Creative Aging at Mid-Manhattan Library

Older adults participate in “The Art of Making Poems: Creation and Craft,” a ten-week Creative Aging program at Mid-Manhattan Library.

“The house was a glass bowl with wind blowing …”

Hermine Meinhard writes a poem of a place from childhood in She Stood, pulling back her years to explore what her memory has kept. I invited her to bring this experience to Mid-Manhattan Library (one of the ninety libraries that make up the New York Public Library) to lead a workshop for older adults on writing poetry this spring. “The Art of Making Poems: Creation and Craft” is a ten-week workshop designed as a foundation for exploring, creating, and commenting on poetry with confidence.

Last fall, I applied for a grant from Lifetime Arts to conduct a Creative Aging Public Libraries Project at Mid-Manhattan Library. When choosing what type of arts program to pursue, I considered my library’s community of older adults and the interest generated from past writing workshops. I also had (who I felt was) the perfect teaching artist in mind. Hermine is a published poet and an accomplished teacher who has led a couple of classes at the Mid-Manhattan Library before. I felt confident she could gather and lead a highly diverse group coming to a central library whose community covers all of the New York City metropolitan area. When I reached out to her about the project, she asked what I felt were her strong points of instruction that would be suitable for this workshop, and what resources the library had to support writing poetry. Both of these factors confirmed that she was committed to finding the best way to teach a poetry workshop to older adults in the library setting. Once advertised, the workshop designed for twelve participants filled quickly with individuals of diverse backgrounds and levels of exposure to writing and reading poetry.

During our first class, Hermine brought in pebbles and stones, asking each participant to choose a stone and place it back on a central table, wherever she liked. The exercise worked wonderfully to draw the group together in conversation and offered their minds a way to focus on visual and tactile memories as a source of inspiration to write. Hermine uses playful exercises to create a relaxing atmosphere conducive to sharing as well as collaboration. Every class is grounded by supportive, focused feedback. After this class, one of our participants commented, “I really enjoyed the first class. I went around reading my poem to everyone.”

In bringing this workshop to Mid-Manhattan Library, Hermine offers techniques for encouraging the creative process. The class explores how to find material to write about by using objects, observation, memory, music, collage, and artwork. By connecting with one’s own individual process of writing, participants are introduced to poetry devices such as images, repetition, layout, line breaks, word throw, and revision, with each class resulting in a draft of a poem. They discuss the work of a variety of poets to introduce the range and possibilities of poetry and use the library’s unique collections of circulating art books, and literary journals, as well as its Picture Collection, which contains more than one million pictures, arranged by subject, available for circulation and reference.

The workshop participants will come together on May 7, 2013, for a poetry reading and chapbook distribution to celebrate with family, friends, and the community. The chapbook will highlight a poem from each participant, as well as their success in participating in the course. We will also have on display items of production that went into making poems, such as collages and books discussed. As a device for finding poetry in everyday experiences, Hermine has the participants do homework each week, writing words or conversations in a notebook that strike them as interesting as they read or walk around. She calls it a “gathering place for language,” much the same as our workshops.

Editor’s Note: We’ll be highlighting Creative Aging programs in New York throughout April. To find out about the Creative Aging project and to read about programs in other libraries, visit the Creative Aging page.

Lifetime Arts and the ALA Public Programs Office will be presenting the preconference “80 is the New 30! Learn How Public Libraries are Delivering Proven, Inspiring and Transformative Arts Programs for Today’s Older Adults” at the 2013 ALA Annual Conference in Chicago. Register for the Conference.