Licensed Registered Nurse
U.S. Navy Nurse...World War II
Free Lance Writer
Director of Poet's Theatre (est. 1981) in Hornell, N.Y.
Columnist for Cuba Patriot (3 years) in Cuba, N.Y.
How young I was
that day in 1943
when Lt. Commander Blake
pinned brass ensign bars
onto my white starched
uniform in Norfolk, Virginia.
The ward, at the end
of the long hall...
my first assignment
as Navy Nurse.
How your the boys were
that day in 1943.
Ted, Royal Navy Air Patrol
shot down as he flew
across the channel
in the darkenss of
a bitter winter night.
Lower limbs gone.
Jack, U.S. Navy gunner
caught in cross-fire
between a German destroyer
an American battleship
in the North Atlantic.
Minus one arm, one leg.
aboard an aircraft carrier
hit by flying debris
smack in the face
his right hand also missing.
He could not smile in welcome.
Charlie, Communications Officer
after landing in the Pacific
on a spit of sand
covered with mines
he tripped and fell, lost a foot
glad to be alive.
How old I was
a few months later as
we struggled together
learning to walk
to use hooks for hands
to smile our crooked smiles.
Setting the Stage for Poet’s Theatre
by C.J. Houghtaling
As friendly as a neighborhood
bar, it’s a place where people of like minds and common goals gather.
Whether they tell poems in rhyme or free verse, jokes, stories, or songs,
they know Poet’s Theatre of Hornell, N.Y., is a place they can go to be
heard. Founded by Bea O’Brien, and sponsored by the Hornell Area
Arts Council, Poet’s Theatre has grown into a monthly event that is as
much a staple in the local poetry community today as ball games are to
The author of No Small Twig and From the Wings, Bea’s award-winning poems have appeared in more than 150 publications and have been selected as examples in college textbooks. She has judged contests, conducted workshops, performed readings, and written a poetry column for a weekly newspaper for several years. In addition to poetry, her other publishing credits include a children’s story/coloring book, I Looked Out One Morning, and a railroad novel, One Track. Yet, of all her accomplishments, the one that is closest to her heart is Poet’s Theatre.
“I lived in Philadelphia for a number of years,” explains Bea, “and there were poetry readings every night. In 1977 I saw an ad in the local newspaper about a writer’s workshop, with an emphasis on poetry. I had written and even published poetry when I was younger, but had not given my efforts any serious consideration in a long time and I was intrigued. I called the number and a woman said, ‘if you put a pen on paper and make marks, you’re a writer.’ So I went.
“At the workshop I met a man who was an editor of a magazine, although I didn’t know that at the time, and he said, ‘send me something.’ That’s how, as an adult, my first published poem appeared in the Vineland New Jersey Journal.
“From there, George (her husband) and I started attending poetry readings on a regular basis. Whenever there were open readings, I read.”
People liked what they heard. Before too long, she began receiving invitations to read. “The first place I appeared as a featured reader was at the Walt Whitman International Poetry Center in Camden, N.J. Soon after, I read at Painted Bride in Philadelphia.”
Because of George’s work on the railroad, the O’Brien’s were transferred to the Hornell area, Cleveland, and back to Philadelphia over the years. When it came time to retire, they chose the Hornell area for its rustic beauty. “But there was nothing here in the way of poetry,” she says.
“I heard David Nixon read at the Park Avenue Poetry Project in Rochester (N.Y.) and decided I wanted to get something like that going near me. I didn’t want to read my poems as much as I wanted to hear other people. I think so many poets aren’t heard, but need to be heard. A painter can stick his paintings on a wall or fence and people will see them, maybe even buy them. But for poets it takes a lot more effort.
“Philadelphia did a lot for me in establishing the format for Poet’s Theatre,” explains Bea who plans the first half of a two-hour evening featuring a guest speaker, with a break followed by an open reading. She keeps a book to write down the names of those who are interested in being added to the mailing list, as well as introduce those who are participating in the open readings. Donations are accepted to help pay for her monthly postcard announcements and refreshments.
Now in it’s seventeenth year, Poet’s Theatre has hosted famous, as well as, budding poets. The attendance has fluctuated from more than forty to a mere five, with an average of about sixteen, a dozen of which are faithful regulars.
“Among the many prominent poets we’ve presented were Joel Oppenheimer, Maurice Kinney, Judith Kitchen, Barbara Crooker, and Hayden Carruth. But to me, the most exciting times are when I see beginning poets finally gain enough confidence to get up and read.
“We had one person, Jane, come for years and never say anything. Then one day she told us how much Poet’s Theatre had opened up the world of poetry for her. To me, there was no greater thrill.”
Perhaps that is because Bea, herself, once lacked confidence in her work.
“I never took a college course in poetry and felt intimidated. I would make excuses like, ‘I really don’t know what I’m doing,’ and ‘I’m just self taught.’ Then I received a scholarship to attend a week-long conference at the University of Rochester. Hayden Carruth was the workshop leader and he was wonderful.
“All week long in his free time he’d sit with us individually and talk about our poems. On the last day, he read some of our poems to the group. When it came to mine, he said, ‘And this is the prime example of what we all strive for and very rarely achieve.’ He read my poem beautifully, with all the right stresses. Afterwards he said, ‘All I can say is guileless.’ He gave me the confidence I needed. I came away from that conference thinking and feeling like, ‘Hey, I really am a poet.’”
Bea inspires the same kind of feeling in beginner poets who read at Poet’s Theatre. Although it does not have a critique format, feedback is usually offered, if requested.
For anyone who wishes to start their own Poet’s Theatre, Bea advises, “Keep it simple. You don’t want to get burned out on it. Keep it free, uncomplicated, and just do it.”
Location is the key, according to Bea. “Find a group or organization centrally located that will provide you with free space. Then put a piece in paper inviting all poets to come and read their work. And they will come.”
Bea’s Tips on Writing and Reading Poetry
For more information on Poet’s
Theatre, contact Bea O’Brien at RR 2, Box 155, Cohocton, N.Y. 14826.