Prisoners appreciate poets.
“It’s amazing that so many of them write poetry, and they are so attentive when I visit,” said Judith Adams, a Langley poet. “They really appreciate it. They love it.”
The unlikely coupling of poems and prisoners has been one of the more surprising aspects of Adams’ role as a poet on the road for Humanities Washington’s Speakers Bureau.
Adams was chosen for a second consecutive term to spend two years as an ambassador of the cultural program that promotes conversations about the arts, history, politics, music, philosophy and many other topics using stories as a catalyst.
Her presentation is called “The Poetic Apothecary: Poems for Healing and Comfort.” She reads poetry of her own and from poets around the world to explore how poems can help guide people through grief, fear, sadness and loss.
“I show that there is a poem that can be prescribed for every human emotion,” Adams said, “how it can be a companion through the ups and downs of living.”
Sunday afternoon at Ott & Hunter Wines (formerly Ott & Murphy), Adams will reveal her poetry prescriptions for the first time to a hometown audience. Her appearance is part of the weekend’s Sips & Sonnets poetry activities sponsored by Island Shakespeare Festival in celebration of National Poetry Month.
Grief is a subject Adams knows of what she speaks. And writes.
Her husband of 40 years, Robin Adams, died five years ago from melanoma.
“The remarkable thing about grief is it’s a really sacred place,” said Adams. “Your ego doesn’t have a place in grief. Grief is so raw.”
Adams selected poems from her personal collection of poetry books, lined up alphabetically in her writing space. Poets include Mary Oliver, Wendell Berry, Fleur Adcock of New Zealand, Guyana poet John Agard and Polish poet Tadeuz Rosewicz.
She also selects several passages by Pacific Northwest poets, such as George Bilgere, Peter Pereira and Washington State Poet Laureate Claudia Castro Luna.
“My most favorite poem about the grief at the loss of a partner is by WH Auden,” Adams said, “because it doesn’t try and make the reader feel better.” Called “Funeral Blues,” its last stanza reads:
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one/Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun/Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood/For nothing now can ever come to any good.
For two years as a Humanities speaker, Adams emphasized bringing poetry back into the lives of adults. She visited numerous men’s and women’s prisons, museums, libraries, senior centers and other locations from Whidbey to Walla Walla during 2017-2018.
In November, Humanities Washington chose Adams again as a speaker out of about 90 applicants, this time for her idea about poetry’s restorative powers. She said she came upon the concept while visiting her native England last summer. She noticed a bright hardback book called “The Poetry Pharmacy” by William Seighart.
“He had one poem for every emotional challenge,” Adams recalled. “I thought to myself, I want to build my own apothecary. The power of poetry is that it covers every human emotion we find ourselves in. That’s really amazing.”
The state humanities program gives speakers a long list of potential hosts to approach and arrange a presentation.
“Then I get out the map and see how many I can get to in a particular area. I’ve really gotten to know the state,” she said. “I’ve also learned how poetry has affected people’s lives. One lady came up to me in Quincy and told me how when her brother was in a coma, she repeated a poem their father had always recited and her brother opened his eyes and smiled.”
Adams is paid a stipend from Humanities Washington for each appearance and community hosts pay for travel. While state penitentiaries are receptive to Adams’ offers of spreading the word of poetry, schools are not, she said.
“I can’t get into the schools, and I don’t know why,” Adams said. “That’s frustrating to me. I think I could make a huge difference to kids in helping them learn poetry.”
National Poetry Month Sips & Sonnets sponsored by Island Shakespeare Festival
• Family Poetry Workshop; 1-3 p.m. Saturday, April 13, Langley Library, 104 Second Street, Langley.
• Elizabeth Austen, Washington State’s 2014-2016 poet laureate, reading from 4-5:30 p.m. Saturday, April 13, Zech Hall, Whidbey Island Center for the Arts, 565 Camano Ave, Langley.
• Judith Adams: The Poetic Apothecary: Poems for Healing and Comfort; 2:30 – 4 p.m., Sunday, April 14 with classical guitarist Andre Feriante, Ott & Hunter Wines (formerly Ott & Murphy) 204 First Street, Langley. Sponsored by Humanities Washington.