The group is now called The Poetry Society of the Huntington Library, as Chris Adde told me when I phoned him last week to let him know that one of his poems was featured in that week’s blog post. Originally, the group’s name was a response to the film, The Dead Poets’ Society, now so dated that some of the recent younger members of the group had not even heard of it. The new title is dignified and appropriate, I think. Previously, I mentioned that they got started a few years before I joined them in 1991, but after recalling our decennial celebration in 2000, I realize they formed the group in 1990.
Members of the circle came and went during my years of participation, but there were some regular participants and occasionally new poets, scholars from out of state who were doing research for a few months. Aside from Chris Adde, I don’t know who belongs to the society now. The original group was made up of some noteworthy and extraordinary people.
For a time, Dr. John Steadman, one of my professors in graduate school who had a most genteel manner, joined us. A noted Shakespeare and Milton scholar, his list of publications is imposing. I didn’t dare ask them, but I think a few of the ladies were mildly infatuated with him. He was doted upon at one of our home luncheons. Dr. Steadman was honored by his friends at the library after he passed away in 2012. We never had a consensus about who actually started the group, but it was a toss up between Midge Sherwood, a mover and shaker who got the San Marino Historical Society going, and Joan Elizabeth White, who was a professor of English at Citrus College in Azusa, California for more than thirty years.
Midge believed in History (capital “H”) and worked to preserve the history of San Marino, the Huntington Library, and the state of California. She wrote books about the Golden State, General Patton, and John Fremont. A thorough researcher and stalwart patriot, Midge was particularly emotional about poetry. She certainly wrote plenty of it, and until her last year of activity at the library when she could no longer get around well, she never missed a meeting.Joan Elizabeth White was a calm and delightful individual. We often had dinner together after a day of research at the library, waiting for the rush-hour traffic to subside. She lived in an apartment across the street from MacDonald’s, and I asked her once if she ate there occasionally. Her response: “Yes, almost every night. I really should reform.” After her car was stolen, for which we were all thankful, knowing she had become a less proficient driver as she aged, she took a taxi every day to the library.
Mary Tempest Bachtell (what a great name) was a volunteer at the library. A retired elementary school teacher, she wrote poetry for children and adolescents. Her stories about her sister and her father were a treat for all of us. She passed away in 2004. Kazuko Sugisaki spent half the year in the United States and the other half in Japan. She and Joan worked together for a time translating Japanese poetry and prose. Kazuko is a well known Anais Nin scholar and has written several books about major literary figures. I am not sure she still makes the trip to the United States anymore, but if she does, I hope to see her again.Jeanne Nichols was a supremely engaging woman. Jeanne had taught English at Harbor College in Los Angeles, not too far from her lovely home on Mount Washington. Her book of poems, Running Away From Home, can still be purchased from Amazon. Passionate about her garden, she often wrote poems about it as well as about her cats. In many ways, she was the heart of the poetry group, and her responses set the tone of our meetings. Even in the face of nursing home stays and physical suffering, she remained positive. She passed away in 2010. Her closest friend, Norma Almquist, was a warm, pleasant, and most interesting poet. Norma set out, early in life, to have as many different kinds of jobs as she could have. She was an airplane mechanic in the Women’s Marines, wrote field manuals for the Army’s Quartermaster Corps, edited a literary magazine, did social work, worked in factories, and taught English. After Jeanne’s children were grown, she and Norma traveled. We heard about their trip across the Nubian desert on camels, their island adventures, trips to India. Norma told me that she would get bored and hop a plane to Paris to sit on the Left Bank. A champion of light, humorous verse, Norma wrote a collection of it, Traveling Light, which can be ordered from Amazon. Norma passed away at the age of 89 in 2011. I smile now when I remember her phone call to me when she turned 87. “I weigh the same as my age,” she said. Here she is is 1944 when she was in the Marine Corps and then later near the end of her life.
Christopher Adde, handsome, funny, and kind, was a welcome addition to our group. His lovely British accent enriched his recitation of poems. I don’t have any photos of him except the one of our entire group, which includes one member (on the far left) only there for a short time, and I cannot recall her name (apologies). Chris is still in the group and has added some innovations, such as an annual poetry award for Huntington staff and researchers.For a time, I was the youngest member of the Live Poets, and I learned much from listening to them in conversation. What an honor to have known them all.
Here’s to the memory of twenty years with these delightful poets. We had so many outstanding meetings and celebrations, luncheons and Christmas poetry celebrations, and some glorious walks through the Huntington gardens.