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This book of poems fulfills a commission. That is my hope. In the summer of 1996, Margery Irish asked me to write for the Pro Arte Singers, a professional choral group in Stamford, Connecticut. The poetry was to serve two purposes: first, to provide the source of lyrics for new music to be composed for the choral group’s performance at their October 1997 concert; second, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of St. Francis’ Episcopal Church, whose members are generous supporters of Pro Arte. As an amateur writer, I have never felt smaller before a task. Having finished this work, I have never felt more stretched and fulfilled.
The Pro Arte Singers and Festival Chorus are group of 24 professional singers, led by Maestro Arthur Sjögren. Since 1974, they have performed both works of the great masters of music, and of the more obscure. They have also performed pieces written for specific occasions, and have sung music composed for Shakespeare’s poems. So the honor and the challenge of this commission have been broad and deep.
The majority of these fifteen pieces were written during the summer and fall of 1996. None have been published before. Although I believe all the poems should stand on their own, for me it is often the case that sewing pieces together in groups and in procession creates something new. So a new story may be found in the assembling of the work. I found it true in creating this collection.
The start of the thread is a conversation with Elizabeth Wilson –“Betty”– an eighty-eight year old tower of a woman, who has become my adopted grandmother. And grand she is. The poem Wilson recalls the conversation, and it became the foundation for all the rest. What Betty did in a few short sentences was to recount the last fifty years of her life in terms of the ceremonies of an old white church. (The St. Francis’ Church to whom this work is dedicated.) It was not an autobiography as much as a short story pointing to important events of her life, which have all taken place here, including the Confirmation of her daughters, their weddings, her husband’s funeral, and the baptisms of her grandchildren. All these major events in her life happened within the four walls of an old New England church.
What this simple conversation said to me was that the large events in our lives often take place in rooms like St. Francis’ Church, as in homes in which we have lived for many years. The special events and celebrations that occur here become the markers in our lives. And we tend to tell our own stories in terms of these events. So a lifetime can be told in a brief moment of short sentences—not captured, not defined, but told at once, like a painting or a sculpture. It is an integrative moment, a time without beginning or end.
This is a book of poems. It is also a story. As a story, it has a beginning and an end. As poetry, it has neither. Stories have a setting, a history, in a place and time, regardless of whether or not they are fiction. These poems are all tied in one way or another to that place in Old Long Ridge Village that is St. Francis’ Church, and so are written from these four white clapboard walls.
Yet you will not find St. Francis church here, on these pages. For fifty years, it has been one of the true neighborhoods of North Stamford. You can visit the church and worship with its community of believers. Here you will meet them. This place and these people have had more impact on me and what I write than most anything else. I am honored to be a part of them, and to celebrate in words and music the Golden Jubilee Anniversary of this special place.
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Document last modified on: 08/10/1999