Groups Discuss the Excitement of CommonThreads Sessions

Small groups of people met all over Massachusetts last year to read seven poems written by seven poets with local ties. The poems were selected by Mass Poetry, which also distributed reading guides and other materials about the poems. Mass Poetry has no idea how many groups met, but judging from the interest in some towns, like the area around Falmouth, Woods Hole and Barnstable where at least four separate groups met, there were probably as many as – or more than — one hundred. The program called Common Threads was off to a rousing start.

This year for Common Threads, Mass Poetry is distributing material for nine poems written by local poets, including Anne Bradstreet, whose 400th birthday is this year.

You can download the reader’s guide here or purchase it from Harvard Bookstore:

If you are planning a Common Threads group this year and would like to see it listed on, please send the place, date, time and organizer to

So you can get a taste of what the program was like last year, we interviewed four group leaders from different parts of the state.

Common Threads at the Southeastern tip of the state

Alice Kociemba, who led three groups in the southeast tip of the state, estimated that the number of participants ranged from six to 12. One of the groups was a regular poetry book club, another was organized around a monthly reading series, and the third was a regular monthly poetry group that meets at the Unitarian Church of Barnstable.

The poetry book discussion group, which meets at the Falmouth Public Library, has been active for over two years, “ever since Robert Pinsky read from the Favorite Poems Project,” says Kociemba. “This group is clearly interested in reading and enjoying poetry being read out out loud, and there is an intimacy and openness in being a part of an established group. This group loved Bishop’s In the Waiting Room for its exquisite narrative, evocative detail and ability to enter the child’s experience.”

Their love for the poem carried over to their selecting a Bishop book for their next group reading. But in the groups in the southeastern tip of the state there was no unanimity about which poem was more impressive.

The West Falmouth Library group liked the poem by James Tate – The Lost Pilot.

The third group, which met at the Unitarian Church, loved Sue Kwock Kim’s Occupation. Kociemba says, “They were chilled by it and riveted by her sustained metaphor and evocative language.”

As a result of their Common Threads experience, several at the West Falmouth Library – teachers, poets, artists — began attending the monthly reading series called Calliope, run at the library by Kociemba.

Kociemba was impressed by the power of poetry to get people who were strangers “to initiate a meaningful emotional exchange.”

She expanded on what she liked about the program. “What I enjoyed most about the program(s) was the pleasure of reading poems out loud, the opportunity to connect on a deeper level with friends and strangers through excellent poems. The way I lead groups (based on my training as a psychotherapist) is to not ‘teach’ but elicit responses. Most of the comments were spontaneous, not triggered by the guide or “canned” questions, but more by the experiencing of the poems. The question I found was best to use was ‘Where is the animating energy coming from in this poem?’ Or as I say ‘What is the heart of the poem for you?’”


Concord Poetry Center reads Common Threads poems

Kate Desjardins led a couple of sessions at the Concord Poetry Center last year. “We had seven people per session, plus two co-leaders. They were a mix of seasoned poets and ‘just’ readers of poetry — though we convinced them to drop the ‘just’ by the end.”

Desjardins found it surprising that “we ended up speaking negatively of some of the poems, and we were split on a few. It made for lively discussion! One favorite was The Lost Pilot, and another, the love song I and Thou. The group thought there were better Bishop poems out there, and after the sessions we all traded emails with the intent of sharing our favorites.”

The excitement of the discussion made the group want to stay together. “It didn’t last, but for a few weeks there was some nice email discussion. A few members shared some events of their own, and as a result of  the Common Threads discussion, I started a group in Cambridge.”

“I love this offering as a springboard for poetry discussion. I don’t often get to discuss poetry critically. Even though I go to poetry workshops regularly, we usually discuss our own works in progress. It is quite a different thing to look at finished work in a group context.”

Concord Poetry Center will host two Common Threads discussions on Saturday, April 28th and Sunday, April 29th at 2pm. See Concord Poetry Center for more detail.

Common Threads on the North Shore

We talked to two leaders of programs on the North Shore, J.D. Scrimgeour, Salem State professor, and Kelley Rae Unger, librarian at the Peabody Institute Library in Peabody.

Scrimgeour says, “I helped out with two sessions. I led the discussion at the Peabody library, which was organized by Kelley, and I participated in the discussion at Salem State, organized by our English Society.”

Scrimgeour participated in the session at Salem State, which  was organized by Scott Nowka.

Scrimgeour says, “I’d say that we had over 20 people — enough so that we moved the event to a larger room this year!”

“I felt it (the Common Threads discussion) was very helpful in establishing a literary community at SSU and getting students and faculty to participate in conversations together. I enjoyed hearing how colleagues made sense of the poems. Their knowledge added to our enjoyment of them. Everyone had something insightful to add.”


Unger felt the Common Threads event came at a perfect time. “We were at end of another series of poetry lectures, so the interest was already there. Common Threads gave the library an opportunity to offer another discussion group on what had already become a popular topic with our audience. The library continues to offer poetry workshops and lectures.”

This year’s lineup of poems

This year for Common Threads Mass Poetry is distributing material for nine poems written by local poets.

Our 2012 selections:

  • “The Author to Her Book” – Anne Bradstreet ( 2012 is the 400th anniversary of her birth)
  • “The Fire of Drift-Wood”- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • Poem 1129 – Emily Dickinson ( tell it slant)
  • “For the Union Dead” – Robert Lowell
  • “The Hardness Scale” – Joyce Peseroff
  • “Horseface” – Sam Cornish
  • “if see no end in is” – Frank Bidart
  • “Out at Lanesville”- David Ferry

Check out more on this year’s Common Threads

Check your local library for possible Common Threads programs, and check back here soon for a partial listing.