Thursday, April 26, 2007

Women Poets of Vermont: The Early Wild Ones

[new Barbara Moraff work from Longhouse, limited edition, 2007; see the Longhouse web site in the right-hand column of this page]

Barbara Moraff, the "baby" of the Beat poets (see her bio on Wikipedia, which she just wrote -- and I put it onto the site), lives here in the Northeast Kingdom and continues to deliberately position her poetry in opposition to the generation preceding hers. I note that many of us feel that same urge: to see the past as overly formal and reserved, and to reach for ways to cut more deeply and vigorously into the ground we're planting.

So in a recent binge of research on earlier Vermont poets, I was delighted to discover that (Mrs.) Alice Mary Kimball, a 1905 graduate of the Johnson (VT) State Normal School, burst out of her teaching career in 1910 to take up "newspaper work" -- moving to New York City in 1914 and in 1929 producing a 128-page volume titled THE DEVIL IS A WOMAN. In contrast, Julia C. R. Dorr, born in 1825 "out of state" but settled again in Middlebury at age 4, turned out to be a far more prolific writer, with 16 books listed in the Bibliography of Vermont Poetry (Coates) -- and almost all of her work dealt with Vermont scenery and "spiritual" thoughts.

My favorite from this exploration turned out to be Maude Wheeler Pierce, whose rather forbidding name almost kept me away from reading the volume of her work that Walter Coates printed at his Driftwind Press: DREAM BURDENS. Yet despite the formal lines and stanzas, the description here could fit directly into the inquisitive Buddhist spirituality and back-to-land motif that mark today's rebels:


"She was a strange wild woman"--
So all her neighbors said --
That she should walk at night abroad
While they were all in bed.

They thought her dress erratic
And all her manners queer
And often caught her listening
For sounds they could not hear.

She smiled while they were weeping
And wept at others' mirth,
She turned her face on wedding joys
And wrung her hands at mirth.

How could they know the magic
Of star-lit skies at night,
The coolness of the rain-washed grass,
Who only walked in light?

They never caught the music
Of the spinning earth and moon
Or held the thrilling rhythm
An ancient deathless rune.

When at dawn they found her lying,
Bruised red poppies in her hand
They shrugged and only counted
"One less dreamer in the land."

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Last Chance: 113th Vermont Library Conference

Here are three good reasons to register for the Vermont Library Conference, held at the Sheraton Hotel and Conference Center in Burlington, Vermont, on May 15 and 16, 2007:

1. To discover -- and perhaps affect -- what librarians tell people about books.
2. To find out how the network of librarians and media specialists in schools and public libraries around the state is working to protect intellectual freedom.
3. To grasp the new relationships between books-on-paper and the Internet, as they are unfolding in our classrooms, libraries, and information centers locally and even nationally.

Additional incentives:
4. Vermont's premier mystery writer Archer Mayor is the keynote speaker on May 15 at 9 a.m.
5. Award-winning children's book illustrator (and sometimes author) Tracey Campbell Pearson gives the "endnote" on May 16 at 3:15.

As conferences go, the price is good (if you're not a member of either the Vermont Educational Media Association or the Vermont Library Association, you'll pay $90 per day or $140 for the whole shebang), the people are curious and lively, and the issues discussed are far more political than you might guess if you don't know your librarian very well.

The deadline to register was April 23, but the registration form also says you have until May 1 -- and even allows for on-site registration with a $25 late fee for procrastinators. More details and forms:

Monday, April 23, 2007

Vermont's Strong Women of Poetry: April 29

It's still April, so it's still National Poetry Month, and Kingdom Books is hosting Ellen Dudley and Joan Aleshire for a poetry brunch on Sunday April 29, at 11:30 a.m. -- the coffee cake and goodies are on us.

These two poets are driving up from southern Vermont: Dudley lives in Marlboro, where she is the founding editor of the Marlboro Review (no connection to the college), and Aleshire is in Shrewsbury, when she's not in North Carolina to teach in the MFA program for writers at Warren Wilson College. See our March review of Dudley's new collection, THE GEOGRAPHIC CURE -- it's a great example of what midlife can be at its best, vigorous, passionate, and sturdily rooted in experience without being sapped by nostalgia.

Aleshire's most familiar volume to most readers may be THE YELLOW TRANSPARENTS, which Four Way Books brought out in 1997. The title poem evokes a fugitive young love:

An early apple, a summer one
that doesn't keep, it grows only
in dooryards or orchards
lost to bramble and weeds.

We're already on less certain ground than in Dudley's poems; rather than seizing a lover, muscled and dramatic, Aleshire's lines flick delicately at the scent and texture of a bowl of apple chunks, "like a horse, so I put my mouth right here." And when the scene's been painted (watercolors over pen and ink, misty with the past), the poem turns like the volte of a sonnet:

I gave you what I could, knowing
it wouldn't last, wasn't nearly enough.
The last summer light over the fields now
brightens just bfore it goes,
leaving the leaves it's turned gold,
th early appled with their transparent skin.
You can almost see the apple-flesh;
you can see your whole life through it.

Aleshire's deft weaving of the New England landscape into the patterns of love is the heart of this collection. It pulses similarly in her poem "Days As Gray and Brown," where she writes, "in love as I was all those days with you, / or practicing," and it moves adeptly to the raw coast of Maine, where in "Northeast Pool," "I wanted to give them a password, an answer -- / to own the mystery of myself."

In 2003, Four Way brought out Aleshire's fourth collection, LITANY OF THANKS. Farewell to the gossamer strands of remembrance, the tentative gifts of love -- LITANY is instead a pounding, forceful sequence of elegiac poems, many addressed to Aleshire's long-time love Mitch Spencer, who, if poetry be narrative, fell to a stunningly unexpected death from a small plane. Spiked with short blades all labeled "Day at Zero" (temperature? timelessness? the moment of shock when loss penetrates the heart?), the poems relentlessly address the "you" of the person whose presence is stolen from us.

Face into a stinging wind of loss, "Your Feet" begins:

The first days after you died, when my body
protested, refusing to sleep and taste,
when my face was rubbed raw by rivulets
of salt, I kept seeing first
your feet, their articulate tendons,
as if you'd just peeled off the confines
of sneakers and socks, and were flexing them.

Short feeet, for a man, but the broad base
of your enterprise: you worked them hard.

And while Aleshire leads us through a narrative that is itself about leading -- much as dancing can sometimes be -- she holds a dense weighted center that emerges in her closing lines that face the pain of life "without":

I did, I do -- I don't know how
to answer absence, except by this
attachment to the tangible, or: desire.

Titles of these poems declare death: "Dia de los Muertos," "The Lost," "Always." I especially like the way that the icy fragments separate them and prevent them from overwhelming. Here is one "Day at Zero" page:

The moon slips up,
half its head gone,
but making no mistakes.
Wind drives a hard bargain;
trees do nothing to shield us.

Now I have to wonder: What conversations, what exploration, what presence will the two voices of these very different poets provoke when they arrive here on April 29?

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Korea: Poetry

I'm back, after a week-long trip to and from Seoul for my son's wedding and another five days of dealing with New England power outages and jet lag. This was the most lovely, most glorious, most meaningful wedding I've ever attended -- and if that's partially the effect of knowing the people involved, so be it. My daughter-in-law's family lives in Seoul and made me welcome with warmth, style, and gusto. Our week together was spent braiding together a new family.

Before and during the trip, I took time to dig into a bit of Korean poetry. I focused on one of the very accessible poets: Ko Un, whose work has been extensively translated by Brother Anthony of Taizé. Intense emotion, passionate monasticism, and an equally passionate desire for reunification of his truce-divided peninsular nation characterize the life of Ko Un, who was born in 1933. Here's one of his poems, in Brother Anthony's translation. I like the sparseness in the re-wording.


No one ever went to Eoh Island.
They say someone went, though,
went and never came back.
But where is Eoh Island?
Down the waves' broze valleys
south-east, south-east, lies
only the eyeball-searing horizon.
But where is Eoh Island?
Row as hard as you can
skim with all sails set!
Perhaps that island, Cheju's dream,
deep in its fishermen's blood,
lies somewhere near?
Where is Eoh Island, the blind man's island
glimpsed at sunsrise over Songsan?
Waves, endless waves, alone
thunder on, waves, thunder to the world.
Arise, white clouds.
Mighty surf, come rolling.
But where are we?
Where are we?
The sea comes breaking, no return.
In the waves hear the sound
of my daughter crying, left behind.
Is Eoh Island anywhere near
the thousands of years spent fishing here?
It is there, though!
It was there, then it vanished.
Is Eoh Island anywhere near?
No one ever went there.
Yet someone went
went and will never come back again.
Oh it's there, for sure, it's there.
Oh no. Only waves.
Nothing but overpowering waves.

The intense introduction to Seoul and its history that my daughter-in-law's family planned for me (thank you, sadon!) included a tour of a 600-year-old palace, where there are trees nearly as old. I include a short response of my own:

The Plum Tree

To be four hundred years old
and thrust forth a limb of purple flowers --
ah, grandmother,
how bold you remain.

TOMORROW: A look within the work of two wild Vermont women, Ellen Dudley and Joan Aleshire, who will read at the Kingdom Books Poetry Brunch here on Sunday April 29.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Frost Place April 12 Event Rescheduled

April 26, Franconia -- see earlier post. Sorry to be brief, am in Korea for my son's wedding, back 4/17.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Summer Workshops in Poetry

The Frost Place (Franconia, NH: still has a few places open in its workshops for this summer, ranging from a specialty session for teachers, to the noted Festival of Poetry (July 29-August 4; resident poet Jody Gladding, additional faculty Edward Hirsch, Vijay Seshadri, Martín Espada, Ellen Bryant Voigt, Martha Collins), to the unusual "master class" seminar offered for those preparing collections of work. Director Jim Schley is good to work with and helps plan transportation, too. Registration deadlines are almost here.

And here's another, for both poetry and fiction, a bit further from Vermont but still New England, five miles from downtown Boston:

Recharge your creative energies with award-winning authors at the Solstice Summer Writers’ Conference of Pine Manor College in Chestnut Hill, MA, this June 17–23, 2007. Apply soon, as workshops—capped at 12 participants—are starting to fill.

The Contemporary Novel: Andre Dubus III & Thisbe Nissen
Short Fiction: Lee Hope & Randall Kenan
Popular/Literary Fiction: Sarah Micklem & Valerie Wilson Wesley
Poetry: Naomi Ayala, Kurt Brown, Cornelius Eady, & A. Van Jordan
Creative Nonfiction: Roland Merullo, Anne-Marie Ooomen
Writing for Children & Young Adults: Nina Crews & Norma Fox Mazer

…plus special guests Dennis Lehane — author of Mystic River — and Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Stephen Dunn. More info and applications:

Longhouse Brings Out a New David Budbill

Here's a gorgeous little "pocket poetry" form, fresh from the press at Bob and Susan Arnold's Longhouse (click their web site over in our resources section). It's from Vermont's peripatetic monk of poetry and meditation, David Budbill. Love it! Info from Bob:

Bob & Susan Arnold, Longhouse Publishers & Booksellers, 1604 River Road, Guilford, Vermont 05301 or call 802-254-4242 or email use credit card or check $8.95 postpaid Free shipping and handling in the USA Limited Edition

Boston's National Poetry Month Event

Hit the Boston Public Library in Copley Square on Saturday April 14 from 10 to 5, and Sunday April 15 from 1 to 4:45, for the seventh annual Boston National Postry Month Festival. Sunday's stretch includes an ever-popular "open mike" from 2 to 3:30. This wild two-day marathon includes 56 poets, "major and emerging," among them Diana DerHovanessian, Maxine Kumin, Barbara Helfgott-Hyatt, Dan Tobin, Tino Villnueva, Doug Holder, and from Pine Manor College, both Kathleen Aguero and Meg Kearney. Free, open to the public, focused on community, neighborhoods, diversity ... what a weekend! More info: 617-536-5400 is the library phone.

Speaking of Robert Frost...

In celebration of National Poetry Month, three organizations in Franconia, N.H., will co-host an evening of readings and conversation about the continuing popularity of poetry, with special focus on the work of Robert Frost, who lived with his family in Franconia full-time or part-time from 1915 through 1938.

Jim Schley, executive director of The Frost Place museum in Franconia, will talk about the personal and artistic importance of Frost's Franconia years and will read some poems written at that time. The audience is encouraged to bring favorite poems — by Frost or other poets, including original work — to read aloud.
Jim Schley has been co-editor of the literary quarterly New England Review and editor-in-chief of the book publisher Chelsea Green, and he has edited more than a hundred books on a wide variety of subjects. In addition to directing the Frost Place museum and four annual poetry conferences, he is author of a poetry chapbook, One Another (Chapiteau Press, 1999).

This event, which is co-sponsored by the Abbie Greenleaf Library, the Franconia Heritage Museum, and The Frost Place, will be at 7 pm on Thursday, April 12. For more information call (603) 823–5951 or 823–8424.

[By the way, the image of Frost above is by Joel Beckwith; we're excited by the offerings at the Beckwith Gallery in Jamaica, Vermont, which also represents book artist and printer Greg Joly.]