'A wonderful outlet': Aldrich workshop shows poetry is for everyone

Photo of Amanda Cuda
Barbara Jennes, Ridgefield's poet laureate and an educator at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield.

Barbara Jennes, Ridgefield’s poet laureate and an educator at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield.

Courtesy of Barbara Jennes

Barbara Jennes firmly believes that anyone can write poetry.

“And not just an awful poem,” adds Jennes, Ridgefield’s poet laureate and an educator at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum in Ridgefield. “You can write wonderful poems. It just takes time.”

Jennes has taught poetry workshops and poetry camps at the Aldrich for some time, but starting in June, she began teaching an online poetry workshop, called the Virtual Poetry Playshop, which is free and open to all ages. The workshop happens monthly and the latest installment takes place from 4 to 5 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16. Its theme is “Mood and Muse.”

Each workshop has a different theme, Jennes says. For instance, an upcoming workshop will focus on concrete poetry, or the art of crafting poems that visually represent a certain shape or object. The “Mood and Muse” workshop will center on poetry’s ability affect thoughts and emotions.

Jennes says she usually gives students a little explanation and background on the topic of the workshop, then works with them to create a series of poems. “It’s both fun and educational,” she says.

Poetry, she says, can be intimidating for people, particularly if they only know the art form from studying it in school. “They’ve been taught a very academic approach to poetry, as opposed to just listening to the music of the words,” Jennes says.

She is pleased that poetry has had a recent burst in popularity, due to 22-year-old poet Amanda Gorman, who read her work both at the recent presidential inauguration of Joe Biden and before the most recent Super Bowl. Jennes says Gorman — who has been praised for her passionate work tied to current events — is proof that poetry is for everyone.

“Amanda Gorman has reopened that door,” Jennes says. “She’s proved that poetry can be accessible, and that you can reach a lot more people when they understand what you’re talking about.”

The Aldrich’s last online workshop took place right after the inauguration, so Jennes says there wasn’t enough time for it to get any kind of boost from Gorman’s performance. However, she’s interested to see if the young artist has an impact on enrollment for this month’s session.

One thing Jennes has noticed is that the workshops draw poets and aspiring poets from a wide age range — from elementary school students to senior citizens. And, she says, the younger artists produce some of the best work.

“There are two sisters who come every time and they are just phenomenal,” Jennes says. “They are 7 and 11 years old. We have one little guy who isn’t even old enough to write himself, so his mom scribes for him.”

She says seeing poets from a variety of generations is inspiring, to both her and the students. “It’s always refreshing for older people to see the openness with which young people express ideas and it gives them the courage to do the same,” Jennes says.

Though it’s sad that her students can’t interact with each other in person, the virtual platform has its advantages — most notably that people can participate from all over the state, and even beyond. “We get people from as far away as Westchester County (N.Y),” Jennes says.

If there’s anything that Jennes wants people to take away from these workshops, it’s that poetry is something that’s available to everyone. It isn’t the stuffy, impenetrable work that some academic studies of it make poetry out to seem, she says.

“People are starting to realize that poetry is not something inaccessible,” Jennes says. “It’s a wonderful outlet for expressing one’s self.”

“Virtual Poetry Playshop: Mood and Muse” takes place Feb. 16 at 4 p.m. It’s free and open to both members and non-members of the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum. To register, visit https://thealdrich.org/events/virtual-poetry-playshop-mood-and-muse.

acuda@ctpost.com; Twitter: @AmandaCuda