Senior poets encourage young and old to speak out

Victoria Huggins Peurifoy worked as a technical writer for the Internal Revenue Service for 35 years.

At her retirement party, she shocked her family and friends when she presented them with her first book, a poetry anthology, and told them she would be starting a new career as a poet.

Peurifoy has since published three more books and leads Center in the Park’s Poetry and Discussion Group which meets every Thursday afternoon at the center in Vernon Park in Germantown.

 At 59, Peurifoy is the youngest member of the 20 person group. She encourages fellow seniors to read and write poetry and to allow the sharing and listening to enrich their lives.

CIP’s Poetry and Discussion Group hosted  their first open mic night last week and invited the Philadelphia poetry community. 72 year old Dora Gordon was nervous before she stepped up to perform outside of their Thursday meetings for the first time. About a year ago, she came to the center to sign up for dance classes and at the next table was Peurifoy. She convinced Grodon to pen her first poem and she’s been writing every since.

Writing has made Gordon aware of her own unique purpose and way of being in the world; most of her poems end on God. She says she has developed nerve and with the group’s encouragement, she gets up and reads a poem about the lifespan of a girl that culminates with, “Hustle, bustle no more. Free at last. Finding that little girl is a sure thing, this I know.”

There were about forty listeners in the auditorium of the center.  The audience consisted of some group members, some neighbors and some young poets who have heard Peurifoy perform all over the city. “Because I’m older, a lot of times younger people say, what’s she gonna say,” she says with attitude, “and then they’ll come up and say, that was so good, or that was alright, that was so dope, whatever that means. It’s fun being able to have them hear what I have to say and for it to have meaning for them as well. I’ve also advocated that our older folks have a chance to hear what the youngsters have to say.”

23 year old Celeste Nicole Preston asked Peurifoy to be her mentor because she likes how Peurifoy is able to “creatively express her own truths.” Preston uses the experiences of older poets to improve her own life and believes there is a need for everyone, no matter what their age, to let emotions out through writing.

Halfway through the readings, Peurifoy asks the poets to shout out their recent inspirations. Newspaper articles, trouble in life, love, emotions and the journey. Many are inspired by the need to share. 77 year old Adrienne Morrison said, “Poets are the keepers of the culture and we need the young poets. Hopefully we can bring to the world the importance of feeling, observing, caring and writing, that it’s not just a silly hobby. We need to put these words out there in the universe so they don’t get lost.” She hopes that what she writes resonates with younger poets.

 Israel Melendez, better known in the community as El Poeta, is 29 and he considers Peurifoy his “poetic grandmother.” The first time El Poeta heard her, she read about a child. It reminded him of his grandmother whom he knew only briefly. He felt that he was the child in the poem.

Melendez is grateful for poetry because the creative community gives him the family his home-life lacks. He spends his time hosting and attending poetry events but also looks for opportunities to work with middle school and high school students. Recently he worked with 11 to 17 year olds to create “I am” poems and t-shirts through the Norris Square Neighborhood Project, Prodigies.

Like the members of CIP’s Poetry and Discussion Group, Preston, El Poeta and other young poets are trying to obtain and pass on wisdom through poetry like a torch.

 DeLantz, 38, has brought his 7 year old son to Center in the Park and to every event where he performs. His poem is about all the bright ideas he has working in a coffee shop where the customers only seem to want to harass him.   Everyone in the crowd laughs. “There’s an age gap in society and poetry brings respect through the vibration of words,” he said.

 “Younger poets have a lot to say,” says Peurifoy. She reads a few poems. One about Fuzzy the bear who had no hair, but got a weave and was ok.  “Poetry is calming, a release. I’ll write about anything.”

Want a digest of WHYY’s programs, events & stories? Sign up for our weekly newsletter.

It will take 126,000 members this year for great news and programs to thrive. Help us get to 100% of the goal.