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I expected to feel smarter as I got older. I’m always growing and learning, but for decades I stayed contained in my own silo as I focused on my career.  

I was a social worker in a hospital for twenty-nine years, and also a wife and mother. Once my children were grown, my parents and in-laws needed more help.  

Curiosity takes a back seat when you’re overwhelmed with the demands of daily life. But now with more time, I find my curiosity returning, along with a desire to dissolve my silo.  

A few years ago, I took a poetry class at Olli (Osher Lifelong Learning Institute) despite feeling intimidated. Everything about poetry was a mystery to me.  It seemed like a club you couldn’t join without a secret password. More than just words, poetry is art, history, nuance, and weren’t there rules? I hadn’t read much poetry and had written even less. 

When I joined that Olli class, I only knew the works of a few poets, and had mostly written haikus—short poems with easy rules. I was certain that I knew the least about poetry of anyone there, and that was probably true. But I didn’t care much anymore. Time was running out and I wanted in the secret club.  

The class structure was a blend of reading and discussing poems, and writing from prompts, both in-class and as homework. We read our poems and supported each other’s efforts. When the class ended, we continued as a weekly workshop.  

Sustaining a poetry group requires the members to triumph over the interior struggle we all have—believing our work isn’t good enough. Someone else’s style, word choice, or ideas, always seems richer, more elegant—just better. Our facilitator Adrien Helm, has a rule, “no disclaimers.” This helps prevent the almost universal tendency to dismiss your poem as you introduce it. Attempts often feel feeble and inadequate by their creators, because catching fleeting images and feelings with words is like corralling a cloud. You can’t, but it’s thrilling to get close.  

When the pandemic shut down our in-person poetry workshop, we went to Zoom. Our numbers dwindled, and Adrien created a new Zoom group, melding our Georgia poets to a group she started years earlier in Vermont. North and South connected through a love of poetry, getting to know each other through our work.  

Zoom may seem like a terrible format for poetry, but we worked through the challenges. Differences in geography and culture show up in our poems. But what we share is that we are all really looking, as poets everywhere do. Georgia and Vermont have shabby barns, neglected gardens, walks with soulful dogs, wild yearnings under stars, relationship angst, and cranky store owners. 

Last year my husband and I made a trip up the east coast to Acadia, Maine. We stayed in Vermont for a few days, and I got to meet these northern poets in person. Although we had sheltered the pandemic separately, we had shared the experience together. For the first time, I’d made friends through a computer screen, getting to know them and their lives mostly through their poems. I felt a little star struck at our meeting—no longer reduced to wallet-sized pictures on a screen, meeting them in person was like meeting celebrities. 

Adrien brought us together for lunch. I asked about Mark’s bees, Judith’s flowers, Stephen’s new car, and Sylvia’s house repairs. I learned that in Vermont, Adrien trades her red sporty convertible for an old pickup truck. Judith drove me to the shores of magnificent Lake Willoughby, and to the general store for locally made syrup. Sylvia acted as our guide at the museum of the world-famous performance group, Bread and Puppet Theater.  

I hope to return to Vermont to visit in-person again, but for now, updates come from within their poems. We each have in-person poetry groups in our respective towns, but we’re not ready to end the community we built in the pandemic.  

Daily I work on my poem of the week seeking the right words. I may, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, spend an hour choosing a word and the next day take an hour to remove it, but I find being in the pursuit of words not only stimulates me, it also relaxes me. Poetry deepens my sight and connects me to myself in the world right here, right now. It challenges me to listen closely. It offers both the opportunity to immerse deeply, or to float with ease, bobbing up and out as convenience or inspiration dictates. Often when I return to my poem, I find a word that eluded me now swims to the surface. 

There are many ways to enjoy poetry and none of them are wrong. You might start by finding a poet you love or a type of poem you’re drawn to. Dip your toes in the water by seeking inspiration or leap in by taking a class. You can weave your way through online sites, pick your way through an anthology, attend a poetry reading, or try our workshop.  

You can travel alone in your journey with poetry, but like all languages, it’s meant to be spoken, and in speaking it to others, you glean the richest rewards.  

Reaching beyond my silo hasn’t made me feel any smarter, but it has expanded my view, given me new connections, and deepened my experience of the present moment. 

Kathryn Kyker is a retired social worker who’s lived in Athens for forty years. She writes screenplays, essays, poems, and just finished a memoir, Surprised by Nothing: Surviving the ER World of Worst-Case Scenarios. More information on her work can be found at

Radio Host Has a New Book

David Oates, host of Wordland Radio Show, an hour of stories, poems, and comedy on WUGA on Sunday nights, has a new book of haiku poetry that’s just been published by Red Moon Press.  

“Only Thunder: A Family Journey,” is now available on Amazon or through the publisher’s website:  

A review at their website reads: “The haiku community has long appreciated David Oates’s comedic side. In his new collection he more often plays the straight man, noting the events of family fortune with a much enjoined but still objective eye. The result is a journey most everyone will recognize to be part of their own. Includes a baker’s dozen full-color illustrations

bachelors’ party 
the guys are determined 
the groom will drink 

Reader's Comments

Janisse Ray says:

Wonderful piece, Kathryn. Thank you for sharing your journey.

Kathryn Kyker says:

Thanks Janisse!

Richard Shoemaker says:

This is a terrific story by Kathryn Kyker! After reading about Kathryn’s experiences, I’m feeling inspired to give a poetry class a try. I can use all the help I can get to even start. It would be both fun and challenging to try to write a decent poem, something I’ve dreamed of for many years. Thanks, Kathryn for writing this.

Kathryn says:

We’d love to have you check us out Richard! It’s a fun, supportive group at a range of experience. Thanks so much for the kind comments.

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