The Federal Poets
Sharing Verse . . . and Criticisms
Friday, November 14, 2008; Page WE05
-- Moira E. McLaughlin
The District: home to lawyers, lobbyists, politicians and poets.
Poets, you say? Go to a meeting of the Federal Poets tomorrow and
see for yourself. It's the oldest poetry club in Washington, and
Nancy Allinson, 59, the club president who has been coming to the
meetings for 20 years, has minutes from the 1940s to prove it.
But more impressive than the club's age are some of the club's poets.
"If in our dreams we're porous enough/ to pass through walls,
closed doors --/ perhaps those on the other side/ can pull us through,
or if we intone/ a certain chant, the sound alone will do,"
read Bonnie Naradzay, 63, who works for the Department of Labor
but received her master's degree in poetry from the University of
Southern Maine in January. She intends to start poetry workshops
in prisons and hospitals, so, she says, she comes to the Federal
Poets to "get fresh information."
Open to anyone, the monthly workshop at the West End Public Library
draws a mix of talents, ages and poetry enthusiasts. Normally, about
20 people attend, sit in a circle around a table and discuss one
another's poetry. The group is casual but critical, and everyone
"What makes this group unique, it's a public workshop. Anyone
can come," said Pamela Passaretta, 47, who read her poem "Stilettos
on the Verge" recently.
Each poet must bring 20 copies of his or her (preferably typed)
poem to read aloud. Newcomers read first. Then the critiquing begins.
"You need to get deeper with this. The opening lines are pretty
abstract," said Judith McCombs, a published poet, after reading
Domenic Scalamogna's poem "The Howling Wind."
This constructive criticism is the whole point of the sessions.
It's a chance for poets to put their work out there and see what
people think. That's why Scalamogna, 32, a doctor and a newcomer
to the group, was there. It's also an opportunity to meet people
you otherwise would never know, he said.
Such as Ron Vardiman, 76, a retired scientist who has been writing
poetry for about 10 years. He read his poem "The Enigmatic
Sphinx" at a workshop. "I wait in the desert, watching./
It is my office to watch and understand," he read.
Poets present one poem per meeting, and it can't be longer than
one page. With no restrictions on poetry topics, the subjects are
as varied as the talent.
There are accolades if they are due, but check your ego at the
door. You will be among talented poets, many of whom participate
in other workshops and poetry readings in the area and have a vast
knowledge of poetry.
McCombs read her poem recently about an obscure battle in the Revolutionary
War in which two brothers died. It is one in a series she is writing.
"The third day out, the militia marched in haste," she
read. "Andrew, in front with Uriel, could see/ Their forest
road slope down to a deeper seep,/ Where slippery, tipping logs
half-blocked a creek."
Where is it? West End Public Library, 1101 24th St. NW. 2 to 5
p.m. tomorrow and the third Saturday of every month.
What does it cost? Free. Don't forget to bring 20 copies of your
poem. After attending three workshops, the group may allow you to
become a member of the club for $20.
If you have more than three hours? Continue your poetry discussion
over a beer and burger at Marshall's Bar and Grille, 2524 L St.
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