It snowed. And, there was a mess up with the room reserved at the library. But nothing would dampen the spirits of the group who came with poetry on their minds, and cupcakes, chocolates and handmade valentines in hand. They were here for the monthly Poetry Book Club with Elizabeth Berg.
Some had books with a dozen sticky notes hanging out. It was all women who showed up, 14 plus Berg, the New York Times bestselling author and 20-year Oak Park resident. Some said they already loved poetry when they began participating, others are fans of the fiction writer and are learning to admire the art form, especially the experience of sharing it and listening to how it affects others.
“I was surprised that anyone came at all because it is not the first thing you think of for reading poetry,” Berg said of the first gathering in September. “I think a lot of people who read poetry think of themselves as rare birds. … It was a wonderful surprise for me to understand not only how many people were already reading poetry, but how many others were willing to give it a try and they were surprised by how much they liked it.”
The idea for a poetry book club was hatched by Berg, who reads poetry regularly and thought this had not been done before.
“I’ve loved poetry since I was a little kid and I find that it really, almost more than any other form, helps lift me up out from wherever I am,” she said. “These days, it’s really necessary for me to go away from where I am in really fractious, difficult times.”
Word gets out through Berg’s Facebook page and the first event drew 30. They started by reading “Healing the Divide, Poems of Kindness and Connection,” an anthology edited by James Crews. Before the end of each gathering, the next book is selected. In past months they have read books by poets Ted Koozer and Barbara Crooker.
While some attendees come from a distance – a Minnesota visitor in February, a Tennessean last September — some follow from afar, reading along and making treats on their own.
Others are being inspired to start a club of their own, according to Berg, from a poetry book club in Seattle, to an existing book club adding poetry books to the mix.
The Oak Park group is a drop-in event. Some come with friends or a sister. Some come on their own. Some never miss, like Carla Kanthak from Barrington, who calls the group a “charmed circle.”
“I have found there are things that resonated with me even though I may not have known that poet beforehand, and I think we’re all finding that,” Kanthak said. “It truly is a respite from the world for one evening a month.”
This month’s selection was Billy Collins’ “Aimless Love.” Each woman took a turn reading a poem she liked and talked briefly on how she relates or feels about it. But that wasn’t all.
Berg emailed the poet and Collins replied with a message to the group. He also sent a new poem, “Up Early in Key West,” which Berg read at the end. After everyone read their selections, there was one last chance to read another, if so driven. A few couldn’t resist, those marked pages begging to be opened.
At the poetry book club there is no critique, analysis or dissection of the work.
“I look upon it as a mental massage and you certainly do come out of these meetings feelings better,” Berg said.
It was at a smattering of small tables surrounded by chairs on the second floor of the library while awaiting a better room to open that the group exchanged valentines and chose the poetry book for the next meeting.
In January, poet Naomi Shihab Nye spoke at Dominican University. When a poetry book club member mentioned her work was next for the group, Nye recommended “Fuel” for the group.
The group meets the first Thursday of the month at the Oak Park Public Library, 834 Lake Street. Next up, March 5, 7 to 9 p.m., small meeting room. More on Facebook: @bergbooks.