Couple plant artistic seed in borough

June 20, 2003|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Walk into Cup 'O Joe on a Friday night and harken back to the days of Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs and other Beat Generation poets.

Since 2001, a Greencastle couple, John and Suzanne Gamble, have been running what they like to call a 1950s-style poetry coffee house in the little coffee shop that Leigh Martin opened at 21 E. Baltimore St. in January of that year.

"We try to create a comfortable, homey kind of atmosphere where people can come in and share their creativity," Suzanne said.


Poetry nights run on the third or fourth Friday from 7 to 9 p.m. every other month in Cup 'O Joe, Suzanne Gamble said. There is no cover charge.

They were held in private homes before moving to the coffee shop.

The poetry nights have developed a core following of about a dozen patrons.

Some nights as many as 25 people show up, Suzanne said.

"We advertise for people to come in and read poetry, either their own or their favorite poets," she said. "Some people just come in to listen. It's for anyone who loves poetry."

Suzanne said about half of the people who show up write poetry "and are brave enough to read it. The audience is non-judgmental and very supportive," she said.

"We met on a Friday night after Sept. 11. Some people brought in poems they had just written about it and others read poetry that they found that related (to) what had happened. It was very emotional," she said.

One woman who had been housebound due to an illness came in one night for the poetry readings. "It was her first time out in months," Suzanne said. "She wrote a poem while she was sitting there then read it afterwards. It was very moving. Now she's a regular. You never know what's going to happen."

Suzanne said there has been a poetry renaissance in the last few years that stretches from New York to California and to the cities and small towns in between. "I feel that what we are doing is part of that," she said.

Some day, she said, she would like to bring in a professional reader and is looking for some grant money to pay for it.

Suzanne's favorite poet is Billy Collins, the current poet laureate of the United States.

She and her husband founded the Greencastle Area Arts Council about 20 years ago.

"We did it out of desperation and boredom," said Suzanne, 54, an art therapist by profession and a stay-at-home mom.

John Gamble, 59, retired as a Greencastle-Antrim Middle School teacher in 2001.

"This is a small town," Suzanne said. "Twenty years ago it was even smaller. There wasn't a lot going on culturally."

The council has a loosely organized membership of about 80 families, she said. Among other things, the group sponsors performance artists in the schools, she said. The council brought in a professional mime for Greencastle's 2001 Old Home Week celebration.

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