Chris Rosenblum: Aaronsburg poet hopes to build trust, inspire others

Abby Minor, a poet from Aaronsburg, has started a poetry class, The Poetry Path, at the Indigo Wren’s Nest Wellness Centre at 111 S. Spring St. in Bellefonte.
Abby Minor, a poet from Aaronsburg, has started a poetry class, The Poetry Path, at the Indigo Wren’s Nest Wellness Centre at 111 S. Spring St. in Bellefonte. Photo provided

In his first inauguration address during the depths of the Great Depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously said the only thing people had to fear was fear itself.

When Abby Minor inspires others, she follows the same thought.

Minor, a poet from Aaronsburg, has started a poetry class, The Poetry Path, at the Indigo Wren’s Nest Wellness Centre at 111 S. Spring St. in Bellefonte. She launched her series Saturday, and subsequent meetings will take place 10-11:15 a.m. every fourth Saturday of the month.

It’s the latest class for Minor, whose teaching experience includes poetry workshops at the Salem Hill Haven personal care facility near Spring Mills and creative writing courses at Penn State.

She brings to The Poetry Path series a philosophy confirmed time and again: Poetic creativity bubbles within everyone.

Typically, she has come to understand, people doubt that. They don’t like poetry, some might say, or they’re not good at it.

Their reactions make Minor think of the poet Muriel Rukeyser, who wrote in “The Life of Poetry” that we are a culture of people who don’t trust our own emotional responses.

Minor wants to build that trust.

“I think one of the things I really value with teaching poetry and writing with people is hoping that we can be a people who honor and explore our emotional responses to the world, rather than deny or hide them,” she said.

Perhaps blocks stem from school, to worrying about grades and being judged. Whatever the case, it boils down to fear, “a fear of feeling” Minor wants to help people overcome.

“I have observed that people seem healthier, happier and maybe even able to make changes in the world and in their own lives when they have had satisfying creative experiences, and when they’ve been seen as creative by others,” she said.

Her own path to poetry began while growing up in Julian. She attended the State College Friends School, then stayed in State College for high school before moving on to Smith College in Massachusetts.

Following graduation, she spent a year in the AmeriCorps, the prelude to her return to Centre County. Periodic visits to a friend working in Millheim revealed a new home.

“I didn’t intend to come back to the area, but I fell in love with Penns Valley,” she said.

In 2011, a year after moving, she entered the creative writing MFA program at Penn State. There, she took an influential class, “The Writer in the Community,” taught by the Bellefonte poet Julia Kasdorf.

Minor delved into the history of implementing writing groups in non-academic settings, such as senior homes and shelters.

“It opened my eyes to some of the ways that creative writing can be transformative and special for people,” she said.

Inspired, she secured a Pennsylvania Council on the Arts grant three years ago and began the Salem Hill Haven writing group. Still going strong, it prepared Minor for when Indigo Wren’s Nest owner Bess Whitman came calling.

Whitman wanted Minor to resurrect a local poetry class that had petered out. Minor liked the idea of holding one in a place dedicated to healing, and she embraced the project.

“It feels like a good fit to me,” she said.

She envisions The Poetry Path classes as more of an informal means of sparking imaginations — centered around the experience of conjuring images and language — than classic workshops focused on crafting “the product.” Her plans include collaborative thinking and writing exercises, and solo writings in response to prompts.

“The approach will be playful, inquisitive and communal; we’ll write, read, talk, draw, imagine and enjoy the supportive writing community we create,” Minor’s class description said.

Fresh ideas, new approaches: Minor hopes for an atmosphere akin to musicians gathering to jam, playing off each other, improvising, growing.

“It’s always enlivening to be in a creative community with others,” she said. “I’m not so much a teacher as a writer who wants to spend time with others in a creative context, to make a space where creative work and community can happen.

“This is a profoundly peaceful way to interact with others — not that it’s always easy, but it’s a way of peace-building.”

The Poetry Path isn’t her only endeavor in the works. This spring, she’s starting a series of outdoor creative writing adventures at local farms for girls ages 9-14, as well as after-school art classes in Aaronsburg.

She’s also writing a book-length collection of poems, exploring, as she’s drawn to do, social and environmental issues and their relationships to beauty.

“I think writing and reading realized poems — or making or receiving any realized art — is one of the ways that we can become more compassionate, with ourselves and with others,” she said.

“Poetry, like science, is just another way to study reality. Studying reality prepares us to make changes large and small.”

In the coming months, if Minor’s vision for The Poetry Path holds true, others will walk away from Spring Street seeing the world — any maybe themselves — differently. Drop-ins are welcome for the $10 sessions.

For the fee, Minor intends to invigorate people of all creative stripes, to remind poets of why and how they weave and to introduce novices to the same pleasures.

In the end, it’ll come down to pushing both further, channeling FDR’s immortal message.

“If we’re not surprising ourselves, it’s not good,” she said. “I think, really, the only risk people run is being scared to abandon cliches.

“As soon as you write something that’s cliche, you’re not surprised any more. I’m sure I’ll be surprised at some of the things people say and that we write together.”