Columbus-based poet Paula Lambert knows that Shirley has changed a lot in the years since she lived in the village with her family, but she still calls it home. A member of the fifth generation of Lamberts born in town, she grew up listening to her father and grandfather talk about their own childhoods and the people who came before.

Now she tells her own stories, with several published collections and other works that she shares in readings and performances in her area and, later this month, in her hometown.

"Poetry After Midnight" will be held on June 22, at 6 p.m., in the Historic Meeting House on the Common, and will feature readings from her first full-length collection of poems, "The Sudden Seduction of Gravity."

"It's a book which centers around the concept of falling," she explains. "It has four parts: 'Falling Down,' 'Falling Apart,' 'Falling into Despair' and 'Falling into Place.' I'll be reading plenty of new work, though, too, from a collection tentatively titled 'Not All the Bones of Birds Are Hollow.'"

Lambert, who holds a Master of Fine Arts in creative-writing from Bowling Green State University, regularly reads her poetry in Ohio and enjoys that aspect of her art.

"We are long used to thinking of poetry as something very dry and complicated, hard to understand and tied to academia. That's unfortunate, and it's frankly untrue. Poetry is an oral tradition and slam brought it back into those roots," she said.


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As part of the Meeting House event, Lambert will invite others to read their work in an open mic session. "I'll look forward to hearing what other people bring to read. Columbus, where I live now, has open mic shows nearly every night of the week and I co-host one of them. It's really exciting to hear a mix of voices and styles and ideas. It makes for a wonderfully entertaining evening," she notes, "and I really hope poetry becomes a regular event here in Shirley."

As a student at Lura A. White, Lambert remembers that the late Al Yesue, a long-time, beloved eighth-grade English teacher, was one of the first to take her writing seriously.

"My first Master's thesis was a novel and I dedicated it to him. I sent him a lot of my work off and on through the years, always wanted to share, to make him proud, to thank him," she said. She credits Yesue and Charles Tellier, who taught seventh-grade English, with being instrumental in her wanting to become a writer. (And she fondly remembers then-principal Burt Coffman as "as prince of a man.")

Shirley, she says, lends her a sense of security: "It's in knowing where home is and keeping that connection alive." Her parents still live in "the village," close to the train tracks.

"Whenever I felt the limits of growing up in a small town, I was comforted by the idea you could hop that train to see that city, and by extension, I guess, the whole world. I wanted to see the world, live in lots of places. And I have."

But the connection with Shirley remains.

"My closest friends then are still among my closest friends now, and it's pretty remarkable that our parents and, in some cases, even our grandparents had all been friends, had grown up together," she continues.

Her memories include buying penny candy at "Brockie's" (Brockelman's) for family Bingo games or "Oscar Roux smiling so sweetly to us and patting our cheeks when we'd go into his store. The children's events held at the War Memorial building ... those things are huge and very visceral."

She also recalls longtime Lura A. White custodian Melvin Longley with a smile.

"He would occasionally make funny faces into the classrooms when the kids could see him and the teachers couldn't, and he was kind, kind, kind," she says. ("Mr. Longley," as he was known, also has a close connection to the Meeting House: In the 1980s, he singlehandedly restored its interior as a donation to the town and a plaque in his honor hangs on the building's front wall.)

Lambert is looking forward to performing her poetry at home. Poetry, she says, is something that our culture needs.

"Performance poetry is wildly entertaining, but poetry of all kinds is something people need, something our culture cries out for," she explains. "The publishing industry has exploded in recent years and the number of online journals has increased dramatically, not just in quantity, but in quality. There are really fine journals out there and they are no longer just limited to university presses and programs.

"The huge and growing number of open mic venues across the country is testament to how many people truly love poetry. It's absolutely thriving!" she said.

-- Melissa Lynch