Recapping Fall 2022 to Spring 2023: Aging and the Arts Poetry Circle

Sept. 28, 2023


Keeping your mind active is an important part of staying healthy as you age. Our Aging and the Arts Poetry Circles are meant to do just that!

During our past 2022-23 season, Innovations in Healthy Aging (IHA) had a total of seven Aging and the Arts Poetry Circles in a collaboration with the University of Arizona Poetry Center.

We welcomed an average of 15-30 participants in a small group discussion for each Poetry Circle. This is a smaller event that allows people in the community to connect with one another. 

Each month a reading packet is curated by Poetry Center Docents. Participants read the poems out loud and then discuss the work together. The events allowed a chance for attendees to apply the themes to life experiences, sharing stories about community, friendship, grief and joy. 

Many participants attended more than one discussion to create stronger connections under the common theme of healthier aging for all. They also enjoyed our other IHA events, such as our Creative Encounters in Awe Walking and Lecture Series. As we enter the third year of our programming, not only have we built a regular, solid core of people that attend, but these participants have also started inviting their friends as well!

Our meetings were held on Saturdays in the UA Poetry Center or the Health Sciences Innovation Building, which is a hybrid indoor/outdoor space with appropriate room for social distance, and complimentary parking was offered nearby. Read below for a recap and some insights on this past fall 2022 to spring 2023 season.

Aug. 20, 2022: Poetry and Joy

We were happy to see familiar and new faces as we kicked off our first meeting of the season with a great turnout of 34 people. The circles that were around a theme like this one had bigger turnouts and also allowed for more sharing of personal stories.

Our discussion was a heartfelt exploration of the profound emotion of joy, brought to life through the verses of various poets. We ventured into the pages of two exceptional books: "Joy: 100 Poems'' curated by the renowned American poet Christian Wiman, celebrated for his spiritually charged and introspective poetry, and "The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy" edited by John Brehem. In 2017, "The Poetry of Impermanence, Mindfulness, and Joy" was named as one of the top 50 Best Spiritual Books by the Spirituality and Practice website.

Sept. 17, 2022: Rita Dove

We delved into the captivating life and work of Rita Dove for the second topic of the Poetry Circle Series. Dove is a literary trailblazer, being the first African American poet laureate and a senior female voice in American poetry. In 1987, she won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for “Thomas and Beulah,” a book of poems about her grandparents. Dove is currently the Henry Hoyns Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Virginia. Recently, she won a 2022 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, honoring her work that continues to inspire the literary community today.

Oct. 15, 2022: Sandra Cisneros

October’s theme focused on poems from the great Mexican American writer Sandra Cisneros, whose writing pulled from her experiences growing up in Chicago. She is perhaps best known for her book, “The House on Mango Street” published in 1984. It is considered a modern Chicano literature classic, captivating audiences with its evocative storytelling and profound exploration of identity and community that we discussed during this Poetry Circle.

Nov. 19, 2022: Mark Doty and Walt Whitman

In this Poetry Circle, we delved into Mark Doty’s thought-provoking book, "What is the Grass: Walt Whitman in My Life.” In this book, described as an “incisive, personal mediation,” by the New York Times, the writer reflects on Whitman’s ideas about humanity and what it means for his own life. Doty is a National Book Award and Whiting Writers’ Award recipient along with being a Distinguished Professor at Rutgers University. Through Doty's eloquent prose, participants provided insights through their own compelling lens to consider the enduring relevance of Whitman's legacy in the modern world.

Feb. 18, 2023: EcoPoetry

We dove headfirst into the kickoff of the spring season through the topic of ecopoetry, where the power of poetic words meets the urgency of ecological messages. This gathering was one that inspired its attendees to explore the relationship between themselves and the environment. During this discussion, we touched upon a diverse range of poets, including work by Wendy Burk, Alison Hawthorne Deming, Natalie Diaz, Joy Harjo, Tony Hoagland, Eric Magrane, W.S. Merwin, Czelaw Milosz, N. Scott Momaday, Simon J. Ortiz, Mary Oliver, Ofelia Zepeda and Robert Bly.

March 18, 2023: Jane Hirshfield

We celebrated the talent of Jane Hirshfield in our March Poetry Circle. Hirishfield is an American poet, writer and translator whose fifteen published books, nine of them verse, have received numerous honors. Her poetry books include Ledger, The Beauty, long-listed for the 2015 National Book Award, and After, short-listed for England’s T.S. Eliot Award and named a “best book of 2006” by The Washington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle and England’s Financial Times. 

Our celebration of Jane Hirshfield didn’t end with our poetic exploration. This event allowed participants to become familiar with her work before she visited the Poetry Center for a reading on April 13.

April 15, 2023: Richard Shelton

“Very few can rival the sense of place that so imbued his poems and prose, and which became one of his great and enduring subjects. An avid environmentalist, he treated the Sonoran Desert with fear, awe and reverence, aware always of its great power and fragility.” – University of Arizona Poetry Center Executive Director Tyler Meier

We wrapped up the season with a discussion of the late Richard Shelton’s work. A Regents Professor at the University of Arizona, he was a director of the Creative Writing Program and the University of Arizona Poetry Center, a Faculty Fellow, and a Flinn Scholar mentor. Governor Janet Napolitano proclaimed April 22, 2006, "Richard Shelton Day" to recognize his accomplishments as a writer, his service to the Poetry Center and the University, and his mentorship of fledgling writers both inside and outside the University. 

Much of his work celebrated the Sonoran Desert than he loved. In all, Shelton has published twelve books or chapbooks of poetry, and his poems and essays have appeared in more than 200 magazines and literary journals.

Looking forward to the next 2023-24 season 

IHA’s Poetry Circle isn’t just an opportunity to get out of the isolation of our homes and talk to others on a Saturday afternoon: It’s a chance to make lifelong connections with those in the community.

IHA’s Aging and the Arts is now preparing for the next series of Poetry Circle meetings. Our first event will be on the work of Timothy Donnelly, who also reads at the Poetry Center on Oct. 19. To stay updated on our upcoming Poetry Circle events, check out our calendar listing on our website.

We offer other events as well, such as our Aging and the Arts Creative Encounters in Awe Walking or our Lecture Series. For more updates on our events and to stay connected to the community, sign up for our newsletter here

Learn more about Innovations in Healthy Aging by visiting our website. Check out our other upcoming events on our events page. Connect with us socially on Facebook and Instagram.

We hope to see you soon!