By George Longenecker
Each April during National Poetry Month, Montpelier becomes a book, with poems on posters in dozens of store, office, and restaurant windows. The Kellogg-Hubbard Library organizes PoemCity under the direction of Michelle Singer.
This year there is an actual book of poetry for the first time, the 324-page “PoemCity Anthology 2023” by Rootstock Publishing. Rootstock owner and publisher Samantha Kolber of Montpelier compiled this anthology, which includes every poem submitted and displayed, in just six weeks. All proceeds from sales of the book will go toward the PoemCity program.
I must make disclaimers. For years I’ve been an enthusiastic supporter of PoemCity. Some of the poets in the book are friends, neighbors, or fellow members of the Poetry Society of Vermont. One of my poems is in the book.
The anthology includes Vermont poets from Guilford to Irasburg, ages 6 to 88. Students from Main Street Middle School, Roxbury Village School, and Calais Elementary School worked with their teachers to submit poems and have their own section in the book.
PoemCity is egalitarian; all poems are accepted as long as they’re acceptable for public display. Not all are poems that would make it into top journals, although some have. Yet these poems are uniformly good. This is poetry for the people, in the tradition of community and the spoken word. Indeed, on a sunny April Saturday poet and teacher Rick Agran of Worcester led a group on a downtown tour. A dozen of us read poems from posters and from copies of the book.
It’s a beautiful book. The cover art by Amanda Weisenfeld, “Fox Contemplates Rabbit as God,” was designed with wet felted wool and hand embroidery. Layout is excellent and does the poems justice.
Many poems are about the natural world, and many are about Vermont. “The Fox Nobody Knows” by Beverly Breen of Thetford is about a gray fox. She says: “… if my soul too? slips into the wild / lurks among the shadows / pauses with moon-pooled eyes / what is it that the watcher sees / am I predator / or prey?
Julia Barstow of East Montpelier speaks of spring in “Homing.” “Each return / begins in tree sap, the coltsfoot.”
In “Awe,” James Crew of Shaftsbury says: “Few tell us that wonder and awe / are decisions we make daily, hourly, / in the tiny offices of the heart …” His sustained metaphor would make anyone’s heart beat faster.
Scudder Parker of Middlesex writes with irony in “A Friend Suggests I get Lost in the Woods as a Way to Find Myself”: “Let’s face it, / I never chose to get lost at all — / just decided not to panic / when I realized I was”.
Many poems in the anthology are about family and some of those are about loss and aging. Patty Joslyn of Montpelier has one of the most unique poems, designed as a bingo card, in “B for Brave and Bold” she writes of her Great Gramma Annie who “… played at every basement of every church in town.”
Gaia Fried of Montpelier writes in “Cleaning Out the Car” of a loved one’s passing, yet never mentions death. The things she finds tell the story: “… brown pony-tail holder, used masks, Chapstick … a half-drunk water bottle …”
Mary Elder Jacobsen of Calais dedicates “Postcard from a Stack Tied Up with Twine’’ to her father. “The weight of losing you, / the decades now, the things I’d call / to say to you but can’t / and so / I write.”
There are social justice poems such as “Alphonso” by Whit Dall of Montpelier about a man panhandling at sunset: “Rolling the window down I hand him some money … he grabs my hand for a shake, his hand is / rough and worn.”
In “Christmas 2020” Vanessa Tourangeau of Johnson writes in the winter of COVID-19: “Choking back tears, driving / Listening to NPR report daily deaths …”
There are poems for everyone in this anthology — far too many to mention here. You may weep; you may rejoice. Let a child have the final word. Charlotte Rutter in Grade 4 at Roxbury Village School says in her haiku:
Hummingbird You buzz like a bee You like sugar water You’re very pretty