St. Cloud man loves writing, sharing poetry
By BIll Vossler
Warren Bradbury of St. Cloud spends at least an hour a day with poetry, quite a change, considering his view of poetry when he was young.
“As a student I liked English and Language Arts, but never got into poetry. Even after I had my degree in English, and was teaching, I wasn’t focused on poetry,” he said. “But in the first year of learning how to be a teacher in my early 20s, I ran into methods teachers who made poetry come alive for me. And I really started to notice and care about poetry. I still share Harold Fitterer’s lesson on Stopping By Woods, and another teacher wowed me with the power of memorizing and reciting poems.”
These experiences changed Warren’s view so much that nowadays if you see him in church, at a medical clinic or other venues, he might hand you a poem. He also reads poetry at the Chapel in Crane Lake near where he and his wife Jackie live (on an island) during the summer months.
He said reactions of his poems from friends are mostly positive. “I get positive vibrations from the poetry I share. I have a couple of really good friends who are afraid of poetry, I think, and I’m guessing they think I’m trying to proselytize or something.”
He added that some other folks with whom he and Jackie will share a meal will sit and wait, and say, ‘Are we going to have a poem before we get started?’
Warren also reads a poem each time he visits his oncologist. “I bring a poem to every appointment, and after a greeting, she asks, ‘Do you have a poem today?’ I always do.”
He believes poetry capture’s people’s imaginations, and they’re not put off by it. “They listen, and maybe attend to it, and maybe we have a little exchange. At the very least we slow down for a bit.“
Why Poetry Works
One reason reading or handing out poems works, Warren said, is because he makes it clear that he’s not going to dig for deep meanings out of the poems, unless something comes out of the conversation. “I try to enforce that overtly.”
He added that another good thing that makes poetry work is that it is usually brief. “I’m wary about anything longer than 40 lines, although sometimes I’ll do a longer one if I think it is worthwhile. But generally, the shorter the better. People like that, and understand that if a poem doesn’t work for them, it’s okay.”
So what kinds of poems does Warren lean towards? “It could be anything,” he said. “It really depends on the setting. When I do poetry in the humanities program at Whitney Senior Center, it’s good to have a theme of some sort. Once I get a theme for the month, I gather poems and share a dozen that fit the topic. A poem like Tami Haaland’s Sleeping with the Chihuahua might set us off on a 15 minute discussion of the goodness - or not! - of sleeping with a dog or a cat.”
Or it could be about holidays. After teaching for 34 years in the St. Cloud public schools, Warren was a long-term substitute at Cathedral High School in St. Cloud.
“Now that I’m not teaching any more, I will miss being with students as we approach the solstice and we would do Robert Frost’s Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening.
He said he is often inspired by something that happened that day or that week. “Yesterday we saw swans, and so today I found a Mary Oliver poem about a swan. Sometimes I’ll start a day thinking, ‘This is what I want to share today,’ but then I’ll hit on a great poem, or something will happen, and it will take me somewhere else.”
Unless something urgent comes up, Warren said he starts every day with poetry. “It’s sort of become an obligation--a good one--a kind of a mission I’m comfortable with. I put a poem on Facebook each day, and I’ll share it with people I know are not on Facebook. Then there are the times of delight when someone decides to repost one of the poems. It’s a sign that something had meaning, and they want to share it. It always makes me feel good. So I spend at least an hour on a normal day reading poetry.”
Warren and his daughter, Page O’Connell, who lives in Alaska, exchange poems and poetry books, nearly every week.
Although few others share individual poems with people as Warren does, he says there is a group in Central Minnesota, “Lyricality,” that gathers to share poetry they’ve written and also read it in other settings as well as share on their website. This past summer at Whitney “Lyricality” presented a series of sessions dealing with grief and human suffering, he adds.
Warren said it’s not unusual to meet a stranger or to run into a former student and be greeted with, “You’re the poetry guy. I think many perceive that if you are connected with poetry, you are a poet. I suppose in some ways I am, but I write very little poetry. I mostly share other’s poems, and I‘ll often have a poem in my pocket.”
For people who want to read more poetry, Warren suggested several that might work. “One is How to Love the World: Poems of Gratitude and Hope, edited by James Crews. He gathers many poems under those themes. This sweetheart of a book was sent to me by my daughter. The poems are recent, contemporary, and accessible. Anybody can sit down and read it and find something in those poems.”
He added that The Kontum Madonna by St. Cloud poet J. Vincent Hansen is a powerful book with short poems reflecting on the writer’s experiences in the Vietnam War .
“Another poet worth reading is Joyce Sutphen, who grew up in central Minnesota, and was our state’s poet laureate for 10 years. One of her very accessible books is Carrying Water to the Field: New and Select Poems. She touches the feelings that we have and share about family, the land, the farm. It’s a delight. I‘d also mention the three anthologies by Garrison Keillor, and I don‘t think I’ve ever run into a bad sonnet by William Shakespeare. I feel blessed to share them. And Emily Dickinson‘s poems. I read them, and think, ‘so remarkable.’ Then there’s Walt Whitman with his insights and language of compassion, a great poet and human being.”
Warren is thankful for his opportunities to share poetry. “About 10 years ago Myron Umerski called me. He’s in charge of Humanities portion of Third Age university at the Whitney Senior Center in St. Cloud. He wondered if I might like to try leading a poetry session once a month as part of the humanities. That sounded most interesting. I started - really just facilitating discussion - and I fell in love with the people who came to the two-hour monthly presentation. That opportunity helped me go deeper and find poetry that worked. I’m back doing that again this fall.”
He is also interested in theology. “There is much poetry in the Bible, in the Psalms of course, but also in many books of the Old Testament and in many of Christ’s parables and teachings. Read or listen to nearly any speech or sermon by Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and the poetry of the Bible comes to life. Poetry has been central to religious insights in all major religions, and contemporary poetry on topics of faith and suffering and doubt and compassion, like so much current poetry, blossoms around us everywhere.”
“What I enjoy most about working with poetry is discovering connections and discovering images that just resonate. Good poetry gets us thinking ‘I’ve been there, I’ve seen that, I’ve felt that.’ I can say on a particular day that I’m just going to hunt for one particular poem to share, and then I will sometimes reject five or six poems before I arrive at the one I want. I’m very conscious of the audience and want to choose something that friends can identify with.”
He says he thinks poetry has never been more popular. “And it’s influential; a good thing. I don’t know why, but it’s a great time for poetry. There are so many good poets writing and people are buying good poetry and sharing it on social media. I just think it’s a great time to read poetry, and it’s going to continue, because there are fine young poets out there.”
“Some poems that still move me and make me smile: Stopping by Woods by Robert Frost, The Windhover by Gerard Manley Hopkins, Whistling Swans or any of a dozen others by Mary Oliver; Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll.”
A quote from poet Mary Oliver sums up what Warren believes about poetry -- “For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.”
By Warren Bradbury
What a simple thing.
I love you.
Do unto others.
A mother and daughter walking, talking, arm-in-arm.
Children at play, their voices.
Coffee on the dock at sunset.