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Chester County Press

Kennett Square Life Q&A

11/09/2018 10:25AM ● By J. Chambless

Kendal Longwood residents John and Louise Bennett. (Photo by Richard L. Gaw)

Soon after they settled in at Kendal at Longwood in December 2016, John and Louise Bennett began traversing the Sally Dwyer Promenade, an almost two-mile, paved pathway that encircles the Kendal campus, from where you can see seven miles of trails through the woods. Soon, the beauty of the trail's trees, flowers, meadows and vistas inspired their love of words and photography. It's all captured in the 36-page “The Path: Kendal through the Seasons,” a soft blending of Louise's poetry and John's stunning images that portray this small slice of southern Chester County in a beautiful light.

Kennett Square Life recently met with the Bennetts to talk about their work together, the power of narrative and future ideas.

In 2010, you both published “Home To Water,” your first collection of poetry and photography, that described your life along Lake Ontario. Where did the idea of the “The Path: Kendal through the Seasons” come from?

Louise: The Path is a promenade that runs along the entire outside of Kendal at Longwood. It's a wonderful place to walk. Every day, I got into the habit of taking a walk around Kendal – almost two miles. Every season of the year is unique, and from the path, you can get to seven miles of trails through the woods. As I walked, I was often touched by what I saw, so I began to write about what I was seeing along the path. More and more, I began to see the path as a symbol of the life here at Kendal, where you meet people, and life passes and you grow older, in a gentle kind of way.

John: I, too, walk the promenade almost every day. I generally get up earlier than Louise does, before breakfast, and sometimes I carry a camera with me, and sometimes not. Louise suggested to me that I could have some of my photos accompany her poems. Some of those in the book were taken especially to accompany her poems, and some were taken on their own, but it turned out that they nicely accompany her words.

Poetry and photography have followed the course of your lives. John, you grew up in Michigan, where you developed an early interest in photography after you received your first camera, a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye. How has photography traveled along your life's journey?

John: There have been times when I've not done much and times when I've done more. When I was in college, I picked up a twin lens reflex camera, and since then, I've gone through various cameras over the years. There were times when I had a dark room in our basement, but when our children were young, the basement was often taken up with other things and was used for other purposes. Ultimately, I discovered digital photography and liked it much better.

When I retired from teaching Philosophy at the University of Rochester in 2013, I began to take photography more seriously, and picked up a Canon crop-sensor camera, and it's what I've been using ever since.

Louise, you came upon writing poetry in 1999, partly in response to the passing of your mother, but you've always been inspired by the writing of your grandfather.

Louise: When my mother died, it was a great loss, so I found that poetry enabled me to use words to help me deal with her loss. My grandfather, Allan Eastman Cross, was a Congregationalist minister in New England, and a poet and hymn writer. He died before I was born, but I began to know him through the hymns that he had written, that we would sing together when I was a child. One was “Bring Me Back to Old New England,” which was where my family comes from, and the other, a lullaby, was “Good Night Children.” My mother would play the piano and my sister would play the violin, and we would all sing. My father, a lawyer, always stressed the importance of choosing plain words over fancy Latin-influenced words when writing. Words, he felt, needed to be plain, simple and direct.

So my poetry has always come from being touched by something, and trying to express that in a clear and concrete way, rather in some fancy, intellectual way.

When did the two of you first realize that there was the potential for artistic collaboration?

John: I don't remember when we first had that idea. After 20 or more years raising children in Rochester and working hard, we moved after the kids had left the home to a smaller home near Lake Ontario, a block-and-a-half from the lake. We enjoyed walking near the water and did so regularly, and I took pictures and Louise began to write about poems about those walks. It was Louise who had encouraged me to produce photographs that appeared on the cover of some of her chapbooks of poetry, and then she had the idea that we could do something together.

Louise: We were retiring and I was thinking about what fun things we could do together. John had such beautiful photography, and I thought it would be a wonderful addition to my poetry to have his photographs. It became a new exploration for us. We've been married for 50 years and had a wonderful relationship, so this was the continuing of that relationship in a new way.

Louise, certainly you would welcome all audiences to read this book, but is there a particular audience that you would truly like to connect with, in terms of the book's narrative?

Louise: I think my poetry has to do with individuals and families who are dealing with aging, and the issues related to aging, getting older, becoming frailer, and eventually dying. People who come to Kendal are planners of their future, who have decided that they want to be in control of that future, rather than drift along. We want to live in a place that we choose and never have to leave.

These poems reflect seeing the wonder and beauty of a place like this; being able to enjoy a beautiful path that continues to the end of life. Hopefully, through this book, people will gain some comfort and solace.

With “The Path: Kendal through the Seasons,” you now have two published collaborations. What's next?

Louise: I have an idea to write a book of poems called “Inside Kendal,” as a natural follow-up to the current book, which reflects on the exterior of Kendal at Longwood. I've started to write two poems already. One is about a meditation group I belong to, and the second poem has to do with a memoir class I took. The class' instructor, Allan Brick, an esteemed member of the Kendal at Longwood community, recently died.

Do either of you have a favorite section along the Sally Dwyer Promenade?

John: My favorite part of the promenade is the stretch that runs near the parking lot where we live in the north end to the point at which the trail curves its way through a big bend.

Louise: These are the vistas along the promenade that offer us views of farmland and woods, but I also enjoy the spot at the top of the native plant meadow, which offers a lovely view down toward Pond Number 2. You can see wildflowers and butterflies and birds. It's really a wonderful place.

The Path: Kendal through the Seasons” can be purchased at the Gateway Shop at Kendal at Longwood, or through

Richard L. Gaw

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