PATERSON, NJ - “Poetry helps you release your emotions,” said 34-year-old Paterson resident, Andre Stewart. The first poem he had written was to impress a girl when he was about 12. Now, 22 years later, although the fondness for the girl has faded, his love for poetry continues to grow.
In the open-reading portion of the Poetry Reading event that took place at the Poetry Center at Passaic County Community College on Saturday, Stewart read a poem in tribute to Bob Marley entitled, “Who Was Bob?”
From Marley to Martin Luther King Jr., the topics of the open-reading section were diverse as poets from not only Paterson, but also neighboring cities, recited their poems.
“For me, Paterson is connected to poetry,” said Maria Mazzioti Gillan, the executive director of the Poetry Center, whose writing has been influenced by her early life in the city. “I think poetry teaches us how to be human; it’s a way of connecting people, a way of telling stories to one another.”
Paterson produced one of the great American poets of the 20th century, Allen Ginsberg, and the city provided the inspiration for William Carlos Williams’ epic poem, “Paterson.’’ The poetry center strives to keep that legacy alive with its ongoing series of readings.
“If you like poetry, you like poetry, it doesn’t matter where you are from,” said 82-year-old John Marchitti, who lives in Paterson with his wife. “My wife’s a poet,” replied Marchitti, when asked how he became interested in poetry. “She got me addicted to this stuff now.”
Saturday’s event featured two accomplished poets, Michael Cirelli, the author of Vacations on the Black Star Line, and Shara McCallum, the author of This Strange Land. Early in the morning, the authors conducted workshops with those who participated, helping them write poems of their own. Later on, they read some of their work to the audience. “Our readers complimented one other,” said Gillan. “It was very interesting to see and hear them.”
“I thought the two authors were really good,” added Clifton resident, Jim Gwyn, who visits Paterson at least six to seven times a year to listen to poetry. “The open-reading portion is very good because you hear many other people’s voices as well. Poetry is a very vibrant thing and it doesn’t reside in one voice.”
“I felt comfortable,” answered Gwyn, when asked how he felt about reading his poem to the audience. Knowing the history of Paterson and poetry, he believes, “The continuation of poetry in Paterson is a really great thing because it makes this into a cultural center.”
The poetry center has a senior citizen workshop scheduled for March 10. Anyone interested in that event or about the poetry center in general can call 973-684-6555.