Out & About: Poetry and prose event celebrates International Women’s Day

  • Liz Sauchelli. Copyright (c) Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 3/6/2021 10:23:48 PM
Modified: 3/6/2021 10:23:47 PM

In the best of times, poetry has the ability to connect people with thoughts and feelings they might not have experienced themselves. In difficult times, it can provide comfort as well.

On Monday, more than a dozen writers will connect virtually at 6 p.m. for WISE’s Poetry & Prose event, which is being held as a celebration of International Women’s Day. It is being co-hosted by Left Bank Books, Norwich Bookstore, Still North Books & Bar and Yankee Bookshop. People can find the Zoom link at wiseuv.org/join-us/#events or request it by emailing development@wiseuv.org or calling 603-448-5922, ext.118.

It will be the first big virtual event that the nonprofit organization, which supports survivors of gender-based violence, has held since the COVID-19 pandemic began a year ago.

“It was an opportunity to think about what could we offer the community that celebrates the people that live in our community, that recognizes the difficult year we’ve all had — because it certainly has been challenging — and not have it be a fundraiser,” said Peggy O’Neil, WISE’s executive director.

In pre-COVID-19 times, WISE would put itself out there by having a team run in the Covered Bridges Half Marathon at Suicide Six in Pomfret and holding an annual Spin-a-thon at the River Valley Club in Lebanon, both of which raise money for the organization. While the running team is going virtual this year the Spin-a-thon isn’t happening.

WISE was looking for a way to reach out to the community without the funding motive.

Poetry came to mind: In the early days of the pandemic when staff at WISE went remote, O’Neil started emailing her co-workers about something she was grateful for each day. Then, she turned to poetry and began sharing poems with staff. The emails lasted for around four months.

“To immerse myself in the world of poetry was so comforting for me and it was also a way to explain to me ... a lot that was going on in the world that quite honestly didn’t make any sense to me,” O’Neil recalled.

In January, WISE Development Coordinator Laura Di Piazza started reaching out to writers she knew in the Upper Valley.

“The response was so positive and enormous,” Di Piazza said. “People are responsive to WISE. They want to show up.”

Di Piazza assembled 16 writers who will share their poetry and prose during the event. Some are award-winning poets who have been published multiple times while others are just starting their writing careers. High school students will share their work.

“It was important to us to have diversity,” Di Piazza said. “We have it across the board: ages, race, gender, so it’s not exclusively women. We have some men reciting poetry.”

One of the poets is Cleopatra Mathis, who will read selections from her latest book, After the Body. She became aware of WISE after coming to Dartmouth College in the early 1980s to teach and noticed the posters the organization had put up in women’s restrooms.

“I was always happy to see those posters and think if there were young women particularly who were seeing them and needed help they could get it,” Mathis said.

Tying the event to International Women’s Day has an even deeper meaning.

“All the transparency that now we have compared to before the #MeToo movement is just so important, and I think it’s the only way to change the culture is to have people talking about the situations that they’ve been in, which is of course not easy,” she said.

Rena Mosteirin, the new owner of Left Bank Books and a professor at Dartmouth, will read introductions for some of the participants. She has volunteered to teach yoga at WISE in the past.

“I think the Dartmouth-WISE connection is ... especially important right now when people are so alienated,” Mosteirin said. “The things people are struggling with are varied, and they need varied solutions.”

She is hoping to do more with the organization once the pandemic ebbs and people can once again gather in person.

“Celebrating the voices, particularly women’s voices, feels very much at the core of my mission for Left Bank and the WISE mission,” Mosteirin said.

It’s been said that as we reflect on the pandemic that in addition to being thankful for essential workers and health care workers, we will be thankful for the artists whose works we relied on to keep our minds engaged and find comfort.

“Here’s an opportunity to celebrate people who know how to use this medium to communicate,” O’Neil said. “That they’re willing to share this on behalf of WISE, there’s a lot of gratitude in that.”

Liz Sauchelli can be reached at esauchelli@vnews.com or 603-727-3221.

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