By Adriana Camacho-Church
On October 14, Delaware’s longest continuously running poetry reading group will celebrate its 40th anniversary.
The celebration takes place at The Chancery Market in the Hercules Building at 13th and Market in Wilmington.
2nd Saturday Poets was born on the day the U.S. made National Poetry Day official — October 15, 1983. Since then, local poets and authors have kept Delaware’s public readings alive, creating a literary legacy and tradition that has survived 40 years.
“There is a kind of accumulated wealth in a tradition and it is the inheritance of future generations.” says Phillip Bannowsky, 79, who currently helps manage the group.
A member of 2nd Saturday Poets since 1983, Bannowsky, is a retired autoworker, an educator, a college adjunct, and an award-winning author and poet.
“Poetry, like art, is anything you can get away with,” says Bannowsky, when asked to define poetry.
And why does it matter? “It matters because it evokes human solidarity and the varieties of human experience,” he says. “Like music, it can elicit a sublime experience in the reader or listener.”
Before the 1980s, public readings were rare and sometimes exclusive. In the 1960s and ‘70s, local poets gathered in private to read their poems to one another. Eventfully, this led to staging public readings.
In 1983, a group of 10 poets gathered at the now-closed O’Friel’s Irish Pub in Wilmington to read to a live audience. After the readings, the owner invited the group back — on the next second Saturday. And a new poetry tradition was born
O’Friel’s became the principal outlet for many writers and poets in Delaware, including e. jean Lanyon, who was appointed Poet Laureate of Delaware in 1979. Lanyon is also a 2nd Saturday Poets founder and has the longest tenure of any member.
Although the group is not a formal organization, Bannowsky estimates there are about 200 folks on the mailing list. Currently, 2nd Saturday Poets is managed by Bannowsky and Bert Moniz, poet and former DuPont engineer.
Most of those who read are local or from the tri-state area. Writers from all walks participate, bringing their original work to share or reading from a favorite author. There are also musical performances, haiku, and fiction.
O’Friel’s Pub isn’t the only venue the 2nd Saturday Poets has outlived. The Jackson Inn was the group’s gathering spot for years, but that historic venue closed in March 2023. Still, the poetry lives on.
2nd Saturday Poets has survived “because many poets and local poetry lovers have wanted it to survive,” says Steven Leech, who also helped found the organization and is an author, poet, publisher, radio personality and former contributor to Out & About. “It feels gratifying to be part of Delaware’s literary legacy. I believe we’ve accomplished something on which future generations can build.”
The group aims to continue to enrich Delaware’s art culture, inspire and encourage novice and seasoned writers, and provide a venue where the written word can be heard.
Future plans include providing hybrid Zoom/live performances and attracting the next generation of Delaware writers as well as a new generation to manage the group. 2nd Saturday Poets also plans to collaborate more with other local reading groups.
“Fortunately, we are not the only game in town as all kinds of readings have proliferated without our help,” says Bannowsky.
Some of these reading groups include Books and Bagels, Diverse Verses Community, and Arden Writers Guild.
— If you would like to be on the 2nd Saturday Poets mailing list, please contact Barbara Gray at [email protected].