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Column: Free poems share human experience; "We all have hopes, fears"

Column: Free poems share human experience; "We all have hopes, fears"

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It’s the season of giving, but that’s not why poet, writer, and artist Beverly Finney of Hickory has been stealthily distributing free poems. The Catawba County native’s been doing it “to encourage each other to remember our shared humanity,” she explained. 2020 has been — and continues to be — a tough one. Beverly’s hopeful her inspiring poems will help women and men “recognize the human experience,” as Beverly called the basis of all her writing. “We all have fears, hopes, dreams, angers, mistakes, and our successes,” she pointed out.

In other words, at our cores, we people of this earth are more alike than different, and if we come to see and appreciate the universality of living, maybe we’ll love each other at least a little more.

Through words and the beauty of the cards she creates, Beverly seeks to show folks, strangers even, that there is someone who cares and that “we all share” in life’s most basic needs, desires, and challenges, including death.

Before the virus, Beverly, who has done readings of her work in a variety of settings, was looking for opportunities to make what she does more meaningful — hopefully helpful — for her audiences. She considered small groups where, after readings, she could invite listeners to state how they related to the poem or any part of it, to “start conversations about care and kindness,” Beverly offered.

Because of COVID-19, gathering in groups became impossible, so Beverly began thinking of other ways to share her work. A few years ago, a fellow poet planted a seed that germinated earlier this year, leading Beverly to distribute free poems around town.

During the 2017-2018 school year, Alabama’s Poet Laureate Jennifer Horne, was writer-in-residence at Lenoir-Rhyne University. “I’m always hungry for good conversation with another writer,” Beverly stated. She went to one of Jennifer’s readings and then talked to her. They struck up a friendship and met occasionally. Beverly was working on a book of poems, “Bearing Witness,” which was published in 2019 by Third Lung Press. Jennifer read the manuscript, offered helpful feedback, and suggested that in addition to Beverly’s work being published, there should be other ways to get her work out.

Besides Jennifer’s advice, which remained on Beverly’s mind as 2020 dragged on, there was Beverly’s cache of scrapbooking supplies and materials she’d assembled for crafting notecards. She began folding 8-by-8-inch pieces of card stock that was colorful on one side, white on the other. The 4-by-8s would fit nicely in business envelopes. She added her own designs and bits and pieces to the existing design of each piece of paper, affixed a poem title, and then on the inside included one of her poems. On the envelope, she printed “Free Poem.”

After making several cards, Beverly considered how to distribute them. She thought about places she could leave them. Armed with a few cards, she headed out to run errands one day earlier this fall. She left one card at the post office, slyly slipping it on the counter after the clerk finished helping her and walked away. “I wanted it to feel to her like something she found,” said Beverly.

That same morning, Beverly went through a McDonald’s drive-through. After concluding the transaction, she handed an envelope to the employee and drove away. At the bank, again using the drive-through, Beverly conducted her business and then sent a card to the teller by way of the pneumatic tube. As before, she drove off before seeing any reactions and or answering any questions.

Beverly pointed out that all three of the first Free Poem recipients were frontline people. “I have such appreciation for their being there,” said Beverly.

Since then, the sneaky poet has left cards in a number of other places, including on a shelf in the bread aisle of a grocery store. “Next to the hamburger buns,” Beverly smiled. And in a doctor’s office suggestion box.

On the back of each card is a sticker with the following words: “Find something to think about? Want to share?”

Fifteen cards have gone out so far in the Hickory area. Beverly hopes to complete 35 more and distribute them. To date, no one has shared. But, that doesn’t mean they didn’t feel moved by the poem or that they didn’t pass along the Free Poem to someone else. Maybe the cards are making the rounds. Who knows? “Some may read the poem and something in it has meaning for them,” said Beverly. “Some may think the handmade card is neat. Some may just get a chuckle out of the experience of finding the card.”

Smaller cards with Free Poems also have gone out with checks to charities, and when Hickory’s Volunteer Outreach in Community Efforts club asked for backpacks and specific items to fill 30 packs for the homeless, Beverly donated a few packs and 30 copies of her Prayer Poem.

Beverly told her family doctor about her Free Poem endeavor. The physician loved it and suggested doing something for seniors in care facilities. Beverly is writing short “Down Memory Lane” recollections, such as one about a house without indoor plumbing and “a yellow streak from [the brothers’] bedroom window down the side of the house.” She’s affixing them inside smaller handmade cards. Delivery plans haven’t been finalized.

Beverly is also completing a second book of poems; it’s working title is “Shine a Different Light.” Beverly described it as “something to provide reflection, something that offers solace in these difficult times, which have prompted me as much as anything else.”

Beverly goes about her poet’s work like someone who’s been doing it her whole life. In truth, it’s only been 10 years. With a master’s degree in English, she taught developmental studies at Caldwell Community College for 12 years followed by working 25 years in public relations, communications, and customer service for the Blue Ridge Energy system. She retired in 2007.

Seven years prior, however, Beverly’s interest in writing was nudged when she heard former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky read his poem “Shirt” on public television. “I was astonished,” said Beverly. “He told the whole history of textiles in a poem. It gave me goosebumps, and I wondered if I could do it.”

The only thing a person interested in writing should do is, simply, write. Beverly participated in several writing groups and eventually came to realize that the most important thing is “to say what you want to say in the best way you know how.”

“I write from my heart,” Beverly continued. “If it moves me, maybe it will move someone else, too. It’s humbling when I’ve been to a reading, and someone tells me what [one of my poems] has meant to them.”

Beverly’s ideas for poems come from reading true accounts or hearing people’s stories. “Our deepest need as a human being is to be understood,” Beverly emphasized. “Listening to people’s stories is a gift to them.” In “Bearing Witness,” Beverly’s “Invocation” begins, “Tell me your story: I am here to receive it. Tell me your dreams; I will cheer you on. Tell me your heartaches; I will hold them gently.”

Said Jennifer Horne about Beverly’s poems, “Finney truly sees the people in her poems, and she writes of them with compassion and clarity, in well-made poems that feel fresh and alive.”

So, “find something to think about? Want to share?

“Bearing Witness” is available on Amazon.

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