Poetry becomes a time machine at the Patten Free Library

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This manuscript poem is one of two drafts of a work attributed to Civil War veteran and Bath poet Moses Owen. The poem was part of a collection of family letters. Contributory/free library

Not a living Mainer was born when Moses Owen put pen to paper for the last time. Born in 1838, the Bath native survived the Civil War but died long before he had the chance to age.

But on Friday, Owen and other local poets will come alive through their verse – for an afternoon, at least.

The Patten Free Library’s History Room Live series returns Friday at 3 p.m. with “The Poetry of Maine,” a discussion of four poems from the 19th and early 20th centuries.

“I think it’s a way of getting your toes in the water of thinking about poetry,” Archivist and Special Collections Librarian Mary Kate Kwasnik said of the free virtual event. “If you’ve ever wondered what happened in the area before you were here, this is a great way to see it.”

Kwasnik will feature poems written by Mary J. Cummings of Bowdoinham and Alice May Douglas and James Plaisted Webber, both natives of Bath. After each reading, participants will discuss the work and the local author who wrote it.

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A photograph of Moses Owen, who served in the Civil War before returning to Maine to work at the State House. Contributory/free library

History room regulars, who often spend time unraveling family genealogies, may be particularly interested in an unpublished manuscript poem attributed to Owen, according to Kasnik.

‘The Grave by the Sea’, found in a collection of family letter archives, marks a departure from the patriotic canon of the Bath poet, she said.

“It’s very moving, very visual,” she said of the poem, which bears Owen’s signature. “I was really excited to see that because it was so different from what he posted.”

The History Room Live presentation, the series’ first since November, is one of several poetry events in Patten in April, according to program and outreach manager Hannah Lackoff.

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Walkers can enjoy poetry during the month of April at Library Park. Contributory/free library

The library celebrates National Poetry Month by installing poems around Library Park, which visitors can enjoy day or night, Lackoff said. Staff recently named four local poets, including middle schoolers Nyssa Wilkinson and Acadia Guliani, winners of their spring writing contest.

“We wanted to jump on this bandwagon and bring poetry in a way that was more accessible to people than just something you had to read in school,” Lackoff said. “Poetry can also be fun.”

Although the story and the poetry may seem odd, Bath Historical Society president Brenda Cummings said they were actually a natural couple.

“History is not a dry story, it’s not about knowing the date of this or the date of that,” she said. “It’s about feeling a connection, and poetry is about reaching that place where there is a connection.”

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Cummings found that connection in Alice May Douglas, an activist and amateur historian who wrote a poem for the 1929 dedication of Davenport Memorial City Hall, where Cummings worked as Bath’s assessor.

The poem, titled “The Davenport Memorial”, will teach session attendees by taking them directly into Bath’s past, Cummings said.

“Poetry strives to capture an image in a stream of words,” she said. “It’s not just a recitation of facts: it’s a matter of enjoying words.”

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