About the Poetry Caravan
In 2003, Greenburgh resident, poet Usha Akella approached the Arts and Culture Committee with the idea of initiating a Poetry Caravan, whose goal is to locate and address an audience for whom poetry is not ordinarily available. With Ms. Akella at the helm, the project was launched in October, 2003, with a trial run in three venues. The project became an instant success and continued to grow after Ms. Akella relocated to a new state. Today, members of the Caravan make the volunteer organization a resounding success. The Poetry Caravan now sends its mobile band of 31 poets into eight sites where there is a chance to make connections through poetry.
Former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins, in an introduction to (en)Compass, an anthology by Poetry Caravan poets, says, “the poets who support and foster the work of the Poetry Caravan are doing literary missionary work. They personally deliver poetry to its listeners — a kind of Words on Wheels.” Poetry Caravan venues include (or have included) nursing homes, senior living facilities, women’s shelters, the Greenburgh Alcohol Treatment Center, NY Presbyterian Hospital/Weill Cornell Westchester and Burke Rehabilitation Center. Once a month, two- three poets visit each of our eight venues and read their original poetry and recognized classics. In addition to reading poems, Caravan poets talk about the creation of their poems, interact with residents, and conduct a Q & A after each reading.
"This was so uplifting and inspirational," said an assisted living resident after a reading. When Poetry Caravan poets go out into the community, their poems relay human emotions to a roomful of people of different races and ethnicities. “It’s all about connecting and belonging to the human race,” says Linda Simone, a Caravan poet. At a nursing home, the face of an elderly woman sitting in the circle of listeners lit up, when a poet read a poem about her own grandmother Mamie. "That's my name!" the woman said. At the end, the audience questioned the poets, fascinated by how they created their art. While Caravan visits may be entertaining, they also provide therapeutic value (see “Venue Blurbs in attachments). On one occasion, two poets conducted a pre-advertised Dog Centered Poetry Reading, with a certified “therapy dog, at an assisted living facility. When they arrived, thirty excited residents awaited them. They read original and established poems about dogs; then, the “therapy dog” performed tricks and mingled with residents. That day’s program evaluations were laudatory. The sole criticism: it was too short! Residents begged for repeat performances. Caravan poets/teachers also conduct formal poetry writing workshops at venues. (Audience members frequently bring and share poems they’ve written, even if not involved in a formal workshop.) The hour-long workshops are conducted once a week, over a four week period at each of two venues.
For information about joining the Poetry Caravan, contact Ruth Handel, Project Director, via email at: Ruthhandel@Verizon.net.