The Hippo


Nov 20, 2019








Diane Hopewell. Barbara Bald photo.

Meet Barbara Bald and Beth Fox

Gibson’s Bookstore: 45 S. Main St., Concord, 224-0562, Thursday, Sept. 1, at 5:30 p.m.
Wolfeboro Public Library: 259 S. Main St., Wolfeboro, 569-2428,, Wednesday, Oct. 5, at 7 p.m.

Poetic memories
Tales from Sugar Hill Retirement Community

By Kelly Sennott

 New Hampshire poets Barbara Bald and Beth Fox began volunteering at the Sugar Hill Retirement Community in Wolfeboro two years ago. During their first visit, they read Mother’s Day-themed poetry, simply thinking the residents might enjoy it.

The response was surprising.
“We just started reading to them, and all of a sudden, their memories started bubbling to the surface,” Bald said via phone last week.
The people in this group, Fox and Bald learned, climbed the Himalayas, lived in the mountains of Brazil and predicted weather for the Transcontinental Hot Air Balloon flights. They described pilfering plums, apples and pears from neighbors’ trees after dark, carrying the fruit in rolled-up shirts during the Depression, and losing a mother to childbirth in Burma. 
Bald was amazed by the detail with which they told. Fox began writing the tales down.
“I kept thinking, wow, these are amazing memories. And when we had them all down, I said, what if I try writing a poem with the facts they gave me?” Bald said.
And so that’s what happened. Bald and Fox read poetry, and residents responded to it. Their responses turned into poems, edited and embellished by the poets. After a year, they’d generated so much material, Bald decided the best way to service these stories was to lay them out in a book. Jessi Graustein voluntarily designed the text with her small press, Folded Word, and Richard Moore volunteered the cover design.
The result is Other Voices/Other Lives, which contains 50 poems. Fox and Bald, who are from Wakefield and Alton, respectively, talk about the book at a number of events, starting with Gibson’s Bookstore’s Thursday, Sept. 1.
The text is organized in three sections. One, “Glimpsing a Life,” peeks into the eyes of ordinary people Fox and Bald met in their lives, at Sugar Hill and otherwise. “In Their Words” features poems with individual stories told to Fox or Bald. “Looking Back Together” are group poems melding together the voices and generational experiences from people at Sugar Hill, sometimes written on prompts or themes, like kissing — one woman remembered getting kissed by Australian officers, while others remembered uncomfortable kisses by harrowing older relatives. Another poem called residents to look and write about their hands. What do they look like? What have they done? The result was a group poem, “A Tribute to Hands.”
Admittedly, some poems have been embellished by Fox and Bald, but the pair brought all finished pieces to be fact-checked by the original storytellers and poets.
“Most people would say, ‘Yeah, it’s good.’ Then we’d move on to something else,” Bald said.
But a handful, like Harry Widman, became very invested. He and fellow Sugar Hill poet Frances Walters died before the book’s publication.
“He was funny and he loved poetry. We were like kindred spirits. The rest of us would move on to the next poem, and he’d still be mulling [the previous] one over,” Bald said. “He’d jump in and say, ‘This line has to stay!’ And he had reasons why.”
Ninety-seven-year-old Harvey Stephenson liked writing so much he recently joined the Poetry Society of New Hampshire and is currently submitting poems to print in its quarterly magazine, The Poets Touchstone.
Bald and Fox still visit Sugar Hill twice a month to read and write poetry with the residents. Fox said this week’s poem touched on AM radio, which sparked memories of old-time radio shows.
“These people started talking about the radio and the things they remember from the past,” Fox said.
Both she and Bald said the poetry workshops led to more than either could have imagined.
“It ended up being more about unearthing  memories long forgotten, sharpening minds and helping them bond together,” Bald said.

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