Finding Poetry in Celebrations of Greenwich Citizens


By Anne W. Semmes

In this month of celebrating poetry I’ve been on the lookout for that literary language that “expresses feelings and ideas in a distinctive style or rhythm.” I’m finding poetry often now in memorial services, surely a setting where feelings are expressed.

At Joan Warburg’s memorial on April 5, a poem recited but not written by her poet-daughter, Sally Bliumis-Dunn, perfectly reflected this daughter’s feelings toward her mother. Entitled “Mother,” by Ted Kooser, it reads, “Mid April already, and the wild plums/bloom at the roadside, a lacy white/against the exuberant, jubilant green/of new grass and the dusty, fading black/of burned-out ditches. No leaves, not yet,/only the delicate, star-petaled/blossoms, sweet with their timeless perfume.”

The poem continued: “You asked me if I would be sad when it happened/and I am sad. But the irises I moved from your house/now hold in the dusty dry fits of their roots/ green knives and forks as if waiting for dinner,/as if spring were a feast. I thank you for that./Were it not for the way you taught me to look/at the world, to see the life at play in everything,/I would have to be lonely forever.”

Jim Stevenson’s illustration for his poem “Photo Album,” from “Sweet Corn: Poems.”

And then Sally continued in her own poetic language, causing us to think for a moment that the poem continued: “And teach me to look, she did. What is that way of looking? She truly had the ability to find pleasure, to appreciate, to find the upside of whatever situation might arise. Everything could feel as though it were crumbling around us and she would say, bright smile spanning her pretty face, ‘Well aren’t we lucky that this didn’t happen yesterday,’ or ‘Aren’t we fortunate that the train didn’t arrive even five minutes earlier than it did, or… who knows?’”

Bob Arnold, president and CEO of Family Centers, with its Early Childhood Center named for Joan Melber Warburg, followed Sally, saying of Joan: “She was as comfortable on the floor with the children at the Warburg Center as she was in a gown at the gala.”

Then “in the spirit of Dr. Seuss,” he gave his verse: “Oh, the people Joan helped in the course of her life/The ones who faced hardships, poverty, strife/So was it a surprise when she sprinkled her love/No it was not as she soared like a Dove/The causes she took up both large and small/It was clear from her actions she cared for them all/Too many to mention them each now by name/All their work was important to Joan just the same/A day at the center that now bears her name/finds each little child expanding their brain/There’ve been hundreds of children who got a great start/learning letters and numbers and music and art/Each year there’s a new batch who learn and have fun/To Joan we give thanks for this winning home run/So when all’s said and done we can certainly say/‘Twas a smile Joan left us at the end of her day!”

The poetry and prose of childhood as authored by Jim Stevenson was celebrated on April Fool’s Day, when friends gathered to remember the cartoonist, writer and illustrator in New York. Standing before a backdrop of Jim’s art, the publisher of Jim’s children’s books, Susan Hirschman, spoke of his gift for expressing the “truth of childhood—spot-on, filled with insight and understanding and love, with not a grain of sentimentality, and a humor that is irresistible.”

“Listen to this breakdown of a child’s life—books written and illustrated by Jim,” Susan read: “‘Are We Almost There? ‘What’s Under My Bed?’ ‘That Dreadful Day,’ ‘We Can’t Sleep,’ ‘There’s Nothing To Do,’ ‘That’s Exactly The Way It Wasn’t,’ ‘Yuck!’”

Jim captured a child’s view of looking back in a poem he wrote called “Photo Album” (written in a pre-digital age) from his book of collected poems, “Sweet Corn.” “Look at the pictures: Everyone’s smiling./Old Friends are posing, giggling and hugging./Birthdays and weddings, mountains and beaches,/Brothers and sisters, grandmas and babies./Nobody’s angry, nobody’s crying,/Nobody’s fighting, nobody dies.”

And then the ink print begins to fade with the next verse: “Somewhere in the darkrooms/Where pictures get developed, sloshed around in chemicals/Beneath a dim red light,/Those other pictures vanished,/Somewhere in the darkness,/Somehow disappeared there./Never did come out.”

And then the first stanza is repeated: “Look at the pictures: Everyone’s smiling./Old Friends are posing, giggling and hugging./Birthdays and weddings, mountains and beaches,/Brothers and sisters, grandmas and babies./Nobody’s angry, nobody’s crying,/Nobody’s fighting, nobody dies.”

About Author: Anne W. Semmes