It could be verse: Herbert Elliott

It could be verse*

Poems are like teabags in that they have the potential to infuse our minds and hearts with the flavor of their contents.  They communicate feeling, connection and meaning.  They are immediate pieces of humanity; they are portable worlds.

Poetry, we sometimes think, belongs in a special place, like a literature class, or a valentine.  But what if poems were as ubiquitous as advertisements?  What if poems secretly crept out of their lonely volumes and appeared in your lunch box, your in-box, or on TV, a brief haiku between the six o’clock news and Seinfeld.  In this skinny column I’d like to introduce you to the poetry made by your Vermont neighbors like Diane Swan and Burt Porter.

To kick off the column, I chose a poem by St. Johnsbury poet, Herbert Elliott (1914-1990), whose observations in his poem, “Birds With Us” conveys the tugging of spring upon winter, winter upon spring, as we and the just arrived birds carry on together amid the unsettled season. Elliott was a dairy farmer, and this poem comes from his collection, Take Your Last Look, selected by his daughter Sandria Elliott Ebbett. The poem comforts us as we shovel out of April and splash into May.

 

Birds With Us              by Herbert Elliott

 

The April snow came late

And covered bush and weed.

Around the house in flocks

The spring birds came to feed.

 

The wood-birds left the woods

And snowy forest floor

And printed little tracks

Before the kitchen door.

 

The night came, and the moon,

And in the silver gleam

In barn they dreamed of spring

On rafter and on beam.

 

*column first appeared in the Barton Chronicle on May 2, 2007. It is reprinted with permission, and a special feature in celebration of National Poetry Month, and in conjunction with POETRY Alive!

Julia Shipley is one of three newspaper columnists in the United States. Her column, It could be verse,has appeared monthly in the Barton Chronicle for five years, showcasing the poetry of more than 50 Vermont writers. In May she will present, “The News from Poems,” a talk on Contemporary Vermont Poetry as part of the Osher Life Long Learning Institute lecture series in Newport, Vt. Her own poems have appeared in Hunger Mountain, Gihon River Review,  Bloodroot, Rivendell and elsewhere. Her chapbook Herd was published by Sheltering Pines Press. For more information please go to: www.writingonthefarm.com

 

It could be verse: David Hinton

*It could be verse: Some ancient words to celebrate spring

Happy National Poetry Month, and welcome to words written about 959 years ago. To celebrate the thirty poetic days of April, I selected two poems translated from Chinese by David Hinton, who lives in East Calais. In Mountain Home: The Wilderness Poetry of Ancient China, Mr. Hinton provides translations of 19 poets who lived many springs ago. Tu Mu’s life spanned from 803-853. Mei Yao-Ch’en lived from 1002-1060. Despite the abyss of years and culture: both of these poems reach out to us, here, now. I think Tu-Mu may have been walking around in the Morse’s sugar woods. Perhaps Mei Yao- Ch’en and his horse paused over by Wrightsville Reservoir.

Though neither of these ancient poets had an answering machine (or a phone for that matter), they have left these spring greetings for us, that perhaps encourage us to leave our own message.

Thankfully, one thousand springs later, limbs are again blossoming on ancient trees.

A Mountain Walk by Tu Mu (tran. David Hinton)

Climbing far into cold mountains, the stone path

steepens.

White clouds are born up here, and there are

houses too.

I stop to sit for a while, savoring maple forests in late light;

frost glazed leaves glistening red as mid-spring blossoms.

***

East River by Mei Yao-Ch’en (tran. David Hinton)

Reaching East River, I gaze across the water,

Then sit facing a lone island. Boats creep forth.

Wild ducks, thoughts idle, sleep along the bank,

And in ancient trees, every limb is blossoming.

*column first appeared in the Barton Chronicle on April 30, 2008 and is reprinted with permission.

Julia Shipley is one of three newspaper columnists in the United States writing about poetry. Her column, It could be verse has appeared monthly in the Barton Chronicle for five years, showcasing the poetry of more than 50 Vermont writers. In May she will present, ”The News from Poems,” a talk on Contemporary Vermont Poetry as part of the Osher Life Long Learning Institute lecture series in Newport, Vt. Her own poems have appeared in Hunger Mountain, Gihon River Review,  Bloodroot, Rivendell and elsewhere. Her chapbook Herd was published by Sheltering Pines Press. For more information please go to: www.writingonthefarm.com

It could be verse: Burt Porter

It could be verse: Life after smackdown

I marvel at how the reed canary grass—taller than a man on a tractor—has been flattened in the field behind the house by something as simple as snow. Last summer the nibblesome sheep couldn’t east it fast enough, and the John Deere, then the borrowed Kubota couldn’t hinder it; it bristled through late autumn storms. But winter, the ultimate smackdown, took it back to the mat, or mud rather. Glover poet Burt Porter reports on what’s left, the look of the landscape after winter’s recession in his poem, ‘April First,’ from his book A Spiral Wind. In this two- stanza poem (“stanza” is the Italian word for “room”), Mr. Porter describes his finding in rhyming lines of iambic. “Iamb” is the Latin word for “foot,” and if you read this poem aloud, you’ll find the rhythm of its syllables nearly matches your own heel-toe, heel-toe (soft-hard) footsteps. Imagine Mr. Porter, who also plays the fiddle, whittling a tune to these lyrics of leaving the room of “the dank bleared ground” and promenading into a field of dandelions “like twenty thousand suns”!

April First                    by Burt Porter

Now as we watch the snow retreat

We estimate how many feet

Of brown and flattened April field

By melting snow has been revealed.

Dank, bleared ground, long in the dark

Beneath the drifts still bears the mark

Of tons of deep packed trodden snow—

So on this land the marks still show

Of massive glaciers, long ago.

 

Soon on this field the dandelions

Will glow like twenty thousand suns

And in a world of green and gold

We will forget the winter’s cold,

As in this world of gold and green

With blossoms like a May-day queen

We frolic in the time between

The last and next Pleistocene.

 

*column first appeared in the Barton Chronicle on April 15, 2009 and is reprinted with permission.

Julia Shipley is one of three newspaper columnists in the United States writing about poetry. Her column, It could be verse has appeared monthly in the Barton Chronicle for five years, showcasing the poetry of more than 50 Vermont writers. In May she will present, ”The News from Poems,” a talk on Contemporary Vermont Poetry as part of the Osher Life Long Learning Institute lecture series in Newport, Vt. Her own poems have appeared in Hunger Mountain, Gihon River Review,  Bloodroot, Rivendell and elsewhere. Her chapbook Herd was published by Sheltering Pines Press. For more information please go to: www.writingonthefarm.com

 

Note: Burt Porter will be featured in Vermont Humanities Council‘s event Making Poetry Memorable Through Music, hosted by The Kellogg-Hubbard Libary, Montpelier Alive, and Vermont History Museum on Tuesday, April 12th at 2 p.m. at the Vermont History Museum on State Street, Montpelier.

This program is a part of POETRY Alive! 2011, a joint presentation of The Kellogg-Hubbard Library and Montpelier Alive that is supported in part by the Vermont Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.