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Creating Community with an Intergenerational Poetry Workshop with Benjamin Schmitt
By Andrea Waade

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When facilitator Benjamin Schmitt walked into the room on the first day of Old Growth’s poetry workshop at Bayview Retirement Community, some participants later confessed to thinking, “What could this young man, generations younger than myself, have in common with me?” It was a first poetry workshop for many.

For Benjamin, poetry is the perfect medium to connect people and to build community. “Poetry is not read to gain knowledge but to gain experience,” he remarked when asked for the purpose of this exercise. Workshop participants echoed this sentiment – the importance of poetry as a way to relate through experience and emotion. “Poetry makes you feel like you’re on the same ship. We have lots of stories to tell through poetry. It combines all of us into one,” offered one workshop member. “I hear my collaborators read their poetry and share thoughts I had never heard anyone express. This has been humanity’s experience of the first order,” another related. 

“Poetry lends itself to community through the nature of its performance as a relational art by virtue of being both oral and literary. Poetry is about sound,” Benjamin emphasized – he worked hard to make sure that the lyrical qualities of poetry opened doors for expression among participants. “There is so much fluidity in poetry, you don’t have to follow structure. It is like painting, gardening, or music,” said one workshop member. 

Benjamin feels that there is a need to further integrate poetry into our daily lives. “Poetry is meant to be more accessible than we’ve made it. There was a time when poetry was more a part of the public sphere,” he laments. For Old Growth and for Benjamin, this workshop is a step towards that goal. “We’re all trying to make sense of our experience. This workshop provides a space to do that.” 

On the final day, participants expressed excitement for Old Growth’s next workshop at Bayview with Benjamin. “I am going to be following this guy,” as one participant put it.

Workshop members will share their writing at the Intergenerational Poetry event on April 18th from 2-4pm at Bayview Retirement Community featuring local poets Priscilla Long and M. Anne Sweet. For more information, visit our website event page.