Roads Taken: Vermont Poets Share Work at Town Reading

By COURTNEY CRAWFORD

The Celebration of Vermont Poetry & Poets came to the town of Middlebury this past weekend. At the center of the Vermont Book Shop on Main Street, a number of scattered seating options faced a small open space where six poets read from “Roads Taken: Contemporary Vermont Poetry.” This anthology presents a variety of works from young, undiscovered Vermont poets all the way back to the celebrated Robert Frost. The six poets at the Middlebury reading included Karen Gottshall, Gary Margolis, Dennis Nurkse, Bianco Stone, Sydney Lea and Chard deNiord.

“Bringing together these voices has a unique bonding capability, especially when brought to the public through a reading such as this one,” Serrin Kim ’22 said after attending the event. 

The compilation of so many diverse poems was neither quick nor easy for editors Lea and deNiord. However, the two worked well together, making the work as smooth as it could be.

“We almost always agreed and that really is a blessing,” said diNiord, “It would have felt like an even longer process if we didn’t.” 

The final product contains the work of over 80 poets and took more than two years to complete. The idea of an anthology of contemporary Vermont poetry came to deNiord while Lea held the title of the Vermont poet laureate. Lea’s schedule quickly became full with readings and so she asked deNiord to hold off on the book for a bit. After a switch of roles though, deNiord, finding himself the next poet laureate, asked Lea again and off they went.

This is not the first time this anthology has been the focus of a celebratory event such as the one at the Vermont Book Shop. The poets whose work is included live all over the state of Vermont. “There are more poets per capita in Vermont than any other state,” diNiord said in a Vermont Public Radio podcast. “It just made sense to want to share their work and expose people to the themes within their poems,” diNiord continued.

In order for poets to qualify to have their work included in the book, there were two criteria: residence in Vermont for five years and the prior publishing of a book of poetry with a press that isn’t a Vanity press. Poets were asked to submit five poems from which diNiord and Lea then picked two to include in the book.

I was surrounded by family members who were authors and poets, so it was natural for me.”

— BIANCA STONE

The goal of the book and these public reading events is to create an ongoing celebration that will grow and spread throughout the state. Each of the individual public readings takes place in different parts of Vermont, and those poets published in the book who live in the area are invited to read aloud. At the Middlebury reading, the six poets present also chose poems outside of the book to share.

Advertised as a poetry reading in preparation for Valentine’s Day, heart-shaped chocolates encased in pink and red wrappers could be found in a bowl to the side of the seating. In addition, some of the poems read were prefaced with this light-hearted explanation: “Because Valentine’s Day is coming up, I’m going to read this love poem.”

During the readings there was complete silence in the bookstore. A couple in one of the far corners had their eyes closed and held hands. One woman sat on the ground next to the couch, knitting while she listened.

 “I noticed that those in attendance were definitely more representative of the older Middlebury population,” Elaine Vidal ’22 said, “I think it would have been great to also see some younger faces.” 

Bianca Stone, one of the younger poets included in the book, addressed this observation when talking about growing up in Middlebury. “I was surrounded by family members who were authors and poets, so it was natural for me,” she said. “I don’t know whether I would have become interested in poetry if it weren’t for them.”

Poetry seems to be an integral part of  Vermont tradition, based on a section of the book’s introduction that refers to poems in the volume as “claim[ing] Vermont as their place of origin, bearing witness to the remarkably rich and ongoing legacy of the state’s poetic tradition.” However, Stone pointed out that there’s not too much exposure to poetry, based on her experience in middle school and high school here in Middlebury. “There’s definitely room for improvement,” she said.

On the other hand, there is a lot of writing going on if you know how to find it; as National Poetry Month approaches this coming April, the college community and Middlebury residents will have ample opportunity to delve into poetry. David Weinstock, who was in attendance on Saturday, leads a weekly poetry workshop at the Ilsley Public Library. “We will put aside our usual round of reading and critiquing in April and feature guest poets and speakers instead, many from the college,” he said.

“This event had a lot of facets that would have made it attractive to college students, especially the intimacy of hearing poems read in person by the authors themselves,” Lucy Townend ’22 said. “I think that events like these should be advertised more on campus. Also, for a larger audience, it would need a bigger and more comfortable venue to support more people.”

Events like this have originally been catered to a small audience. So, according to Townend, it could be important to strike a balance between creating a small and intimate environment and allowing for a bigger audience to share events like this.

Ultimately, diNiord’s statement that there’s “a fierce self-reliance in Vermonters and mystical love for the landscape” will hopefully continue through the creation of poetry that will be shared and celebrated throughout Vermont and in the Middlebury community.

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Roads Taken: Vermont Poets Share Work at Town Reading