Philadelphia poets share their stories with East Falls

Sharon White and Elaine Terranova, both poets from Philadelphia, came to the Falls of Schuylkill Library last week to share their work with the community for National Poetry Month.

White and Terranova said they’ve always been passionate about the written word and both started writing when they were children. Terranova said she always loved to write, but it wasn’t until her 30s when she became really serious about poetry. “I’ve always known that I wanted to be a writer, but I’m a minimalist, and poetry helps me to compress my thoughts and words,” Terranova said.

While both poets enjoy the art of writing, they also said it holds much more significance in their lives. White lost her husband when he was only 33 to a brain tumor, and she said writing poetry was a way for her to cope with his death. It allowed her to work through the emotional processes of losing a loved one, she said. Poetry is a major part of her life and makes up who she is as a person.

“I feel like it’s necessary for me to write. If I don’t write, I feel like I’m not breathing,” White said.

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While this tragic event inspired her to write both poetry and a novel, her travels, the outdoors and nature also greatly influence her work, she said. Traveling has also allowed her to add interesting aspects to her work. At the event, White read from her newest poetry collection, Eve and Her Apple, which was published in 2011. Some of her poems were about her experiences in Norway, where she traveled at the age of 22 to work on a farm.

Terranova said poetry is a way for her to better understand her life experiences. “I can’t imagine my life without writing. It’s a way for me to understand my emotions and my memories,” Terranova said.

Events like the poetry reading are good for the community because it’s important for people to see writers in action, especially at a time when there isn’t much of a push to read poetry, she said.

“Poetry readings are an experience. It’s fun to be read to, and it’s beautiful to listen to words,” White said. She understands many people have a fear of poetry or dislike it, but not all poetry is like the kind from high school, she said. Poetry doesn’t have to rhyme or make sense, it just has to come from your deep feelings.

Terranova said all people can better their lives by expressing themselves through poetry and writing. “It adds a dimension to people’s lives and gives them confirmation of their feelings at a very intimate level,” Terranova said.

In addition to writing, White also teaches in the English department at Temple University.

“I really enjoy hearing other people read their poetry. It’s fun to learn who my students are through their writing and to see who they are on a more personal level. Through poetry, I get to learn their inner workings,” White said.

Terranova teaches writing at The Community College of Philadelphia and Rutgers University-Camden. “I love to share the art of writing with younger people and to encourage them to write,” she said.

Stephanie Rowe, the branch head and librarian for adults and teens at the Falls of Schuylkill Library, said it’s important to create events like this for the community despite major budget cuts that city libraries have faced since 2008.

Philadelphians don’t use their local library as much as they used to, but Rowe said events like the poetry reading are great opportunities for community members to meet with local authors and get exposed to different forms of art.

A major factor that decreased the use of local libraries is the frequent occurrence of temporary, unscheduled closings. In fiscal year 2011, the public library system had 3,662 hours of such closings, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Philadelphia Research Initiative.

While the usage of libraries has gone down, many Philadelphians still think libraries are an important part of their community. According to the Philadelphia Research Initiative’s annual benchmark survey conducted in January 2012, 56 percent of city residents said closing their local branch would have a major impact on the community.

Poetry readings and events like this help foster a sense of community while showing the importance of libraries. People need libraries and events to bring individuals together, Rowe said, and this is what she is trying to accomplish at her branch.

Jon Ristaino and Kailey Meitzler are students at Temple University. Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a NewsWorks content partner, is an initiative of the Temple Multimedia Urban Reporting Lab.

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