Welcome to Poetry Friday and the many poems Amy is rounding up over at The Poem Farm.
Today I want to share a wondrous day filled with generosity and poetry on Little Cranberry Island, also known as Islesford, off the coast of Bar Harbor, Maine.
The sky was clear blue and the ocean sparkled in the sunlight as the mail boat ferried us past lobstermen hauling traps on a late August day. My husband and I were on our way to the new Ashley Bryan Center to pay homage to the 91 year-old storyteller, poet, artist and illustrator I had met thirteen years ago at my MFA program. We also were meeting a relative who lives on this special little island.
Because angels and perhaps muses were leading the way, we met Ashley at the Center, and he invited us to his home. Now you have to understand that Ashley is the most gracious, kind soul on the planet. He travels far and wide to inspire others, supports literacy and well building projects in African countries, and dearly loves the children in the island school named for him. He is the best performance poet, performing files of poems from his spacious memory. And he was part of the Normandy Invasion!
At the small Center, we followed the timeline of his life, discovered his stained glass windows, and marveled at the puppets he has created from flotsam and jetsam found on the island's beaches. His new book gives each puppet its own poem, like the one for Kwesi the elephant.
Later, Jeri, our lunch host, brought us to Ashley's home. The creative energy in that space is astounding. Paintings, puppets, mobiles, African carvings, statues, shells, stones cover every inch of space on walls, surfaces and ceiling. He welcomed us upstairs in his studio where illustrations for his new book are on one work surface, stained glass on another, and large, new paintings stand on the floor. He told us how his long ago introduction to the cellist Pablo Casals changed his approach to painting. Ashley began to follow the rhythm of his hand to paint the interaction in a scene rather than try for realism.
Downstairs at his table, he recited Keats, Dickinson, Langston Hughes and Rilke in both English and German, all to illustrate points he had made about rhythm. He autographed the book I had purchased by the harbor, and acted like we had honored him by visiting on our wedding anniversary.
After saying goodbye, we walked a pebbled beach on Ashley's island. It was one of the most perfect days I can remember.