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:


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.

Dead Poets Night at Savoy

The Savoy Theater is closed this week for Spring Break, and so we’ve got the night of Wednesday, April 6th for ourselves. We’ll have a screening of this 1989 movie, followed with our own night of poetic recitation.  Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Cash snack and wine bar is available. Hopefully afterwards a few of us could jaunt over to Langdon Street Cafe, and catch the last bit of their poetry open mic.

I recently rewatched the movie in anticipation of this event, and found myself more moved by it than when I originally viewed it as a teenager so many years ago. Back then, I was a freshman in high school, the same age as Ethan Hawke’s character in the film. And while I spent much of my time not trying to stand out, I didn’t connect with the prep school atmosphere and politics. Besides, how could Robin Williams be anything other than Popeye, or Mork from Ork? It was a stretch that took the whole movie to get over.

Watching it again brought back a nostalgia for my cadre of fellow writers that I had no idea would exist when I was a 15-year-old. I hadn’t met them yet, nor had I bared my soul in our Tuesday afternoon writing group meetings, nor had I discovered that I COULD write, that it was allowed. That I actually wanted so very badly to do this.

We wrote essays about our lives, short stories about imaginary revolutionaries and their lovers, poems about dreams and disappointments. We kept journals, read and discussed books. We were given permission to write whatever we needed to. There was one published author amongst us: Erica, who had published a story in Merlin’s Pen when we were twelve and in the sixth grade.  The rest of us tried very hard and managed to get published in The Dial, our high school literary journal. A few of us sat on the editorial board.

Those four years of rigorous writing established a practice that I keep to this day–(almost) daily writings, writing without fear, but with determination and humor. At 15, I could not fathom that at 34, I would have a wide network of writers (poets especially), that I would be actively publishing and loving it. I have deep gratitude for the teachers that have nurtured and steered my talents. Thanks to Ms. Lewis, who when asked, agreed to be our advisor without batting an eyelash (though she did sometimes ask for more wholesome material from us, we loved her). Thanks also to Ms. Olson, who gave us a great framework for critique, when it came to reading the work of our peers.

This movie is a tribute to teachers. I know now that they all want us to be the best we can be. To be our true selves. But they are also handicapped as we all are by not knowing how our lives will play out. They inspire and hope for the best.

The second part of the evening is meant to remember that poetry is an “aural art”, as Baron Wormser put it the other night. The tradition of poetry was passed from person to person, memorized and recited. They were incantations, psalms, songs and prayers and riddles that one could call upon whenever needed. Everyone is encouraged to come prepared with some memorized material. But not to fear! We will have some books available and participants my read from printed text. That what the boys in the movie did, besides. There are no rules, except to stand up and be a part of the ongoing tradition of poetic recitation.

The Savoy CineClub is on the downstairs level and not wheelchair accessible. This program is part of POETRY Alive! 2011, a joint presentation of the Kellogg-Hubbard Library and Montpelier Alive and is supported in part by the Vermont Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

POETRY Alive Kicks Off!

POETRY Alive’s kick off event was a success all around. I brought the guidebooks in hot off the press and we passed them around as the audience waited for the 7 o’clock hour. Rachel Senechal, the Program and Development Coordinator for the  Kellogg Hubbard Library introduced Baron Wormser to the audience, and gave shout out to me, to Sadie Allen, her Americorp VISTA Volunteer, and a whole list of folks without whom POETRY Alive! would not have been possible.

I’d heard Baron Wormser read once before, last April at Bear Pond Books, and ended up purchasing his new and selected book. On Thursday, he read mostly from his newer book, Impenitent Notes. The audience was enthralled, laughed and ached along with each of the poems. Mr. Wormser is a terrific reader, practiced, and conversational in tone.

Later, during the Q&A, he was staunch about poetry being an aural tradition, that it’s meant to be read aloud. He admitted he was self-taught and didn’t start poetry writing in earnest until he was about 30 years old (which he calls late).

The Q & A was one of the best the parts of the whole evening. The audience included some of the poets whose work is on display in the town-wide storefront exhibit, and they were taking this opportunity to pick the brain of an accomplished writer. They were hungry for it. Who are your influences? Do you share with family? What are your writing materials? Are you teaching writing workshops?

Everyone left wanting to learn more, and deeply grateful for what Wormser shared with us. Not just his poems. But also his process. Good news for all of you who were present–we’re looking to bring him back next year!

Thanks to everyone who attended, and made our first program of POETRY Alive! a successful one.  We hope to see you throughout the month!

Click here for full schedule and listings.

One of the poets in the audience was Cheryl Willoughby, who wrote about the evening here and here.

POETRY Alive! is a joint presentation of The Kellogg-Hubbard Library and Montpelier Alive and is supported in part by The Vermont Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities. It is coordinated by Rachel Senechal and Phayvanh Luekhamhan.