.
I would advise anyone in Rockport who wanted to become more involved in poetry to read poetry and get the newsletter from the Rockport Public Library to see what poetry reading and writing sessions are forthcoming. Reading during the pandemic is a good way to prepare to participate in groups, once it is safe to gather in-person again. Members of the Facebook Rockport Townie group can see Bob Whelan’s thoughts in “Rockport Poetry” and his many programs on poetry.
Even though I have been writing poetry since the 1960s when I was a junior in high school, this pandemic has left me especially blessed with the time that is necessary to reflect and contemplate, to “slow cook” a poem. I am a “Crock Pot writer.” Because of the honor of being Rockport’s poet laureate, I want to encourage people with poetry.
Sharon R. Chace is a writer and artist. During graduate school at Weston Jesuit School of Theology, where she was a Protestant wildcard, professors helped her identify her calling, and hone her voice in poetry and prose. Currently poet laureate of Rockport, Massachusetts and author of many books, one of which, Cape Ann and Beyond the Cut Bridge: Culling and Cart-wheeling (Resource Publications, 2015) celebrates the beauty of the wider world and the interior places of mind and heart. Sharon hopes to resume leading poetry discussion groups at a local nursing home, post pandemic. She is working on a forthcoming volume of poetry, expected in 2021.
Alice Kociemba is the author of Bourne Bridge (Turning Point, 2016), and is the Founding Director of Calliope Poetry for Community. She is co-editor of From the Farther Shore: Discovering Cape Cod and the Islands Through Poetry, which will be published by Bass River Press (an imprint of the Cultural Center of Cape Cod) in 2021. For eleven years, Alice facilitated a monthly poetry discussion group at the Falmouth Public Library, and is the first poet to receive a Literacy Award from the Cape Cod Council of the International Reading Association for promoting literacy through poetry.