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Year’s End 2022

“The world exists to end up in a book,” wrote Mallarmé. I like to have ulterior purposes as a tourist, so I was happy to take a “day trip to Wilmington, Vermont” assignment from the Berkshire Edge in order to put my existence into writing for others. Wilmington is only 20 miles east of Bennington on the Molly Stark Scenic Byway (a.k.a. Route 9), but my prior experience of the town was limited to lunch at Dot’s, dinner at the Anchor, and time spent at Bartleby’s Books, which carries my titles and once hosted a poetry reading by me and other minor poet. Oh, and I had stopped to get a photo of the statue of Molly Stark herself for my Battle book. Amelia and I made a day trip of it on September 30 and had a good time. You will too (pp. 55-57):

Last year I wrote about the Bennington Museum’s annual end-of-year art show for the Berkshire Edge’s online news site. I did it again:

I thought those Bennington Triangle T-shirts were so clever that I bid a modest sum on one and was one of the winners. Meanwhile Amelia bid on a piece by Bennington’s Rhonda Ratray just for fun and found she had bought the painting. I hadn’t mentioned to her that it was one of my favorite works in the show. It illustrates an incident in the childhood of the protagonist of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House, when it rained stones on her house:

Raining Stones — Rhonda Ratray
Bennington Museum photo

I never thought I would provide the text for a sermon from the pulpit of Old Bennington’s Old First Church, but I was told that the Rev. Clarke used at a Sunday morning service in December my piece from several years ago telling the story of Robert Frost’s Christmas poem “To a Young Wretch.” In Frost’s poem, “Christmas feeling” prevails (barely) over resentment at a young spruce’s having been rustled from Frost’s Gully property in South Shaftsbury by two local youths, who were caught soon after the act by the local constable. The poem is a splendid parable about justice and forgiveness in a case where two “goods” were opposed. It concludes:

And though in tinsel chain and popcorn rope
My tree, a captive in your window bay,
Has lost its footing on my mountain slope
And lost the stars of heaven, may, oh, may
The symbol star it lifts against your ceiling
Help me accept its fate with Christmas feeling.

On that note, see you next year!

Annual Report

My last post, if I remember, was in December of last year, I am embarrassed to say. I’ve been too busy to be looking backward. I have a moment now, with only one project in the works: a ceremony of remembrance on Veterans Day at the Bennington Battlefield. We’ll be presenting remembrances of the Battle by three women and two male veterans of the fighting. 

“QR-code Audio Enhancements for the Bennington Battlefield” is the name of the N.Y. Parks-funded project that I began work on a year ago. The inauguration of the codes came during a Battle Day (August 16) ceremony on the hilltop. A number of the voice actors who had played various parts were present. This was the press release, if you’re curious. 

https://www.benningtonbanner.com/community-news/audio-comes-to-the-bennington-battlefield/article_82d6d038-1a5d-11ed-a805-2f54888c6a2e.html

I got a kick out of coaching actors in my own home studio, as well as directing Broadway luminary Kevin McGuire remotely at a studio in midtown Manhattan. He voiced both George Washington and General Burgoyne. His mug adorns the rack card we just released to promote the project. You can scan the QR code right from your screen, I’ll bet.

A talented local composer, Darrell Holovach, wrote neo-Revolutionary background music for the introductions and directed three musicians in performing it. We posted 21 files in all. Now we’ll see if visitors to the Battlefield are using it (we can track activity; the files are also available at benningtonbattlefield.org under “Links”). I voiced the introductions and the action-packed account of veteran David Holbrook.

In July I delivered my first project as a “historian for hire.” The Mount Anthony County Club commissioned a club history for their 125th anniversary celebration and website. I made a 12-minute (and 90-slide) presentation to 100 or so guests at the dinner that followed an afternoon tournament. I wanted to make it entertaining – this wasn’t a Historical Society audience. There were some emotional moments as well as some levity. For me, the project was a window on the history of Bennington I hadn’t looked through before. The Bennington Banner gave the celebration a good review:

https://www.benningtonbanner.com/business/125-years-of-fores-mount-anthony-country-club-celebrates-a-century-and-quarter-of-golf/article_a8ed80f8-06c8-11ed-810e-0f690ea3671f.html

Meanwhile, I’ve continued to write and photograph a monthly promotional post for the Town of Bennington’s Vermont Begins Here site. Latest post: “Breakfast in Bennington.”

It gave me a chance not only to eat at the Blue Benn (and other establishments) but to take notice of the excellent new book on the Benn by my friend Peter Crabtree and his collaborator Caitlin Randall. 

A well-designed set of three signage panels about the town of Bennington has gone up as part of the Putnam block renovations. It’s located behind the Bennington Bookshop adjacent to the municipal parking lot. I wrote the copy and contributed some photography. Here’s what the panels look like:

My work as co-chair of the Vermont 250th Education Committee continues, too. I was pleased to see that my little book on the Battle of Bennington was chosen to be included among those to be distributed to public and school libraries in Vermont.

I gave my talk “The Black Presence at the Battle of Bennington” at the Hoosick Historical Society in August and at the Orwell (Vt.) Free Library in October, the latter under the aegis of the Vermont Council on the Humanities Speakers Bureau program.

I still voice the occasional corporate script for the Greek studios I have worked with for many years, and I recently wrote a profile of the town of Wilmington (Vt.) for the Berkshire Edge magazine. That’s the Voice and Word report for today, not to say “for this year.”

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.