Your attention, please
"Remembering The Islander," by Daniel Waters, Indian Hill Press, August, 2007. 33 pages. $15.
Anyone who has the facility and wit to suggest in rhyme that "Our small, odd worries fold our Island lives like creased rice paper cranes;" to compare town meetings to an hourglass in which we are the grains of sand; and in an elegy for Vineyard Haven's linden tree, to describe holiday children caroling "Beneath the twinkles in her hair," deserves our full attention.
Over the past 25 years, Daniel Waters, West Tisbury's first official Poet Laureate, has evolved from D.A.W., contributor of brief humorous poems to Yankee magazine and the Gazette, to Dan Waters of Indian Hill Press, linoleum and wood cut artist and handset letter press publisher of books and stationery, and finally, to Daniel Waters, artist and poet whose publications serve as meaningful chronicles of the Vineyard experience.
Mr. Water's latest offering, "Remembering The Islander" (Indian Hill Press, August 2007), is just such a self-published gem. Among a collection of 16 poems is the title poem, his longest to date. "Remembering The Islander" not only recaps the ferry's history, but the sentiment and sensibility that continues to grow around it. Referring to the boat as "some great mother bird of bolt and steel," the poem is filled with quintessential Islander details - the kielbasa dogs, green naugahyde, old posters depicting life jacket use, and student drawings reminding us not to litter. More than that, his verses conjure the mood and rhythm of the crossings.
Mr. Waters wrote the poem while in Florida visiting his parents. "I wrote that poem from a distance," he says. "Hal [Mr. Waters's spouse] called me and described in detail taking the last trip on The Islander, and things just came into focus." He adds, "I realize that even off Island, I look at everything through an Island filter."
And so he does. The other poems offer memories and tributes to things past and people who have died: the Islander, the linden tree, Polly Hill, and Henry Beetle Hough. There are poems that describe a Northeaster, a day at the beach, pinkletinks, and extol Menemsha sunsets, The Ag Fair, Lobster dinners, cavorting squirrels, and even the Dairy Queen, where "Sun deprived Brazilians share a picnic bench with blue-eyed Yankees."
"These poems were not intended for a book," the poet says, explaining each poem was a response to different inspirations at different times. "But I realized how many things and people I had outlived. So many things are slipping through our fingers." He adds, "I'm starting to feel like a piece of rapidly yellowing history."
Printed by Tisbury Printers on Mohawk archival paper, with Mr. Waters's brilliant linoleum cut print of The Islander on the soft bound cover, and with end papers made from his patterned paper, the book, produced to last more than a lifetime, resembles a single print letter press book.
But it is a book to handle, to peruse, to carry along and read in transit or in solitude. In small details, it is an often witty, often poignant tribute to the frustrations and delights that recognize Island life, and those things that make living here a privilege.
"There's not a TV set in sight
But no one here is bored tonight
Within this temporary town
We know will soon be taken down.
Beneath the sunset sky, we share
A whiff of autumn in the air
And breathe a brief and silent prayer
That heaven's something like the Fair."
excerpt from "Affair with a Fair" from "Remembering The Islander" By Daniel Waters