Category Archives: Uncategorized

What have I done?

These past five months, I mean. I last posted in July, and now that I want to refer someone to my site I had better spruce things up and account for myself. I am a much better promoter of the Town of Bennington, for which I write monthly posts, than of my own business – at which, I’m happy to say, I don’t have to work too hard. Half of what I do is for myself or as a volunteer.

The Town recently gave me the welcome assignment of writing about the Bennington Museum’s current art exhibit and auction. The Berkshire Edge also published my piece, here:

I published a piece in VTDigger and the Edge last month on the Museum’s restored Civil War monument. I’d previously written about it for the Bennington Historical Society newsletter and was one of those who encouraged the Museum to do the restoration. 

Before that came “Voices from the Grave,” for which I received primary writing credit. I did most of the work in late winter, but the show went up in late September and early October in situ at the Bennington Centre Cemetery next to the Old First Church in Old Bennington. Twelve actors, in costume and in character, tell circulating groups of a dozen people about their lives in four-minute monologues when the groups gather at their gravesites. Captain Elijah Dewey, David Redding, Mary Sanford, Robert and Elinor Frost – and more – give us the Spoon River treatment. Spoon River introduced me to blank-verse-from-the-dead in high school, and I’ve worked a lot with primary source accounts of the Battle of Bennington, so I took to the writing, in collaboration with our excellent director, Ingrid Madelyne, and members of the BHS. The actors were from the Bennington Community Theater and did a splendid job.

Elizabeth Hall Park McCullough, fresh from the family vault

The shows sold out two weekends (of 16 performances) at the cemetery, and two November showings were staged indoors with clever projections of the gravestones. When on the first day of performances the actor who was playing ex-Civil War drummer boy Norman Puffer had a family emergency, I stepped in to play the part (in street clothes). I had written it, and I had a day’s notice to practice, so I knew it pretty well by the time we dead awakened. I recounted witnessing Lincoln’s assassination, among other things. It was lots of fun to act again! The last time I acted was for an English-language Greek movie — which was never, alas, released, victim of “the crisis” (the economic debacle of a decade ago). 

David Redding, Loyalist, hanged in 1778 and whose bones were buried by the Patriot and Hessian monument in 1981

I picked up a new book on Vermont history, Vermont’s Ebenezer Allen, by one Glenn Fay, and read it with increasing horror. The book is an offense to the art of history, not to mention the English language. I thought it my duty to warn people, because the cover, from a WPA mural showing Allen reading out an emancipation proclamation to a formerly enslaved captive and her daughter, is quite attractive. Too bad the text of the proclamation printed on the inside is corrupt in so many places. Channeling my inner A. E. Housman, I attacked the book in the BHS newsletter and, more consequentially, I hope, and at greater length on Amazon. Fay attacked me in turn, but just dug his own hole deeper. I doubt you’re interested, but here’s the short version (scroll down past my Civil War memorial piece).

https://benningtonmuseum.org/wp-content/uploads/BHS-Newsletter-August-September-2021-4.pdf

Now I’m editing some of those Battle of Bennington first-person accounts for a grant-funded Battlefield audio project under the auspices of the Friends of the Bennington Battlefield, a volunteer group on whose board I sit. This is a half-volunteer, half-paying job for me, and it will involve my hiring and coaching voice actors. The narrations will be available through QR-code-enabled audio accessed from signage that the Friends put up on the Battlefield (in New York state) two years ago. I got a warm-up for the director’s role at our Veterans Day program for the public at the Battlefield, for which I put together the script. 

I almost forgot to mention. I have also been taking first steps toward the Semiquin: Vermont 250th commemoration (2025-2027). I am co-chair of the Education Committee of the Vermont 250th Commission; I’m not a commissioner myself, though my friend and Battle collaborator Jonah Spivak is. My role means that I will play a part in deciding how to teach U.S. history, and Vermont history in particular, in Vermont.

I was looking back through my year’s photographs yesterday. I’ll save those for another post. Here’s one recent landscape, taken from our porch in Pownal.

Post-Covid post

The tourists are back. The Bennington Museum was almost crowded last weekend. The Old First Church is open, as is the elevator at the Monument. Downtown, Bringing You Vermont was full of customers over the 4th. The Bennington Bookshop has opened in new quarters in the Putnam building, and the Park-McCullough House in North B. now has a shop too. The Robert Frost Stone House in South Shaftsbury has also re-opened its doors. What do these places all have in common, besides attractions for visitors? They carry my Frost and Battle books – and they sell quite a few of them, in a non-Covid year. In Bennington, Vermont, I am a best-selling author. It’s always a matter of scale, isn’t it? 

Once a month I’m in the business of attracting tourists to town myself. My neighbor Shannon Barsotti, Community Development Director for the Town of Bennington and supervisor of a site called Vermont Begins Here, hired me to write a little feature each month on a topic we choose together. Real estate, maple syrup, brewing and distilling, Robert Frost, the AT, public art, those have been my topics this year. I often take the pictures as well. Here’s a link to the latest post:

I wrote a review of the Museum’s Robert Frost: At Present in Vermont show for the Berkshire Edge. 

https://theberkshireedge.com/the-bennington-museum-mounts-robert-frost-at-present-in-vermont/

I know the show well, having given editorial assistance as a volunteer, and having recorded an audio version of Curator Jamie Franklin’s 71 exhibit labels, accessible to visitors via QR codes posted beside the label texts. Audio enables visitors to look at the artwork and manuscripts on display while absorbing information about them. This is an exhibit with many stories to tell, and peering at paragraphs on a wall can’t compare with listening – if you like the voice in your ear, that is. Mine is clear and soothing in the classic male radio voice way. For some labels, I had to read some of Frost’s own poetry. I didn’t try to imitate Frost’s delivery (there are QR codes for Frost’s own renditions of his lines in some displays), but let his cadences speak for themselves. Frost had such an acute ear for word music. I did try to convey the complex rhythms produced by (as Frost conceived it) the speaking voice breaking over the beats of the meter like a wave.  Here’s a sample, relating to Charles Burchfield’s visit to the Stone House in 1924:

I was in Greece last month to visit family and discovered the 3rd edition of Better English (September 2020) in bookstores. The first edition appeared in 2011. For the audio accompaniment that Phoebe and I recorded, this edition has dropped the CD in favor of a single QR code and web-hosted files. Our erratic publisher failed to inform us that the new edition had been issued, but it’s good to see not only that it’s still in print but has been brought up to date: a classic English-language learner’s enchiridion for our times. The subtitle means “(I) speak and write correct English.” The book lays out (in good Greek, thanks to my two collaborators) the particular pitfalls faced by Greeks who aspire to acquire good (no, better) English. 

Local Poet Goes Big Time

Do you see the “pg. 120” inset into the tomato photo at the lower left? That will take you (if you purchase the 2021 Old Farmer’s Almanac Garden Guide, in stores in the U.S. and Canada as of Feb. 15) to “Invocation for Eleven Tomatoes.” Twenty years ago my friend Robby Barnett of Pilobolus asked me to “invoke” for certain varieties he was seed-starting at his house in Connecticut. I obliged, and now, thanks to the adventurous editors at the Almanac, my poem has found a home in print. The print run is 250,000. I like the idea of amusing old farmers all across the U.S. and Canada.

On a more serious note, I published a piece on “Robert Frost’s ‘Fire and Ice’ at 100” in my usual outlets. Here’s a link to the VTDigger version:

I haven’t been updating my audio work on this site, since I get my jobs directly from studios who already know me. I usually send a rough edit in .wav format to my studio partners, and they tailor it as they see fit. Here (in Audio Posts, “Qualco”) are two takes of a corporate video script for NRG Productions in Thessaloniki, Greece, who recently asked me to record dramatic and up-tempo versions. Why is a big outfit like Qualco sourcing a voice-over in Greece? Lower production costs, I’m guessing, and that goes for the voice talent too, since I work at Greek rates for Greek studios. I’ve been moonlighting professionally at this kind of work for 20 years now, and I never get tired of it, no matter how trite the script! I do insist on correcting lapses of English, though.