In 1962, Jennifer Gaden and Anne Corson graduated from Smith College together. They hadn’t known each other when then first arrived in Northampton. The school had assigned them to be roommates, and now they were friends.
Both were English majors. Anne was also an artist, and she continued with that after graduation. Jennifer went on to teach elementary school on Long Island, until the first of her three children came along. She didn’t take up poetry until 10 years ago, when her husband died and her life moved in new directions. She plunged into it as she does into life as a resident at Westminster-Canterbury of the Blue Ridge – with energy and commitment.
And so it was natural that Jennifer and Anne decided to create something special to mark their 60th college reunion in 2022: a book of their poems and paintings. They didn’t do it for the marketplace; they just did it for their families and friends, and for each other.
The book is called Images in Paintings and Poems. It came out in December, and she and her fellow residents, with the help of the Library Committee, celebrated its publication at a special event in the Monticello Room in January.
Our “Happenings” newsletter reported that “In most of the poems, readers will recognize Jennifer’s intense interest in the sights and sounds of nature.” Jennifer agrees with that. The article also said, “Many of her images are derived from observations made in Albemarle County and environs.” True enough, although her work certainly isn’t limited to that.
Sometimes it’s about as local as you can get, such as in the poem titled “To Mr. Daniel Swarovski, inventor of the machine to cut lead glass.” It’s about “a crystal ball, about the size of a lemon,” that hangs in a window in her apartment at WCBR. Or rather, about what that piece of lead glass does to light, turning it into a rainbow of colors:
The shapes fall randomly
onto the white sofa
and the blue cushions propped at its corners,
across the tapestry of the Hebrides in moonlight
the portrait of my sister.
On the ceiling, on the floor….
Her fascination with the natural world comes out more clearly in “The Shadow of a Warbler,” which states in part:
…Tree and bird conspire
in a world of deep knowing
of which I have only the faintest sense….
But humans come in for close and engaging examination in another local observation. Jennifer does not name the woman whose manner while panhandling on a local road so impressed her. But many local friends in the Charlottesville area said they knew exactly who the subject was. An excerpt:
It’s her dignity that gets to me.
She paces the concrete strip
between opposing lanes of traffic,
back straight, nodding
courteously as she smiles at each
driver who dares make eye contact
when forced to stop at the traffic light…
Jennifer and her husband came to live in the Charlottesville area 43 years ago, when he came to the University of Virginia to teach chemical engineering. So she had many friends in town when she decided to move to WCBR.
Her decision “had a lot to do with family,” and not wanting to make any of her children “be responsible for overseeing my life.” She wanted to make her own decisions, and do it while she was still active and independent. “I knew a lot of people here,” and she knew this to be “a very vibrant community.”
As she puts it, “Believe me, you don’t come here to die. You come here to live a very active senior life.” And you do it among a fascinating community of people who came here to do the same thing.
People such as Jennifer, the poet.