Alice Kociemba Reflects on Past and Present Common Threads Programs

Thanks to Alice Kociemba, a devoted contributor to the success of Common Threads, for this reflection on past and coming discussion groups.

Alice Kociemba

Alice Kociemba

In the first two years of the Common Threads Reading Project, I led or participated in six community groups.  Some were “drop-in” groups at local libraries as their National Poetry Month Celebrations, some were groups that had met over a number of years to read published poems and/or to critique poems of its members.  What  always surprises me is that complete strangers in the “drop-in” groups were just as open and authentic as the ongoing groups’ discussions.

I was (and continue to be) impressed by the power of poetry to bridge the gap and lead to meaningful and personal connections.  There is no better way to facilitate this connection than having participants read their “favorite” Common Threads poem aloud.  In this oral tradition of poetry, words create texture that ties together image, sound, metaphor and meaning that moves the discussion from craft to content, from head to heart.  From the first year’s Common Threads project, the central question that I continue to use is: “What is bringing this poem to life?”  It is a jumping off place for what is bringing this poem to life FOR YOU.

As I read this year’s selection of ten Pastoral poems, I see how they weave together an experience of “outside” landscape (rural, urban, serene, chaotic, personal, political)  that reflects an “internal” world.  So, I am prepared to be surprised at which poems connect with which people.

In the first year’s Common Threads, various group members especially resonated with “Occupation” by Suji Kwock Kim and James Tate’s “The Lost Pilot.”   Each provoked personal memories of loss and war.  In last year’s Common Threads, Robert Lowell’s “For the Union Dead” and “Horseface” by Sam Cornish encouraged participants to reflect on issues beyond personal experience.  And in this year’s Common Threads, how will these groups respond to the selection of ten intricate and exquisitely crafted poems?

I expect to be pleasantly surprised.  The Poetry Book Discussion I lead at the Falmouth Public Library group has just read Jack Gilbert’s work.  At Calliope, the poetry reading series at the West Falmouth Library, Afaa Michael Weaver and Martha Collins have recently read from their poetry collections.  Some of us have heard Patricia Smith read at Mass Poetry.  Will group members favor a poet they have heard or read?  If I were a betting person, I would bet folks are going to wonder why this particular Robert Frost poem.

In addition to the insightful discussion questions, I found the addition of the Writing Prompt to be a plus.  It encourages poet-writers to be poet-readers for inspiration and attention to craft.  I agree with Jill McDonough’s inclusion of Andrea Cohen’s “To Whom It May Concern” for it incisive humor.  Often our poems are dark, and certainly these times are dire.  So, I am delighted that Common Threads ends with the Framk O’Hara poem “Autobiographical Literaria,” in praise of writing poems.

I hope the editors (and future editors) of Common Threads have or will have the experience of participating in (or even eavesdropping on) community “drop-in” groups in libraries, churches, schools, senior centers.  You will realize what a significant impact Common Threads is having on creating community, and encouraging non-poets to participate in a variety of poetry events.