Sunday, January 14, 2007

Reading in Mandarin

Ray Nielson, a Jacksonville poet (far right), enjoys a stroll with his dog and a talk with some friends, after Dorothy Fletcher and I read at Walter Jones Historical Park in Mandarin.

If you’re a poet, this is a great way to spend Saturday morning. Coffee and muffins in a room that shines with old things—Civil War artifacts, an arrowhead honed by the Timucuan, a rifle so tall a short soldier would have had problems handling it.

A dozen or so people are here for poetry, one of them a talented poet in his own right.

Dorothy Fletcher and I did a poetry program Saturday for the Mandarin Museum & Historical Society. We shared readings from our Library of Congress “Florida Poets Arrive” program.

Dorothy conjured imaginary blueberries, re-created her father’s favorite dog, and told stories about growing up here in the 1950s. I recounted the tale of a little white church with stained glass windows, now turned into an antiques shop. I also read an aubade I wrote for my husband, and a poem touching on our irreverence and lack of stewardship for rivers. One of my poems, The Wishing Sky, was inspired by a photo by Dan Scanlon, run in the Florida Times Union. We gave a framed copy of Dan’s picture to the coordinator of Poetry at Noon at the LOC.

Karen Roumillat, a MM&HS member, tells me the little white church was the previous home of First Baptist Church in Mandarin, a huge brick complex that has a school, church, and other facilities. We talk about the trip and our writing.

Dorothy and I (photo at right) spent about 45 minutes together, with strangers and friends, in the administrative building at Walter Jones Historical Park in Mandarin before heading outside. The society helps maintain the park. After our reading, we toured the park, enjoying a stroll through a cottage offering a glimpse into life in the late 1800’s. Karen and member June Weltman, who is the author of an award-winning children’s mystery book, kept our stroll upbeat as we walked along the river boardwalk and onto the plantation site. It’s a sunny temperate day with blue skies and no bugs. The St. John’s is shining. Other people are walking in the park. We’re having a false spring because the weather is warmer than normal (and normal is low 70s most days this time of year.)

Harriet Beecher Stowe spent many winters in Mandarin, and lines from her book Palmetto Leaves come to mind, where she describes the St. John’s River as, “like a looking-glass, the sun staring steadfastly down.”

We couldn’t have asked for a lovelier experience. Poetry, a beautiful river, fascinating antiquities, interesting people.

Afterwards, a group of us went to Truffles and had lunch outdoors. The avocado/tomato/cucumber sandwich with pesto was on special. With a glass of peach tea, it was super.

If you’re a poet, this is a great way to spend Saturday morning.

A lone fisherman enjoys a morning on the St. John's.

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