Seeing the need to promote poetry and literacy in the region, New Hampshire and beyond, Bill Chatfield, a Peterborough resident and lifelong poetry lover, established the Peterborough Poetry Project in January 2019.
Poetry, like any art, can mean many different things to many different people, but for Chatfield, poetry at its best has a unique ability to instill a deeper understanding of humanity and to foster empathy for people. others.
âPoetry exposes our thoughts to be shared with others, hopefully encouraging others to do the same and thereby appreciate the similarities and differences in others,â said Chatfield, 74. “Poetry can help people know that they are not alone in a cold and indifferent world.”
Shortly after setting up the Peterborough Poetry Project, Chatfield realized he didn’t want to do it himself, so he asked five people to join the board: Rachel Sturges, Yvonne Gifford , Les Orsini, Michael Strand and Carol Nelson. Nelson served for a year before being replaced by Veronika Sokol. Gifford is a former technical writer for the US Postal Service; Orsini is a former English teacher and high school journalist; Strand received a Bachelor of Arts in English and History from the University of Florida with a major in Poetry; Sturges was a 2019-2020 NH Youth Poet Laureate and is a published poet; and Sokol is a Young Ambassador of the NH’s Poet Laureate.
The group’s first project was to revive the traditional Peterborough Book Fair in May 2019. The event brought together 13 old booksellers and half a dozen local authors to raise funds for the Peterborough Town Library. The book fair included a student poetry competition, with a reading at the fair by the competition winners.
One of the ways the Peterborough Poetry Project promotes poetry is through public competitions, inviting poets from all backgrounds to present their work.
In the fall of 2019, the Peterborough Poetry Project hosted a New Hampshire Poems competition that drew 160 entries from New England and beyond. This competition resulted in the project’s first publication, the 48-poem book “On & Off the Road: Poems of New Hampshire,” which was released in February 2020.
The Peterborough Poetry Project had planned more poetry readings for March 2020 to promote its first anthology, but then the COVID-19 pandemic struck, making those plans impossible. However, the project has adapted to the new socially distanced lifestyle, focusing on publishing three more books in 2020 and three more in 2021.
One of these books, “Day after Day in Quarantine,” features works by 22 poets from eight states, including New Hampshire, and two columns on the writings of published poets. The poems, written between April and October 2020, focus on the emotions felt by each poet during their 40s, including isolation, loss of privacy and the search for hope.
The project has published works by poets from a dozen states in its four anthologies, but poets from New Hampshire and New England are major contributors to the group. The Peterborough Poetry Project has received poems from states as far away as California and Washington, and even from countries like Bangladesh and Nigeria.
The project has now published seven books of poetry – four anthologies and three individual collections of poems. His books include “On and Off the Road: Poems of New Hampshire”; Chatfield’s âOut of Darknessâ; âDay after day in quarantineâ; âYou, genesisâ, by Rachel Sturges; and Chatfield’s latest, “We Are Stardust: The Universe in Verse.” The last two books of the project were just published in June: âTiger Lovin ‘Blues: A Bob Dylan Collectionâ, edited by NH-based author and journalist Dan Szczesny, and âPost Script: An anthology of post card poem â, from one of the project’s poetry competitions.
The Peterborough Poetry Project has now organized nine poetry competitions. Its latest, the Cosmic Poetry Contest, is a collaboration with French astrophysicist and poet Jean-Pierre Luminet and Wayne Allen Jones, president of the Poets Club of Chicago, who judge the nominations.
The Peterborough Poetry Project works with several groups of New England writers and merchants, in particular the Toadstool Bookstore in Peterborough, which co-sponsored the poetry reading by three NH Youth Poet laureates in September 2019, and has since sponsored several more. poetry readings in cooperation with the project.
Chatfield, who created the Peterborough Poetry Project after retiring from the US Postal Service headquarters in Washington, DC in 2014, has a lifelong interest in poetry, which he derives from his mother’s love. and his father for writing and reading poetry, he said. This love of poetry led him to do something to encourage others to express their poetic thoughts.
He has been writing poetry for almost 60 years, since he was in high school.
âI find myself trying to explain the natural world, relationships, and the larger universe through poetry – sometimes in rhyming, sometimes in free verse,â Chatfield said.
He says the Peterborough Poetry Project looks forward to hosting many more poetry contests and readings when public health protocols permit, as well as continuing to publish books.
The project plans to hold a book signing in Peterborough on Saturday 25 September. So far, a dozen writers have signed up, including current NH Poet Laureate, Alexandria Peary, and Pete Kennedy of folk music duo The Kennedys.
Through its contests, events and books, the Peterborough Poetry Project strives to keep poetry alive and flourishing in the region. As stated on its website: âWrite poems when they reach you, before they evaporate.