Book review: New Kinsey collection is a double offering

copyright the Chronicle March 16, 2016

Galvanized, New and Selected Poems by Leland Kinsey. Published by Green Writers Press, Brattleboro. 381 pages. $24.95 in paperback.

Reviewed by Chris Braithwaite

As its subtitle suggests, Barton poet Lee Kinsey’s new book is a double offering. It begins with a dozen new poems; then a rich selection of his finest work drawn from earlier books that stretch all the way from Northern Almanac (1991) through Family Drives (1993), Not One Man’s Work (1996), Sledding on Hospital Hill (2003), and The Immigrant’s Contract (2008), to Winter Ready (2014).

Galvanized is a double offering in another sense, as well. To readers who know anything of this area and its history it is a beautifully drafted, richly detailed, four-dimensional map through space and time.

But Mr. Kinsey also takes his readers to the wilds of Labrador, the relentless heat of Africa, the wheat fields and dinosaur-rich badlands of western Canada, and the bars of Havana long before Castro tamed them.

Except for the latter, from which Mr. Kinsey was barred by U.S. law, these are first-person accounts of the poet’s travels. He was toured through Tanzania by a cousin, Erwin Kinsey, who has made agricultural development there his life’s work. And in one of the new poems, “Shouldered,” it is good to see that, even removed from the Northeast Kingdom by a generation and the Atlantic Ocean, the Kinsey spirit survives.

Trying to be helpful, Erwin’s three pre-teen boys roll a large boulder out of a steep, sandy road. The huge rock doesn’t come quietly to rest on the shoulder, but rolls through a coffee plantation, a fence, a garden, a small dam, and two shops before coming to rest against their school.

The poet reports:

The day they told me of it

we walked and talked down every thrashed,

apologized for, paid for, proud inch.

Proud, indeed. Another story for the Kinsey family annals.

When he combined the stories he’d collected from an elderly friend into The Immigrant’s Contract, Mr. Kinsey felt obliged to visit Alberta. His friend had gone out west on a train to help bust the prairie sod, driving one of five ten-horse teams across a perfectly flat landscape.

Mr. Kinsey made the long drive in three days, sticking as close to the railway line as he could.

In the poem “Alberta Wheat Fields” his protagonist, who emigrated to the Kingdom from Quebec as a young man, notices something missing:

I waited for ledges and rocks but the disks

wheeled on, cutting for hour after stoneless hour.

 

In another of his new poems, “Fish Eggs,” Mr. Kinsey is in Labrador. He’s set aside the eggs he stripped from a catch as a gift for the expedition’s cook. But they don’t make it back to camp. The poem closes with a fine demonstration of Mr. Kinsey’s gift for rhythm:

Eggs, and no gull noticed,

gull, and no eggs to be seen,

no one’s rights involved,

just, quick as that,

life’s magic

act.

But it is the work that emerges from the poet’s precise map of the neighborhood that this reader finds most compelling.

It is intimate stuff, but in detail, Mr. Kinsey warns us in “Horseshoeing,” we must grant him some measure of poetic license:

But any path to or through

the past is an icy road,

whatever the pace,

distorted by speed.

Some of the incidents in his poems are completely accurate, Mr. Kinsey said Saturday in an interview. “Others I manipulated. I’m not trying to write my autobiography. I’m trying to write poems.”

In background detail, however, the poems ring perfectly true. From “Children Sledding on Hospital Hill” he evokes:

… an icy night

so cold the roads weren’t slippery.

 

And from “Upland Birds,” the grouse’s perfect imitation of machine:

All day I heard the muffled thumps

like the tumble and thuds 

of my grandfather starting

his old John Deere tractor

There are surprising similes that could only occur to a writer who grew up on a rock-cursed dairy farm in the Kingdom. From “Swing,” catching fastballs hurled by his father across the stubble of a hayfield:

the slap in our gloves like the sound 

of punching an ornery cow

Mr. Kinsey turns the surprise around in one of his new poems, “Army Worms.” As they eat their way across a crop of rowen, he writes, the worms sound like horses eating hay:

or like the rub of taffeta against my leg

at prom balls in my earlier life.

There is a great deal of loss in the work of Leland Kinsey. He writes, in “Last Crops,” of the family gathering to harvest the fruits and vegetables husbanded by his sister Helen, who has died of cancer.

And in “Picking Stone” the family comes to the aid of a cousin, Jeff Kinsey, who is too weakened by the cancer that is killing him to do the job himself.

Jeff is given the last word:

“Well, I know you must love me,

I never thought I’d see you pick stone again.”

                        Little enough burden.

 

The book is bracketed by poems about the poet’s father, Fred Kinsey. There’s bitterness in the final poem, an angry homage to an unstoppable force who lay dying in hospital:

You worked your life in the Northeast Kingdom

with power,

and no glory,

ever.

And there’s great joy in the new work that opens the book, “The Skinny.” A young Fred and his brother Bob are caught skinny dipping in the Barton River as a train pulls by carrying the King and Queen of England on a royal visit.

… they stood and waved

and thought or pretended the Queen responded,

at a window the sweep of a hand

a pleasant face

moving away at considerable speed.

There is in fact a map of Mr. Kinsey’s world. Shown to him recently by his mother, Louise Kinsey, it shows the road from the family farm to South Albany, past Hartwell Pond where a car is parked. In the pond, the tiny bobbing heads of the Kinseys, reaping their cool reward for a hot day spent in the hayfield. If a child spent too much time out of sight, a parent would call out and wait for the answering “Here I am.”

When he drew the map, at age six, Mr. Kinsey could not have known it would illustrate one of his poems, “Swimming Late.” In it, this master of brilliant closing lines that can cast deep shadows across what seemed a simple narrative, remembers such a night at Hartwell:

Tonight, after a long hot day

I’ve worked through, I say softly

“Here I am.”

to no one’s call,

to no one expecting an answer

 

After another long hot day, in “Double Digging the Garden,” Mr. Kinsey reflects that he grows more food than he and his wife can eat, more than they can give away:

I could join the farmer’s market

but don’t like meeting new people.

My legacy may consist of refuse.

But then comes my favorite conclusion of all the poems in Galvanized. He’s writing about his garden, but the lines serve as a metaphor for Mr. Kinsey’s real legacy:

Here is life’s habit on grand exhibit

and the hard work hidden.

Editor’s note: Leland Kinsey will read selections from Galvanized at Green Mountain Books in Lyndonville on March 25 at 3 p.m.; at the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick on April 5 at 7 p.m.; and at an Osher talk and reading at Catamount Arts in St. Johnsbury on May 5 at 1:30 p.m. The book’s official publication date is April 8.

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Poetry by a woman with a connection to the land

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WEB shipley review colorcopyright the Chronicle December 9, 2015

The Academy of Hay, by Julia Shipley. Paperback. 75 pages. Published by Bona Fide Books, 2015. $1

Reviewed by Paul Lefebvre

There are poems in Julia Shipley’s recent collection, The Academy of Hay, that remind me of the flat stones I used to search for as a child while spending a summer at my aunt’s cottage on the lake. Some had just the right curves where it was difficult to tell where one side of the stone ended and the other began. They were the best stones to skip across the water’s surface, achieving at times six or seven skips a throw.

And then there were the stones that were too flat, too smooth to throw. Fewer in number, they were the stones I pocketed and kept so I could caress them, or rub them along my forehead on those days when the weather was too disagreeable, or I played games with… To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

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An old song becomes a new classic

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WEB freeman book cmykcopyright the Chronicle November 25, 2015

The Devil In The Valley, by Castle Freeman. Published by Overlook Duckworth, New York City and London, 2015. Hardcover, 191 pages, $24.95.

Reviewed by Joseph Gresser

In jazz there are tunes known as standards. Those songs usually have harmonic structures that musicians find interesting. The point of the standards for the performer is not just to play them, but also to fashion them into a new, original composition.

In literature, the story of Doctor Faust is something of a standard. Since at least the time of Christopher Marlowe, writers have taken the tale of the man who sells his soul to the devil and remade it to suit their own purposes.

As the plot is usually set out a man offers up his immortal soul and, in exchange, gets his heart’s desire. In the original Faust story that’s a return to youth and the love of an innocent woman.

Of course the deal has a time limit, historically seven years, and a fiendish… To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

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In the Middle of the Mountains, a guide to breathtaking trails

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In the Middle of the Mountains, Scenic Roads & Trails in the Montgomery-Jay Peak Area by Robert Gillmore

In the Middle of the Mountains, Scenic Roads & Trails in the Montgomery-Jay Peak Area by Robert Gillmore

copyright the Chronicle November 4, 2015

by Tena Starr  

Robert Gillmore has written a handy, pocket-sized book called In the Middle of the Mountains, Scenic Roads & Trails in the Montgomery-Jay Peak Area. The gorgeous color photographs are by Eileen Oktavec.

The little book provides detailed descriptions of road tours, easy walks of varying lengths, and 15 hikes. For anyone interested in exploring some of the Northeast Kingdom’s loveliest spots, especially on foot, this would be a good little guide to carry around in your back pocket.

The 208-page book mentions mountain views, ponds, waterfalls, seven historical covered bridges and other distinctive architecture.

The road tours, which range from six to 31 miles, offer views of the highest peaks in northern Vermont and include several crossings of the Green Mountains — in Jay Pass on Route 242, on Route 105, and at Hazen’s Notch.

A mid-length road trip takes… To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

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An exploration of complex relationships

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Hidden View by Brett Ann Stanciu

Hidden View by Brett Ann Stanciu

copyright the Chronicle October 7, 2015

Hidden View, by Brett Ann Stanciu. Paperback. 278 pages. Published by Green Writers Press. $19.95.

Reviewed by Tena Starr  

Hidden View is the name of a hardscrabble dairy farm that the main character in this book, Fern, finds herself married to just as much as she’s married to Hal, the charming fellow she met as a young woman interning at a place called Growing Seed Farm.

She’d grown up a town person, a well sheltered one at that. Rebelling, she embraced this burly man, his farm, and the daughter they so quickly had. She dropped out of college, much to her mother’s dismay, and looked forward to what she considered living, as opposed to the box her overprotective mother had sheltered her in.

The story is, ostensibly, about how tough it is to make it on a Vermont farm. But that’s not what it’s really about. It’s about relationships and just how complicated they can be.

Not surprisingly, when Hal appears with a bottle, early in this story, we figure… To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

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Suspended Worlds — an excavation of long ago community life

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Suspended Worlds — an excavation of long ago community life, a book by Christine Hadsel.

Suspended Worlds — an excavation of long ago community life, a book by Christine Hadsel.

copyright the Chronicle September 16, 2015

Suspended Worlds: Historic Theater Scenery in Northern New England, by Christine Hadsel.  Published by David R. Godine, Boston, 2015; 188 pages, hardbound, $40.00.

reviewed by Joseph Gresser

With Suspended Worlds Christine Hadsel has created a coffee table book that belongs in the library of every Vermonter.  As a record of the work of Curtains Without Borders, the organization, it gives a clear account of an imaginative partnership that has, so far, saved 185 theater curtains from neglect.

Both her project and the book serve a deeper purpose in excavating a part of New England community life that has been largely forgotten as times and styles changed over 100 years.

In so doing Ms. Hadsel and her many collaborators have revealed an important part of the region’s artistic heritage that in… To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

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History as seen through the novels of Jeffrey Lent

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A novel by Jeffrey Lent

A novel by Jeffrey Lent

copyright the Chronicle September 2, 2015

by Paul Lefebvre

History as seen in the novels of Jeffrey Lent: In the Fall (542 pages), published in 1999 by Atlantic Monthly Press, and A Slant of Light (357 pages) published in 2015 published by Bloomsbury.

To write out of time, or write imaginatively about a century that transpired 100 years ago, is a tricky proposition for any writer to undertake. Historical novels have evolved to become a genre of their own, but the best ones are arguably those that focus on a particular event. The one that comes readily to mind is the American Civil War novel Killer Angels, written by Michael Shaara. It’s a novel so good at recreating the pivotal three-day battle of Gettysburg that more than one reader has mistaken imaginary characters for real ones.

Much of the novel did revolve around…  To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

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At The Museum of Everyday Life:  the charms and trials of dust

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At great personal sacrifice, Linda Elbow refrained from cleaning her house for four months and put some of the results on display.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

At great personal sacrifice, Linda Elbow refrained from cleaning her house for four months and put some of the results on display. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle June 3, 2015

by Joseph Gresser

GLOVER — The Museum of Everyday Life, located in a retired dairy barn just off Route 16 south of Glover Village, opened its fifth season Sunday afternoon in the kind of damp weather that represses the subject of its new exhibit—dust.

In previous years the museum looked through its skewed lens at common items that generally have to be bought — pencils, matches, safety pins, and toothbrushes. Dust is with us whether we like it or not, and the museum’s chief curator, Clare Dolan, offers visitors a chance to examine a multitude of its many aspects.

Samples of coal dust, sawdust, grain dust, and gold dust were elegantly presented under a series of bell jars, along with detailed descriptions of the hazards or benefits each represents….To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

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contact Joseph Gresser at [email protected]

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Book review: Writer exhumes surprising stories from Brighton

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WEB IP bookcopyright the Chronicle May 27, 2015

Island Pond Reflections, by S.J. Campbell. Paperback. 130 pages. Self-published. $19.99.

Reviewed by Tena Starr  

Island Pond Reflections isn’t a scholarly history of Brighton, which has also been known rather charmingly as Gilead, Random, and the less romantic Lot 31.

Instead, Sharon Campbell says in the book’s introduction that she’s written a collection of “true stories and tales long forgotten.”

The stories come from books and newspaper articles and date back centuries.

“They provide a tantalizing glimpse into the lives of the people who lived here and describe the developments that shaped their environment,” Ms. Campbell writes. “Through the centuries Island Pond grew big enough to accommodate a whole host of characters. Their trials and tribulations were deemed worthy of being reported by newspapers in cities as far away as Boston, Seattle, London, and Montreal.”

Ms. Campbell says that Brighton, and Island Pond, the village within the town, was, at one time, quite a diverse place, populated by Italian stonemasons, Syrian storekeepers, and Lebanese Christians escaping religious or political persecution….To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

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contact Tena Starr at [email protected]

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Guide gives rise to the baker within

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WEB bread book covercopyright the Chronicle April 8, 2015

Bread: A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes, 2nd Edition, by Jeffrey Hamelman, illustrations and photography by Chiho Kaneko; Published by John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, New Jersey, 2014; Hardbound, 478 pages; $45.

Reviewed by Joseph Gresser

For anyone interested in learning to bake good bread or, even better, improving their baking skills, I can unreservedly recommend this book.

I was a lapsed home baker when a good friend gave me a baking book several years ago. The book was useful in some respects, but the recipes were riddled with mistakes, and my return to bread making was nearly cut short.

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