Judith Neeld of Menemsha, who died in April aged 90, was an award-winning poet with a national reputation. She published five books of poetry during her lifetime and her works appeared in multiple anthologies and journals.

On Martha’s Vineyard, Ms. Neeld was prized not only for her carefully constructed verses, which often contain layers of meaning wrapped as tightly as the petals deep inside a flower bud, but as a mentor and coach to her fellow poets in the Cleaveland House writing circle.

Former Island poet laureate Arnie Reisman met Ms. Neeld when he joined the Cleaveland House poets five years ago.

“At first I thought I was sitting opposite a sparrow,” Mr. Reisman said Tuesday afternoon, before a reading of Ms. Neeld’s poems at the West Tisbury Library.

Maureen Hall reads from newly published anthology of Ms. Neeld's work. — Ray Ewing

He soon discovered, Mr. Reisman continued, that she was a “really tough, willful sparrow,” with a spirit he admired.

Mr. Reisman was one of a dozen poets who gathered at the library to remember Ms. Neeld, read her work and celebrate her recently-published career anthology from Island-based Summerset Press.

A bowl of peonies adorned the podium where each of the 12 people read two of their favorite poems by Ms. Neeld. Most had personal recollections to share as well.

“At first I was a little intimidated by her,” confessed Maureen Hall. “She was just so talented and so no-nonsense.”

Cleaveland House poet Annette Sandrock remembered Ms. Neeld as “an intense, intense listener... a woman of few words.”

During the Cleaveland House gatherings, which met regularly to critique one another’s work, w hen it came time for Ms. Neeld to read a poem to the group, the other writers fell silent, Ms. Sandrock recalled.

“It wasn’t out of respect,” she said. “It was out of awe, and inability to criticize one word she wrote.”

Christopher Legge said that Ms. Neeld—initially a friend of his housebound mother—drew him out as a poet, inviting him into the Cleaveland House group.

Ms. Neeld's poetry could carry readers from loveliness to decay in just a few stanzas. — Ray Ewing

“It’s one of the great joys of my life to find the gift of words, which I can’t find now, but Judith was there,” he told the group.

“She was like a coach to me, and she was a cheerleader,” said Donald Nitchie, before reading the poem that earned Ms. Neeld the Poetry Society of America’s Emily Dickinson Award in 1985.

Titled Her Topography, the poem in terza rima—the rhyming form Dante Alighieri used to write his Divine Comedy in the early 14th century—begins with an Island day in autumn: “The blue fruits of the juniper are ripe,/a blue vase hangs in the window, and a wren calls/to it from the tree: ‘Piper. Piper. Pipe.’”

The scene grows rapidly darker as the pleasure of peaceful ripeness and birdsong gives way to the knowledge that everything in view is decaying, “the year at death. But the berries love/their own skins, and a song is love, briefly.”

The juniper and wren in Her Topography are among countless Island creatures and scenes in Ms. Neeld’s poetry. In The Wood Lily, read Tuesday by Mr. Legge, she ponders the fragile wildflower and reflects that having learned “where the shy sisters grow,” the only way to make sure they continue to bloom is to leave them alone.

Vineyard people also appear in Ms. Neeld’s work, such as Centerville, which the Gazette published following her death and Mr. Reisman read on Tuesday. Originally titled In the Mid Island, the poem looks back to the days—as late as the 1970s—when some Islanders would rent their homes to summer people and repair to kerosene-lighted cabins for the season.

The Hawk, read Tuesday by Fan Ogilvie, is another poem, like Her Topography, that carries the listener swiftly from the heights of loveliness—“Up there she plays in the wind, rolling like a favorite note”—to a devastating conclusion.

Even rocks and fragments of rocks carry heavy emotional freight in Ms. Neeld’s work. The Shard, read by Ellie Bates, observes “the boulder greater below ground than above” and its broken-off “rock child sharing the earth,” before concluding “Molecule by molecule I have left the child I was. Behold a new cold truth.”

Other readers at Tuesday’s event were Holly Bergon, Susan Puciul, Valerie Sonnenthal, current Martha’s Vineyard poet laureate Jill Jupen and Rose Styron.

The audience of about 30 people included Ms. Neeld’s daughter and son-in-law and friends like Leigh Smith, who got to know the poet when they rode the bus together to attend symphony concerts in Boston.

For more information about the new Judith Neeld poetry anthology, please visit summersetpress.com.