Sunday, April 20, 2008

Calendar Alert: Poetry from Jim Schley, April 23

I've just begun enjoying AS WHEN, IN SEASON by Jim Schley, who also wears the hat of director of The Frost Place, and the shoes of a dancer. But "Poet" is probably what's inked on his heart. The fact that he could pull together this powerful collection while also doing a job-and-a-half for The Frost Place is good evidence of how he is compelled to write, revise, frame, craft, even while life demands other skills and endeavors.

Jim will read from the book on Wednesday April 23 at the Franconia Heritage Museum (Main Street, Franconia, NH -- when taking the exit from I-93, go to Main Street/Route 18 and turn left, and the museum is on the left in about a third of a mile), at 7 p.m. The event is co-sponsored by the museum and Abbie Greenleaf Library.

A quick introduction to Jim's new collection: Its four sections are "Borne Out," "In Compass: Nine Odes," "Dwelling," and "In Season." Each has a particular flavor to it, and "In Compass: Nine Odes" is likely to draw immediate attention, as each of its poems salutes one of the Greek Muses. Most likely to be repeatedly published, anthologized, savored, is the ode "For Clio," the Muse of history -- framed as a birthday greeting to the much-loved poet of protest and love, Grace Paley. It opens with:

How many do you greet, Grace,
with Darling, with Sweetheart?
All your fledglings


Jim's often quiet demeanor hides a wide experience in the arts. I'll quote the entire press release from his publisher, which I think gives an active snapshot of this Vermont/New Hampshire poet.

“As When, In Season” by Jim Schley is one of the publisher’s new books
for Spring 2008. The first full-length collection of poems by Jim Schley displays an imagination both steady and bold.

Schley is author of poems featured on Garrison Keillor’s radio show The Writers Almanac, in Keillor’s book Good Poems (Viking, 2002), and in the annual Best American Spiritual Writing, interdisciplinary magazines such as Orion, Rivendell, and Northern Woodlands, and a widely praised chapbook, One Another (Chapiteau, 1999). He is executive director of The Frost Place, a museum and poetry center based at Robert Frost’s former homestead in Franconia, New Hampshire.

Multiple award-winning American poet Hayden Carruth has greeted Schley’s new book with praise: “I like these poems immensely. What Schley has done is to reinvent the ode, especially in the nine poems for the muses. Prosodically he’s discovered an odic tone, grave but graceful, imaginatively objective. It’s extremely effective, and it tokens a very large degree of literary depth and experience.”

Martha Collins, author most recently of Blue Front, has said, “I can't think of another male poet who has written so generously of so many women.”

Schley was born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, and moved to New England in the mid-1970s to attend Dartmouth College, where he majored in Creative Writing and Native American Studies. He earned a Master of Fine Arts from Warren Wilson College’s Program for Writers and for many years worked as a literary editor with the quarterly New England Review and the book publishers University Press of New England and Chelsea Green, editing more than a hundred books on a wide diversity of subjects, including poetry, fiction, critical essays, environmental journalism and practical ecology, Women’s Studies, Native American Studies, history, and art history. Under his own name he edited the anthology Writing in a Nuclear Age (University Press of New England, 1984).

Schley has also toured and performed across the U.S., Canada and Europe with experimental “movement” theater companies, including the world-renowned Bread and Puppet Theater, the Swiss ensemble Les Montreurs d’Images, and Flock Dance Troupe. He has special expertise in choreographies for dancing on stilts, and he was featured performer at the inauguration of Czech president Vaclav Havel.

In 2002, after being laid off by a publishing company, he became an extreme freelancer and worked at twenty-four part-time jobs in one year, an experience described in an essay written for Newsweek magazine.

Schley’s new book has been edited by acclaimed poet Ilya Kaminsky, author of Dancing in Odessa (Tupelo Press, 2004).

As When, In Season comprises four sequences that turn upon phases of living — child and young traveler; apprentice; homesteader and husband; then deeply troubled but engaged citizen of a village and a world. The book’s formal variety is remarkable, incorporating compressed lyrics and ample verse essays, a suite of lullabies and a series of complex odes that pay homage to nine of the poet’s crucial teachers, using the iconography of the mythic Greek muses. In Schley’s odes, the conventional relationship of female muses to male artist is decisively reversed, as these muses are masters in their own right, virtuosos of creation and survival.

In addition to his work as curator of The Frost Place museum and coordinator of four annual poetry conferences there, Schley is an associate member of the journalist’s collective Homelands Productions. He lives with his family in an off-the-grid cooperative in the Upper Valley region of north-central Vermont.

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