(AYRA BAES / THE STATESMAN)
Barnes & Noble hosts PPA Forum Night organized by Gladys Henderson and Ginger Williams. (AYRA BAES / THE STATESMAN)

At the heart of Smith Haven Mall’s Barnes & Noble gathered a group of inspiring and aspiring poets brightening the atmosphere with humorous words and, at times, dimming the lights with their sentimental and clever poems on a cold autumn Thursday night.

With support from the Performance Poets Association (PPA), Gladys Henderson and Ginger Williams organized a performance poet reading forum on Oct. 12 at Barnes & Noble at the Smith Haven Mall.

PPA has existed for 21 years, with Cliff Bleidner’s vision “for people to have access to poetry and to learn about poetry,” Henderson said. Both organizers began the forum with their own poems, including Henderson’s tribute for a dear friend who passed away. Williams, who is a member of SBU’s Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI), read her poem about the month of October, the perfect climax for Halloween.

The first featured poet showed that we can create a poem as we interpret a painting or an art sculpture by wondering about the story behind it, perhaps how Leonardo Da Vinci made Mona Lisa smile.

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“Ekphrastic – poems related to the works of arts,” Lee Marc Stein said.

A retired direct marketing consultant from East Setauket who now leads workshops at SBU’s OLLI on modern masters of the novel, Stein entertained the crowd with his innovative interpretations of some fine paintings. One work included a witty popular culture reference on Klee’s The Twittering Machine, calling it “the first twitter account.”

The next featured poet was someone who made poetry writing “so easy” as described by Henderson. Brooklyn born and Long Island raised, Frane Heller “never took poetry seriously.”

However, her remarkable poems about people and everyday life, such as the quirky “Hiccups” oath to Starbucks, showed how much poetry writing meant to her. Her analogy of poetry is illustrated in her book “Onion Juice” as being “wrapped around” the layers of onion skin and that creating poems is a way to find “me.” Frane has had poems published in publications such as the West Hills Review by Vince Clemente, an emeritus English professor at SBU, lecturer and journalist.

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As the night progressed, the final featured reader was a “natural poet,” as Williams introduced Rosie, her colleague from OLLI. Her readings included a poem about her child’s baptism and an entertaining slice of life poem on “Scissors,” which was part of her class’s five-minute writing exercise. Rosie pointed out the importance of working with the younger generation that she discovered in SBU’s intergenerational program writing class that contains a mixture of honors undergraduate students and senior citizens, working together to enhance their creative writing skills.

An open mic portion after the featured readers allowed some people to showcase their talents. These aspiring poets derived from different backgrounds, one of whom based their poems off their work experience at a hospital.

The poetry group is generally open to the public and welcomes anyone who wants to share their poems. Despite the noise interruptions from some customers in Barnes & Noble, the exposure of the PPA forum in the public space gradually engaged a crowd of people to stop and listen to the readers. It is open to anyone who simply enjoys listening to these unsung poets and their great appreciation for the art. This supportive environment is certainly a great place just off-campus to learn more about poetry writing.

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