Volume 78 / Number 21 - October 22 - 28, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photos by Caroline Debevec

Jerry Halpern, above, and Sarah Zenis, Greenwich House Senior Center poet leader, below, shared their poetry with the workshop group.

Senior poets, well versed in life’s rhyme and reason

By Albert Amateau

Poems, alive and thriving, flew around the fourth-floor room at Greenwich House on Tuesday afternoon as they do the second and fourth Tuesdays of every month when “Poetry for You and Me,” the Greenwich House Senior Center poetry workshop, meets.

“I don’t remember missing once in the past 15 years,” said Sarah Zenis, the leader of the Greenwich House workshop. Zenis, a published poet and Lambs Club member, also leads another group that reads poetry at senior centers all around town.

One of her poems recalls the house where she grew up in Lynn, Mass.

I knew I was there.
Footprints scraped on worn pavements,
Dented into deep ridge,
Painful wisps of grass.

Zenis said she began writing poems in grammar school. She graduated from high school during the Depression and began working as a bookkeeper.

“I came to New York in 1954 and was lucky to meet Ruth Lisa Schechter, a wonderful poet, and took courses with her. She was my mentor,” Zenis recalled.

George Spencer read his haiku in honor of a Greenwich House workshop member, Pud Hudson, a painter and poet, who died last month at the age of 90.

A child she swallowed a fiery star
And gave it back
Painting by painting
Poem by poem

Spencer, a Village resident, spends half the year in Quito, Ecuador.

“My girlfriend is from there,” he explained. He began presenting his poems at Greenwich House about five years ago and has had two books of poetry published by Poets Wear Prada, a Hoboken poetry publisher.

Spencer was in Quito on Sept. 30 at a poetry slam, “Poeta vs. Poeta,” that he sponsors there at Café Libro.

“There are four universities around the cafe; it’s a great place for a program like that,” Spencer said. “About 125 people came to the slam. It’s going to be held on the last Tuesday of every month.”

Lily Georgick comes to the Greenwich House poetry workshop from Jackson Heights. She started writing poems 30 years ago and has been bringing them to Greenwich House for 11 years. Her poems celebrate jazz, sex, Shakespeare and ancient Greece.

“I have a fever about Greek mythology,” she said. The first two lines of one of her poems reads:

Oh to be in the ancient arms of Athens
Where philosophy, comedy and tragic tales were spun.

The poem, written in 2007 ends with:

Athena, if I could get free passage
Either from Olympic or any airline
I’d be in your ancient arms right now!

Back in 2004, Georgick was watching a TV news program about the upcoming Olympics, featuring Mayor Dora Bakoyannis of Athens.

“Everyone was worried about terrorism, and the mayor — she was 6 feet tall and dressed all in black — pleaded for people to come. So I booked a flight and I went,” Georgick recalled.

Tom Sergott, who describes himself as an “out of work actor,” and has posed as a studio model in various art schools, has been presenting his poems at the Greenwich House workshop for two years. His recent poem reflects world concerns:

As the new century unfolds
Instead of clean air we get hot air
Instead of air filled with concert sounds
We get …. Charged & discarded

Alisha Ritt, a pianist who teachers music at Nassau Community College, has been writing poems since she was 7.

“It increased greatly since I was divorced — a great spur to aspirations,” she quipped. Her poems have appeared in Lucidity magazine. An English-themed pub in the Theater District used to have a poetry night where Ritt read her poems to a tape of herself playing piano.

“The people who ran the event gave up and the pub is gone,” said Ritt. Her poems have humor and a wry twist: One of them includes these lines:

Some say I must find my path back to God,
But I say that all sounds very odd. I’m
Not as spiritual as you think
To begin I’ll do the dishes left in the sink.

Jerry Halpern, who runs Music Inn World Instruments on W. Fourth St., after having roved the nation’s roads and byways, says he’s been writing poetry for two years. But reading his 20-to-30-line love poems make you know the woman of his life — whoever she might be. “Loose Ends,” begins:

Hello, Babe! I’m in love with
Your loose ends: the clothes you
Peel off and toss helter-skelter
When you change to go out or get
Ready for sleep; the shoes that are
Strewn about, except for one pair,
Creamy-tan with short heels, standing
Together, waiting for your graceful
Feet

Edward Kearon Lorenzo, Village born and Village grown, hangs out at Halpern’s Music Inn. He speaks softly but boastfully.

“I’m Greenwich Village’s least favorite son. I’ve ripped off half the people and made love to the other half,” he said, sounding as if he’s said it once or twice before.

How did he come to Greenwich House?

“Sarah turned me on to it. She saw me passing out poems to pretty young matrons. I’d tell them, ‘I’ve got a nickel bag of haiku grass.’ I used to sell nickel bags.”

Lorenzo’s latest poem for an old flame, a guitarist, starts:

Pheromone her fire flies
The night in gal sang lullabys
A bug aglow our Shangri-La
Bud light a bungalowinbra

The poem also rhymes “Habitual barb amphetamine” with “But hear! I heard a robin sing”

Lorenzo said he started writing verse when he was doing five days in a holding cell in The Tombs back in 1968.

“I knew I was getting out — just waiting for the results of the lab test. I knew it was only oregano.”

Lorenzo’s credentials as a true Villager came out when he waxed indignant about the 15-foot-tall bronze statue of Miguel Cervantes, the author of “Don Quixote.”

“It was given to New York City by the mayor of Madrid in 1986 and it was in Bryant Park until 1989, when the city gave it to N.Y.U.,” he said. “They put it in that little garden between the Mews and Washington Square North. It belongs to the city, and it should be in Washington Square Park,” he insisted.

The “Poetry for You and Me” workshop went intergenerational this spring. Spencer endowed a poetry competition for Stuyvesant High School graduating seniors with prizes of $250, $150 and $100. First prize went to Christina Martin of Manhattan for “Burned Soldier.” Linda Meth, also of Manhattan, took second prize and Mark Chrugano of Brooklyn took third prize.

“We have a group of remarkable people who write wonderful poems,” said Zenis, paying tribute to Greenwich House Senior Center for sponsoring the workshop. The Senior Center, directed by Anthony Cilione, last year published a paperback, 56-page booklet of poems by 18 poets who attend the workshop.

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