Poetry

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An evening of the great poet, read by avid Islanders.

Wallace Bullock reads Yeat's "Ephemera."

Updated May 7 at 2 pm

As is the case with Byron and Hemingway, the life and times of Irish poet William Butler Yeats were nearly as bold as his work. In brief: He was born in Sandymount, Ireland, in 1865, a descendant of the earls of Ormond. His father was a painter, the family traveling back and forth between Paris, London, and Dublin, with holidays in County Sligo. It might please some people to know that here was yet another figure of towering success who never excelled at school, gave college a miss, and yet later in life won the Nobel Prize for Literature — the first Irishman to be so honored.

As a young man, his poems won early recognition. He fell deeply in love with legendary beauty and Irish radical Maude Gonne, now chiefly known for William Butler’s ardor: He proposed to her any number of times. She married another man, and long thereafter, after she’d divorced, she and Yeats consummated their love in Paris. Clearly the event was underwhelming for both of them, as they went their separate ways, Yeats to at long last marry another. In subsequent years, perhaps because he’d finally broken free from Ms. Gonne’s bewitching spell, he made up for lost time with his womanizing.

Gonne’s greater influence was to pull Yeats into the fight for Irish Independence, a struggle that yielded some of his most commanding poems, including “No Second Troy” and “Easter 1916.”

In his later years, Yeats regretted the overemphasis on working-class culture in the Irish struggle; he reconnected with his aristocratic roots, which in turn led him down that regrettable 1930s reactionary road, even going so far as to fawn over Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Yeats died in January 1939 in the South of France, where he was buried for a mere five years. (The French have a tendency to houseclean by digging up old bones to make way for new bones; there is only so much French soil to go around.) The poet’s body — or someone’s body; no one was entirely certain, in those pre-DNA-testing days, that the remains necessarily belonged to William Butler —now resides in Ireland under a tombstone that bears an inscription from one of his poems: “Cast a cold Eye/ On Life, on Death./ Horseman, pass by. W.B. Yeats.”

On the Island, John Crelan, founder and director of Arts & Society, has long been a Yeats lover, but is best known to Island literati as the ringmaster behind the annual Bloomsday Concert held in May, the oldest continuous public celebration of the life and works of James Joyce. In 1979 and in 1984 in Concert Hall at Boston University, Mr. Creland assembled a group of Yeats lovers to read from selected works.

Last Saturday night at the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven, Creland’s third Yeats event was realized. Writer and performance artist Niki Patton, her waist-length mane of white hair flowing free, read with both a beguiling Irish lilt and with her usual soulful penetration a number of poems, including the three “Crazy Jane” ballads: “Men come, men go/ All things remain in God.”

Actor and Island Theater Workshop board member Buck Reidy brought his well-honed stage presence to such poems as “O Do Not Love Too Long”: “I loved long and long/ And grew out of fashion.” Wallace Bullock, a longtime English teacher in the Bronx, now settled full-time in Oak Bluffs, read in his resonant deep voice the poem “Ephemera”: “Your eyes that once were never weary of mine/ Are bowed in sorrow under pendulous lids/ Because our love is waning.”

Singer Joyce Maxner of West Tisbury, always a joy to behold on stage, read “The White Birds”: “Would that we were, my beloved/ White birds on the foam of the sea.” Ken Rusczyk of Oak Bluffs read “The Song of Wandering Aengus”: “I went out to the hazel wood/ Because a fire was in my head.”

Kristian Seney, barefoot and clad in the perfect Irish country-lad outfit of black vest, white blouson shirt, and baggy pants, read “A Drinking Song” and “A Deep-Sworn Vow”: “. . . when I look death in the face/ When I clamber to the heights of sleep /Or when I grow excited with wine /Suddenly I meet your face.” Becky Williams, looking a proper Irish lass in a straw bonnet, read “The Old Men Admiring Themselves in the Water” and “Girl’s Song”: “And that was my song/ When everything is told/ Saw I an old man young/ Or young man old?”

Doctor and writer Gerry Yukevich who, among his many distinctions, lives in the smallest whaling captain’s house in Vineyard Haven, read Adam’s Curse: “We sat together one summer’s end/ That beautiful, mild woman, your close friend.” Looking debonair with a Stetson hat and a black leather jacket, humorist and Martha’s Vineyard Poet Laureate Arnie Reisman read from a collection of Irish freedom poems, including the iconic “The Second Coming”: “Turning and turning in the widening gyre/ The falcon cannot hear the falconer/ Things fall apart, the center cannot hold.”

Mr. Crelan cleverly paired two poems, one by Pierre de Ronsard, “Quand vous serez bien vieille,” beautifully recited in French by fashion designer Chrysal Parrot in a Snow White gown, followed by Creland’s rendering of Yeats’ magnificent ode, “When You Are Old”: “When you are old and grey and full of sleep/ And nodding by the fire, take down this book/ And slowly read, and dream of the soft look/ Your eyes had once and of their shadows deep.”

The evening was satisfying for all of us Yeats fans, but here’s the crux of the matter: In the audience, mostly all old and gray and full of sleep (not that we don’t look mahvelous, dahling), all the usual suspects who turn out for poetry readings, chamber concerts, and theater events. Is there some way we could lure our younger friends into the fray? Perhaps announce the bill of fare with the offer: “Bring a millennial free of charge.” We know they’re out there: The Under-40s mad for content beyond Game of Thrones and the 89th message of the day on their Twitter accounts.

Think about it. There isn’t a single line that Yeats wrote — with the possible exception of his marching songs for Mussolini — that isn’t still exquisitely relevant today, perhaps more than ever.

 An earlier version of the story incorrectly identified the founder and director of Arts & Society as John Creland. The correct spelling of his name is John Crelan.

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Pianist David Stanwood performs a song in between poetry sets. – Photo by Michael Cummo
Poet Susan Pucuil — Photo by Michael Cummo
Poet Susan Pucuil — Photo by Michael Cummo

On Thursday night local poets and musicians took to the MVTV studios for the 5th annual Potluck MV Poem in Your Pocket Day, produced by the Martha’s Vineyard Poetry Society. Many talented Islanders took turns on the podium in front of a studio audience for the live four-hour event. Host William Waterway presented the performers, including pianist David Stanwood, poet laureate Arnie Reisman, and poet Susan Pucuil, among others. Ten minutes were given to each poet, who rotated throughout the event. After each poetry reading, Island musicians provided interludes. The event, which was open to the public, also featured a table of potluck goodies for snacking.

The Pathways team celebrates another season at the Chilmark Tavern. – Photo courtesy Pathways

The latest season of Pathways Living Room Studios wrapped up this past Saturday night, with a celebration of artists, writers, musicians, and performers for their innovative projects in the arts across the Island. Throughout the fifth annual Honoraria awards evening, musicians, artists, and writers, including Mait Edey, George Davis, Claudia Taylor, David Stanwood, Roberta Kirn, Sian Williams, Annette Sandrock, Matt Stamas, and Nikki Patton presented selected original music, songwriting, and poetry, with celebratory community support. Tony Tobia introduced his new music compositions, performed by pianist Adele Dreyer, baritone saxophonist Steve Tully, and violinist Atzic Marquez.

The event also honored Island organizations for their innovation in the arts, including Featherstone for its work on poetry programming for the Pathways/Featherstone/Noepe Summer Festival of Poetry; The Yard’s David White, for choreography residencies, and Jesse Keller, for children’s dance; Noepe Literary Center for development of new writing programs; Film Truth Productions’ Liz Witham and Ken Wentworth for a new film project in the arts and climate regeneration; and Martha’s Vineyard Sound’s Phil DaRosa for designing the 2015 summer music festival.

Individual visual artists who were honored with creative time to develop new artworks include Walker T. Roman for painting; Heather Goff for digital drawings, Ronni Simon for sea-glass sculpture; Paul Lazes for his photography project, Powerful Women of MV; Valerie Sonnenthal for her oceans photography – both underwater and wilderness; Laura Roosevelt for arts writing and photography; and William Waterway for his oceans photography.

Performing artists honored with support for time to create new music and/or dance include Tony Tobia for performance of new music compositions; Phil DaRosa for music and songwriting; Joe Keenan for sea songs; Kim Hilliard for songwriting; and Martha Eddy for global water dances.

Writers honored with support for creative time for new poetry, writing, and spoken words include Susan Puciul for poetry; Sian Williams for novel writing; Holly Nadler for writing on the arts, performance, and culture on Martha’s Vineyard; Annette Sandrock for travel poetry; and Claudia Taylor for a new poetry manuscript, text, and design.

The event also honored a handful of off-Island or New York–based arts organizations that include Trisha Brown, with support for reconstruction and repertory; Godfrey Muwulya, with support for choreography and drumming classes for African children; and Elaine Summers Dance & Film Company, with support for dance and multimedia.

In her welcome talk for the awards presentation, Pathways artistic director and founder Marianne Goldberg shared her vision for the annual honoraria: “This year we have again invited over 25 artists, writers, and organizations to accept the challenge and encouragement of a Pathways honoraria — to forge time to conceive and build new work. Projects in poetry, spoken word, and writing; projects in visual arts, from painting to photography to digital forms; and projects in performing arts, from music composition to songwriting to dance, are each awarded for the potential for individuals or collaborative teams to reach beyond what we have accomplished before. To start again, with what we call a seed project, the very beginnings of the desire to build from perhaps tender or raw ideas in dream form, is to realize the as yet unknown. It is exactly this initial unknowing which I consider at the heart of forging creative time. For if we already know how a question of discovery or inquiry will turn out, then we will have missed the most important process — the artistic expedition, a rocky, and sometimes precarious, yet exhilarating journey and time of immersion and flow.”

Works created with Pathways project’s support will be shared with the community at Pathways Gathering Space next season, and across the Island year-round. Arts programs supported at sister organizations are presented through their home venues.

 

The breezy wind blows brightly colored

Leaves across the open road, each day

The weather is warmer, flower bulbs pop

Up, a bright rainbow peeks through the trees,

The sun comes up with a big bright smile,

Still so early the grass is drenched with dew,

The crisp strong smell of spring fills

The air, a bright sunbeam reflects on the crystal

Clear water, the sky now hidden by the big puffy

Clouds, the trees are now green again, planting

Sunflower seeds, apples and peas, just amazing,

No more oranges or yellow, just green and true blue,

No more fields of hay, a lot less gray, the smell of

Flowers goes around, a little gust of wind blows

The trees’ branches against the window, it taps and

Makes a sound,

All together, every sound, smell, and feeling of spring,

It’s wonderful always changing, and I like it that way.

 

Avery McGrady, 13, lives in Clifton Park, N.Y., and has been coming to Martha’s Vineyard since she was a baby. This poem was written when Avery was 9.

 

Photo courtesy of Edgartown Library

As our Island emerges from its snowbound winter, come celebrate spring with an evening of Vineyard poetry presented by Edgartown Poet Laureate Steve Ewing and poet M.R. Baird at the Edgartown library, on Wednesday, April 22. The words — wise, witty, and beautiful — will begin to flow at 6:30, and refreshments will be served. Reception for the authors will follow the reading. All adults are welcome to this free event. For additional information, contact the library at 508-627-4221.

 

Nature wakes north latitude with a warm and lingering caress

Woods rouse themselves from winter’s dreams

To put on springtime dress

Witch hazel’s spiky flowers curl when snow still covers ground

Willows next from slumber rise

And wave their yellow arms around

Forsythia — that excited child — jumps from its winter bed

And greets the day with lemon smiles

While maples blush from green to red

Intrepidly the forest hue is painted as in art

Form comes first then color clings

To Nature’s living heart.

 

Jane Paquet has played with words since she learned to speak. She is a teacher at the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School.

 

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I remember when the world of nature, plants around us,

First brought me realization of its imitation of humanity, people around us

Welcome Spring, daffodils, crocuses,

They’re the new babies appearing

And more follow as the heat of the season called Summer arrives

And every plant will have its day

And children will grow, laugh and play

(“Grown-ups” should get out of the way)

Until the heat diminishes, and breezes chill

And winds become more frequent

With the leaves of green on trees turning yellow, orange, red

Only to fall, in the season called Fall

And children now in their teens move on to high school

While teens now out of high school, on to college

And graduates of college on to new jobs

With parents, post summer vacations, back to work

While older folks at last one year reach the time

When they can remain longer at the summer place

To welcome Halloween, and then Thanksgiving

’til all leaves have fallen

And here comes Winter — some welcome snow —

December holidays, pine trees brought indoors to be decorated by some

Farm foods brought in for young and old to enjoy

When youngsters visit old folks, often called Grandparents

With winter wind a tree may fall, its years completed

While one year a Grandparent is absent, missed

And the world around us awaits another Spring.

Leigh B. Smith, a New Jersey native, has been a Vineyard Haven year-rounder for 27 years, who reads nonfiction and plays the piano.

I’m going through the rack

of men’s trousers

in the musty basement

alongside a tall, skinny guy

I don’t want to look at

twice, but he starts to talk:

“Everything in here’s a 42

or XX large. Some fat guy

musta died last week.”

Just then, I find a nice pair

of corduroys — 36 waist —

too long, but I have a friend

who can hem.

I don’t try them on, just pay

the $3 and get out.

I know I won’t care who

I’m wearing on the white carpet

of snow already unrolling

under all those cold stars.

Warren Woessner is the senior editor of Abraxas magazine, and a part-time resident of Edgartown. His most recent poetry collection is Clear All the Rest of the Way (Backwaters Press).

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The grass is not green and the snow is still here,

But the click of the club tells me spring is near.

They hurry on by across the cold ground,

So happy, so happy to play a golf round.

Their arms may be aching, their feet may be cold,

But who is not happy with a golf club to hold?

The greens are bumpy, the fairways are rough.

These men are golfers and that means they’re tough.

George Balco is a year-around Island resident living in Mink Meadows, has been active in Tisbury government for many years, and has held a number of elected and appointed positions.

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After the future

stories will be told

which, even if lies,

will resemble a life.

Stories — the same old one:

a man has nothing yet

in the sheath of his body

a yearning, a bountiful

absence lingers that

for awhile, reminds him

of the sunlit sweat

from which he rises

after sex, out­stretched

heron shape in flight,

the lake below, the woman

placid, blue, their names

forgotten, the sound

perpetually white

of wings against

the sky.

 

A resident of the dank and moldy primal forests of West Tisbury for 32 years, Lee H. McCormack has been occasionally reported as actually being seen alive, usually from a great distance through high ­octane vision ­magnifying devices.

The Martha’s Vineyard Times welcomes contributions to Poet’s Corner. Dan Waters, former poet laureate of West Tisbury, will select poems to be published here. Submissions should be directed to dan@indianhillpress.com.