About a Poet: Peggy Freydberg

Photo by Eli Dagostino
Something that had always been in her, and now has seen the light of day. Read Margaret Howe Freydberg's poems here:

I met Margaret Howe Freydberg 17 years ago when we were both speakers at the first Chilmark Women’s Symposium. She read her poem, “A Letter to My Family Explaining How I Feel About My Cats.” I loved it and I loved her. Instantly. I knew we would be friends.

But then life got in the way, and I did nothing about making our paths cross again. When she turned 100, I went to her reading at the Chilmark library, and this time I was determined to make this friendship happen. But then my son Dan got sick, and my path took a sharp left turn.

This year three people’ faces flashed before me, clear as if they were right in the room talking to me: My 42-year-old friend Doug, my dear friend and gynecologist Stanley, and my sister-in-law Linda. In each isolated case, I said to myself, Ooh, I have to call Doug; Oh, I must check in with Stanley; Gosh, I wonder how Linda is doing. Apparently they were talking to me, because that week all three of them died. And I hadn’t called any of them. It shook me up so much so that I made a deal with myself: The next person who makes an appearance in my brain gets a phone call.

And the next person was Peggy Freydberg.

I started visiting her weekly. One day, early on, I asked her how many kids she had, and just as she was about to answer she said, “Oh, today is my son’s birthday.” And I said, How old is he? And she said 80. I almost fell off the couch laughing. I said, Who has a kid who’s 80! She laughed too.

I started bringing friends over to meet her. One day I asked her if she would read some of her work to my poet friend Gerry. She said “I can’t; I have macular degeneration and I can’t see.” So we read about four of her poems to her. I couldn’t stop gushing. I said, “Peggy, why aren’t you famous?” She was quiet for a while, and then she said, “I don’t know. I would’ve liked that.”

  On my way home I thought, That’s it, I’m gonna do something. Even if it’s a small something, she’s gonna get some of the recognition she deserves!

I invited a bunch of friends to come to my studio and hear her gorgeous poetry. I rented 40 chairs and made 80 brownies (straight from the box). One by one, folks got up and read. If you had been in that room, you would’ve seen the rapt attention, the tears rolling down cheeks, the nods of absolute understanding.

Peggy got a standing ovation. After most of the guests had left, she said to me, “I’ve wondered why I’ve lived this long, and after today, I know.” My friend Laurie David overheard her. We looked at each other and shared the power of what Peggy had just said.

Margaret Howe Freydberg had written her memoir, Growing Up in Old Age, at 80! She said she wrote it to tackle the subject of fear. There was so much wisdom in that book that I underlined half the book. She wrote, “I tell myself that I must see something in the mirror besides my wrinkled veneer if I am to have any calm, but I will have to make peace with the loss of smooth skin and find satisfaction in the gaining of something to take its place — something that has always been in me but has never seen the light of day.”

Peggy didn’t start writing poetry till she was 90! She said she still needed to express her feelings, but the novel and the personal narrative became too much for her.

She was joyous. I had so much fun with her. I asked her every question you would ask a new girlfriend (What did your parents think of your marrying a Jewish guy? Did you read your stuff to your husbands, and what did they say? Was that first novel totally autobiographical?), and she never balked or withheld or flinched.

Peggy was madly in love with her late husband Nick, and loved men — period. The woman, I swear, was still sexy. She was physically beautiful in all stages of her life.

Everyone who was lucky enough to know her and everyone who reads Poems from the Pond will know that that that “something” she referred to was her gift of language, her genuine humility, and her deep, deep wisdom.

Knowing Peggy has been one of the biggest blessings of my life.

poems from the pond celebration 5.24.15

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