Tenants Harbor Poetry Reading: 18 Years and Counting

Regular participants in the annual Tenants Harbor Poetry Reading. L-R: Jonathan Aldrich, Chris Fahy, Mary Burchenal, David Riley, Elizabeth Gordon McKim, and guitarist Stuart Bicknell.

Regular participants in the annual Tenants Harbor Poetry Reading. L-R: Jonathan Aldrich, Chris Fahy, Mary Burchenal, David Riley, Elizabeth Gordon McKim, and guitarist Stuart Bicknell.

By David Riley
When a hundred people show up year after year for our annual Tenants Harbor Poetry Reading (now in its 18th year), it’s pretty gratifying to look out and see them enjoying–in August, no less–a form of literature that has long been declared to be on its last legs.

A show of hands has revealed that many, if not most, of our listeners don’t read poetry regularly, and rarely attend poetry readings, which makes us a kind of band of ambassadors for poetry, a role we’re honored and delighted to fulfill.  Our small part in unleashing poetry onto our prose-laden world every year includes each of us reading a poem by someone other than ourselves, usually a recognized name in poetry.

Part of the appeal of our readings is the variety of voices we offer: If our listeners aren’t particularly drawn to one person’s style, they might like another’s. What we have in common is spending extended time enjoying and being inspired by the beauty and charm of Tenants Harbor and midcoast Maine.

The five of us who have read regularly over the years are Jonathan Aldrich, who often writes about his vivid memories of spending 70-plus summers on Harts Neck in Tenants Harbor; Mary Burchenal, whose poems include poignant insights into teaching high school English; Chris Fahy, who takes a wry look at coming of age as a teenager and aging as an adult; Elizabeth Gordon McKim, whose rhythmic readings sometimes include strumming a musical instrument and veering into singing; and myself, reading poems that often attempt to convey the magic of the tidal cove that we’re privileged to witness up close and personal.

We began in late August, 1997, when about 25 people came to the old Jackson Memorial Library in Tenants Harbor to hear Jonathan, Elizabeth, and myself. We soon added two other longtime Tenants Harbor denizens: Stuart Bicknell, who plays the guitar as an interlude between each reader, and Mary, who read with us every other year, and recently decided to bow out to allow for a more extended summer break from the rigors of high school teaching.

As the word spread and our audiences increased, we outgrew the friendly confines of the library, and moved to the Ocean View Grange in Martinsville in 2002 when Chris Fahy joined us, and in our tenth year, to the Odd Fellows Hall, where we have met ever since. We’ve been lucky to have gracious hosts in all three locations. Last year we began including guest readers, to enliven the mix and broaden our base in hopes that others will come forward to help organize the reading after our 20th year in 2016.

We have published two small, paperback collections of our work, Summer Lines, on our 10th year in 2006, and Branching Out, on our 15th year in 2011, which are for sale at our reading and in stores in Tenants Harbor, Port Clyde, Rockland, and Portland. They have been favorably reviewed in the Free Press, Portland Phoenix, and Bangor Daily News, whose critic described them as good books “to freshen your routines and keep on the coffee table. For actual reading, I mean, not for show.”

As one listener commented after a reading, “I’m exhausted! I feel as though I’ve been through the full gamut of emotions, from laughter to tears.” Just the kind of intensity that we strive for, and that poetry offers us all!

This year’s reading is Friday, August 15, at the Odd Fellows Hall on Watts Avenue in Tenants Harbor, beginning with refreshments and book selling, with the reading beginning at 5:30pm. Admission is free. We welcome donations to defray the expenses of using the hall and providing refreshments.

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