Anna Goddard Potter was among the steadfast women who volunteered mightily in Bellport for charitable organizations. These villages and hamlets didn’t evolve without their steadying hand a …
Anna Goddard Potter was among the steadfast women who volunteered mightily in Bellport for charitable organizations. These villages and hamlets didn’t evolve without their steadying hand a century or more ago and Potter held a president’s stint with the Fireplace Literary Club, was librarian at the Bellport Library and delved into many other activities. But Potter was also an accomplished published poet, a mantle she claimed early on, producing a prolific body of work. She started writing at age 9; her first published book of poems emerged at age 12 and there would be acceptances from the New York Times, New York-Herald Tribune, The New York Telegram, The Atlanta Constitution, the Patchogue Advance. She died at age 92 in 2006 and lived on Rogers Avenue for 79 years. But most of her friends didn’t know of her notable poetry career.
They will on Saturday, Sept. 11 from 5 to 7 p.m. when the Bellport-Brookhaven Historical Society presents Anna Goddard Potter: A Poetic Life with readings by Deborah Mayo and discussions by Potter’s children Jane Potter Graham and Lawrence Potter conducted by Jane Love. The Potter family is sponsoring the free event with wine and cheese to follow. (Please R.S.V.P. at email@example.com.)
“It started with Anne Lloyd, a suffragist and poet, who we had written up in our newsletter,” said BBHS director Tricia Foley. Potter’s name cropped up. (Potter wrote an elegy for Lloyd upon her death.) “They were friends and we found out she was the mother of Jane Potter Graham. We were going to do a reading. We waited and found out so much more in the meantime.”
Potter wrote in Scribble Books, and sometimes whatever paper was at hand, dating notes, letters, poems. “I felt as if I was visiting her,” Foley said, emphasizing her detailed writing. “She went sailing every day. Went to Yaphank to visit the pine forest. Put a dent in her car learning how to drive at the Patchogue train station. She wrote drafts of everything.” Foley is in charge of the visuals.
Potter grew up in a Park Avenue apartment in New York City; her father was a well-known painter and sculptor who later established a studio in Bellport. She attended Barnard, traveled to Europe, and enjoyed an active life in Manhattan after summering in Bellport beginning in 1927. She was a volunteer librarian at Presbyterian Hospital in New York and by the time of her marriage in 1947, was an editorial assistant with the historical department of Town Hall in New York and a member of the Pen and Brush Club. She wrote especially voluminously, her poems are short creations, from the early 1920’s to the late 1940’s. Poems about the wartime scrap drive, a transatlantic plane’s wing, and nature poured out as well as a winning poem for a Gimbel’s contest advertising a new raincoat. Your Name is Music, written about a shipboard romance during a Mediterranean cruise with her family, is especially poignant. It was written on a train in 1941 and published in The Federal Poet in 1956; it was also one of 15 winning poems submitted published in Federal Poets Anthology.
She lived in Washington D.C. from 1947 to 1958 then returned to Bellport to live permanently. The oldest member of Christ Episcopal Church when she died, Potter rejoiced living in Bellport Village and experiencing the bay every single day.
Her children Jane Potter Graham and Larry Potter spoke to the Advance about their mother.
“Neither of us remember her sitting writing poetry,” said Jane Potter Graham. “She was private and did write but it wasn’t something we really witnessed. I think it was a private thing with her. And that’s why her friends didn’t know about this side of her. There was a hiatus from late 50s to 60s while she was raising us.”
Graham said they knew about the two poetry books she wrote at ages 12 and 26. “Those were around the house,” Graham said. “She had a big desk in her bedroom and that’s where most of it was. I’m the family archivist now and I have boxes with archival labels, so when Trish started talking about the event pretty much everything was in there.”
The family put together a book after their mother’s death “The Allure of Poetry: The Life and Works of Anna Goddard Potter” that took place at the Fireplace Literary Club in March of 2007. Larry Potter wrote the graceful book, with some of the poems listed in alphabetical order; notes and dates added. (Potter and Graham are re-issuing the book so everyone who attends the BBHS event can leave with a copy.)
Larry Potter has carried forward his mother’s gauntlet.
“I credit my mother for passing along my love of writing,” he said. “I teach at Columbia University (School of International and Public Affairs) and have always been writing and editing. I was senior editor for the Foreign Policy Association in New York and continue writing. My specialty is the Middle East.”
Graham jokingly added, “The Long Island Advance was going over to Teheran.”
Graham said her daughters are invested in their grandmother’s legacy. “Laurie Graham came to the planning session. Carly Graham Garcia will come to the Saturday program,” she said.