“It’s taken a long time to describe myself as a traveling poet, but really that’s who I am and that’s what I do,” declared Verandah Porche, a teacher, poet and self-professed muse for hire. When Christian McEwen found out that StoryCorps was coming to Springfield, Massachusetts, she asked her good friend and colleague, Verandah, to join her in the booth to talk about her poetry and poetic collaborations with others.
“My poetry always had a private purpose to clean my heart and a public purpose to explore the connections I had with the world. But always, friendship has been central to my life,” says Verandah. “I’ve been educated by my friends. I’ve been fed and conversely fed my friends. I’ve shoveled the barn with my friends, and I really developed a way of working from talking and listening. I have had complete strangers become my friends through sharing my own poems and listening to their words and finding the poetry in it. I was their muse for hire or most often for free, but sometimes for hire. I went from teaching in the schools, which I still do to writing poems to commemorate people’s moments and milestones to working in nursing homes and giving writing workshops in nursing homes,” recalls Verandah.
“I gave all the cagey old ladies who were in this first nursing home in Ludlow, Vermont, they had their TV trays and they had their pencils, and I read them all kinds of poems to get them juiced up, some of mine and some poems that I thought they would greatly like. They were all smiling and nodding and I said and now it’s your turn. They put their pencils firmly on their TV trays you could hear the click, and they said Ã«No, we can’t write because we’re old and we have nothing to say and we have shaky hands and what are you gonna do now?’ You know it was way worse than facing a classroom full of recalcitrant hicks because they had my number. And so I said okay, well, talk to me.”
That was just the beginning of a new collaboration between the elderly ladies and Verandah in which she would write down the ladies’ words and create told poems. Since then Verandah has had similar collaborations with other communities through schools, hospitals, prisons and adult literacy programs. “Mainly,” says Verandah, “I wasn’t interested in their information so much, or even in their turn of phrase so much as the passionate recollection, the saying of something they had never told before.”