Christine Zak, an employee of Fairmont Crossing Health, takes a box of poems from Marcia Robertson, a member of Amherst Glebe Arts Response, Inc. at Fairmont Crossing Health in Amherst on Thursday, April 23, 2020.

In an attempt to bring a smile to some faces, Amherst Glebe Arts Response asked local Virginia poets to donate some of their poems to be delivered to seniors in the area.

In April, a total of 1,500 poems will be distributed to seniors who receive meals from Central Virginia Alliance for Community Living, Fairmont Crossing Health and the Blue Ledge Meals on Wheels delivery site at Amherst Presbyterian Church.

Lynn Kable, president of AGAR, said the poetry on trays project started in 2013, when the arts nonprofit received the National Endowment for the Arts Big Read grant. This year, Kable said, AGAR wanted to distribute poems to as many seniors as possible, especially because many of them are staying home due to concerns amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“In all our events, we’ve had to think creatively about how we can bring the arts and humanities to the community without exposing people to the virus,” Kable said.

While they are being copied and delivered to meal distributors, Kable said the poems are handled by people wearing gloves and masks in order to prevent exposure.

Poems were distributed April 12 through April 19, and more will be distributed this week, Kable said.

Poems from two Virginia-based poets were distributed during April — national poetry month. Ron Smith, who currently serves as the first writer-in-residence at St. Christopher’s School in Richmond, allowed AGAR to copy and distribute his poems “Photograph of My Father and My Mother” and “Old Man Easley Takes His Morning Walk.” Both poems were excerpts from Smith’s book, “Running Again in Hollywood Cemetery.”

LuAnn Keener-Mikenas, a Madison Heights-based poet, contributed several poems for distribution including “Aesop’s Crow,” “Let Joy Come,” “Layers of Old Stuff” and “Daybreak.”

“The goal of art is to uplift,” Keener-Mikenas said. “I’m very glad to participate and hopefully bring some joy to those who receive them.”

Kable said Smith and Keener-Mikenas have both worked with AGAR in the past, appearing on panels and contributing to other projects.

Kable said getting work from local poets requires more behind-the-scenes work as the nonprofit must receive official permissions to copy and redistribute the work, but it’s worth it.

Marcia Robertson, member of the AGAR board of directors and former English professor at Sweet Briar College, said she thinks there’s something special about reading poetry that hits so close to home.

“To many people, poetry seems far off and removed from daily life and the people around them,” Robertson said. “Using Virginia poets and poems is a subtle way to show them that poetry happens here and poetry happens about things they are acquainted with.”

Robertson served as curator for the poetry on trays project, choosing which poems to send out to seniors. She said she chose poems with simple structures and a variety of lengths and themes. Robertson said she hopes seniors see that there are people who care about them and want to make contact with them during this difficult time.

Jeffrey Robey, nutrition program manager for Central Virginia Alliance for Community Living, said seniors receiving poems with their meals through the meals on wheels for seniors program enjoy receiving and reading them as they eat their meals.

“These poems serve to enhance their intellect,” Robey said. “One senior told me it soothes her soul and energizes her mind.”

Jamey Cross covers education. Reach her at (434) 385-5532.

Jamey Cross covers education. Reach her at (434) 385-5532.

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