Poet Nancy Meneely

In celebration of National Poetry Month, members of the Guilford Poets Guild were invited to share their thoughts about poetry and the life of a poet. Here’s what poet Nan Meneely had to say:

How did you come to being a poet?
I began as a poet 71 years ago, so I’m a little vague on the details.

Do you remember the first poem you ever wrote?
I’m not sure about that (see above) but I know when I saw my first poem in print. That poem, entitled “Big and Small,” was published in my school’s literary journal when I was in first grade. I remember that the first two lines went like this: “Some things are big/some things are small.” The rest is consigned to the mists of history though I’m quite sure an elephant figured in it prominently.

What else do you write besides poetry? Do you have other creative pursuits?
I love writing what I’ve just decided to call Minute Memoirs, short vignettes covering memorable people and moments in my life. During my stint as a bureaucrat, I became adept at writing memoranda which framed problems without giving offense. I am gifted with fewer other kinds of creativity than anyone else I know. Oh, except I helped to create a wonderful child.

What has been the defining moment in your life as a poet/writer?
If I may substitute “most glorious” for “defining”, I’d have to say that moment–or, rather, series of moments–spent listening to my sister’s Oratorio version of my book, Letter from Italy, 1945. I was, of course, very familiar with the words, but hearing them sung in 180 voices changed my reception of them utterly. Though I knew the ending well, I was moved to tears by Sarah’s incredible final measures. So maybe the last moment of that last chord is the moment this question seeks to discover.

How long have you been a member of the Guilford Poets Guild and what’s that like?
I sought out the Guild the minute I moved to Guilford in 2007. It is now, as it has always been, a world apart, a place of deeply mutual trust where I hear caring critiques (as different from each other as are the Guild members) that I scribble furiously on my page and take home to figure out what to do with. In that same place, there is also always humor and irreverence and reverence and love.

What inspires your writing today?
I am lucky to be pushed by a variety of commissions, last year an opera for children (developed in collaboration with my sister) and right now lyrics for a series of songs to be set by an Austrian composer for a Lyme tenor (our Zoom meetings are amazing). But I write mostly out of a need to figure out what is happening today, inside and out, and find the words that get down to the bottom of the questions, even if not the answers.

Describe your poem-writing process.
Some thing, person, creature, notion suggests itself and I let my reasoning mind nap while ideas and pictures and words swim into what’s left. Some get down through the blessed editor and onto a page.

Where do you like to write? With what?
I have come to love writing on my computer. The words are so legible. And that blessed editor makes great use of cutting, pasting, moving, and, most important, erasing.

Who are you favorite poets and authors?
Egads. I’m old! I’ve had at least as many favorite poets as I have years. My first favorite poet, though, was Doctor Seuss. Now that I am a grandmother, he’s my favorite again. Brilliant.

What book are you currently reading? (poetry or not)
Sheltering in place, I find I’m reading (almost exclusively) emails, perfect for my shortening attention span. Lots of those are about poetry and/or actual poems. Others offer articles which engender laughter or tears or simple grinding of teeth. I like granddaughter Lilly’s books — quick, absorbing bits of literature. Yesterday we read Little Gorilla and Walter, the Farting Dog. Seriously.

Poem in Your Pocket Day is celebrated during National Poetry Month in April. What’s your favorite poem to carry about or share with others?
So many are needed now, the ones that remind us of what’s really important. I’d offer different poems to different people, on different occasions. For pure escape into quiet, though, I love James Wright’s “A Blessing.”

James Wright

Just off the highway to Rochester, Minnesota,
Twilight bounds softly forth on the grass.
And the eyes of those two Indian ponies
Darken with kindness.
They have come gladly out of the willows
To welcome my friend and me.
We step over the barbed wire into the pasture
Where they have been grazing all day, alone.
They ripple tensely, they can hardly contain their happiness
That we have come.
They bow shyly as wet swans. They love each other.
There is no loneliness like theirs.
At home once more,
They begin munching the young tufts of spring in the darkness.
I would like to hold the slenderer one in my arms,
For she has walked over to me
And nuzzled my left hand.
She is black and white,
Her mane falls wild on her forehead,
And the light breeze moves me to caress her long ear
That is delicate as the skin over a girl’s wrist.
Suddenly I realize
That if I stepped out of my body I would break
Into blossom.

Any last words?
There are lots of ways to take pleasure in a long afternoon or evening. One of them is to write and write, for as many hours as your back holds up.

Nancy Meneely has been a member of the GPG since 2007. After retiring from the Federal Emergency Management Agency in 2006, she retired to Connecticut to focus on poetry, helping to administer the work of the Guilford Poets Guild and the Connecticut River Poets to support the writing and appreciation of poetry in Shoreline communities. She has published poetry, book reviews and articles in a variety of literary publications and newspapers. Her book, Letter from Italy, 1944, which provides the libretto for the oratorio of the same name, was noted by the Hartford Courant as one of thirteen important books published by Connecticut writers in 2013. Nan currently lives in Essex, CT.

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