Sometimes it’s hard to do justice to the dead.
That sounds like the opening to — or at the very least a halfway decent poster for — a really great revenge thriller instead of what it really is: the preface to a perfectly mild Tuesday afternoon at a local Bellefonte coffee shop.
In a side room, three members of the former Bellefonte Poetry Collective have spent the better part of an hour trying to give life to the late Corene Trevelyn Johnston and despite the paradox implied, it’s been a fun way to pass the time in between sips of coffee, full of the kind of laughter that travels exclusively in the company of fond remembrances.
Georgiana Johnson, Teresa Stouffer and Bibiana Polak are doing their best to explain the kind of woman that they knew Johnston to be. There are stories about goats in the kitchen and long afternoons frolicking in strange gowns — and it’s all really, really good.
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But you still can’t help but get the feeling that you missed out on something.
At 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Johnston’s friends and anyone else interested in joining will gather at the Bellefonte Museum of Art to read and listen to excerpts from “Mud on Her Boots,” a posthumous collection of Johnston’s poetry that Stouffer, Polak and Johnson helped to curate after she succumbed to cancer in 2010.
Because sometimes it’s best to let the dead speak for themselves.
“That’s what poetry can do. It preserves who you are in a very unique way,” Stouffer said.
Johnston had a deep resume, the highlights of which include being a substitute nurse in Bellefonte schools, a Reiki practitioner and she even contributed columns about food to this newspaper.
“Mud on Her Boots” is her curriculum vitae in verse, a collection of life experiences laid out over roughly 199 pages of prose.
“It’s gotten some decent reviews from people we don’t know — and that’s nice,” Polak said.
The heyday of the Bellefonte Poetry Collective had given Polak, Johnson and Stouffer plenty of insight into Johnston’s work.
She was fond of marking life’s big moments with a new poem. Polak received one in honor of her first pregnancy and another when her daughter was baptized.
“Those poems were a specific gift for you on this occasion, and that’s pretty special,” Polak said.
When Johnston died, the three discovered piles of journals and poems scribbled on loose sheets of paper.
Johnson reached out to a friend in publishing and worked with an editor to compile Johnston’s work into a manuscript.
The poems were originally arranged chronologically, but Johnson realized that the poet’s later work, the majority of which involved the cancer that was taking her life inch by inch, would become too oppressive if left lumped all together at the end.
On Friday night, poets such as Glenn Mitchell, Lana Tiche and Alg Jones will take turns reading selections, lending their voice to the one that’s already on the page.
Johnson hopes that the book, which is available to purchase through Amazon or Barnes and Noble’s website, will provide a better introduction to her friend than she ever could.
“You’ve now met a woman who loved life and lived it up until her last day,” Johnson said.