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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!

2018: The Year in Voice and Word

It was a busy year for my voice and word business. 

My voice work was entirely for Greek studios, typically for Greek corporate clients who want to extend the reach of their videos with an English voiceover, on their websites or for conference presentations. I have told the story of the development of an advanced attractant for mass-trapping the Mediterranean fruit fly, which attacks citrus crops; I have narrated a partly mythological history of one of Greece’s leading fruit canners (Kronos); I have promoted a special episode of a Greek celebrity-bullying reality show (that was fun!); etc. I often need to make adjustments to the scripts that bring them into conformity with standard English. I know the mistakes Greek translators typically make. In fact, I wrote a book about them (Better English Για Ελληνες, 2011), in Greek, with the help of two wonderful Greek colleagues.

Toward the end of 2017 I wrote a grant application in collaboration with a local group interested in enriching Battle-of-Bennington education in public schools in Bennington and throughout Vermont. The Bennington Museum was the official grantee. It was a $5,000 Federal Local Heritage grantthrough the Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership, and we learned we’d won in January. I have written successful grants before, but this was the first time that I got to carry one out as Program Coordinator. I also got to edit a booklet of primary source accounts for teachers and students. A Battle curriculum at Mount Anthony Middle School culminated in a Battlefield visit (with all the fixings) in May and student projects, some of which were exhibited at the Bennington Museum in June. I got to do some classroom teaching myself, as one among a number of classroom presenters. I hadn’t been in an American 7th-grade classroom since 1962! The experience of working with dedicated public school teachers and expert presenters was a good one, and the students got engaged in Battle study across the academic spectrum.

I was honored to be asked to supply a one-page article on the Battle of Bennington for the Battle Day parade programpublished by the Bennington Banner(complete with portraits of all our volunteer firefighters). I told the stirring story in several dense columns. I was tickled to learn that my concluding remarks about the firefighters (“they are a kind of militia without muskets, volunteers who muster for training and are always ready to respond to alarms”) were read out to them by my Battle colleague Jonah Spivak when they gathered after the parade.

I also did some promotional writingfor new clients. The Bennington Chamber of Commerce hired me to write portraits of most of the towns of Bennington County for their annual Shires Area Guide. I learned a lot and came away appreciating the many great things this area has to offer both residents and visitors. I seem to like playing Cicero for both groups. The Area Guideis free and widely distributed. The new one arrives in May; last year’s is still in the racks. 

By coincidence, my longtime and very talented design collaborator Leslie Noyes recommended my writing services to a new print magazine about the Berkshires, BerkshiresCalendar.com, and I have now written two issues “all by myself,” as children say. It’s the print incarnation of the Berkshire Edge, an on-line guide to what’s happening in western Massachusetts and contiguous areas. But the magazine is its own thing, 64 pages, 10,000 words, including word-portraits of nine Berkshire towns and some Berkshires-without-borders day-trip destinations (including Bennington County – the Shires, in Chamber-speak – in the fall issue). Suffice it to say that there’s a lot going on in the Berkshires.

In addition to the town portraits and news of cultural happenings, I’ve written some features as well – on orchards, dogs, and rail trails in the most recent issue. It’s a good gig! Educational, remunerative, and I get to write about exhibitions at the Clark, plays at Shakespeare & Company, and the locally sourced customers at Joe’s Diner in Lee. And interview Chuck Wandrei, who has worked at Jaeschke’s Orchards in Adams for 50 years, and who says of apples, “Anybody can grow the damn things; the trick is to sell ‘em.” Next issue: May-July, and I’m working on it now.

In the summer I reissued “Robert Frost in Bennington County” in a new, improved edition, with color on the inside and more pages. The first edition had sold out. I had to visit Frost’s grave four or five times to get a new shot in late afternoon light. Leslie Noyes designed both the original and the revised version. If you’re going to print anything these days, it had better look good, and she made it look beautiful.

At end of the year, there was Robert Frost again. A man named Ken Nicholson, a retired teacher from Arlington, contacted me in response to a news item about my Frost booklet. He told me he knew the story behind Frost’s “To a Young Wretch,” a charming poem about the theft of a young spruce for use as a Christmas tree that Frost had printed for his Christmas card in 1937. I said I’d write up the story for the Banner. My account came out the day before Christmas and the following day on VTDigger.

https://www.benningtonbanner.com/stories/whose-woods-these-were-he-did-not-know,559825?

The “wretch’s” daughter had supplied me with a snapshot of her father as a boy, looking mighty cute.

Young Fred Hoyt

The Banner published the story “above the fold” (“VICTORY OVER JAPAN,” quipped Amelia). Between the two outlets, it’s been shared more than 1,000 times on Facebook. And it also unearthed the wretch’s then 7-year-old accomplice, now 87, whose own story appeared in a Banner sequel.

I also contribute occasional letters to the editor of the Banner, in a vitriolic mode. First there was Trump and his proposal to arm teachers. Then there was the Chairman of the Manchester GOP (I called him “a small-time Republican bigwig”) dissing Michelle Obama. I thought he might return my fire, but he seems to have retreated into the woods like a damned Tory.

Happy (belated) New Year!

“Robert Frost in Bennington County” (2018)

Works consulted

Chiasson, Dan, “Bet the Farm”, The New Yorker, Feb. 10, 2014, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2014/02/10/bet-the-farm

Cox, James M., ed., Robert Frost, A Collection of Critical Essays, Prentice Hall, 1962

Frost, Robert, The Letters of Robert Frost, vol. 1, ed. Donald Sheehy, Mark Richardson, Robert Faggen, Harvard University Press, 2014, and vol. 2, ed. Donald Sheehy, Mark Richardson, Robert Bernard Hass, Henry Atmore, HUP, 2017.

Hart, Henry,Robert Frost: A Critical Biography, Wiley-Blackwell, 2017.

Kaufman, Ellen, Robert Frost’s Favorite Poem: “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”

http://www.talkativeman.com/robert-frost-favorite-poem/posted Aug. 6, 2017, accessed July 1, 2018.

Mertins, Louis, Robert Frost: Life and Talks-Walking, University of Oklahoma Press, 1965.

Metcalf, Stephen, “Frost and the Rural Authentic,” lecture at the Robert Frost Stone House Museum, May 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iT2AmqpebUc&t=170s

“On Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,” (excerpts from writings by Reuben A. Brower, Richard Gray, Thomas C. Harrison, Karen L. Kilcup, Jeffrey Meyers, George Montiero, John T. Ogilvie, Richard Poirier, William H. Pritchard, Mark Richardson,Guy Rotella, Clint Stevens, and Derek Walcott); http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/a_f/frost/woods.htm(accessed July 1, 2018)

Parini, Jay, Robert Frost, A Life, Henry Holt and Co., 1999.

Rothman, Joshua, “Darkness or Light?”, The New Yorker, Jan 29, 2013, https://www.newyorker.com/books/page-turner/robert-frost-darkness-or-light

Thompson, Lawrance, Robert Frost, The Years of Triumph 1915-1938, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1970.

Sergeant, Elizabeth Shepley, Robert Frost, Trial by Existence, Holt Rinehart and Winston,1960.

upinvermont, May 24, 2009, by Patrick Gillespie, https://poemshape.wordpress.com/2009/05/24/interpreting-robert-frosts-stopping-by-woods/

Tuten, Nancy Lewis and Zubizarreta, John, The Robert Frost Encyclopedia,Greenwood Publishing, 2001.

Untermeyer, Louis, Robert Frost, A Backward Look, The Library of Congress, 1964.

The website http://www.bennington.edu/robert-frost-stone-house-museumand exhibits at the Robert Frost Stone House Museum in South Shaftsbury, VT.

Thanks to current Stone House Museum Director Megan Mayhew Bergman and Founding Director Carole Thompson for information on apple trees. Also to Peter Gilbert, Executor of the Frost Estate, for his editorial suggestions.