Claire Hersom and Jay Franzel read poems written by Terry Grasse during a Bookey Readings poetry event at the Bailey Public Library in Winthrop. Both Hersom and Franzel have organized the event since 2015. Grasse was ill and unable to attend. Hersom and Franzel have been organizing the event since 2015. Chris Bouchard/Kennebec Journal

WINTHROP — With the Harlow Gallery in Hallowell set to close at the end of the month, one of the facility’s regular events — the Bookey Readings poetry series — has found a new home in Winthrop.

The event kicked off Saturday at the Bailey Public Library at 39 Bowdoin St. with a Veterans Day-themed poetry reading featuring the work of poet Doug Rawlings, who was drafted into the Army in 1969 and subsequently deployed in Vietnam. Since serving, Rawlings in 1985 joined with four other veterans to form Veterans for Peace, a nonprofit organization that, according to its website, works to expose the true costs of war and militarism.

Shortly after serving, Rawlings discovered a book of poetry by Denise Levertov that had a profound impact. Levertov had spent time as a peace activist in north Vietnam.

“It captured the surreal aspect of that war,” he said. “Poetry just pulled at different strings. I got enraptured with poetry, and I started reading a lot of her stuff, and eventually started trying my own stuff.”

He moved to Maine in 1975 and has taught high school English as well as composition and peace studies at the University of Maine at Farmington.

Rawlings said that while he has “tremendous respect” for prose and other forms of writing, poetry is able to communicate thoughts and feelings in a unique way.


“These words can work in many different ways,” he said.

Jim Mello used to attend the poetry event at the Harlow, and said that, because of the pandemic this is the first time that he and other poets have been able to get together in nearly three years.

“It’s one thing to read poetry on a page,” he said. “It’s another thing to hear it, and it’s certainly another thing to read your own poems out loud.”

He said the Saturday event felt like a reunion.

“It’s just like an oasis for the soul for me, for sure,” he said. “I’m a little nervous, it’s a little scary, but it feels wonderful to reconnect with everyone here.”

Terry Grasse, who was also drafted into the Army during the Vietnam War, was slated to speak at the reading but was unable to attend due to illness. His work, however, was read in his absence.


The Bookey Readings series began more than a quarter century ago at the Harlow Gallery by Ted Bookey, who has held Senior College poetry workshops at the University of Maine at Augusta. Local poets Claire Hersom and Jay Franzel took over organizing the event in 2015.

Both Hersom and Franzel said that with the Harlow building set to be sold, the move to Winthrop made sense.

“We had talked about a move like this in the past and we thought this library would be a really good site because they’re very active in these types of programs, they promote community programs like this,” said Franzel.

He added that the library was well-prepared for the reading, as they recently installed a new ventilation system amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Calla Orion, adult services librarian at the Bailey Public Library, said Hersom had worked with the library to hold individual poetry reading events in Winthrop, but Saturday’s event marked the first time hosting an ongoing series.

Orion said the event’s format will essentially be the same as it was in Hallowell.


“That was part of the appeal of doing it and calling it the Bookey Readings,” she said. “They wanted to keep the same format and the same structure.”

Organizers plan to hold the event the second Saturday of each month until next summer. It would then resume next fall.

Once the monthly featured readers finish, the event opens up to allow guests an opportunity to read their own poetry.

“It’s exciting” Orion said of the kickoff event. “We’re really looking forward to having these poetry readings and regular events where people can experience the wonders of poetry and words, and then share themselves. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

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