Poetry informed by the unique perspective of an EMT


copyright the Chronicle April 12, 2017


Reviewed by Tena Starr


A Life Lived Backwards, by Mark Creaven. Paperback. 76 pages. Available on Amazon.com, $9.99.


Longtime West Glover resident Mark Creaven has been, among many other things, an EMT, a job that, in the opinion of this writer, requires a rare skill set.

Not everyone has what it takes to tend the sick and injured in emergency situations; not everyone is willing and able to jump out of bed at 2 a.m. to console the parents of a broken teen who has just died in a car crash, or at reassuring the lonely old woman who fears this is the night that her weary heart gives up.

No, it’s a job that not only requires medical skills, but also compassion, courage, patience, and the ability, and willingness, to engage in situations that most of us don’t even want to contemplate.

I’ve never heard of anyone who has specifically turned such situations into poetry.

However, the subtitle of this slender book is “Poems by an Emergency Medical Technician,” and its first section, called In the Field, provides a glimpse of the kinds of heart-wrenching moments an EMT, through the very nature of his work, must deal with.

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Review: Our Revolution

Our Revolution, by Bernie Sanders. Published by Thomas Dunne Books — St. Martin’s Press, New York City, 2016.  450 pages. Hardcover. $27.


Reviewed by Joseph Gresser


Senator Bernie Sanders’ new book clearly was written in expectation of a different reality than the one we are living in. Its combination of autobiography, campaign narrative, and policy manifesto was meant to push President Hillary Clinton to fulfill the pledges embodied in the Democratic Party’s platform, and to nudge her farther along a path long advocated by Vermont’s junior senator.

For those who agree with Senator Sanders’ political philosophy, the book may be a bittersweet suggestion of what might have been. Alternatively, it could also be seen as a declaration of principles to guide those who find themselves in stark opposition to the new direction the country will surely take with three branches of government under the control of the Republican Party.

The first third of Mr. Sanders’ book recaps his political career, including his amazingly successful run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Mr. Sanders, famously, was born in Brooklyn, New York, and moved to Vermont after college. He lived in central Vermont for a time, spent several years in Stannard, a town even Northeast Kingdom natives have a hard time finding, and finally moved to Burlington.

At a meeting of the Liberty Union Party in 1971, he volunteered to run for the U.S. Senate in a special election held after the death of Senator Winston Prouty. Mr. Sanders says he spent a lot of time studying the issues and preparing positions, and then went out campaigning.

He pulled in a whopping 2 percent of the vote, a result that encouraged him to run again, this time for Governor in the 1972 General Election.

This time his percentage of the vote dropped to 1 percent. Unfazed, Mr. Sanders ran again for Senate in the 1974 race that sent Senator Patrick Leahy to Washington. He drew 4 percent of the state’s votes.

Two years later, Mr. Sanders’ hat was back in the ring. This time he faced Republican Richard Snelling and Democrat Stella Hackle in a race for Governor.

During the campaign he took part in a televised debate, in which he acquitted himself well. It being a Vermont debate, the two establishment candidates treated their scruffy opponent and his radical ideas with respect.

I still remember Mr. Sanders, who by this time had moved to Burlington, coming back to Stannard to boast of his 6 percent showing, the highest, he said, of any third-party candidate in the country.

Around this time a couple of friends and I were elected to the Stannard Select Board. Mr. Sanders showed up one day and tried to persuade us that part of our duties involved finding ways to provide civic employment for people in town.

After a long discussion, we concluded that it was impossible to do that in our tiny municipality. The exercise was an early glimpse into his view of a government’s responsibility to its citizens.

Frankly, I recall thinking that Mr. Sanders’ views were more appropriate to the 1930s than the modern world of the 1970s. In light of subsequent events, I think he may have been prescient.

After spending eight years as mayor of Burlington, Mr. Sanders set his sights on Washington. In his first run for the U.S. House of Representatives, in 1988, he narrowly lost to Peter Smith in a three-way race.

Two years later he won and took his seat as an independent who caucused with the Democrats. He maintained that unusual balance through his eight terms in the House and most of his time in the Senate. He is serving his second term in that body.

Mr. Sanders only joined the Democratic Party to run for its presidential nomination. His account of the campaign is a nuts-and-bolts explanation of how to run a true grassroots campaign.

He operated on the assumption that by addressing people directly and talking about issues that affect their lives, he could upset Ms. Clinton, the establishment’s preferred candidate. As it happened, that assumption was not that far off the mark.

In the end, Ms. Clinton’s well-financed campaign, backed by almost all of the nation’s elected Democratic leaders, prevailed over the insurgent. But in view of the results of the recent election it may have been a hollow victory.

Many news organizations now say the support of ignored white working class voters made the difference in the election of Donald Trump. Those voters, Mr. Sanders’ book points out, were people he was able to reach with a message saying their problems were ones shared with people of color, Latinos, Native Americans, and other marginalized groups.

Ms. Clinton did not follow Mr. Sanders’ playbook and fell short of election even while capturing the popular vote.

The bulk of Senator Sanders’ book is a detailed exposition of his proposals for improving the lives of Americans. None will surprise anyone who has followed his career. Privately and publicly, the issues of climate change, providing good jobs at decent wages, affordable education and health care, and civil rights are ones that have preoccupied the Senator for his entire political career.

To summarize them would not do Mr. Sanders’ thoughts justice. While that portion of the book was intended as a roadmap for action, at the moment it appears to be a chart of the path not taken.

Mr. Sanders suffered more than a few defeats in his ascent to high office. Most people would have given up after losing by the margins of his early losses.

But Vermont is fortunate in having people, like Mr. Sanders’ erstwhile Liberty Union colleague Peter Diamondstone and other members of their party, who never give up, but put their ideas forward year after year in the teeth of the prevailing political winds.

Mr. Sanders will, no doubt, continue to press for the adoption of his ideas regardless of election results, and he continues his decades-long call for a “political revolution.”

While the story of Mr. Sanders’ campaign is interesting and potentially instructive to those who come after, and the policy section of the book provides a clear agenda for a progressive political movement, the real meat of Our Revolution may come in its last couple of pages.

It is there that Mr. Sanders directly addresses the many people he inspired during his run and explains how they can make a difference.

“I hope that you will stay involved and get your friends involved. Run for the school board, city council, state legislature. Run for governor. Run for Congress. Run for the Senate. Run for President. Hold your elected officials accountable. Know what they’re doing and how they’re voting — and tell your neighbors.”

That’s a path Mr. Sanders has traveled, and one that many others, regardless of what their political beliefs may be, must follow if “government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” is to survive.

It’s likely that the book’s message will be heard. Our Revolution is already high on the bestseller list. I thought of buying it for a couple of politically minded young people, but they both already owned the book and had read it.


Unprepared warns of the coming storm

We are Unprepared, by Meg Little Reilly. Published by Mira. Paperback. 353 pages. $15.99.

Reviewed by Tena Starr

It’s sometime around the present, and youngish, fairly prosperous hipsters Ash and Pia have recently moved to the Northeast Kingdom from Brooklyn. Ash is a native Vermonter, so to some extent, he’s coming home, although the little town he and Pia move to is far from his parents in Brattleboro. Ash and Pia’s dream home is a rambling old farmhouse, and they are settling in to a new, and they hope, fulfilling life as better people. The second wave of back-to-the-landers.

“We talked about self-reliance in those days as if it was a state of higher consciousness,” says Ash, the story’s narrator. “It was the explanation we gave for leaving our jobs in New York and starting a new life in Vermont. We wanted to grow things and build things, preserve things and pickle things.  We wanted to play our own music and brew our own beer. This, we believed, was how one lived a “real” life.”

They’re just three months into this venture, however, when they hear about the storms, more specifically, “the Storm.”

Big, violent storms — tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, and floods — have already become the norm, but this one threatens to be something beyond what anyone has yet seen. The federal government is providing regular updates about what to expect and when, urging an unprepared nation to get ready in a hurry for weather the likes of which they’ve never seen.

On the sad day that Ash and Pia learn that they’re not likely to have children, they listen to a National Public Radio reporter quote the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  “…due to rapidly rising sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, we are now approaching a period of extreme weather events. NOAA is predicting as many as thirty named tropical storms and hurricanes in the coming months, along with likely heat waves and drought, and even severe blizzards.”

And just like that the idyllic life that Ash and Pia had envisioned in idyllic Vermont goes straight to hell. Well, maybe not “just like that.” The path is brief but also tortuous.

We are Unprepared is a well crafted and well written book that does a fine job of illustrating how external tension, in this case the threat of colossal natural disaster, can widen cracks in both a marriage and a community. It’s a page turner, and it has much to recommend it in terms of plot as well — severe weather, a collapsing relationship, and the oh so interesting responses of townspeople to the possibility of impending doom.

Predictably, there are those who turn to religion. And predictably, there are religious hucksters happy to take advantage of them.

Then there are the “preppers,” basically survivalists who have built bunkers and aren’t much interested in a community response to threat, who are skeptical of all authority and mainly interested in how they, personally, will survive.

And then there are people like Salty, the selectman who is intent on being practical (if not always totally legal) and coming up with a plan to protect the community when the storm hits.

As the weather worsens, the situation devolves. The town is under strain, Ash and Pia’s methods of preparing for the big storm clash, new alliances are forged, old ones crack up.

When the storm does hit, it’s with far less warning than anticipated. And it’s a whopper alright. The devastation in state after state is stunning.

This is a good book, no question, and there are lots of people who won’t notice the little flaws that develop as Ash and Pia deal with the weather, which flings about everything that a storm can — torrential rain, sleet, and heavy wet snow. All the while the wind is screaming around the house, and anyone who lives in a Vermont farmhouse surrounded by big old maples knows how dangerous that can be. The remnants of Hurricane Floyd felled one of the ancient maples at this reviewer’s house, turning the porch into kindling and a perfectly good car into a cartoon.

Trapped in the house, with no electricity and the windows boarded up, Ash and Pia wonder how to fill the time. Anyone whose lived through a sustained power outage, especially in winter when it’s dark at 5 p.m., knows that it’s primarily boring. What does one do with a long, dark evening?

They fret about food, though they’ve stocked up well, and no storm lasts for weeks. Going hungry is, realistically, a distant worry. Ash mentions the indignity of not being able to flush the toilet. Most any rural person knows you can still flush the toilet if the power goes out. Just dump some water in the tank. And they had plenty of water — outside if not inside. Over the course of the storm’s worst, Ash and Pia are constantly freezing, huddling in bed with layers and layers of clothing and blankets, and worrying about how to dry their wet clothes with no electricity. What will happen when they run out of dry clothes? Ash wonders.

That particular dilemma mystified me. How does one freeze with a wood stove and plenty of firewood, especially when it’s only cold enough outside for sleet? Plenty of Vermonters heat their homes all winter with a wood stove, even when it’s 20 below. And there are, indeed, people who don’t own clothes dryers but somehow manage to walk around in dry clothes.

Urban and suburban readers aren’t likely to pick up on those details, but I found myself, first, disgusted with Ash and Pia’s ineptitude (for goodness sake, if your clothes are wet, hang them up by the stove), then annoyed by the author, who was exaggerating the consequences of the storm.

Annoyed because there’s little doubt that increasingly extreme weather is in our future (and our present), and we are, indeed, not prepared. So let’s talk about consequences realistically rather than overstate them and feed the naysayers by employing ridiculous hyperbole that can easily be jumped on. It’s too bad to have the story’s plausibility diminished by dwelling on problems that don’t even make sense.

As for the storm itself, I was skeptical, so I asked Steve to do a meteorological vetting of it. He, too, liked the book, and said that it stretches what’s meteorologically possible, but for the most part it does stay within the realm of possible.

Where it falls apart in his view is when the final storm hits. Hurricanes don’t land in North Carolina in February and become category fives while inland and headed toward New Jersey. And the cold front that smashed into it would not have made off on its own. Storms merge; they don’t separate, says Steve. And massive flooding in February? The assertion that six feet of snow melted in the course of a week in February strains credulity.

The author is no lightweight. She has worked as treasury spokesperson under President Obama, deputy communications director for the White House Office of Management and Budget, and producer for Vermont Public Radio. She’s a native Vermonter whose family has a place in West Glover, and she’s a graduate of UVM. She currently lives in Boston.

For all my pickiness here, We Are Unprepared is a book well worth reading. Keep in mind that I am, and always have been, fascinated by extreme weather. (But then I think most Vermonters are.) It’s a well told, complex story that you won’t want to put down.

It’s available on Amazon, and there’s a copy at the Barton library.


The silver woman tells her story

Argyria: The Life and Adventures of a Silver Woman on Planet Earth, by Rosemary Jacobs. E-book. $6.

reviewed by Brad Usatch

In Argyria, Long Island native and longtime Orleans County resident Rosemary Jacobs chronicles more than five decades of struggle with a highly unusual burden.

At age 11, Ms. Jacobs began using nose drops prescribed by an eye, ear, nose, and throat doctor for persistent sniffles that he attributed to allergies. The drops contained colloidal silver — silver suspended in a liquid solution. By the time she was 15, her skin began to show signs of discoloration. She was turning silver. A dermatologist confirmed a diagnosis of argyria, a condition caused by the internal use of colloidal silver that results in a permanent discoloration of the skin.

In the book, Ms. Jacobs details her life with argyria and her evolution as an activist battling the persistence of silver as a dietary supplement despite the Food and Drug Administration’s conclusion in 1999 that silver is not safe or effective in treating any known ailment.

If you’re looking for a heartwarming story about the power of forgiveness, keep moving. Whether or not Ms. Jacobs ever forgave her doctor is not a question the author spends much time with. What is clear is that she has no interest in glossing over a decision to treat her that was reckless, not supported by medical science at the time, and carried with it side effects that had been well-documented for decades.

While some may hear bitterness in her story, Ms. Jacob’s tone might better be understood as ferocity. The author repeatedly refers to herself as a street fighter, and it’s likely that few who have crossed her would be unwilling to grant her at least that much.

No one should, for no good reason, be forced to spend her one and only life tinted silver-gray. But Ms. Jacobs does seem to have a rare capacity for turning what, for many, would have been a life-shattering trauma into a platform to rally against a very specific injustice, which she hopes to prevent from happening to anyone else ever again.

“Learning that I was permanently disfigured was probably the worst thing in my life,” she writes. “I decided then and there that if people didn’t like the way I looked it was their problem, not mine. I was not going to let what other people thought of me stop me from leading the life I wanted to live.”

Did Ms. Jacobs really believe it herself when, as a teenager, she made that decision? Is anyone really that brave? None of us knows for certain how we would come to terms with such a diagnosis. We all want to be loved and accepted, and, to a greater extent than we care to admit, be just like everybody else.

From the time she was 15 years old, Ms. Jacobs never enjoyed that luxury. Yet, from that tender age, an age when the desire to fit in is at its zenith, she made a conscious decision to believe in herself — a decision that time has proved to be more than an empty self-affirmation.

As a young woman, Ms. Jacobs went on to study philosophy at St. John’s University. She traveled to Spain and later to Italy for training as a Montessori teacher. She taught in Germany and upon returning to the United States, established a Montessori school near Aspen, Colorado.

And though she records a laundry list of insults and injustices caused by reactions to her condition — like jobs lost and apartments denied — at no point in her life does it appear to occur to Ms. Jacobs that she ought to hide herself and spare the world from having to acknowledge her.

That is not to say she traipsed through life unaffected by argyria. From the moment of her diagnosis she developed an obsessive interest in medical research — particularly regarding silver and argyria — but also concerning any health issue or treatment in her life. Whether it was dermabrasion or breast cancer, Ms. Jacobs was determined not to get burned again by putting blind trust in any physician, no matter how qualified.

When, in 1984, she persisted in asking her oncologist for the title of his primary reference book, the doctor asked, “You aren’t going to get it are you? It costs over $100.”

“Of course I am,” she answered.

“Why are you doing this?”

“Because I’m the person in charge of my case. I can live with my mistakes. I can’t live with yours.”

Some may find it tedious, but her review of the history of scientific literature regarding medical silver applications was, for me, the most fascinating part of the book. Most of her research was conducted before the Internet was available, meaning she had to find actual journal articles in the halls of medical history libraries. Often that meant discovering the existence of some piece of research in the citation of another, and then waiting for the journal to be delivered through an interlibrary loan.

A lover of animals, peace and quiet, and cold weather, Ms. Jacobs and her mother, Rose, moved to Quebec and later the Northeast Kingdom.

At a bookstore in St. Johnsbury in 1995, she came across an article that would spark the activism that has fueled her to this very day. The words “colloidal silver” printed in an alternative animal health care magazine caught her eye, but rather than warning of the dangers of silver, the article promoted a silver product that later turned out to be sold by the author. She wrote the editor asking for proof of the health claims in the article.

The response she received, not from the editor but from the author herself, fell somewhere between defensive and dismissive. Suddenly alarmed that colloidal silver had not been relegated to the dustbins of history, Ms. Jacobs embarked on a two-front war: against the silver backers of alternative medicine itself, and against the legal framework that permitted its continued marketing.

She found sympathetic ears at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but learned they were nearly powerless to help.

“[FDA compliance officer Roma Egli] told me about the Dietary Supplement Health and Education Act of 1994 (DSHEA) which for all practical purposes, had taken jurisdiction for regulating supplements away from the FDA and given it to no other agency. Basically, what DSHEA had done was create a whole new legal category of food products labeled ‘dietary supplements….’ Under DSHEA, manufacturers cannot make either drug claims or fraudulent claims for their products. But neither do they have to show that their supplements are safe and effective before they sell them.”

It was as an activist that Ms. Jacobs’ lifelong scholarship found its power. She attacked the uninformed and misinformed from the bright halls of federal bureaucracies to the darker corners of early Internet chatrooms. Wherever she confronted a claim that silver had beneficial uses, she demanded to see the evidence. And to whomever said it had no potential for harm, she offered herself as proof.

She challenged silver hucksters and true believers. But whereas the fact of a footnote alone might convince the layperson that using silver was supported by scientific research, Ms. Jacobs was often familiar with the works cited. She knew that the same handful of articles repeatedly referenced by colloidal silver advocates were often either early twentieth century articles written by a doctor who sold silver products; actual medical research that did not support the point for which it was footnoted; or the work of confirmed crackpots of the foil hat variety.

The state of Vermont also finds itself in Ms. Jacobs’ crosshairs for its inclusion of intraveinous colloidal silver in its naturopathic doctor (ND) formulary — essentially a list of treatments approved for use by NDs. It’s in this section that she goes after alternative medicine as a whole. She never contends people should not have the right to pursue alternative therapies, but she does take issue with affording NDs the prescription authority of medical doctors, and questions the state’s push to force third parties (insurance companies) to cover the cost of care provided by NDs.

Argyria is many books really. It’s a straightforward, chronological biography of a woman who has lived most of her 72 years with a unique challenge. It’s a philosophical treatise on the treatment of the other, and how for all our sophistication, we still often react with fear to anyone different from us. Most importantly, it’s an exposé of a problem that won’t go away: that products and treatments that have little or no therapeutic value but may have life-altering side effects are still pushed on the public. In Ms. Jacobs’ view, the force behind that push is a powerful supplement lobby masquerading as unaffiliated founts of accumulated folk wisdom that “Western” medicine does not want the public to know about.

The author uses her life story to support her activism and give context to her cause. She is a one-woman protest movement, using her own skin as the evidence that something must be done. Witnessed amid the turbulent political winds of the present day, it’s possible to imagine that this may be Ms. Jacobs’ moment. Disruptive and anti-establishment, she is not beholden to the left or the right, but to her own understanding of the truth.

Not everyone will like this book. Readers who view “Western” medicine with suspicion, and are committed to homeopathic or naturopathic practices will likely take offense at the author’s treatment of what she calls “belief-based” systems of medicine.

Likewise, Bernie Sanders fans will have to choose between anger at the author or disappointment in the Senator, for her characterization of Senator Sanders as someone who rails against “big pharma,” but finds himself beholden to “big naturopathy.”

Finally, don’t hold out for a redemptive win by the little guy. There is no cache of money in the stone wall, no exploding death star. For all Ms. Jacobs has done to spread the word about what she sees as the pointless risks of colloidal silver, a Google search reveals that it’s still readily available, on line, or at Walgreens for about $12 for a two-ounce bottle.


Book review: Flypaper Dreams

Flypaper Dreams, by Jay Kendall. 165 pages. Paperback. $13.95

Reviewed by Tena Starr

There are both pros and cons involved in self-publishing a book. The pros are that it’s difficult to get a book, even a very good one, published these days through traditional means. Self-publication allows some books that would have never, otherwise, seen the light of day to get into print and be read.

One of the bigger drawbacks, however, is that the self-published seldom seek outside help — as in an editor to advise on how a manuscript could be improved — or even a proofreader to check for obvious typos, misspellings and the like. We’ve seen many such books and find it unfortunate. Mechanical error, as well as implausibility, detract from the dignity of a story.

Jay Kendall’s Flypaper Dreams does not suffer from those flaws. His is a well and cleanly written story.

Mr. Kendall is currently retired and lives in Arizona. But he grew up in Newport, in Skunk Hollow. He graduated from UVM with a degree in English and went on to be a teacher and counselor. As a graduate school field worker for the Dictionary of American Regional English, he collected the dialect of the Northeast Kingdom where he grew up, and in this book he does what so many have tried and so few have been successful at: He recreates both characters and language that ring true to this small part of the world.

Largely, this novel explores a young man’s relationship with his father, who has recently died. It was a fraught relationship, characterized by violence and disappointment, but also love and eternal hope. Upon his father’s death, Zack, a grown man now with children of his own and a fulfilling job as a teacher, goes home for his dad’s funeral and journeys through childhood memories. But all is not what it seems. The man he knew, and the man others knew, does not appear to be the same.

This is very much a Northeast Kingdom story. Troubled father-son relationships are generic — they can happen anywhere. But in this case we’re talking redneck and tradition, about a father’s disappointment in a son who is not inclined to kill a deer, stinks at football, and doesn’t “man up” when he has to have an infected toe cut off and walks with a limp.

Henry, Zack’s father, runs a hard school.

As a freshman, Zack decides he’d like to smoke a pipe. His father, a storekeeper, says, okay.

Questioned by a customer about the wisdom of that, Hank, says, “‘Absolutely! It makes all kinds of sense. It shows he’s growin’ up. I was younger than he is now when I started smokin’ corn silk behind my father’s barn.’

“So Henry helps his son choose a pipe from the store, and then the tobacco, and he carefully shows him how to tamp it.

“‘I myself smoke Union Leader, but we’ve got quite a few others,’” Henry tells his son. ‘All right, so now you’ve got your pipe, and you’ve got your tin of tobacco. The next thing is to learn how to pack it. Now this is something that takes practice. You don’t want it too loose or too tight, just a nice even smoke. Now you watch me do it once.’

“His father showed him the procedure, adding comments and cautions as he went. Then he knocked the tobacco out and handed the pipe back to Zack. ‘Okay, now you try it, and I’ll watch you to make sure you’ve got the hang of it.’ Standing over Zack, Henry was completely attentive and encouraging.

“Zack had never felt such a close connection to his father before. By lucky accident he’d discovered a common interest and launched the kind of father-son relationship he’s always wanted. He tried to blow smoke rings like his dad’s, and Henry laughed at his attempts. But the laughter warmed Zack, and he thought about Sunday evenings in summer when they’d sit on the porch and smoke together. Then his dad would teach him how to blow smoke rings, and they would talk and talk about… whatever fathers and sons talked about. The smoke had made him a bit queasy, but it had been worth it.”

But Zack’s new, intimate relationship with his father isn’t to be.

“Henry’s voice dropped an octave, becoming intimate and sinister. ‘Now I want you to smoke this whole can of tobacco tonight. And you know I mean it, mister. Don’t you try to cheat, because I’ll be watchin’ you,’ he threatened. ‘You won’t need to do any other work tonight. And as soon as you’re done, you’re getting’ a good big dose of castor oil. So that’s what you’re doing’. Get started.’

“That was the first and last time Zack smoked a pipe.”

Zack’s father is also obsessed with the notion that his son is not his son, but has been fathered by one of his friends. His long-suffering wife is a terrific character, who isn’t what anyone would call a deep thinker, but she’s realistically portrayed. She’s a fusser and fretter.

“You know I can’t help it,” she tells Zack at one point. “I worry. It’s what I do.”

It’s a bit hard to write about this book without giving its surprises away, and the surprises are what keeps the narrative going. Zack, always believing that he was a failure in his father’s eyes, learns otherwise through talking to the old man’s friends, as well as his mother. He learns that his father was far more like himself than he could have dreamed.

Contacted by phone, Mr. Kendall said his parents were the studies for his work on the Dictionary of American Regional English, and the models for this book, which is largely autobiographical. He grew up on Hill Street in Newport with a mother who was French Canadian; English was her second language. Her family moved to Vermont when she was four, and she didn’t start school until she was ten, he said, so she only learned Northeast Kingdom English. She used the word “spider” to refer to a frying plan, for instance. And the first time he heard himself on tape, Mr. Kendall said he was surprised to hear his own accent, which he has since tried to remedy.

Mr. Kendall said he started writing novels —this is his second — when he found himself responsible for teaching a creative writing class. The summer preceding the class he took a creative writing class himself and was asked, “What do you write?” Up to that point, he hadn’t written much beyond letters and notes on class work. “They said, can you think of a piano teacher who did not play the piano every day?”

So Mr. Kendall set out to write, and to write what interested him. That turned out to be a novel, his first book, The Secret Keepers, published in 1998.

Yes, he said, he misses the Northeast Kingdom. One of his sons still lives in Newport, and he tries to get back here from time to time, but he also loves Arizona.

“The Northeast Kingdom is very much in my thoughts all the time.”

The book is available online through Amazon, and it’s worth a read.


Real Food/Fake Food: Why You Don’t Know What You’re Eating & What You Can Do About It

copyright the Chronicle August 3, 2016


Reviewed by Joseph Gresser

Larry Olmsted’s useful and frightening book manages to repeatedly stimulate and quell the reader’s appetite. He highlights some of the finest foods and drinks the world has to offer and explains why the average eater and drinker will probably not be provided what he or she is expecting.

In some cases the difference is obvious. Few people believe that Kraft Foods puts genuine imported Parmesan cheese in its green cardboard cans. It may come as a bit of a shock to find out that the can’s contents include very little that can be categorized as cheese, but the harm done is slight.

That may not be the case when someone buys what she thinks is extra virgin olive oil or seafood. Mr. Olmsted’s research reveals that the supermarket bottle that claims to contain fine Italian olive oil may hold a blend of oils that includes peanut oil, a deception that could put an allergic person’s life in jeopardy.

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An energetic and updated performance of Annie Get Your Gun

copyright the Chronicle August 3, 2016

by Joseph Gresser

Annie Get Your Gun is an early product of the golden age of American musical theater. It was first staged in 1946, just a few years after Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma, which kicked off an era of musicals that lasted into the 1970s.

Seventy years later Annie Get Your Gun is playing on the Greensboro town green, in an energetic production by the Greensboro Arts Alliance and Residency and Mirror Theatre Ltd.

The show was directed by Sean Haberle based on a revised version of the script put together for a 1999 Broadway revival.

Anyone who has ever seen the movie version of the show, made in 1950, will recognize the potential pitfalls the original version might encounter in an era more attuned to ethnic and gender equity. …To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

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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


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,


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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An old song becomes a new classic


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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Suspended Worlds — an excavation of long ago community life


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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