Life during a pandemic yields poetry reunion in Wilton

WILTON — For a group of Wilton students, the coronavirus pandemic has brought out their inner poets.

So much so that a group of veterans from Wilton Library’s Poetry in Motion program are getting together virtually for a reprise performance on Dec. 5 at 7 p.m. via Zoom. Thirteen people will return to perform poems borne of their experiences during 2020 and their hopes for the future.

They will be joined by three Poetry in Motion advisers who helped the then-students each year: Teen Services Librarian Susan Lauricella, former Middlebrook teacher Heather Candels, and poet and performer Reggie Gibson. To view the show, register at www.wiltonlibrary.org.

During its 11-year run, Poetry in Motion offered students the opportunity to “perform” their poems over the course of two nights at the library. Work on the program began in 2006, in response to a 2005 racial incident.

“We thought what can we do to get kids thinking about diversity,” Lauricella said last week during a discussion with Candels and Gibson. The inaugural program took place in 2007 and was called “An Exploration in Diversity.”

It continued for 11 years, with Candels recruiting student poets and helping them get their poems ready for prime time. She met Gibson at an event in Boston and coaxed him to visit Wilton, to meet with her students and coach them on how to best perform their poems. He returned each year for two days to work with the students, forming with them what Candels termed “a formidable team.”

“If not for Reggie, the program would not have gotten off the ground,” she said.

“The kids always thought Reggie was cool,” Lauricella said, adding her suggestions might be brushed off but his were taken seriously by the students.

Gibson gave credit to the former teacher.

“By the time the poems got to me, they had been through the rigor of Ms. Candels. I always had pretty good texts to work with,” he said. “I could work and concentrate on presentation. How do you engage your audience, how do you entertain the audience, how do you move them to what you want them to feel?”

The program was more than just poetry recitations. There was music and often dance performances. It was all put together by director Nancy Ponturo, who returns Dec. 5 as well.

Who’s coming?

The program ended in 2017 and probably would not have been revived had it not been for the suggestion of veteran poetry performer Abby Schiff.

“My initial thought was no, I don’t think so, just because I’m feeling overwhelmed,” Lauricella said, but then thought it could work if enough former students were interested.

“We started reaching out to past performers scattered all over the world,” she said. Of those who signed on, some have full-time jobs, some are pursuing advanced degrees and two are still in college.

Returning to perform along with Schiff will be Gemma Gamberdell, Elise Vocke, Sara Gardner, Sophie Halter, Ginger Brooker, Hannah Corrie, Chase Smith, Emma McCully, Nick Dehn, Rachael Jones, Mairead Deacy and Claire Vocke.

Also reading poems of their own will be Lauricella, Candels and Gibson.

Claire Whiten, a former Poetry in Motion student, will give the introduction. Will Ponturo and Kiera McSpice will play original music and Nancy Ponturo will be the director.

“I have heard the poems, heard the rehearsals,” Candels said. “The big difference is they are not children anymore. They are poets addressing the concerns they have being young people caged in right now who can’t let loose because they are under quarantine.”

Gibson recalled how much the students enjoyed each other’s work and the bond that formed between them.

“I didn’t realize how much I needed to see them again,” he said.

Lauricella said, “They were always supportive of one another through rehearsals. A lot of them haven’t seen one another in a while, but they are still very supportive.”

As was the case with the student performances, the poetry will run the gamut from funny to serious.

Some of the topics include dating during the pandemic, missing a pet, living back at home, science, racism and gender equality.

“For me, it was probably one of the best things I’ve ever been involved with,” Lauricella said. “They were incredible kids to work with,” and being on stage “they were given a chance to express themselves.”

Gibson said without the pandemic the reunion probably would not have happened.

“COVID has yielded some good things,” he said. “Next year’s theme will be silver linings.”