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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.

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.

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”:

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.