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Poet's battle to bring verse to all

She didn't even write her first poem until she was 45.

But now, Lee Orcutt is so hooked on poetry, she describes herself as a "poet in the trenches" and is teaching a three-part workshop in her home as part of Macalester College's experimental college program.

Orcutt, who lives on 37th Street South in Afton, also offers motivational poetry seminars aimed at businesses, and hosts two workshops aimed specifically at women.

"I think the main point about poetry is affirmation," explained Orcutt, who is 66.

"If you read a poem and it strikes a chord with you, it doesn't matter if it's humor or pathos or whatever, it's just affirming to know that somebody else feels like you do. It's much better than therapy."

The three-part workshop Orcutt is currently teaching, which is a Macalester Experimental College class, is titled "Poetry As Sensory Pleasure", and aims to introduce the half-dozen attendees to the idea of enjoying poetry with all the senses, exploring new poets and being encouraged to write their own verse.

It's a fitting class to be attending at this time of year -- April is national poetry month.

"If I just had a line in a poem that said, 'The bacon sizzled in the frying pan', what does that conjure up?" asked Orcutt, explaining the philosophy behind the classes.

"Two things, right away: the sound and the smell.

"Right away, without even being aware of it, I have tapped that very elemental part of us, which is the senses.

"That's how we connect; the poetry is tactile. Even though we might not be aware of it, we find these things in poems."

Orcutt believes that poetry is life itself, and recalls with a smile her former career as an office manager, when she used to find it tough to rise early in the mornings.

"I like getting up now, if it's for poetry," she said.

As part of her poetry workshops, Orcutt asks all participants to complete a short personality profile which allows her to group people into four types: the curtain raiser; the handyman/woman; the Sherlock/Sherlotte Holmes; and the ball of fire.

She then recommends a list of poets a person is likely to enjoy, according to his or her personality.

And one thing on which Orcutt is certain is that anyone -- absolutely anyone -- can enjoy poetry.

"When you look at the poets themselves -- Charles Bukowski, for example, was a postman and had lots of other menial jobs, then all the rest of the time he wrote poetry," said Orcutt.

"The reason for the name 'Poet in the Trenches' is because of that elitist thing. No matter who you are or what your education is or isn't, you can enjoy poetry."

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Poem in your pocket

April is national poetry month, and you can get involved.

The Academy of American Poets has designated April 17 Poem in Your Pocket Day, and is encouraging people to select a poem they love and share it with family, friends and co-workers.

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