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BULLI Bards explores soul with written words
Poetry group ponders various topics once a month
Members of the BULLI poetry group read poems and exchange ideas during their monthly meetings. The group meets the first Friday of the month at Grace Episcopal Church in downtown Gainesville. - photo by JOHN DILLON IV

What is the soul and how does it manifest?

If that sounds like a heavy question for a Tuesday, then surely it is.

It is also the very question the Brenau University Learning and Leisure Institute, or BULLI, poetry group explored at its meeting earlier this month.

From book clubs to hiking groups, art instruction and classes on religion or world affairs, BULLI offers its members a seemingly endless supply of unique courses taught by experts. Founded in 1994 as a joint venture between Brenau and community leaders desiring a local lifelong learning program, BULLI has become something of a second home to many members. And nowhere is this truer than in the BULLI Bards poetry group.

At the group’s last meeting, members shared work centered on a single theme. Bill Early, the unquestioned leader of the group, said the subject of souls just “keeps cropping up.”

The soul may be of more pressing concern for this group, which consists largely of seniors and retirees who have had decades of experience with mortality and thoughts of the afterlife.

And that’s when Evelyn Asher steps up to read her work:



Soul surface, mine

this gypsy soul nesting in a cocoon of

word embraces,

filtered noise in an unsettled world

when my daughter leaves for Haiti to give, of herself.

On this day my fifth child departs for six months

two duffle bags packed to the brim

50-plus Facebook messages waving her bon voyage

$13 Uber ride to Hartsfield Atlanta

43 years since her aunt and I brought her home from the hospital.

Until I hear of her safe arrival in that mystical land

where weather stages havoc

my soul speaks psalms

keep faith that children will gather before

someone who loves them, eager to spark their imagination.

Listen, poetry embodies every soul

barren — ‘ner a soul has escaped depth of emotion

fertile when nature’s spectacular majesty and

miracles paint life’s opus

today my soul hands me a brush to paint my mind’s canvas.


Poetry comes in many forms: Iambic pentameter, haiku and sonnets. Each of these places strictures on rhyming and length.

Free verse and lyric poetry, however, shun such limitations. It allows writers to explore the depths of their thoughts and emotions without care for any guidelines or frame.

“Writing free verse is like playing tennis with the net down,” famed American poet Robert Frost once said.

And this type of poetry has captured the imaginations of the BULLI group.

Members have collected one another’s work over the years and have considered bounding it all together in a single work.

It’s not all deadly serious, though. The group begins each session with a “Red Cross report,” wherein members can humorously detail their recent aches and pains.

Members come from diverse cultural and educational backgrounds, but they connect in their love for poetry and its power to reveal universal truths.

“Poetry is a mirror which makes beautiful that which is distorted,” the romantic poet Percy Bysshe Shelley wrote.

During the BULLI group’s meeting, the poet Emily Dickinson was referenced with regard to her remark on how the soul becomes a device for transcendence. But poets, often self-critical to the bone, are always thrashing about inside to find the right expression for their thoughts and feelings.

“We struggle to capture the things we mean with words,” BULLI member Jeff Jones said.

And, yet, words are our best hope for cataloguing the rise and fall of the ages.

Diane Rooks captures this essence in her work titled, “What is Wisdom?”

Wisdom is a way of living...

When to take action and when to be still         

Step forward with enthusiasm or caution

Dwell with resentment or be grateful.

Wisdom is a way of thinking ...

When to agree and when to disagree

Rely on your brain or listen to your heart

Block progress or practice joy.

Wisdom is a way of knowing ...

When to speak and when to stay silent

Follow your passion or let reason prevail

Resist change or find new meaning.

Wisdom is a way of learning ...

When to embrace new ideas and when to cling to the past

Play by the rules or bend them

Hold fast or proceed with passion. 

Wisdom is a way of dreaming ...

When to find opportunity and when to sense danger

Keep eyes wide open or seek a quiet rest

Withdraw from the world or never give up.

Wisdom is a way of aging ...

When to stop trying and when to cherish every day

Bloom to the end or accept the status quo

Decrease your involvement or celebrate life.