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Graying Qns. poetry club seeks next generation

The Fresh Meadows Poets Society has had a dedicated membership since its founding 25 years ago, but its existence is at risk due to a lack of new blood, particularly from the ranks of younger people.

Looking to the future, President George Northrup is now concerned with the sustainability of the group.

“The problem is our members are very loyal, but they’re getting old,” Northrup said in an interview. “A number are now so old or so frail that they can’t get to meetings. They may send in their dues and everything to support us in that way, but their health is touch-and-go.”

The Fresh Meadows Poets is a nonprofit organization founded in 1986 by the Fresh Meadows public library, its first official meeting area. The group hosts meetings on the second and fourth Saturday of each month from 10:15 a.m. to noon. The members present readings of original poetry only, which are then critiqued by a panel. They also take part in discussions about organizational activities.

“Our purpose is to promote poetry in Queens,” said Northrup, who joined the Fresh Meadows Poets in 2003 after reading an obituary of a founding member. “It mentioned that she was a poet and a psychotherapist and a Buddhist and I thought to myself, ‘Well this could be the group for me.’” He has been president since 2006.

The Fresh Meadows Poets sponsors two annual contests for high school students in Queens. The Poetry Contest for Teenagers features cash prizes for first-, second- and third-place winners. The teens must submit five poems. The winner receives the title of “Queens Teen Poet Laureate” and is invited for a guest appearance on the Fresh Meadows Poets’ monthly television program on Queens Public Television. The teens, of course, are also invited to become members.

Despite the organization’s sponsorship of programs for teenagers, there is currently no teenage membership.

The Fresh Meadows Poets have also taken the initiative to attempt to form an alliance with the St. John’s University’s English Department. The group hopes to have readings with the students and even recruit some members. Northrup has considered creating subgroups within the organization based on age ranges, such as adolescent, teen, adult and senior, so that members can feel more comfortable among their peers.

The age of members ranges from 30s to 85 and up, with few members in their 30s and 40s.

The broadcast on QPTV usually features lectures on poetry by poet laureates of different regions. It has spotlighted poet laureates from Queens, Suffolk County and Pennsylvania. Poets read their original work and are coaxed with a few questions from a moderator.

In addition to having its private meetings, the group is involved in several service functions throughout Queens, including public readings. They host workshops to encourage people to try their hand at poetry writing. They also hold readings at several public locations including the Barnes & Noble on Union Turnpike in Fresh Meadows, the Queens Botanical Garden in Flushing, senior citizens centers, nursing homes, and the YMCA. Yet another perk of being a member is being a part of “Freshet,” the yearly anthology that the group comes out with.

“It’s with the idea of offering free access to poetry to people who might not otherwise have it,” Northrup explained.

Although they have only had a partnership with the Queens Botanical Garden for about a year, the group plans to schedule two readings a year in the garden. Northrup said the Queens Botanical Garden is enthusiastic about the Fresh Meadows Poets readings.

“The combination works well; nature and poetry,” Northrup said.

Membership is welcomed both in and outside of Queens. Despite the slightly misleading name, the Fresh Meadows Poets is not comprised primarily of Fresh Meadows residents. There are members from Nassau County and other Queens neighborhoods such as Flushing and Forest Hills. There are also several out-of-state members from Massachusetts, Pennsylvania and even commuters from Florida.

“We really need to find people who are at least somewhat younger who are willing to join and play a part in promoting poetry,” Northrup said.

To join the Fresh Meadows Poets, you must send in a cover letter, 10 original poems and a $10 reading fee to the following address: Fresh Meadows Poets, PO Box 650625, Fresh Meadows, NY 11365. For more information on the Fresh Meadows Poets, visit freshmeadowspoets.org.

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