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Tea and Poetry: Series returns without a founder
By Emily Topper
Susan Meyers lived on in print last week as her friends and fellow poets read works that she inspired, edited and championed.
A co-founder of the Tea and Poetry series, Meyers died in June. Now in its 13th year, the program continues in her memory at the Waccamaw Library on the first Thursday of each month from January through April. The program is co-sponsored by the Friends of the Waccamaw Library and the Poetry Society of South Carolina.
“I think Susan felt, as I do, that poetry is our life-saving sustenance, a way to live and be fulfilled,” Libby Bernardin, a program coordinator, said. “Poetry does that. She was very, very committed to not just her own writing, but to sharing poetry with people who might not even think to read it. I think that’s what she wanted to do, was to share poetry with people in this area.”
The program brings poets from across South Carolina and includes an open mic event. Ann Herlong-Bodman opened the new series with poems from her latest book, “Loose in Far Away Places.” She said Meyers had a significant role in editing the book.
“Being here today is special because some of the poetry you hear today in this book started here,” said Herlong-Bodman, who lives in Mount Pleasant. “Remember the classes that Susan used to teach? Either they were inspired in those classes, they were revised in those classes or I went home and thought, ‘Oh, I have an idea.’ This book is a travel log, of sorts.”
Herlong-Bodman’s reading centered around modes of transportation, her life spent traveling by boat, bus, plane and car. A few paid homage to traveling across the Palmetto State in her broken down, baby blue convertible.
“I miss stopping city traffic in the rain while I raise the top / before devouring midnight scrambled eggs and bacon / at the Waffle House in dripping wet clothes / that fell to the floor before making love / in that dingy motel room, driving south on Highway 17.”
The audience of about 40 laughed and nodded along as she read, but Herlong-Bodman said the real poem in her book was the introduction, written by Meyers.
“It was her advice and her steadfastness that made me steadfast,” she said. “And she lives and will always live in the love and the talents of you people right here, all of us, forever.”
Herlong-Bodman said she fell in love with the Tea and Poetry series shortly after its inception, traveling with Meyers to many of the readings.
“She would take a carload of us, and we just fell in love with this event,” she said. “She did a lot of editing for me. Wherever she was teaching, I would go. I learned so much from her. Her books themselves, her poetry was so wonderful. I just admired her. Perhaps in many ways I followed her route, the way she wrote, if one can do that.”
She believes poetry matters to both its writers and readers because it is a combination of “memory and imagination.”
“So you noticed this afternoon, memory was just boiling up,” she said. “A man told me, ‘I was sailing with you in every poem.’ You can see their imaginations ... I think for an audience, just to be able to follow memory and imagination is exciting.”
Alice Osborn, who also read at the series opener, also writes poetry inspired by South Carolina. One described her move from Charleston to Myrtle Beach and moving into her first apartment.
“I am here in the land of hemp necklaces / tongue piercings / dragon and butterfly back tattoos,” she read. “When I write the check / I see the staircase curving up to my scented candles and purple lava lamps.”
Other poems dealt with moving on.
“It’s time for me to move out of his place / tell him what he’s afraid to say / take his fat cat and a few towels in the parting.”
Osborn was booked by Meyers for the current series before her death. “I last saw her at the North Carolina Poetry Society meeting in March, and found out about her passing in June,” Osborn said.
Over the weekend, Osborn said, the society celebrated the launch of the Susan Laughter Meyers Poetry Fellowship at the Weymouth Center for Arts and Humanities in Southern Pines, N.C.
Helen Bradenburg, a friend of Meyers, came from Charleston to be in the audience at last week’s reading. It was her first time attending the Tea and Poetry series.
“And I will be back,” she said. “I wanted to come before, but I was working as an English teacher. I could not stay away.”
The schedule for the rest of the year’s series is set through April, with Bernardin already working on lining up poets for next year.
“I’m already thinking to 2019,” she said. “When we select poets, we do try to think, if we know the people, who might be compatible. We’re lucky that we’re able to get people who love to come.”
Linda Ketron, who co-founded the program with Meyers, said she’s looking forward to continuing the series for years to come.
“We’ve had a wonderful run,” Ketron said. “We should just assume that this is the second dozen. We’re going forward. Thirteen years and on we go.”
The program continues with poets Maya Marshall and Lester Boykin at 3 p.m. Feb. 1 at the Waccamaw Library. Book signings will follow along with tea.
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