Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 20
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
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Still Counting, Poet Virginia Lockwood Enjoys Simple Pleasures and Friendship

Linda Arntzenius

On a recent evening, Princeton poet and former third grade teacher, Virginia Lockwood, used her walker to take the air and sit in the most advantageous spot for chatting with neighbors as well as her friend Jo Lewis — her own driveway.

Jo Lewis has been described as having a special touch with people. The children she comes into contact with at Community Park School, where she has been an Instructional Aide for the last five and a half years, seem to think so.

Passing students and their parents greeted the two women as they sat in the sun. Ms. Lewis, who is 35, visits Ms. Lockwood, who will celebrate her 97th birthday in September, several times a week. The friends share a love of teddy bears, and a passion for art and language. Together they play card games, collaborate on art projects, and read and write poetry.

"Virginia is really sharp, witty, funny, talented, artistic and has a wonderful personality," said Ms. Lewis. "She's an amazing poet and writer. I have a lot of admiration for her because she is a charismatic and strong-willed woman. I am glad to have her as one of my friends."

Ms. Lockwood is astute about her friend. "Jo may wear her hair plain and wear plain clothes but she likes a lot of things and she knows a lot about art. I don't know very many people who are more than they look, but Jo definitely is one of them. She is very artistic."

In addition to education, the two friends talked about their lives, the news, politics, and issues like healthcare. They reviewed the art project they are working on — a simple design of brightly colored flowers. "The older you get, the simpler the design becomes," laughed Ms. Lockwood. "Most people don't take the time to design, they just go ahead and do whatever comes into their heads. People are always in too much of a hurry."

When neighbor Ledlie Borgerhoff, on her way home from visiting an acupuncturist, stopped by, the conversation turned from plane trees and sycamores to acupuncture. Ms. Borgerhoff is a fan but Ms. Lockwood was not persuaded. She doesn't even have pierced ears. Ms. Borgerhoff's family has lived on this street since the sixties and she is home from New York City, spending time with her mother, who turned 87 in April.

Acknowledging her mismatched screw-on earrings, Ms. Lockwood underscored the privilege of age in the devil-may-care attitude that has characterized her since she was a girl growing up in Maine. "If we wanted to dance a highland fling, no one would stop us," she said. "It's very pleasant here in my driveway."

Born in Portland, Maine, Ms. Lockwood was Virginia Chapman when she studied English Literature at Wellesley College. In Princeton, she taught at Miss Fine's School, now Princeton Day School, and was a docent at the Princeton Art Museum.

She attributes her love of reading to her mother. "I also inherited my mother's summer garden next to my summer house. My mother was assiduous about it. She was quite a person; I wish she were around now, she'd enjoy doing what we are doing."

Ms Lockwood's son, Bill, arrived next, after a day at McCarter Theatre, where he is special programming director. Mr. Lockwood is responsible for bringing a wealth of classical and world musicians, dancers, and jazz performers to Princeton as well as to Newark and Philadephia. He works for the Kimmel Center and for the New Jersey Performing Arts Center.

He lives on the same street as his mother, a mere block away. "Not many mothers are lucky enough to have a son living so close by and he's very good at growing flowers and vegetables," said Ms. Lockwood. "I am glad to be the recipient."

"My mother's goal is to live to 100 and receive a letter from the president," said Mr. Lockwood. As Ms. Borgerhoff prepared to leave, Ms. Lockwood reminded her: "Bring me your drawings to look at because I'm not going to last for ever."

She speaks as easily of death as of her plans to return to Maine for the summer. Nor do her poems shy from the subject. In "The Countdown," she writes: "Simple pleasures are often the most luxurious — like cottage cheese on wheat crackers/I shall content myself with the turtle dove at my window, my beloved files and closets full of memories/I no longer count ahead from my birthday, as Schopenhauer wrote — but back from my death/I am still counting."


Virginia Lockwood is the oldest member of U.S.1 Poets' Cooperative. The group dedicated the 2005 issue of its annual journal U.S.1 Worksheets to her.

In her tribute, poet and founding member of the group Elizabeth Anne Socolow said: "Rugged truth-telling combined with the pursuit of bright exchanges with friends, strangers, and acquaintances, along with the patrician accents of her native Maine, [make] of her tone, her voice, and her work something extraordinary."

Maine features prominently in Ms. Lockwood's collection of poems, Among the Melons, as in the joyful "On Eating a Mango on a Porch in Maine." "It slips sweetly into the mouth/a melding of pineapple, peach and lemon," by which she is transported to India to become a lady seated on a balcony, "offered a love-gift — a mango on a plate of carnelian and rose quartz. The sun is hot, the plate is cool/I close my eyes — /My henna-dipped fingers reach for the fruit."

According to Ms. Socolow, Ms. Lockwood's poetic aim when she came to the group 30-some years ago was to "to tell the truth of how things are, and record her remarkable appreciation of how life goes on being lively." Ms. Lockwood continues to have lively exchanges with friends and passersby who take the time to stop and enjoy.

"Before I die, let's have a block party," she said last week. "Isn't it sad that we don't all know our neighbors. People are afraid of infringing on other people's busy lives."

For more on the creativity and vitality of Princeton's elders, see story on the Princeton Senior Resource Center on page 22.

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