Wolves

  • From the Short Story Montana. To find out more click on the Short Stories page above.
        When just a girl her mother said
        You have a hundred acre heart.
        Someday, I know, you’ll meet a boy
        And you and he will never part.

        He’ll love your heart’s untrammeled wilds,
        The seasons of your vagrant sky;
        He’ll build a house for both of you
        And sow your rapturous fields with rye.

        But let some paths go undiscovered
        And heed your woodland pools; the moon
        Will visit unregarded where
        The bones—the feasts of wolves—are strewn.

        Hide from him the baleful owl
        And if he hears the midnight’s howl,
        There’s savagery in what you are—
        Never let him go too far.

Beatified

There is a severed skull
And vertebrae close by
They showed up in the fall
(Where winter bleached them dry).

Yet now that spring has come
The flesh returns. New shoots
Grow through and insects thrum
Where the heart once watered roots.

The skull lays on its side,
Crowned with rue and nettle
As though beatified
With ichor, thorn and petal.

All this as if to say
No more is given Earth
To know than just today
This death and this rebirth.

Beatified

by Me, Patrick Gillespie, May 15th 2021

Great Minds

I was just reading an article in Quanta Magazine and lo and behold there’s an evolutionary biologist, Arik Kershenbaum, who speculates, as I do (and did in my poem Bicycles) that alien life is probably going to look a lot like life on earth. You can read the article here. Not only that, but Kershenbaum has written a book on the subject, the Zoologist’s Guide to the Galaxy.

I guess Bicycles was too late to make it into the forward.

I’m going to be buying this book for both my twin daughters, both of whom are majoring in earth sciences with an interest in exobiology.

Crabs rule the universe. I tell you that now. Don’t be shocked in the years to come. You heard it here.

Die Erlkönigin | Voiced by Harriet Whitbread

An actress’s reading of Die Erlkönigin is always something I’ve wished for. Then, just over a month ago Harriet Whitbread, the head of Voice & Learning Support at the Fourth Monkey Actor Training Company, emailed to ask if I’d enjoy her own reading of the poem.

I confess that when I read this poem publicly, I sometimes can’t make it to the end. Goethe’s original poem, Erlkönig, was and is profoundly meaningful to me in a way that I could only translate by writing Die Erlkönigin. Ms. Whitbread shared that she also had trouble reading to the end and that is, in a sense, as much as I ask from the poem.

Please enjoy Whitbread’s beautiful performance.

Harriet Whitbread is Head of Voice & Learning Support at the Fourth Monkey Actor Training Company located at the The Monkey House, 97-101 Seven Sisters Road, London, N7 7QP. You can visit the Fourth Monkey website here.

The Devil Knows

Devises Herioques

The devil knows how to tell a lie.
He’ll con the foolish through and through
Impeccably dressed in a coat and tie.

Nobody hears the poor man’s cry
And anyhow what can you do?—
The devil knows how to tell a lie.

He’ll tell you (if you ask him why):
‘I’d not be here, if it weren’t true,
Impeccably dressed in a coat and tie.’

And though each day a thousand die
Success is for the chosen few.
The devil knows how to tell a lie.

I bet you think you’d never try
But he knows well you’d like it too—
Impeccably dressed in a coat and tie.

The world is burning by and by
But what he does is done for you.
The devil knows how to tell a lie
Impeccably dressed in a coat and tie.

by me
June 2 2020

jester map

The Racist Trope of Stephanie Burt

So I wonder what readers would think if they began reading a review that opened like this:

Jazz is for everyone, but it can’t be the same thing, or do the same thing, for everyone. Jazz  can console or upset, soothe or baffle, set the table for a fancy dinner or kick the table over and demand that we start again. It depends how you hear jazz, and it depends on what piece. To quote a young performer, “the most dangerous thing about how we treat jazz is how we let only old black people have it.” What’s true for jazz in general is no less true for particular kinds of techniques and forms. And if that’s true for modern music and for music in new forms, it’s no less true for music in earlier forms—blues most of all.

They might start looking for the exit. And yet this is exactly the rhetoric with which the Harvard professor, poet and critic Stephanie Burt begins her Slate review of Terrance Hayes. She writes:

“Poetry is for everyone, but it can’t be the same thing, or do the same thing, for everyone. Poems can console or upset, soothe or baffle, set the table for a fancy dinner or kick the table over and demand that we start again. It depends how you read them, and it depends what poem. As America’s youth poet laureate, Kara Jackson, has recently written, “the most dangerous thing about how we treat poetry is how we let only old white men have it.” What’s true for poetry in general is no less true for particular kinds of poems, techniques, and forms. And if that’s true for modern poems and for poems in new forms (say, those that resemble text messages), it’s no less true for poems in very traditional forms—the sonnet most of all.”

In quoting Kara Jackson, Burt dispenses with Jackson’s intent, and uses her quote as a springboard for an entirely different argument. The point Jackson was making was that in growing up, she wasn’t just exposed to the poetry of “old white men”, but to poetry written by poets like her—and speaking to her own experience. But Burt has an agenda. She uses Jackson’s quote as a stepping stone with which to overlay another layer of identity politics that is as old and trite as mid twentieth century politics: the association of artistic expression with skin color and political affiliation. It’s venal and insidious.

But first to Jackson’s comment. I get it. In a country that is struggling with racism to the degree that the United States is, where a black couple picnicking at a public park has a gun drawn on them, where racial profiling by police remains endemic, where the leaders of our institutions and government continue to fan racism for political gain, I do get it and I don’t doubt I would have written the same in her position. On the other hand, I hope she someday feels that Shakespeare doesn’t belong to old white men any more than Duke Ellington’s piano or Dizzy Gillespie’s trumpet (simply because white men invented the instruments). But maybe she already does. Burt, on the other hand, is a Harvard professor and should know better.

Burt begins innocently enough, almost with something like a disclaimer, applying Jackson’s comment to “poetry in general”, then to techniques and forms, then to “modern poems” and “poems in new forms”.  All this begs the question: How exactly does Burt square “modern poems” and “poems in new forms” with “old white men”? Forgive me for thinking so, but Burt’s rhetoric is either poorly considered or disingenuous. Everybody knows who’s being referred to by “old white men” and it’s not Eminem, and it’s not “modern poets” writing in “new forms”. But Burt makes clear what she really means by old white men (and what we all already know), writing: “very traditional forms—the sonnet most of all”. Yes, all those sonnet writing, old, white men like Shakespeare, Milton, Dryden, Keats, Charlotte Smith, Helen Maria Williams, Anna Maria Smallpiece, Elizabeth Barret Browning, Christina Rosetti— Wait…what?

But anyway, during the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s, one of the rationalizations used to defend free verse was that traditional poetry was the work of the oppressor: white, European, imperialist, bourgeoisie males. Never mind all those women writing traditional poetry. Never mind that America’s first published poet was a woman. Never mind that the world’s first novel was written by a woman. Never mind that the earliest poet recorded by name was a woman. Never mind any of that. Traditional forms and techniques are the oppressive artifacts of old white men. And it’s not enough for woke critics like Burt to specify gender, but it’s also important to include age and skin color. And in case there was any room for doubt, Burt spends the next paragraph enumerating the sins of old white men: rhyming, couplets, the volta. Just to emphasize how old those white men and their “techniques” are,  Burt writes: “you probably also know that they’re centuries old.” So much for modern poets and techniques.

According to Burt, anyone who writes a modern sonnet is, by definition, ‘talking back to the past’ because, you know, you can’t write a traditional sonnet without being oppressed by the past. And having established the oppressive, old, white identity of a sonnet, Burt can then laud Terrance Hayes, a black poet, for having written “a primer on how to reshape an old form”.

To be clear, what bothers me is not that Terrance Hayes chooses to write free verse sonnets, but that Stephanie Burt chooses to laud Hayes’ poems as a rejection and reshaping of “old white” poetry. This is just as venal and insidious now as it was in the mid-20th century, and that’s because it associates artistic expression and medium with class, race and political ideology. There’s no question but that the content of a sonnet can be used for political ends, but the traditional medium of poetry—meter, rhyme and form—has nothing whatsoever to do with race, class or political affiliation. Traditional forms are a tool, no different from a piano or a trumpet.

And why is it venal and insidious? Because Burt’s comments perpetuate the very ideologies, like racism, that she’d surely claim to disown. She arbitrarily inserts identity politics into otherwise neutral modes of artistic expression and medium; such that choosing a mode of expression, no matter the artist’s race, is to affiliate oneself with a given political ideology. It is, among other things, a racist trope (why else mention skin color?) intended to exert control over the terms by which art is discussed and created. By negatively associating one kind of sonnet with old whites, her intent is to elevate the poetry of Terrance Hayes (insofar as he rejects the sonnet’s more traditional “white” medium). Frankly, Hayes’s poetry isn’t well-served if this is the only way Burt can find to compliment it.

Why associate a given mode of artistic medium and expression with gender and skin color? There’s simply no justification for it. Let artists, and young artists especially, decide for themselves how to use the artistic mediums available to them. Writing a Shakespearean Sonnet verses a Hayesian Sonnet is not a political/ideological statement. It’s a matter of artistic expression.

Leave the ideological tropes of the mid-twentieth century in the mid-twentieth century.

    The Search for Meaning in a New Generation of Poets & Readers

    So this post began with a number of titles, none of which I could decide on. The essence of my post is this: Why is Instapoetry so popular? But I didn’t want to limit this to instapoetry. I think there’s a fundamental shift in what readers are looking for in the 21st century. I was tempted to set off the youngest generation against establishment poets, but I don’t necessarily believe there’s a formal establishment so much as an established and shared set of aesthetics that have been taught, practiced and accepted by poets going back several generations now. And I think it was summed up, to a degree, by Vermont’s poet laureate, Chard deNiord. I asked him, in a public setting, to consider the success of instapoets like Rupi Kauer. Mr. deNiord has, in the past, taken a dim view of self-published poets, let alone poetry on the world wide web. So how to explain the success of a poet like Rupi Kauer, whose books sell in the millions?

    Mr. deNiord’s response was what one would expect (and he’s hardly alone in his criticism). He answered that while Kauer’s poetry, and by extension Instapoetry, is popular, it lacks subtlety, imagery, metaphor, narrative capacity and irony. The durability of Instapoetry, he argued, will be short-lived.

    For the most part, what Mr. deNoird said is true. Instapoetry does lack the figurative language, metaphor and irony of established poetry if only because of its brevity. In the case of Kauer, even when she writes longer poems, her efforts are lackluster at best. So what is it about her poetry that has earned her, and continues to earn her, a success that’s the envy of her critics?

    The answer, as I wrote in my earlier post Of Instapoets & Instapoetry, is that she and other instapoets aren’t so much writing poems, but proverbs.

    “My observation is that the best instapoets are not writing poems. They’re writing proverbs. Poets who criticize and satirize them, I think, misunderstand the nature of what writers like Kaur do and the reasons they’re so beloved. It’s not clear that Kaur herself understands but she clearly has a genius for proverbs. (Poetry and proverbs are kissing cousins.)”

    And what do proverbs do? Proverbs are meant to instruct. They are pithy pieces of didacticism. The online Collaborative International Dictionary of English defines a proverb as follows:

    “1. An old and common saying; a phrase which is often repeated; especially, a sentence which briefly and forcibly expresses some practical truth, or the result of experience and observation; a maxim; a saw; an adage. -Chaucer. Bacon. [1913 Webster]”

    Now the interesting thing is that this, across cultures, can be applied to the best and most memorable poetry produced by those cultures. When you think of Elizabethan Poetry, the Sonnets of Sidney, Spencer and Shakespeare are nothing if not proverbial. The Shakespearean Sonnet’s final couplets, as perfected by Shakespeare, offer us one proverb after another. Consider Sonnet 129:

     The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
    Is lust in action; and till action, lust
    Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
    Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
    Enjoy'd no sooner but despised straight,
    Past reason hunted, and no sooner had
    Past reason hated, as a swallow'd bait
    On purpose laid to make the taker mad;
    Mad in pursuit and in possession so;
    Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
    A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
    Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
    All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
    To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.

    The final couplet could easily be made a proverb or instapoem. Elizabethan poets liked to make arguments. Donne’s poems are full of argument, debate and point making. When the later metaphysical poets weren’t busy making sly arguments in shorter poems, they’re longer poems were bestowing instructive narratives upon the reader. The Sonnet itself, is essentially a poem of argument, and that tradition was carried through, for the most part, to the end of the 19th century. That said, it was the early 19th century, with the Romantics, that one begins to discern a less didactic, instructive, or proverbial intent in poetry. Poets like Keats begin to put greater emphasis, in effect, on projecting the poet’s subjective experience. For example, there’s no argument being made in Keats’s Ode to Autumn. There’s no debate or didactic intent. Though the period in which he lived helped to create Keats, Keats innate genius allowed him to translate his subjective experience into great poetry. I think one could argue that Keat’s last poems created the template for the poetry of the next two centuries. Helen Vendler wrote a whole book on Keats’s Odes, and Ode to Autumn, and still couldn’t explain why it’s a great poem. We innately recognize and feel the genius behind the poem, but ask any reader what point or argument Keats was making, and the whole poem begins to feel like a zen koan. Can a poem be great without making any point whatsoever? Keats’s poem speaks to our experience of the world—and our experience of the world exists happily without the need of explanation or justification. One could even go so far as to argue that Keats’s aesthetic removed God from poetry. That is, rather than find truth in God, as with so many poets before him, Keats found truth in beauty—that is, our subjective experience and enjoyment of the world.

    Without turning this post into a book length thesis, I would argue that the poetry of subjective experience, Romanticism, became the dominant mode of expression in the 20th century. (The Victorian era, meanwhile, was the last gasp of a didactic aesthetic that had lasted hundreds of years—a didactic bent that was, perhaps, closely allied with the by then rigid formalities of meter and rhyme.)

    The problem is that by the end of the 20th century and the start of the 21st, what Victorian Poetry was to the didactic impulse, contemporary free verse was to subjective experience. We have seen a hundred years of poetry that has been reduced to, in many ways, the equivalent of mood music. I recall attending writing classes in which students, upon being asked why they wrote a given poem, couldn’t answer the question. They might defiantly answer that their poems didn’t need a reason. And these students are now in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s and they’re still writing poems, I would argue, that are little more than naval gazing travelogues of their own emotional terrain. I recently looked at a copy of Ron Silliman’s The Alphabet. His massive book, and it is massive, struck me as nothing more than an aimless reliquary of a poet’s meandering inner life. Like anybody cares. (And apparently not that many do.) It’s no secret that poetry since the modernists has been a slow fade into irrelevance and obscurity. Could it be that nobody cares how poets feel about their feelings? Is it no longer enough for poets to share their inner (at the risk of redundancy) emotional landscapes? Is it possible that poets, by in large, just aren’t that interesting?

    And this finally brings me back to instapoetry and Vermont’s Poet Laureate Chard deNiord (and other critics of instapoetry) who, to a degree, rightfully point out that instapoetry is artless. Or as Rebecca Watts put it: “The short answer is that artless poetry sells.” So, again, why is that? Why is this “artless” poetry selling in the millions? The answer is that Instapoetry, for all its deserved criticism, is doing the one thing that poetry over the last hundred years hasn’t been doing: making an argument, offering pithy insights, and giving the reader a nugget of truth to walk away with. I’d say that Rebecca Watts misconstrues (self-servingly) the reason that poetry like Kauer’s sells. It’s not because its artless, which it is, but because Kauer’s poetry has a message. The handful of poems by Watt’s, those that I’ve read, don’t. They’re more like abstracted expressions of “interiority”. Likewise, when I read Chard deNiord’s poem Confession of a Bird Watcher, I find it to be a perfectly charming poem, artful in every way, metaphorically capturing the poet’s feelings about his feelings. To that extent, deNiord’s poem (confession is in the very title) is in many ways the pinnacle of 20th century poetic sentiment—the distillation of the poet writing about his own subjective experience. But if instapoetry’s success is any indication, the tide has turned. The poetry of the last few decades is already like the Victorian poetry written in 1919—a caricature of itself. Like mood music, the poetry is evocative but also all but meaningless. (To be provocative, I would argue that Keats transcended the relative “meaninglessness” of a poem like Ode to Autumn through the genius of his aesthetic vision; and few poets since Keats have possessed that kind of genius.) If instapoetry’s success is any indication, readers are looking for poetry that makes an argument, has a message and that communicates a meaning and significance beyond the poet’s own experience. They’re no longer willing to search for a poem’s meaning if that means divining what the poem meant to the poet writing it. The days of the self-absorbed poet are over.

    I suspect that as the 20th century recedes from memory, just as the 19th faded in the early 20th, we’ll see a resurgence of this new/old way of writing poetry. If they want to stand out though, instapoets are going to have to write more than three line proverbs (and some are). They’re going to have to turn their proverbs into artful poems. As it is, artless poetry with a message sells, but eventually that’s not going to be enough. There’s probably only room for a handful of poets like that, and I suspect those slots are already taken. Newer poets are going to have to write artful poetry with messages. Lucky for them, they have a millennia of poets (prior to the 20th century) to learn from.

    All in all, I’d say we’re finally seeing the beginning of the end of 20th century poetry (and I couldn’t be happier to see it go). Time for something new and different. I look forward to poetry that, to paraphrase Frost, stakes out its lover’s quarrel with the world.

    upinVermont | March 13th 2019

    Sunday

    • The poem that follows has spilled blood. I’ve put just about everything else aside to write it these last few months. It’s a refutation. I won’t tell you of who or which poet but any reader familiar with poetry will recognize its inspiration. I didn’t want it to just be a pastiche. That is, though it hews closely in form and rhetoric to its inspiration and though I’ve adopted the original poet’s way of thought, imagery and elusive argument (even his liking of antiquated words and syntax)  I wanted the poem to be mine. That’s hard. Readers who remember my last poem will see that it still lingers with me in my final stanza. But. Done. You won’t find anything like this anywhere else. Enjoy. As for me: On to other poems that have waited patiently.

    1

    The apostasies of a woman’s lips
    On an afternoon at the hotel.
    The orange sun brings her colluding with
    Persimmons on a Sunday beneath the palms
    Of Santa Cruz. Upon a bed sheet lies
    A dissolution of desires saying
    There’s this and only this; and that if afterward
    The waves confide in the brutal architecture
    Of consummation there will still be evenings
    Under the umbrellas of Capitola,
    The large procession of its lighted buildings
    Where women walk in splendor; evening colloquies
    Of a green harbor and the dimming waves—
    Dimmed for the contemplation of the women
    And contemplating on the women walking.

    2

    Why should her beauty not be worldly?
    What is to her the fixed divinity
    Of the high, gold-enameled angel, wrought
    In her own image, never rising nor
    Descending? What to her her coterie
    Of holy emblems? Shall she find no comfort
    In earthly totems? Nothing is divine
    And there is nothing that is not divine
    Both in her and without her: autumn’s frail,
    Confiding sky, the heart’s divide beholding
    The sky; the uncharted snow’s descent, hers
    Upon her lover’s bed. These are the measure—
    Her soul creating and created by
    The world: the pomegranate’s stain before
    The blackbird’s consuetudinary cry.

    3

    Mary had her immaculate conception,
    No lover bruised her thighs, nor any sweet
    Soil lingered there; she moved with unstained feet
    Among the winemakers—a miracle,
    Walked among generations undisturbed,
    In holy revelry, until our own
    Discerning, unabashed, surmised descent—
    The earth’s blood rendered with our own; where even
    The priests discerned it in Galapagos.
    Shall we be mute? When was it ever
    Other but that a woman’s gait be broken
    By the shapeful bounty of a man’s motion?
    When was it ever other than that we
    To each other are all the paradise
    We’ll know, of love, of sorrow, consummation?

    4

    She says, “I am content he wakes me, questions
    My sinews when the morning’s sun first salts
    The odorous sheets. But in my lover’s absence
    Shall swallows not contend?—the plum not taste
    As sweet?—the berry?” Inasmuch as autumn
    Exhausts the yielded fruits of summer,
    The turmoil of the sun is unabated.
    Even as lilacs cool beneath the moon
    Desirous roots divide the earth, confound
    And undermine. No edifice endures
    As the body will endure—no cloister,
    Cathedral, academe—as blood endures;
    As the ecstatic foison of the sun
    Abides within the lover and beloved,
    Their impassioned breaths annealing their tongues.

    5

    “Becalmed,” she says, “and the body wearied,
    I choose to contemplate the spiritual.”
    From eros springs desire, being desire;
    The mother of the sacred and profane—
    She populates our dreams; proffers the apple
    Flavoring lips and thighs, that although tasting
    Of ecstasy, tastes too of bitterness,
    And loss; yet nonetheless we eat: no fruit
    Spits forth the seed until the flesh be parted;
    Until the green calamity of April
    Is reaped by August’s laboring sun. Late hour—
    The women lie with men; eros spreads
    The evening’s garment over them. If otherwise
    The soul know no respite but this, though suffering,
    Though weary, what more than to love—and be loved?

    6

    Is there desire in paradise? How else
    Do lovers speak? How else if never thigh
    To thigh; if mutual labor never dust
    Their sun-regarded flanks? Is her apron
    Forever burdened by the unbruised fruit
    And his swagger never altered being
    Perplexed by hers? What purpose to a man’s
    Proportions or a woman’s where without death
    They never need make love, give birth, or nurturance?—
    Yet it was never us in paradise,
    But paradise in us—in us the dreamt of
    Elation of an ageless afternoon
    Discovered in a kiss—nor the shores
    Of an elysium but our perishing whispers
    At midnight. Paradise is in desire.

    7

    Sinuous and orgiastic, the women
    Wheel and cant devotion to the Earth
    Not in dominion but as Earth might be,
    Its curling waters thrumming in the heart,
    Its seasons churning in the blood of hips
    And groin. The moon descends among them, fierce,
    Unveiled. They voice the cunning of the river
    That kneads the dour root and rubs against
    The skin of April’s melting, women not
    As goddesses might be, but goddesses
    Themselves in whom the summer’s revelations
    Are consummated. Even afterward
    Though autumn breaks the year end’s faltering gait
    Their own describes the memory of the dew
    That slaked their feet; the lilt of the summer’s liquor.

    8.

    She hears, among the startled flight of thrushes,
    Girls cry: ‘The porch of Ithaca is not
    Our resting place, but ours are voices rising
    From every shore.” The chaos of our being
    Is all the world we know: not the sun,
    The dinted summer fields, a midday’s rainfall
    Or skimming swallows; not the course of autumn
    Altering the braided grasses but they take
    Their drink from us; berries their sweetness from
    Our mouths; the wind that scuffs the evening’s waters
    Our breath and longing. Where the starlings flock
    Above a dangling moon—where black as words
    They slip the knotted cords of verse, arising
    Out of the discourse of desire—the mind
    Arises and, containing them, is made whole.

    Sunday
    February 2nd, 2019 by me, Patrick Gillespie

    November

    ·

    There’s nothing left but overall
    Remnants of what had once been fall;
    Even where a week before
    A leaf or two blew through the door
    The dwindling days have turned to soot
    The little traveling underfoot.
    ·
    Snow will follow soon enough
    Careening through the unmown scruff
    Of jimson weed and bush clover,
    Nothing apt to be covered over
    With just a midday’s squall—but soon
    Winter will stay the afternoon.
    ·
    Then who will afterward remember
    The few days readied since September?—
    The ghostly sighs of thimbleweed,
    The bony knuckles of the reed,
    Whole fields of startled hair turned white
    Before the year end’s stricken flight.
    ·
    I wouldn’t ask but that I know
    It’s not just seasons come and go.
    When ice gives way to watercress
    And all of April’s loveliness,
    Remember, though the days are few,
    November has its flowers too.
    ·

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    Pussy Willow Branch (Reduced)·
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    by me | January 8 2018

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      This is my first audio recording using my new YETI microphone. My reading of the poem is just okay, but then I’m never satisfied that way. Best that I never hear myself. The poem itself is one I started not in November of last year but the year before, with a haiku. I finally devoted the time to finishing it.

    Interview with Alice Gilborn

    What’s the first poem that made you feel it belonged to or in Vermont?

    alice_gilborn-smallIf I could pinpoint a particular poem that made me feel that it belonged to Vermont, it would be “Hands Deep,” about a moose that trotted out of the wetland behind our house in Mt. Tabor and across our yard. Although I’d lived in the Adirondacks for 28 years before moving to Vermont, I’d never seen a moose, only tracks once; they were rare, unlike black bears. Coming to Vermont was like sliding south from wilderness to rural, and sometimes there seemed to be little difference. “Hands Deep” was actually published in Blueline, a literary magazine that features writing about the Adirondacks. A second  “Vermont” poem was one I wrote not long after Tropical Storm Irene in 2011 called “Apples and Stones” and published in Bloodroot.

    From where do you think this notion of Vermont-ness arises?

    My particular notion of Vermont-ness came at first from what I read and then what I noticed. Stories and poems described landscape, climate and community–and of course those Vermont icons, maple syrup, Holstein cows, and autumn colors. I realized, though, when we moved here, that Vermont was not necessarily represented by Vermont Life or the Vermont Country Store, nor was it the Vermont of John Gardener’s October Light or an Annie Proulx novel. Gentrification of small towns and villages often disguise poverty; behind a genteel second home sometimes lurks a trailer park. The hard bitten, independent native Vermonter has his or her counterpart in the native Adirondacker, even down to the accent, and indeed, many in the two regions came from the same Yankee stock. But there are differences in place; the Adirondacks seems isolated and wild; Vermont, lonely and pretty. The mountains are rounder here, towns more numerous, lakes fewer (if we don’t count Champlain), there are more farms, and more trees have leaves rather than needles. Just as many rocks. There’s a greater sense of community in Vermont than in the Adirondacks, probably because more people come from all over, though ethnic diversity is not a main feature of either place.

    Does your experience of Vermont arise from anything that might be called “a tradition” of regional poetry? Can Vermont give claim to a “regional poetry”?

    Vermont seems to have a tradition of regional poetry beginning with Robert Frost, but I’m sure there were poets before him who could qualify as regional poets. There are lots of poets in Vermont, and poets writing about its people, landscape, and events are certain to convey a sense of Vermont as a region. Sometimes the term “regional,” though, is a convenient way of organizing the literature of a certain piece of geography, the South epitomized by William Faulkner, or New England by Melville and Hawthorne. On the other hand, because a poet happens to live in a particular place, doesn’t mean he’s a poet of that place.

    What the two volumes of Birchsong are attempting to do is to explore the very questions you ask: Is there a tradition of regional poetry and can Vermont claim one?

    There’s that saying in Vermont: Just ’cause a cat has her kittens in the oven don’t make ’em biscuits. By this the old nativist means: Just ’cause you’re born in Vermont don’t make you a Vermonter. To which I’ve always responded: Just ’cause there’s a biscuit on the table don’t mean it come from your mother’s oven. But I suppose the same could be said for poetry. Just because a poem’s baked in Vermont, doesn’t make a biscuit. Some of what you’ve written goes some ways toward answering this next question, but what poems do you find yourself choosing from the many submitted?

    At this point it’s too early to see a particular pattern or to display an editorial preference in our choices. Based on our experience with the first volume of Birchsong, however, we leaned toward poems with original imagery, not too abstract, and accessible to a variety of readers. We steered away from overly abstract, philosophical, edgy, academic and obscure poetry in favor of those poems that reflected nature (Vermont), situations, or character with new metaphors, whether lyric or narrative. All forms of poetry were welcome, whether free verse or formal, as long as poems were well written and had emotional appeal. One thing noticeable for its absence, though, was humor. I may be going off on a tangent, but I think the distinction between light verse and serious poetry is a false one; after all, poems all arise from the same source–human expression, or an attempt at it. The vehicle for this just happens to be a poem, whatever its form or intent.

    As the manuscript began to take shape, we had to consider other things, such as balance, and this was tough when we had to throw out four perfectly fine poems about blue herons because we already had one perfectly fine poem about one. Then there was layout; sometimes it was necessary because of space to break a line, or to break it in a place where the poet did not intend. We always asked the permission to do this. A poem with each line centered created its own problems–it’s not to be encouraged. And there was always the decision about how much blank space we should leave. Could we devote a whole page (mostly blank) to two haikus by a single poet, when each page cost roughly $10.00 to print? Some journals print poems by different poets on one page–we didn’t want to do that. Choices were/are myriad.

    Any thoughts on the late John Ashbery?

    I really can’t say much about John Ashbery because I’ve read very few of his poems. Some lines resonated; others were a puzzle. I liked his mix of the homely and sophisticated.  As happens, his death makes me want to read more of his work, which I should have read when he was alive.

    What then, are your feelings regarding trends in poetry? Are you satisfied with the current state? Status quo? Negatives? Positives?

    It seems to me that poetry is already going in many directions and that’s good. More and more people are losing their bias and fear of reading it, and more and more poems are being written. If you don’t like them, there are others that mirror your preferences and experience.  At the moment, formal poetry and rhyming poetry are out of favor, though still available if you look hard enough (especially poems for children), and trends will change. Of course there’s a great range in quality, from bad to excellent. There seems to be an ample amount of confessional poetry, a trend perhaps started by Sylvia Plath, and many poems featuring the poet herself or himself as star attraction. These have been around for a good part of the 20th century and beyond, more of a school than a trend.

    My suggestion to anyone wanting to write poetry, as well as to read it, is to find some poems using a traditional form, such as a sonnet or a villanelle, and write a poem in that form. After enough imitation, you’ll find your own voice and the style you’re comfortable with. Writing a poem is like building a boat–eventually you’ll have a finished vessel which you hope will float; you won’t see all the parts it’s made of, but you know that they’re there.

    A trend to oral poetry is also good, I think; it goes back to its roots. I don’t have much experience with poetry slams or mixed media presentations, though they sound interesting. But I do think poetry should be read as well as heard. The best solution is to have both: the poem, and the poet reading it. Readers vary, however–they can be riveting, or they can be flat, overly dramatic, hard to hear, or inclined to stumble. Their written work is often a better representation of their skill than their spoken words.

    Lastly, your thoughts on the current state of publishing? Internet vs. traditonal publications?

    Judging from what I see at the Northshire Bookstore in Manchester, poetry in book form seems to be thriving. Many journals publish poetry (Poets and Writers prints periodic lists). There are also contests that offer cash prizes and publication though you must pay an entrance fee. It’s wise to research these. My observation, however, is that traditional literary magazines and small presses are in short supply in Vermont, thus Birchsong is trying to help fill the void. Internet publications help; the Vermont literary magazine Bloodroot, formerly a print journal, is now on line. Poetry published on the internet may have wider circulation than traditional publications, especially to a dedicated readership, but linking up an audience with the poems they want may be harder. You can always have a copy of a print publication on hand. My own preference is to read poems in traditional print form rather than on line because I don’t like looking at a screen–I enjoy the feel and heft of a magazine or book, turning pages at random, and putting it on a shelf where I can find it. But that may change.