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Words the Thing for South Mountain Poets

The group has a reading Thursday at 7 p.m. in Madison.

The poets were gathered around the table at the Millburn Public Library in October, reviewing their latest work. They debated if a word should have been left in a poem about Penn Station. And there was one poem fitting with the season.

Odarka Stockert, a Millburn resident, apologized for her poem, which had vampire themes. "It is October," she said.

Stockert and her fellow poets are part of the South Mountain Poets, a group that meets monthly at the Millburn Public Library to review each other's work. They come from throughout the area, including Millburn-Short Hills, South Orange, Summit and West Orange. While there are 68 people on the mailing list, there are 12 current active members.

Each month they bring copies of their poems, share them with the group, and critique the work. "It's a lively group," said Judith Christian, of Millburn, and the group's president. "We try to be encouraging."

"There is some sort of word obsession (to be a poet)," said Stockert. "You're just called to do something."

Christian said poetry can be a lonely art, which is why she enjoys coming to the group and to meet other poetry groups.

Patricia McKernon Runkle, of Millburn, said she moved to town two years ago, and one of the first things she did was seek out a poetry group. Not only did she find the group listed online, but the people at the library suggested the group to her.

"They took me right in and helped me get acclimated," she said.

Stockert said plenty of people move out of New Jersey, which is why they leave the group, but the right poets always join the group.

The group started during the mid-1980s, although there was a lull in the time the group was active since then. The group has had a revival in the last five or six years.

"There are a lot of people out there who support us (because they used to be members)," she said. "(A lot of popular poets) seem to come through this group."

While they mainly meet monthly for their readings, they do hold some readings and publish a book of New Jersey poets every two years. They'll hold a reading on Thursday at 7 p.m. at Drip in Madison. "It's an art that's meant to be heard," Christian said.

And the work for the next anthology will begin in early 2010. Christian said because the group is a non-profit, the proceeds from the book help them continue their work. The group has published anthologies in 2006 and 2008.

In today's world of online publishing, there are plenty of places to publish poetry, Christian said, "but it's not to the betterment of poetry."

Stockert said it can be more complicated to figure out where it is worth publishing because of the vast number of places. On the one hand, people can publish entire books of their own work. But some places will never respond about accepting a piece, she said.

"It's why the anthology is so helpful," Christian said. "Regional publications are important because it gives poets an opportunity to be published."

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