One Magical Evening at the Glen

Post image for One Magical Evening at the Glen

by Ed Davis on December 19, 2012

I hope that Helen Birch Bartlett lay a little easier in her grave on the evening of December 14, 2012, when a heavenly host of poets took to the stage to praise her namesake: the 967-acre repository of cliffs, waterfalls, springs, forest and soaring heron, hawks and owls known as Glen Helen. With the Vernet Ecology Institute’s auditorium pretty much filled by 7:00 p.m. when the reading began, folks kept coming, and we kept putting out chairs. In thirty-some years of participating in poetry readings throughout the Miami Valley and elsewhere, I can safely say I’ve never seen anything like this one.

If You Versify, Will They Come?

Now that the dust has settled, the magic put back in its box for now, I’m pondering why so many chose to come out on a cold December evening a couple of weeks before Christmas to imbibe imagery, lyric and rhyme. After all, there were plenty of other options: Mills Lawn Elementary’s play; a theatrical performance by Byron Crews at the Spirited Goat; great music and dancing at the Emporium—and that’s just in Yellow Springs! I can only speculate…

Sacred Daughter

Maybe the Glen itself was the big attraction. Named for the daughter of the nature-loving Antioch College alumnus and wealthy Chicago attorney Hugh Taylor Birch, this ground is considered sacred by many. First, the Shawnees trod this ground; later Boone and Kenton came, then eventually travelers from all over, to bathe in the springs’ healing waters and eventually stay at the elegant resorts built nearby. By the 1920s, the Glen’s popularity to tourists ended, and Birch bought the many parcels into which it had been subdivided to make it what it is today (and shall remain, now that Tecumseh Land Trust and the Glen are about to close on an easement to permanently protect it from development). Wisely, he gifted the land to Antioch College to keep in its natural state.

With all the springs-seekers and buildings gone, the land reverted to a sanctuary for diverse flora and fauna…and spirit. While Friday night’s audience seemed to literally lean forward and hold its collective breath, each of the eighteen scheduled poets (and five more during open mic) imagined the land into life for over eighty reverent listeners. Often what was delivered was like prayer, like hymn, like the rushing of cascades or the tiny chimes of stream over stone. Maybe it was the prospect of hearing homage paid to place that brought so many in from the cold.

The Words?

Or was it a deep love of poetry that attracted this reverent audience? It’s a cliché to say that poetry, once at the very center of public life, has a bad reputation with the general public these days. Too obscure, too self-indulgent, too damned hard to understand to be relevant, much less vital. Thus, we poets are accustomed to tiny audiences of 10-12. But Friday’s poets were concrete, compelling, visual and aural, accessible. No wonder poets wore shining faces and big smiles. The large audience seemed hungry for their words and images, the silent spaces between the words, the evocation of the natural, the beautiful…

These Poets?

With only six weeks to get this reading together, I gathered a mostly well-known, well-published group of consummate performers at the top of their game to help me out. But I owe a special debt to a couple of younger poets, Antioch College student Gabe Amrhein and new Yellow Springs resident Jack Whitacre, who lent their youthful vibe to us more—ahem—mature poets. Was it the reputation of this esteemed group that created such excitement and interest? Or do these poets have a lot of friends? I believe most in the crowd did not personally know many of the scheduled poets who so generously gifted us with their time and energy.

Timely, Timeless Timing?

Perhaps it was the timing of the event itself—the holiday season, winter solstice—that made people want to hunker near the hearth and become introspective with language. If so, TLT director Krista Magaw’s idea, on November 1, to have a poetry reading at this time, was indeed wise. Frankly, I wondered if the tragic news from Connecticut, circulating all day, would hurt turnout. Reeling from the deepest wound imaginable, would many of us want to herd together and hear poetry? Yes, as it turned out.

Maybe people came despite the sorrow rather than in an attempt to heal it—who knows? The only thing that’s certain is that they came and stayed, most of the crowd even returning after the break for the open mic part of the program, which included several Antioch students; Tim, a new resident who lives adjacent to the Glen; Jim, a retired Sinclair professor; and even Conrad Balliet, of WYSO’s “Conrad’s Corner,” participating!

But Maybe…

…there was just that ineffable something that drew folks to the Glen Building that evening. They just knew they had to be there, that they’d really miss something special if they didn’t  I’d love to hear from anyone who could enlighten me as to why the auditorium was so full of poetry-lovers that night. Can the magic strike again? I know sequels have a tough time in Hollywood, and there’s only one first time for everything; however, annual events have a way of getting into our blood and telling us it’s time now. Will you come if we do it again next year?

P.S.—Thanks to everyone who helped me put this event together so quickly and publicize it, including the poets, many of whom drove a long distance to be with us; staff and volunteers of Glen Helen Ecology Institute and Tecumseh Land Trust; the Yellow Springs News and Dayton Daily News for their wonderful articles; and my friend Dave Garrison for helpful advice.

photo by Dennie Eagleson

{ 0 comments… add one now }

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: