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‘Left of the Bank’ to use rhyme, prose to help library

By Staff | Sep 29, 2017

Now in its 13th year, the “Left of the Bank” fundraiser has become a cultural staple in Shepherdstown. Raising funds for the Shepherdstown Public Library, the annual event brings together poets, musicians and other various beatnik community members to celebrate local rhyme and prose.

In the fundraiser’s tenure, Ed Zahniser has served as emcee and poetry performer. According to Zahniser, many repeat attendees consider this event one of the “premier events of Shepherdstown.”

“Winnie Bernat started it all. The format hasn’t varied in 13 years,” Zahniser said. “We have six poets reading in two different sets. Musicians perform once during each set and during intermission. I’ve emceed since the beginning and I usually read poems as well. Each poet reads for nine minutes.”

While the purpose of the event is to provide some much needed monies to the library, Zahniser said it also serves as a celebration of Shepherdstown’s poetry scene.

“Shepherdstown has a very active poetry community. Hope Snyder, the town’s poet laureate, makes sure poetry is recognized in town. Snyder and Mayor Jim Auxer instituted a Shepherdstown ‘Poem of the Month’ in 2016, which is posted on the wall of Town Hall. So far we have run works by 16 or 17 local poets. Each poem is selected by Snyder with input from other local poets,” Zahniser said.

According to Zahniser, the fundraiser provides for a generous donation to the library.

“We usually raise between $4,000 and $5,000,” he said.

This year’s funds are marked for use toward the library’s current building fund, according to Friends of Shepherdstown Library member Vicki Hodziewich.

Those familiar with the Left of the Bank fundraiser will be pleased to see some returning – and new – faces and voices this year, Zahniser said.

“Betty Ellzey, who is head of the English department at Shepherd – whose specialty is medieval literature – will be reading Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in the original language. Several years ago she read from Beowulf in the original Anglo Saxon, as well,” he said. “Most of these poets will read from their own works. We have longtime town poet Christa Mastrangelo who studied poetry with Richard Garcia. A newcomer to Shepherdstown named Ray Sibley who has run Shakespeare theater festivals. We have a young poet named Kristyn Lee who started the Young People’s Slam Poetry competitions at the Charles Town Library. Stanley Niamatali, who was born and raised in the Republic of Guyana, won the 2015 Guyana Prize of Best First Book of Poetry. He has also been a member of the Shepherdstown Bookend Poets Group for many years.”

According to Zahniser, the Bookend Poets Group, which goes back to the early 1970s, was formed so that local poets could come together and critique each other’s work. Zahniser said that he hopes the fundraiser, along with the town’s Bookend group and First Sunday reading group, will help bring poetry back to the forefront of the American consciousness.

“Throughout the course of the program, there will be some mentions of the current poetry scene in the United States. There is more poetry being published on websites and in print now than ever in the history of the country – all despite the relative invisibility of poetry,” he said. “We are hoping for a revival of the market so that financial conditions of poets will return to the days of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow who once sold a poem for today’s equivalent of $30,000. Shepherdstown has a good start on that given its community, but without the payout – yet.”

“The Left of the Bank: Magical Evening of Poetry and Music” fundraiser will take place on Saturday, Oct. 7, from 7 to 9:30 p.m. in the Casa Carlos e Isabel, located at 202 S. Princess St., next to Jefferson Security Bank. Tickets are $40, with space limiting the attendees to 90. Call or visit the Shepherdstown Public Library at 304-876-2783 for tickets. Cash, check and credit cards are accepted. If there are tickets left on the night of the event, they can be purchased at the door. Free parking will be available at Jefferson Security Bank.

For more information about the Bookends Poets Group, which meets on the second Thursday of each month from 7 to 9 p.m. at Four Season’s Books, contact Tom Donlon at TDonlon3@comcast.net. For more information on the First Sunday reading group, which meets at 6 p.m. at 309 Tinsley Circle, contact Tim Ross at redross44@yahoo.com.