Monday, March 10, 2014

Diversion: Leland Kinsey, WINTER READY (Vermont Poet)

Every now and then, I review some poetry -- and as we race toward April, which is National Poetry Month, I'm reading and thinking about poems in between crime novels. (I'll write about those this evening, too, but separately.)

You know about the "localvore" movement in food, yes? Green Writers Press in Brattleboro, Vermont, is applying the same ideas to books: gathering regional authors, "giving voice to writers who will make the world a better place," and designing, printing, and marketing their books "at home" -- in Vermont. Dede Cummings, designer and publisher, sent me an advance copy of her newest offering, being released on March 20, and it's a gem: WINTER READY, a 96-page book of poems from Vermont poet Leland Kinsey.

I grew into my Vermont boots just up the road from Lee, and his retired-teacher mom hosted a playgroup where my children learned to love Rice Krispie bars, and to take turns with other kids. But I didn't really know Lee, other than to say hello, and even though we cross paths in the poetry world, I still don't know him well -- he's a private person, and I'm not one to push.

Which makes it especially pleasing that in WINTER READY, Leland Kinsey opens both the natural world and an interior landscape of exploring, testing, and sometimes grieving. He presents forms that have the wind-urged "give" of barn walls: lined up straight along the beams, but slowly swaying a bit, and with spaces where a board's been pulled for a view, now that the cows don't need care. Swallows fly past your face; owls speak; oldtimers give half a story, expecting you to work out the rest.

There are rhythms in here, the quiet rhythms of spoken speech, of narrative -- the lines break the light into emphasis on small details, but there's nothing forced. I found in here a sense of empty nesting: of examining who we are once the kids are grown and gone, once the barn is empty, once the older relatives who needed us have slipped away. I clipped the obituary from the local paper when Lee's father passed on, last year, but that's not at the heart of this book -- in spite of a clever poem at the end that salutes him. Instead, there are gardens -- the ones at the end of a harvest season -- and trees that outlive their time, and woods that overtake open spaces, teasing you into thinking you've remembered the wrong place, when actually the foundation or cabin is in front of you, just overgrown.

"Double Digging the Garden" catches a lot of this, contemplating the process of putting the garden to bed by digging in nutrients and turning the soil, where so much has grown:
My wife and I now have way too much
of all of this. Our children are gone.
Pets, large and small, which used to consume the extra
have long since died.
But the work remains, and the seasons pull the work into place again, again. The poet comments at the end,
Each summer I bring friends out
to note and share the display and produce.
Here is life's habit on grand exhibit
and the hard work hidden.
Many of the poems name birds or plants in exquisite detail, and I felt the urge to read the lines aloud to a group of grade-school kids who might not know the species but would hang on the sounds of the species. "Naming without revealing," I jotted down for myself, thinking about the way Lee allows the creatures to pass by, whether on the page or in the cranberry bog.

Some phrases caught my inner ear and lodged there, ringing: "ended his lovely trouble," "when I glass them," "I damp soil for" -- and as I grew into the phrasing, I found some marvelous endings, to "Horseshoeing" ("But any path to or through / the past is an icy road, / whatever the pace, / distorted by speed") and to "Quebec City Boardwalk" ("the unmeasured plainchant / of these ordinary wonders / plays on").

The poem I know I'll be most looking forward to re-reading each time I pick up this collection again will be "Deer Camp," a war poem of sorts that begins, "The drive in is long / over bad logging roads gone worse." I hope to read this one aloud to a friend soon -- and I shall let my "older self" keep reading it, for the layers hidden in a long story of family and change.

Leland Kinsey's WINTER READY is available on March 20 directly from Green Writers Press (click here), but also ready for preorder online at the big online distributor, if that's how you roll. If you give yourself a copy, you'll be better fitted to make the most of April.

1 comment:

Howard Frank Mosher said...

Wonderful review of a wonderful book.