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Open Poetry night 'affirming' and 'humbling'

Every second Tuesday at the Walters Center, people bare their souls


Each poem is but a piece of the poet

A fragment, a moment, a thought

The meaning of which is often obscure

Unknown for all that is wrought.

What makes the artist lift the brush

Or cue the singer to sing?

What inner voice tells when time has come

To give life to eternal things?

Perhaps there is no need to question

Or ask what prompts the noble deed.

The answer surely lies deep within

As we ponder, who planted this god-like seed?

— Charles McAvoy

Asked why he writes, Forest Grove resident Charles McAvoy will likely direct you to this poem he authored.

The second Tuesday of each month, McAvoy joins accountants, lawyers, biologists, machinists and Intel “lifers” who shed their calculators, microscopes, brief cases, cell phones and ratchets.

They go to the Walters Cultural Arts Center for open poetry night, drawn by the need to share their written words. These Washington County residents brave February snow and spring rains, and sacrifice tranquil summer evenings to share their most personal insights — snippets of themselves put on the page as best they can.

“There are some important things in this world that are difficult to put into words, but poetry gives us our best shot,” said Leslea Smith, a Hillsboro attorney and director of Oregon Law Center.

Regulars stand behind a podium in front of the room and reveal their tortured thoughts, peaceful observations, secret longings, most joyful experiences and instances in which they’ve found the most beauty.

They all write for different reasons, but one notion most seem to agree on is that writing with the intention to share with others — suggesting the desire to write is social — distinguishes “writing” from journaling.

“I think all writers want to share,” said Smith. “It would just be a diary otherwise.”

“As a species we want to communicate; we’re soulful animals,” said Fred Melden, a retired machine builder. by: COURTESY PHOTO: STEPHANIE ADAMS - Charles McAvoy of Forest Grove has been known to start his readings off singing or even in a fake accent.

“It’s welcoming for people who enjoy writing to find like-minded people,” said Julie Caulfield, who retired a few years ago from the accounting and real estate business. “Different people bring different things to the table, and it helps us share a little bit of what’s in us.”

Kevin Peterson, a Hillsboro resident who works at Intel, finds sharing his work “humbling, but motivating.”

As for the actual writing process, Peterson uses it to strengthen his faith and spirituality. He dedicates 45 minutes to an hour every day to contemplative practice with scripture readings, reflection and writing. “Poetry makes you look at things differently; it makes you stop and think in a creative way,” Peterson said. “It also makes me look at my own theology. How do I express my faith so it’s not in your face but still true?”

Others find the craft therapeutic.

“I discovered early in my legal career that I feel much more mentally healthy if I have a creative outlet,” said Smith, who has been writing a lot about grief, loss and death after recently losing her “sweetheart.”

“I have ideas I need to get out of me,” said Gary Kirby, a 72-year-old retired college teacher. “I think what I’ve got to say is worthwhile, hopefully.”

Kirby read at the Walters open poetry night for the first time two years ago, and has been writing poetry consistently for the last eight years. He was almost forced to start writing, Kirby said, while standing on a forest bridge. “I made a vow right there to write poetry and praise the beauty of the world.”

Peterson started writing poetry for his wife, Nancy Peterson, who loved the song lyrics he wrote in a card for her when they were newlyweds.

“She loved it so much, I thought, ‘I can do better than that,” Peterson laughed. “Poetry is a very personal thing; you’re baring your soul, but it’s a really encouraging place and I can tell what’s working by how (people) respond.”

“You have to dig into yourself. What is it I’m really trying to get at?” Melden said. “It’s a self-discovery process.”

Some of the poets are published, some are amateurs. Some have been writing for years, some have never written before. Some come to share, some come just to listen — but all are welcome.

“I recently surveyed our participants to find out more about their experience, and was thoroughly moved by the responses,” said Stephanie Adams, who works at the Walters Cultural Arts Center and occasionally shares her poetry at the gatherings.

“One person wrote about how Open Poetry night has made the dark moments in her life more bearable, and another wrote that he appreciates the sense of camaraderie that allows him to put forth unfinished ideas and experimental pieces,” she said.

Feedback from participants was practically all positive.

“The overwhelming majority of responses exalted the work of their friends and strangers, indicating that one of the most crucial aspects of Open Poetry is the connection to other perspectives and the affirmation that each being in the room is a unique and valuable gift to the group,” Adams said.

“I’m not sure how we’ve done it, but we’ve created a really positive, welcoming, uplifting, encouraging group,” Smith said. “Poetry is alive and well.”

Open poetry night

Where: The Walters Cultural Arts Center, 527 E. Main St.

When: Usually the second Tuesday of each month. The next one will be April 15. 7 p.m.

Who: Anybody interested in reading their own work or another author’s work, listening to others read or meeting other poets.

In Forest Grove:

- The Forest Grove Library hosts an open mic every fourth Saturday of the month, 10:30 a.m. to noon. There are also writing workshops for all ages and tailored to individual interests the second Saturday of the month 10:30 a.m. to noon at the library.

Poets: need a mentor?

Retired college teacher Gary Kirby is willing to work with young poets high school-age and older. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..



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