The Bookshelf: Poet Laureate Edits Anthology of NH Poets

Jan 22, 2016

The Bookshelf is NHPR's series on authors and books with ties to the Granite State. All Things Considered features authors, covers literary events and publishing trends, and gets recommendations from each guest on what books listeners might want to add to their own bookshelves. 

If you have an author or book you think we should profile on The Bookshelf, send us an email. The address is books@nhpr.org.

This week, The Bookshelf features New Hampshire Poet Laureate Alice Fogel and Hobblebush Books publisher Sidney Hall, Jr. They are the editors of Poet Showcase: An Anthology of New Hampshire poets, which features 117 of New Hampshire's best poets. Take a listen to their conversation with All Things Considered host Peter Biello, or scroll down to read the Q&A below their book picks.

Alice Fogel's Top 5 Book Recommendations

1.   The Spell of the Sensuous by David Abram. "How to see the world as if you're in love with every leaf, every being, and every word to describe it all. This brilliant book shows how language is rooted in our animal nature and inseparable from perception. It's a work of ecology unlike any other."

2.   Eskimo Realities by Edmund Carpenter. "A beautiful one-of-a-kind book about landscape, wind, seasons, art, and living fully in place. This book would appeal to anyone interested in what both place and art mean to our humanity. The book itself is a work of art, a kind of prose poem, and includes copious illustrations."

3.   Reading the Forested Landscape by Tom Wessels. "Find out how Napoleon's actions and fate in 18th century Europe directly influence what you see in the woods of Vermont and New Hampshire now. Also illustrated, this is a fascinating and pleasing book about what trees, terrain, rocks, and water have been doing all their lives, and what they can tell you today. A walk through the woods will never be the same again. It's also fun even from an armchair."

4.   The Old Ways by Robert MacFarlane. "This gorgeously written book, about still-taken ancient paths on land, mountain, and sea around the world, is practically like eating chocolate cake. The language is astoundingly interesting, and the passionate combination of personal experience, research, and contemplation made me want to copy segments of every page into my notebook, and then go out and walk all those trails."

5.   Harold and the Purple Crayon by Crockett Johnson. "The most simultaneously inspiring and comforting story of how the way we physically and mentally participate in the act of seeing can lead us on adventures far afield and also take us home."

Sidney Hall, Jr.'s Top 5 Book Recommendations

1. From the Box Marked Some Are Missing: New & Selected Poems by Charles Pratt. "At the risk of advocating books that we published at Hobblebush, I’d like to draw your attention to the first and last books in the Hobblebush Granite State Poetry Series. Charlie Pratt was an apple grower in southern New Hampshire who quietly published poems in leading journals for decades and had a cult following. This book collects his best poems and is a sheer delight to read.  Maxine Kumin called him 'a sneaky formalist,' and his poems have the satisfactory feel of carefully conceived works while they also feel spontaneous. Ilya Kaminsky called him “one of the best kept secrets of American poetry."

2.   Field Guide, A Tempo by Henry Walters. "The latest book in the Hobblebush Granite State Poetry Series. A scholar of Greek and Latin, a beekeeper, falconer, teacher and naturalist, and musician, Walters weaves all his passions together is this remarkable book. Rosanna Warren calls him a poet 'unafraid of ecstasy,' and she says, 'Every line ignites.'  I have read this book over and over and will never tire of it."

3.   The Seamless Web by Stanley Burnshaw. "Easily the best book about poetry that I have read. I have underlined my copy so many times there is not much left to underline. It is about poetry as an expression of the whole body, as opposed to only the intellect. It is heavy on quotes from other poets on the creative process and it is heavy with wisdom. It is not an easy book. It is for those who love poetry and want to find their way deeply into the experience of poetry."

4.   Independent People by Halldór Laxness. "My favorite novel.  It won its Icelandic author the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1955. It is the story of an ordinary sheep farmer’s search for independence from his oppressors. It is bleak and even terrifying but full of subtle comedy at the same time. It’s scope is vast and it is a book you can truly call a masterpiece."

5.   Far Away and Long Ago by Henry Hudson. "English author and naturalist Henry Hudson suffered temporarily from a disease that miraculously made him able to recall his childhood in great detail, and this is the story of his growing up in Argentina on the pampas. You cannot come away from this amazing book without a whole new relationship to the natural world and to your own childhood. Hemingway recommended it as one of the few books he would want to read twice. Unfortunately, it is hard to get a good readable edition of it. The recent paperback versions are poorly produced. I’d recommend an older hardcover if you can find one."

Alice Fogel, what makes the New Hampshire poet different? Is there some special quality the state by nature imparts on the poets here?

Alice Fogel: It’s a question that many of us have asked and will probably continue to ask. I think the fact that we live in a state that has a lot of support for the arts, that has a lot of beauty in the natural world, we have the coastline, we have the mountains, the woods, that definitely influences people…maybe why we come here or our sensibilities adjust to being in that environment. So there would be that kind of influence.

But at the same time I would say there’s a huge variety of voices and styles and approaches to poetry amongst the poets in New Hampshire.

Sidney Hall, Jr.: It seems as though there’s a poet lurking behind every stone wall and apple tree. Just so many poets. And these are not just poets that dither in writing poetry. These are good poets who are serious poets, so it’s pretty amazing, actually.

Tell us about the Poet Showcase. Where did this idea come from?

SH: It was originally a website which was on the New Hampshire Council of the Arts website. Two prior Poets Laureate, Pat Fargnoli and Walter Butts, ran the website and invited a new poet every two weeks to be on the site. When Alice became our new Poet Laureate, she came to us at Hobblebush because we do a lot of poetry publishing, and wanted to do something to help our New Hampshire poets get better recognition and had this idea. And so we started putting it together. It turned out to be quite a huge project to herd over 100 poets together into one volume.

AF: It was exciting to go through this and see how many poets there were and to make contact with them and tell them about this project and get them involved in it. It was a really great thing to be able to do.

So it was your idea, Alice, to bring Poet Showcase out of the cyberspace realm and bring it into book form?

AF: Yes, there is an archive online, but it’s really pretty much a dormant site now, it’s kind of dead. So I thought, to put it into a book and have it in people’s hands would be a great way to honor what Pat Fargnoli did and what Walter Butts did, and it just seemed like a no-brainer to ask Sid to do this for Hobblebush, because he’s already involved with showcasing New Hampshire poets.

SH: The original concept that Alice and I had was to pick 20 or 30 of what we were going to consider the best of the bunch, but as we got going on that we realized it was a really difficult task to do that. There were so many good poets, so we went for the whole shebang.

Is it possible for you to pick a favorite poem?

AF: I definitely would not be able to pick a favorite, but I could read one. Would you like me to read one?

Yes, we’d love to hear one.

AF: What I’d like to read is a poem by L.R. Berger, called “Notes from Eagle Island.” And this is excerpts from it.

Notes from Eagle Island
(excerpts)

Moon as scimitar.

The hour of last light.

I scavenge for the revelation
lurking in every form.

The darkening woods
calls you to declare
what you believe in—

I took the wrong trail
at the crossroad.

My body is torn
between the fear of being
lost, and the work
of finding my way home—

Between the impulse to run
and the impulse to kneel.

*  *  *

We are children of these accidental, but
nevertheless, communions.

The loon wakes me. Sound of one voice
and another that answers,
tremolo saturating the August air
for miles.

I haul myself up, wooden bucket full
from the well.

On neighboring islands, others
are drawing themselves
half-willingly from sleep.

To hear the wailing of two birds, a calling
We have no choice but to share in the night

Blackened as the glass chimney
on the kerosene lamp, the wick
gone too long untrimmed.

Why this one?

AF: I love this poem. It brings me into the natural world. It feels like I’m in New Hampshire when I read this poem. There’s the woods and the trail and the loon. And it goes so much farther than that. It feels like it just goes into the universe and it goes deep inside what it feels like to be a human trying to follow the trail of our lives and come home.

Well thank you very much for reading that. How about you, Sidney?

SH: One of my favorite poems—and as Alice said, it’s really hard to pick out a poem—is by Juli Nunlist, called “Viewpoint.”

Viewpoint
 

If you look
this way and that
you will see things

differently. This way
you see the fisherman
in the blue cap

is holding a net,
In fact he is
Mending it,

retying a knot
that has come undone
at one corner.

You imagine the net tonight
filled with the silver gleam
of fish scales

as his boat bumps
against the dock, its deck
luminous with his catch.

But if you look that way,
you see the fisherman is holding
an enormous number

of holes tied together
with string,
and he is trying,

by knotting the corner
to keep one of the holes
from escaping.

SH: I like the quirky, somewhat humorous nature of it. It’s impeccably constructed, like all of her poems are. Very short lines that are just perfectly put together.

Each of these poems comes with a note from its author about the inspiration for the poem. Did any of these stories really surprise you or change completely your understanding of the poem?

SH: Well, Alice suggested at the beginning that we put the little commentaries after the poems because we really wanted the poems to stand on their own and be the primary thing and let the readers experience those first, before the commentary. But, having the commentary following the poem, each poem, really does add quite a lot of perspective and is one of the nice features of this book, I think. And I can’t think of any one that changed my perspective enormously but they always added something to my perspective on the poem. Some of them are quite interesting.

AF: I feel similarly. I want to read the poem and connect with it myself first, but having that voice there, I think it makes the book really intimate and warm because you’re sitting there with the poets, the poets themselves, as well as the poems, so you can just read the poems if you want to, or you can read what the poets are saying about where this poem came from for them, what it means to them, and bring that back to another reading of the poem.

SH: And you get an awareness of where they live in the state, and sort of the cultural contribution that they make to our state.