All posts by Phil Holland

October Report

Time to freshen up the site! My last appearance was ten months ago, I am chagrined to say. 

Gave up the Berkshire Edge magazine after writing every word of its first five issues. Glad to see they’re updating articles I wrote and republishing them on the Edge website. Not scrambling against deadlines gave me the leisure to research Robert Frost’s relations with Bennington College, especially in the 20s and 30s, for the Walloomsack Review.

The College opened in 1932; Frost and his family had moved into the neighborhood in 1920, when he was in retreat from academia after three years as a professor at Amherst. The founders of the College consulted him about various matters, and he was among the luminaries who agreed to be sponsors. As a result of my inquiries, Joe Tucker, the College Research Librarian, discovered in the Crossett archives a postcard from 1928 in which Frost declares that he is anxious for the success of the new college. In fact, Frost and the founders shared many of the same educational ideas (Frost was as much an educator-poet as a farmer-poet). On March 9 I took a trip to the Middlebury College library with Jamie Franklin, Curator of the Bennington Museum, to look at their Frost papers and to meet with my old friend and colleague Jay Parini. Everything was normal; two days later, everything in Vermont was locked down. 

Oh, social distancing, we do that already; and semi-retiree and word-worker that I am, I don’t leave home too often anyway. I’m Covid-cautious, and so (by now) is everybody else. 

Oddly enough, the pandemic was a stimulus, for me, for civic engagement. The day in early April that the Bennington Banner printed the news that the Fire Department was not going to stage the usual Bennington Battle Day parade, I realized that I and my Battle-hardened friend Jonah Spivak could take over. Within a week we had established a committee (I was Co-Chair). Many Zoom meetings later, we had a successful, pandemic-version, commemorative weekend. Fireworks, talks, walks, a so-called reverse parade, and at the center a ceremony at the Veterans Home honoring essential workers. See it all on the CAT-TV Facebook page under “Videos”:

https://www.facebook.com/watch/live/?v=1214341282247122&ref=watch_permalink

For the ceremony, I recruited two of our middle-school Battle-study veterans (from a curriculum we instituted in 2018) and worked with them on their speeches. I was the public speaking coach at my school in Greece, and it was fun to go through the process again. The students both spoke very well at the ceremony. I wrote a script for the Governor, and when he bailed out a week before showtime, the speech passed to Rep. Mary Morrissey and Senator Brian Campion, who delivered it to our socially distanced outdoor audience — and to the cameras of CAT-TV, our local public access channel.

We had invited a Black ER nurse from Bennington to address the gathering, and she (with a little help from me behind the scenes to help her prepare) stole the show. To conclude the program, Mary Ruefle of Bennington, current Vermont poet laureate and an old friend, read three poems: Dickinson’s “If I can stop one heart from breaking,” Frost’s “Fire and Ice,” and one of her own, “Grandma Moses.” Then a cannon boomed and a Black Hawk touched down and the parade rolled in. The ceremony itself took 45 minutes. Jonah presided; I introduced Mary. We had put many hours into the planning; I wouldn’t want to do it every year, but this year was the year. Part of the fun was working with townspeople whom I hadn’t met before. Also, we had to ride the Covid roller coaster of uncertainty and forced adaptation; I felt connected to the greater world.

Patricia Johnson and her father Leon were the two African-Americans to attend the talk I gave at the Bennington Museum on Blacks at the Battle of Bennington in February 2019, and they both spoke from the podium after that talk, at my invitation (I’d never met them before). In her Battle Day remarks Patricia spoke about Sipp Ives, the Black Green Mountain Boy who was killed at the Battle. Rep. Morrissey did, too (I had written the script, but people heard her say it).  It was gratifying to see historical research (which I owe to Lion Miles) become part of civic observance.

Then there was the rum. I’ve been following the role of rum at the Battle ever since realizing, just before that first Museum talk, that the Patriots’ elixir of victory was produced by Black slave labor. I have now filled in the connecting details, including the fact that it was Columbus who planted, so to speak, the New World slave-labor-hungry sugar industry that helped fund the New Hampshire troops at the Battle. I published my essay in the Banner and (online) on VTDigger and the Berkshire Edge. Read the Edge piece here:

I’ve given my “Black Presence” talk a couple of times on Zoom recently, once to the Fraunces Tavern Museum in New York City and once to a continuing ed group in Burlington. I’ll be doing it again on November 15 for the Martha Canfield Library in Arlington.

Meanwhile, we had another windstorm in Pownal requiring lots of cleanup. I myself toppled very tall poplars in a corner of the field to create a notch through which we can now see the mountains in all seasons. I had hiked that part of the Taconic Crest Trail with my son in mid-summer. We sat on a bench at the highest part of this part of the trail, which overlooks the now-abandoned Pownal Race Track.

I still do the occasional voice-over for Greek studios. I am sometimes called upon to be the voice that advertises conferences about the future. I was asked to make this one “epic,” which I tried to do without taking it over the top into parody (not sure if I succeeded).

I’ve been very fortunate in the Voice and Word gigs I’ve had and the West Mountain Press books I’ve issued since returning to the U.S. six years ago. Writing for the Bennington Chamber of Commerce Area Guide and the Berkshire Edge magazine enabled me to come to know Bennington County and Berkshire County quite well, at least from the point of view of a visitor. Current project: working with Jonah Spivak (designer) and Shannon Barsotti (project manager for the Town of Bennington) on the text for informational panels to be placed on Main Street downtown.

Next big project: unknown.

More Voice and Word

It’s been a while! I’ve been too busy to post (so I tell myself). Since my last entry I’ve written two more issues of BerkshiresCalendar.com, which is doing nicely in the marketplace. The head of the Williamstown Chamber of Commerce recently called our office to reserve ad space for next year. She had observed the brisk “grab-rate” for the magazine at Chamber’s visitor center and wanted to be in on the action. I get hardly any feedback from readers, so I’ll take solace in the grab-rate. Pick up a free copy in the Berks (many outlets) or in Bennington County (at the Potters or the Northshire, for instance). You can also read the latest issue online at

https://issuu.com/theberkshireedge/docs/holidays_2019

I haven’t had time for freelance work other than occasional audio recordings for Greek studios. I have delivered a couple of lectures in recent months, though, one, on Robert Frost, to the Jewish Federation of the Berkshires, the other, on the black presence at the Battle of Bennington, to the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston.

I haven’t decided what to “tackle” next, other than reviewing a book on the Saratoga campaign and writing an article on Robert Frost’s relations with Bennington College, both for the Walloomsack Review, and I have three months to complete them. 

I’ve joined the Bureau

“The Black Presence at the Battle of Bennington”

That is the title of the illustrated talk that I am giving through the Vermont Council on the Humanities Speakers Bureau. The Council co-sponsors talks such as mine at Vermont non-profits such as libraries, historical societies, etc. I had to audition for the part. My talk is a broader version of the one I gave at the Bennington Museum in February. Speakers have to hustle their gigs, so to speak, themselves, though the Council posts summaries of Speakers Bureau talks on its website. You can find news of mine at:

I’m looking forward to meeting some new Vermont audiences, ones that expect give and take, moreover. 

Stylish Covers

The latest issue of the Walloomsack Review is out. That’s the Bennington Museum’s journal of local and Vermont history, and I have an article and a review in the current issue. The article is an investigation of the sources and significance of the figure of the black youth in Leroy Williams’s mural “Prisoners Taken at the Battle of Bennington” on view at the Museum. The review takes a raised-eyebrow look at Christopher Wren’s recent Those Turbulent Sons of Freedom: Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys and the American Revolution.

The prose is lighter in the spring issue of BerkshiresCalendar.com, the magazine about what’s happening in the Berkshires region put out by the Berkshire Edge, which is an online source of news and event listings. This is the magazine’s second year, and the print run is 30,000. The magazine has high design and production values and it’s available (for the taking) at 130 outlets in the greater Berkshires area, including Southern Vermont, as of May 1 or so.  The editors let me write in my own — frolicsome? — voice, and I get to take the cultural and economic pulse of the region. Which I am also doing for the Revolutionary period, since militia from the Berkshires fought at the Battle of Bennington.

The 2019 version of the Bennington-Manchester Chamber of Commerce’s Shires Area Guide will be out May 2. I wrote the town profiles, including six new ones for this year. I must admit I had fun covering the “lesser” towns of Bennington County, including Glastenbury (pop. 8), which is not necessarily a tourist magnet but (I hope) makes for good reading. I think I conjured a picture of Sandgate as some kind of Appalachian Shangri-La, and I got to mention that it’s where Daniel Shays (of Shay’s Rebellion) holed up in 1786. The stunning cover photo is by Cally McDougall of Studio Hill Farm in Shaftsbury; it’s a barrel sauna with a view, and it goes with their Airbnb rental.

2019: Voice and Word Jan./FEB.


Speaking of battles, I gave a Black History Month talk at the Bennington Museumon Feb. 2 about the black presence at the Battle of Bennington and about one man in particular, Sipp Ives, who served in Seth Warner’s Green Mountain Boys and was killed in action. Historian Lion G. Miles had shared his prodigious research files with me and was present to add his own remarks on the Battle. Museum Curator Jamie Franklin also presented the newly acquired portrait of a wounded Battle veteran. The high point of the day for me and I suspect for many of those present came when Patricia Johnson and her father Leon, two African-American residents of Bennington, spoke about feeling included in Vermont history and about their experiences of being black in Bennington. If you’re curious, CAT-TV, our local public access TV station, has posted video of the event on YouTube:

At this moment my friend Moses Pendleton, founder of Pilobolus and Artistic Director of Momix, is giving a press conference in Rome on his latest creation, a show on the theme of Alice in Wonderland. I prepared his talking points (not for the first time).

A silly serial of mine on the theme of love and chocolate is now running on the Berkshire Edge website through Valentine’s Day. Writing it was like eating all the chocolate treats I describe. Warning: the prose is a little gooey! 

I attended a gathering on the theme of “Being Black in the Berkshires”in Great Barrington last night. I can’t spend all my time in the 18thcentury. I volunteered to write it up for the Edge. Deadline dead ahead!