Friends,

As promised,  here’s the second batch of responses to my blog of July 23, STRANGERS IN A STRANGE PAST.

I don’t know where Kristine Johnson Ingram lives. I wish I did

Kristine Johnson Ingram  We have seen the changes in the children in our classrooms as well: teaching in Vermont is a whole different ballgame than it was in the 70’s and 80’s. I took 6th graders to a farm for conservation day in June and they actually asked if the bulls gave milk: a far cry from teaching in the 70’s when basketball practice was at 7pm so the kids could get home and milk and do chores first…

Janet LeBeau Hill lives in Chicago and on or near Deer Isle, Maine

Janet LeBeau Hill I think a lot of the areas here in coastal Maine still have that old feel to them. Of course the contrasts are visible between places like Stonington with it lobstermen, quarrymen, craftsmen and artists and The ever-genteel Castine with its 1700’s Georgian homes, yacht club and country club. While we’ve been up here I’ve been to galleries, concerts, art studios, farms, hymn sings, historical museums, the tiny E.B. White library, community dinners, steel drums on the green, farmers’ markets….the stuff residents of small communities do together. I’ve spoken with several small business owners about the challenges of relocating to places like Brooklin that has 982 winter residents. I hate to have to return to real life hustle and bustle of my life in Chicago with its have/have-nots culture. I think people up here have it all.

Patrick Wood lives somewhere in Rhode Island. I wish I knew where

Patrick Wood Well put! I see the same stuff here in R.I. It’s not the same place as it was when I got here 25 or so years ago. Except there are still plenty of starving artists. Affordable housing for artists here is a 900 sq. ft. Condo for $200,000. And the rich kid got a grant to do it.

Bruce Farr, lives in Ludlow, Vermont.

Bruce Farr Always thought provoking, David. It’s given me pause to consider my own migration here five years ago, and the reasons for it. I certainly wasn’t laboring under the illusion that I was moving back to the Vermont I became fascinated with in the late 1960s, when, in college in western Mass., I would make frequent trips northward across the border. I then was seeking exposure to the sort of people and way of living that Helen and Scott Nearing had so enthusiastically described in their little bible, “Living the Good Life.”

But my illusion five years ago was to remove myself and my wife to a place that–while no longer pristinely “old Vermont,”–was at least still a refuge of sorts against the onslaught of unchecked development and unbridled acquisitiveness. It was, as I determined, a last bastion against encroaching mindlessness. That illusion, although a bit chipped and cracked at the edges, still sustains me.

More this coming Monday, maybe, or maybe not. I’m going to take some time off one of these days.

Sincerely, David

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Friends,

I know I said I was going to take time off from this blogging business, but I’ve had so many interesting and provocative responses to last week’s blog that this week I’m going to make a blog out of responses. In fact there were so many interesting responses I’m going to send them out in two batches.

The second part of this blog will be along Wednesday or Thursday this week.

David

RESPONSES TO STRANGERS FROM A STRANGE PAST

Urban Martin is a genuine native Vermonter who lives in Morrisville, VT.

Urban Martin Good piece David but I would like to note that most of the farm families that I grew up with in the ’50s and’60s put a high priority on education and complaining was a favorite pastime. Perhaps JUDEVINE 2.0 should be the same story from our point of view. I think we were amused and enlightened by migrating urban refugees . It’s not as though you massacred us and put the survivors on reservations. My family also migrated here in the 1700’s and displaced someone else. I miss the old family farm culture that I grew up with but a new and equally viable farming community is emerging. Every civilization needs new blood to grow and thrive. The gap between the rich and poor is a national problem lessened in Vermont by our economic diversity. I think you don’t quite recognize that you have become a Vermonter (not a “real “Vermonter” of course) and the line between you and your characters has blurred a bit. Sooooo before you beat your self up, welcome to the Green Mountain State. You and many of the other newcomers are now part of the fabric and history of this place.

I’m nor sure where Patricia Nelson lives. I wish I were.

Patricia Nelson I may be a newcomer (1966) and my children may be newcomers even though born in Vermont but my grandchildren are Vermonters and my oldest son will be a northeast kingdom old timer in 20 years. If we go on living the way of life we found when we came here 40+ years ago there will still be an example for newcomers.

Jenny Chafe lives in Chapel Hill, NC

Jenny Chafe Thank you for putting these words down, David. I bet that a lot of people in other places in the US that once felt more salt-of-the-earth and simple and hard-working feel the loss that you speak of, and the change. And the grieving for what’s been lost to the new attitudes/economics/servers and served. Sobering and sad. But I do also find hope in thinking of the Jens-and-Marks of the world, [Back to the Land relatives of Jenny’s] young couples with their kids choosing to move to Vermont, go off the grid, and farm, and be that hard-working, self-sufficient set again. Fewer and farther between but still coming bit by bit.

Laird Christiansen lives in Poultney, Vermont and teaches at Green Mountain College

Laird Christensen Thanks, David. I’ll share these true words with the other new Vermonters on my list. (Not too many old Vermonters on here.) Congratulations on your blogging decision. I’ve taken part of the summer away from new media and feel refreshed. Need to do that more often.

I’m not sure where Karma Tenzing Wangchuk lives. I wish I were.

Karma Tenzing Wangchuk Thanks for this. Never been to Vermont but the experience seems almost universal. Re artists and poor neighborhoods/places, think it also has something to do with hunger for authenticity, perhaps also a simpler way of living that can sometimes be attained along with living in scarcity, and maybe also the sharing that can be a part of living poor. La vie boheme. Sometimes it’s more than a romantic notion.

More responses on Wednesday or Thursday of this week.

Sincerely, David

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Friends,

For the past 40 years I’ve lived in the mountains of Northern Vermont, in what Governor George Aiken in the 1940s called “My Northeast Kingdom”. I came here for the wilderness and isolation. What I found here were people just like my relatives in Cleveland: working class, uneducated, kindly (for the most part) people who struggled–really struggled and without complaint–to get by. I felt at home. What has happened in and to this place in the past 40 years troubles me greatly.

The last time we did JUDEVINE, one of my plays, in Vermont, we treated it as a period piece since it takes place from 1970 to 1990 in Vermont and also because most people don’t know anything about Vietnam anymore. But recently I’ve been thinking how all the characters in Judevine–not just Vietnam Vet, Tommy Stames–are characters from the past.

Vermont has changed so much in the last 40-plus years that all the characters in Judevine are now strangers from a strange past. You can still see these people; they’re still here, but you’ve got to look. They have become genuinely invisible, in Ralph Ellison’s sense of that word. They’re the carpenters who come to work on your house or chambermaids in motels in Stowe or waitresses or cooks or the people who clean your house or other people who serve you in one way or another. Other than this contact between the servant and the served, there is little or no contact between the old and the new Vermonters.

This is not the way it was before we new Vermonters overwhelmed the old Vermonters. Forty years ago or more–when the Back-to-the-Land-Movement began–there was a modicum of equality between the new and the old Vermonters, if only because there were so few new Vermonters. We were the few students and the old timers were the many teachers and this place was the classroom. But now the old timers are almost all dead and we newcomers are the old timers and our children have joined the recently arrived to make the new newcomers.

All this is the inevitable march of time, of generations, I suppose, but with it has come, at least for me, a sadness about what has happened to this place. There is a separation, a segregation, here now that was not here 40 years ago, and that separation, segregation–choose your word–is economic. The newcomers, whether they are older, middle aged or young, are now the rich and the older Vermonters are the poor.

I suppose this is a nationwide phenomenon now since we have become a nation of servants and the served–it is after all a service economy now–but when I came here forty years ago I had a dream of escaping that rich/poor way of living life and living life instead in a more egalitarian way. This, by the way, is why poor artists have always moved to poor neighborhoods, first because it was a cheap way to live and second because it afforded the artists a way to escape from the rich/poor divisions that so often separate, segregate, people in a place.

I have no conclusions, no recommendations. This is instead an expression of grief, of regret for a time that is gone and will never return. This is a moan for the loss of those strangers from a strange past that some of us used to know.

Sincerely, David Budbill

P.S.–I’ve been blogging every Monday morning faithfully since November 28, 2011. With this blog, I’m going to begin blogging irregularly for a while.

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Friends,

This week: a poem:

Life without War

for Ursa Kanjir

 

I’ve lived my life without war, or pestilences, without

any real interference to the flow from birth to death.

 

How many people can say that?

Can Ursa, my young friend, say that?

 

She’s from Slovenia, right next door to Croatia,

Bosnia-Herzegovina, one war after another,

for land, for power, for nothing.

 

Yet the lives of ordinary people, like Ursa’s,

are interrupted, changed, up-ended, destroyed.

 

And for what?

 

Back to essays next week.

Sincerely, David

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Friends,

I want to tell you about a poet I’d wager not a single person who reads this blog has ever heard of. His name is Andrew Suknaski and the name of the book is WOOD MOUNTAIN POEMS.

Andrew Suknaski is a poet of the Canadian prairies. Wood Mountain is a town in south-west Saskatchewan where Suknaski grew up. WOOD MOUNTAIN POEMS is about the history and people of Wood Mountain. The book is full of poems with people’s names as titles–just as my own JUDEVINE is–“Jimmy Hoy’s Place”, Jim Lovenzanna, Soren Caswell, Vaslie Tonita, Louie Leveille, etc.

There are also poems about Indians–Sitting Bull, The Teton Sioux–Ukranians, Polish, Roumanian, English, Serbian, Chinese, all the different ethnicities that made up the Wood Mountain of Suknaski’s childhood.

These poems deal with, as Suknaski puts it, “a vaguely divided guilt; guilt for what happened to the Indian (his land taken) imprisoned on his reserve; a guilt because to feel this guilt is a betrayal of what you ethnically are–the son of a homesteader and his wife who must be rightfully honored in one’s mythology.” Few places these days do you find such an honest statement of the conundrum we all find ourselves in.

WOOD MOUNTAIN POEMS first came out in 1976, a year before my own THE CHAIN SAW DANCE was published, which was the first small book of JUDEVINE poems. Suknaski and I have a lot in common. We are both intensely interested in our immediate neighborhoods and in the people who live there. We are both storytellers.

I first read, as best I can remember, WOOD MOUNTAIN POEMS when it first came out. How I found out about it I can’t remember now. I read it again over the past couple of weeks, reading it as slowly as possible. It’s 36 years later and I still think it’s a great book, and a book that expands the embrace of what a poem is.

Suknaski somewhere has been called a “documentary poet.” Okay. If you must. I was once called a “folk” poet by a stuffy academic poet. “Documentary poet” “folk poet”: both an academician’s way of putting down something not understood.

Suknaski’s other books, among many others. include East of Myloona (Thistledown, 1979), Montage for an Interstellar Cry (Turnstone, 1982) and the new and selected poems edited by Stephen Scobie The Land They Gave Away (NeWest, 1982).

One blurber said, “Since the mid 70’s, Andrew Suknaski has been one of Canada’s major writers of the sense of place and the ethnic experience. As [Toronto’s] Globe and Mail has said, “If Canada ever needed an argument for the regional artist, Andrew Suknaski is it.”

Get some of these books. Read them. Discover something new. The point is, there are thousands of poets out there waiting to be read. Try something other than what the New York Times or The New Yorker or some other New York centered rag, on-line or off, tells you is good poetry.

I wish I could send this notice to Suknaski but he died, at the age of 69, on May 3rd of this year.

More next week.

Sincerely, David Budbill

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