Last week I attended a gathering of older poets. My mind has some difficulty in referring to them. When I think “old poets” all those from Chaucer through the Victorians come to mind; when I refer myself to “senior poets” I envision those from my lifetime who have been a source of guidance and inspiration for my own poetry. How, my enquiring mind asks, do I refer to men and women who wrote little while they were heavily involved in living but now, with retirement from their usual activities, find time and ambition and ability to write?
And again, what about those poets who have been writing steadily for many years but never slowed or lost any edge of their creativity? It used to be thought that artistic productivity was the realm of the young, that it began to decline at mid-life. That theory has certainly been overturned.
This gathering was a chance to meet and share for a variety of poets whose work was included in Celebrating Poets Over 70, a new anthology produced by the McMaster Centre for Gerontological Studies (and Tower Poetry Society) in their Writing Down Our Years Series, collections of work by older adults. Some of those present had been writing and publishing poetry for many years; some had only recently begun to express themselves creatively in poetry. But they seemed to fit together; they connected not so much through their poetry as through their common life experience and worldview.
The life in the room reflected the life to be found in the book: serious and light, filled with hope as well as memories, with a calm knowledge of the basis of existence. These men and women accepted themselves and each other for their creativity. Anything else at that time was secondary. The passion, the flaming ebullience of the young may have been tamped but it was still alive and well among the old. The body might display its weaknesses but the mind and spirit exuded strength.
Over seventy. It occurs to me that I will soon achieve that plateau. If these poets are any example, there is no excuse for me to rest on my achievements. As long as ability and need is there, I can and will continue. I want to be an old poet, a senior poet, to be an elder full of “late life creativity.”
Like them, I want to be the laughter of a spring brook in the soft coming of a winter.