The Virtual Poetorium
July 28, 2020
RON: HELLO.. is…is the mic on? Hello…hello…
Okay, there we are. Welcome to another month of the Poetorium, folks! You guys are looking good tonight! Am I the the only one who is a wreck? WoW Paul has done it again he has lined up some great speakers tonight that I will get into in a minute. First off we have to thank Demetri Kasperson for the use of his stage. Ann Marie for her black and white brownies there to die for. For the Starlite staff of thousands who help produce the program from lights to drinks. And to my bud who puts this whole show together Paul, lets give him a hand its lot of hard work to do what he is doing. Paul, stand up and take a bow. Once again this month I’m going to dispense with reading the rules of the show. We have been getting a lot of attention from poets in Connecticut. We sincerely hope that when the show once again become live that you will join us in person we would love to meet you and have you read to us. For those of you that don’t know it, we have tables set up to sell books and arts and crafts on as well. So if you have books to sell please bring them. Okay, I’m not doing to bad this week so far but it’s early yet and I’m bound to screw something up. So this month we have as our guest speaker Jim Scrimgeour all the way from New Milford, Connecticut I did read quite a bit of his work that is on line, I think your going to like him. Then we have Paul doing his usual tribute to a local Southbridge poet and group poem of some sort to keep me laughing as well as someone doing the dead poet spot (though I’m not sure who). And then of course I got to get my two cents in I’ll be opening the show with one of my poems
Once again, I ‘ll give you my health up date. The pathology report for my bladder cancer came back NEDS (no evidence of disease) In essence what that means is if I can stay clear of cancer for three years I will be considered cancer free. What a monkey off my back.
Have I forgotten any thing, Paul? If not, let’s start the program. LADIES AND GENTLEMEN I present to you tonight’s opening Poet who traveled all the way from Worcester Massachusetts and graces himself to you at the podium’s open mic… ME!
Actually I have two poems to open with, the first on is very short and it goes like this:
To Proctologists Everywhere
Most of us
a full colon
in preference to
a semi colon
—Ron Whittle (2019)
The second one I like a lot. It’s a love poem of sorts called…
It’s Here Her Modesty Fears the Light of Day
You’re my all day long
and every day after
I have come to the edge of
where nothing can be said
It’s all in what can be done
time and time again
in the darkness
Until everything is blue
again in the morning
and the holding of hands
waiting for the suddenness
of the falling night
to turning blue into black
Where heaven has bared itself
and we have set sail
to tender places
and jasmine ports of call
—Ron Whittle (2020)
Alright Paul, its time to do your magic, the mic is yours…
PAUL: Thank you so much, Ron! As probably most of you know, this is usually the part of the program where I present a segment we call “Spotlight on a Southbridge Poet” while later on in the evening, right after our feature poet has finished , we normally have a tribute to a dead poet given by a member of the audience. Well, you might recall me complaining in March that although there may be lot of very talented poets from Southbridge, it has been very difficult getting access to their poetry. And although, like last month I did reach out to
a poet who formerly lived in Southbridge but now resides elsewhere for permission to feature her and her poetry tonight, I never heard back from her. Likewise, I also failed to attain a volunteer to present the dead poet tribute tonight. But never fear, folks! Instead of cancelling both segments, I decided , just for tonight, to combine them into one. However to do so, I need to expand the boundaries from just the town of Southbridge to the Southbridge area and include the bordering towns such as Sturbridge, Dudley, Charlton, and Woodstock, Connecticut. Also I loosened the requirements so the poet does not have to been born, live, or die here but just have a very strong connection to the area. With some research, I was very surprised to discover that indeed there is a poet who has undeniable ties to the area who at one time might have one of the most popular poets in America. And although you may not be familiar with his poetry, I guarantee that most of you will know his name. However I thought instead of just announcing who this poet is, I thought it would be more fun to see if you could guess his identity from clues in the folllowing short biography. So Ladies and Gentlemen, with no further delay, here is the Poetorium’s first ( and most likely only) Spotlight Tribute to a Dead Poet With Strong Connections to the Southbridge Area:
Although he was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1809 and died there in 1894, his lineage on his father’s side can be traced directly to Woodstock, CT. His great, great grandfather was one of the founders and very first landowners of the town wayback in 1689 when it was still known as New Roxbury and part of Massachusetts. His great grandfather, grandfather, and father were all born in Woodstock, with his father being a pastor there before leaving to become the minister of the First Congregational Church in Cambridge. Most of
his relatives on his father’s side remained there, and thus our mystery poet through out his life spent much time in the town visiting, even writing several occasional poems (which he was famous for) while there, most notably a pair that he presented at Roseland Park as part of the town’s celebration of Independence Day on July 4th, 1877.
Famous as a member of the Fireside Poets, a group of 19th-century American poets which also included Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Cullen Bryant, John Greenleaf Whittier, and James Russell Lowell, he was also a humorist, novelist, essayist (his most famous prose work being the series of “At the Breakfast Table” books), inventor (creator of the American Stereoscope), lecturer, and probably most importantly a world-renown physician (even serving for a period of time as the Dean of Harvard Medical School). So have you guessed yet who we are talking about? if not, I am sure you will after the next clue: He shared his name with his son who inarguably had even more and lasting fame than his father, serving as one of the most widely cited United States Supreme Court justices in history, Ahhhh, so you got it? No? Here then is a final clue – his last name is the same as a notorious American Serial killer as well as the greatest fictional detective in English Literature while he shares his first and middle ones with the main character in the classic American sitcom “Green Acres”. Yes, you are one hundred percent correct, it’s Oliver Wendell Holmes.
I think it is only fitting that the first two poems that I present of his should be the pair that he penned for the Independence Day celebration in Woodstock in 1877:
The Ship Of State – A Sentiment
This “sentiment” was read on the same occasion as the “Family Record,” which immediately follows it. The latter poem is the dutiful tribute of a son to his father and his father’s ancestors, residents of Woodstock from its first settlement.
The Ship of State! above her skies are blue,
But still she rocks a little, it is true,
And there are passengers whose faces white
Show they don’t feel as happy as they might;
Yet on the whole her crew are quite content,
Since its wild fury the typhoon has spent,
And willing, if her pilot thinks it best,
To head a little nearer south by west.
And this they feel: the ship came too near wreck,
In the long quarrel for the quarter-deck,
Now when she glides serenely on her way, –
The shallows past where dread explosives lay, –
The stiff obstructive’s churlish game to try
Let sleeping dogs and still torpedoes lie!
And so I give you all the Ship of State;
Freedom’s last venture is her priceless freight;
God speed her, keep her, bless her, while she steers
Amid the breakers of unsounded years;
Lead her through danger’s paths with even keel,
And guide the honest hand that holds her wheel!
WOODSTOCK, CONN., July 4, 1877.
A Family Record
WOODSTOCK, CONN., JULY 4, 1877
Not to myself this breath of vesper song,
Not to these patient friends, this kindly throng,
Not to this hallowed morning, though it be
Our summer Christmas, Freedom’s jubilee,
When every summit, topmast, steeple, tower,
That owns her empire spreads her starry flower,
Its blood-streaked leaves in heaven’s benignant dew
Washed clean from every crimson stain they knew, –
No, not to these the passing thrills belong
That steal my breath to hush themselves with song.
These moments all are memory’s; I have come
To speak with lips that rather should be dumb;
For what are words? At every step I tread
The dust that wore the footprints of the dead
But for whose life my life had never known
This faded vesture which it calls its own.
Here sleeps my father’s sire, and they who gave
That earlier life here found their peaceful grave.
In days gone by I sought the hallowed ground;
Climbed yon long slope; the sacred spot I found
Where all unsullied lies the winter snow,
Where all ungathered spring’s pale violets blow,
And tracked from stone to stone the Saxon name
That marks the blood I need not blush to claim,
Blood such as warmed the Pilgrim sons of toil,
Who held from God the charter of the soil.
I come an alien to your hills and plains,
Yet feel your birthright tingling in my veins;
Mine are this changing prospect’s sun and shade,
In full-blown summer’s bridal pomp arrayed;
Mine these fair hillsides and the vales between;
Mine the sweet streams that lend their brightening green;
I breathed your air – the sunlit landscape smiled;
I touch your soil – it knows its children’s child;
Throned in my heart your heritage is mine;
I claim it all by memory’s right divine
Waking, I dream. Before my vacant eyes
In long procession shadowy forms arise;
Far through the vista of the silent years
I see a venturous band; the pioneers,
Who let the sunlight through the forest’s gloom,
Who bade the harvest wave, the garden bloom.
Hark! loud resounds the bare-armed settler’s axe,
See where the stealthy panther left his tracks!
As fierce, as stealthy creeps the skulking foe
With stone-tipped shaft and sinew-corded bow;
Soon shall he vanish from his ancient reign,
Leave his last cornfield to the coming train,
Quit the green margin of the wave he drinks,
For haunts that hide the wild-cat and the lynx.
But who the Youth his glistening axe that swings
To smite the pine that shows a hundred rings?
His features? – something in his look I find
That calls the semblance of my race to mind.
His name? – my own; and that which goes before
The same that once the loved disciple bore.
Young, brave, discreet, the father of a line
Whose voiceless lives have found a voice in mine;
Thinned by unnumbered currents though they be,
Thanks for the ruddy drops I claim from thee!
The seasons pass; the roses come and go;
Snows fall and melt; the waters freeze and flow;
The boys are men; the girls, grown tall and fair,
Have found their mates; a gravestone here and there
Tells where the fathers lie; the silvered hair
Of some bent patriarch yet recalls the time
That saw his feet the northern hillside climb,
A pilgrim from the pilgrims far away,
The godly men, the dwellers by the bay.
On many a hearthstone burns the cheerful fire;
The schoolhouse porch, the heavenward pointing spire
Proclaim in letters every eye can read,
Knowledge and Faith, the new world’s simple creed.
Hush! ‘t is the Sabbath’s silence-stricken morn
No feet must wander through the tasselled corn;
No merry children laugh around the door,
No idle playthings strew the sanded floor;
The law of Moses lays its awful ban
On all that stirs; here comes the tithing-man
At last the solemn hour of worship calls;
Slowly they gather in the sacred walls;
Man in his strength and age with knotted staff,
And boyhood aching for its week-day laugh,
The toil-worn mother with the child she leads,
The maiden, lovely in her golden beads, –
The popish symbols round her neck she wears,
But on them counts her lovers, not her prayers, –
Those youths in homespun suits and ribboned queues,
Whose hearts are beating in the high-backed pews.
The pastor rises; looks along the seats
With searching eye; each wonted face he meets;
Asks heavenly guidance; finds the chapter’s place
That tells some tale of Israel’s stubborn race;
Gives out the sacred song; all voices join,
For no quartette extorts their scanty coin;
Then while both hands their black-gloved palms display,
Lifts his gray head, and murmurs, “Let us pray!”
And pray he does! as one that never fears
To plead unanswered by the God that hears;
What if he dwells on many a fact as though
Some things Heaven knew not which it ought to know, –
Thanks God for all his favors past, and yet,
Tells Him there’s something He must not forget;
Such are the prayers his people love to hear, –
See how the Deacon slants his listening ear!
What! look once more! Nay, surely there I trace
The hinted outlines of a well-known face!
Not those the lips for laughter to beguile,
Yet round their corners lurks an embryo smile,
The same on other lips my childhood knew
That scarce the Sabbath’s mastery could subdue.
Him too my lineage gives me leave to claim, –
The good, grave man that bears the Psalmist’s name.
And still in ceaseless round the seasons passed;
Spring piped her carol; Autumn blew his blast;
Babes waxed to manhood; manhood shrunk to age;
Life’s worn-out players tottered off the stage;
The few are many; boys have grown to men
Since Putnam dragged the wolf from Pomfret’s den;
Our new-old Woodstock is a thriving town;
Brave are her children; faithful to the crown;
Her soldiers’ steel the savage redskin knows;
Their blood has crimsoned his Canadian snows.
And now once more along the quiet vale
Rings the dread call that turns the mothers pale;
Full well they know the valorous heat that runs
In every pulse-beat of their loyal sons;
Who would not bleed in good King George’s cause
When England’s lion shows his teeth and claws?
With glittering firelocks on the village green
In proud array a martial band is seen;
You know what names those ancient rosters hold, –
Whose belts were buckled when the drum-beat rolled, –
But mark their Captain! tell us, who is he?
On his brown face that same old look I see
Yes! from the homestead’s still retreat he came,
Whose peaceful owner bore the Psalmist’s name;
The same his own. Well, Israel’s glorious king
Who struck the harp could also whirl the sling, –
Breathe in his song a penitential sigh
And smite the sons of Amalek hip and thigh:
These shared their task; one deaconed out the psalm,
One slashed the scalping hell-hounds of calm;
The praying father’s pious work is done,
Now sword in hand steps forth the fighting son.
On many a field he fought in wilds afar;
See on his swarthy cheek the bullet’s scar!
There hangs a murderous tomahawk; beneath,
Without its blade, a knife’s embroidered sheath;
Save for the stroke his trusty weapon dealt
His scalp had dangled at their owner’s belt;
But not for him such fate; he lived to see
The bloodier strife that made our nation free,
To serve with willing toil, with skilful hand,
The war-worn saviors of the bleeding land.
His wasting life to others’ needs he gave, –
Sought rest in home and found it in the grave.
See where the stones life’s brief memorials keep,
The tablet telling where he “fell on sleep,” –
Watched by a winged cherub’s rayless eye, –
A scroll above that says we all must die, –
Those saddening lines beneath, the “Night-Thoughts” lent:
So stands the Soldier’s, Surgeon’s monument.
Ah! at a glance my filial eye divines
The scholar son in those remembered lines.
The Scholar Son. His hand my footsteps led.
No more the dim unreal past I tread.
O thou whose breathing form was once so dear,
Whose cheering voice was music to my ear,
Art thou not with me as my feet pursue
The village paths so well thy boyhood knew,
Along the tangled margin of the stream
Whose murmurs blended with thine infant dream,
Or climb the hill, or thread the wooded vale,
Or seek the wave where gleams yon distant sail,
Or the old homestead’s narrowed bounds explore,
Where sloped the roof that sheds the rains no more,
Where one last relic still remains to tell
Here stood thy home, – the memory-haunted well,
Whose waters quench a deeper thirst than thine,
Changed at my lips to sacramental wine, –
Art thou not with me, as I fondly trace
The scanty records of thine honored race,
Call up the forms that earlier years have known,
And spell the legend of each slanted stone?
With thoughts of thee my loving verse began,
Not for the critic’s curious eye to scan,
Not for the many listeners, but the few
Whose fathers trod the paths my fathers knew;
Still in my heart thy loved remembrance burns;
Still to my lips thy cherished name returns;
Could I but feel thy gracious presence near
Amid the groves that once to thee were dear
Could but my trembling lips with mortal speech
Thy listening ear for one brief moment reach!
How vain the dream! The pallid voyager’s track
No sign betrays; he sends no message back.
No word from thee since evening’s shadow fell
On thy cold forehead with my long farewell, –
Now from the margin of the silent sea,
Take my last offering ere I cross to thee!
—Oliver Wendell Holmes
I will now finish with perhaps Oliver Wendell Holmes’ most famous poem, one that he wrote early in his literary career as a tribute to the famous 18th-century American frigate USS Constitution along with the detailed notes that he originally published alongside it:
Ay, tear her tattered ensign down
Long has it waved on high,
And many an eye has danced to see
That banner in the sky;
Beneath it rung the battle shout,
And burst the cannon’s roar; –
The meteor of the ocean air
Shall sweep the clouds no more.
Her deck, once red with heroes’ blood,
Where knelt the vanquished foe,
When winds were hurrying o’er the flood,
And waves were white below,
No more shall feel the victor’s tread,
Or know the conquered knee; –
The harpies of the shore shall pluck
The eagle of the sea!
Oh better that her shattered hulk
Should sink beneath the wave;
Her thunders shook the mighty deep,
And there should be her grave;
Nail to the mast her holy flag,
Set every threadbare sail,
And give her to the god of storms,
The lightning and the gale!
This was the popular name by which the frigate Constitution was known. The poem was first printed in the Boston Daily Advertiser, at the time when it was proposed to break up the old ship as unfit for service. I subjoin the paragraph which led to the writing of the poem. It is from the Advertiser of Tuesday, September 14, 1830: –
“Old Ironsides. – It has been affirmed upon good authority that the Secretary of the Navy has recommended to the Board of Navy Commissioners to dispose of the frigate Constitution. Since it has been understood that such a step was in contemplation we have heard but one opinion expressed, and that in decided disapprobation of the measure. Such a national object of interest, so endeared to our national pride as Old Ironsides is, should never by any act of our government cease to belong to the Navy, so long as our country is to be found upon the map of nations. In England it was lately determined by the Admiralty to cut the Victory, a one-hundred gun ship (which it will be recollected bore the flag of Lord Nelson at the battle of Trafalgar,) down to a seventy-four, but so loud were the lamentations of the people upon the proposed measure that the intention was abandoned. We confidently anticipate that the Secretary of the Navy will in like manner consult the general wish in regard to the Constitution, and either let her remain in ordinary or rebuild her whenever the public service may require.” – New York Journal of Commerce.
The poem was an impromptu outburst of feeling and was published on the next day but one after reading the above paragraph.
—Oliver Wendell Holmes
Well, that concludes the Poetorium’s first ( and most likely only) Spotlight Tribute to a Dead Poet With Strong Connections to the Southbridge Area. And now as Ron mentioned earlier when he opened the show this evening, we are so happy to have the very talented Jim Scrimgeour as our featured poet at the Virtual Poetorium tonight, As you might recall if you checked the calendar page on our website, Jim was originally scheduled to be part of a special double feature with his son JD for tonight’s actual Poetorium at Starlite in Southbridge before all this insanity with the Coronavirus began. Luckily for us, Jim graciously agreed to remain our feature tonight for what will be our fifth Virtual Poetorium. But before we bring him up to the virtual stage to be interviewed, I’d like to let you know a little more about him…
James R. Scrimgeour received his BA from Clark University, his MA and PhD from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and is Professor Emeritus at Western Connecticut State University. He has served as Editor of Connecticut Review, published ten books of poetry, been nominated for several Pushcart Prizes, and given over 250 public readings of his work, including one at an International Conference on Poetry and History, Stirling, Scotland. He has, in addition, participated in NEH Seminars on Modern Poetry at NYU and Princeton and has recently served on panels at the Massachusetts Poetry Festival. He currently conducts poetry programs in libraries, both in New Milford CT and in Rockport MA, where he and his wife spend much of their time. His most recent book, Voices of Dogtown: Poems Arising Out of a Ghost Town Landscape (Loom Press, 2019), was listed as a “must read” by the Massachusetts Center for the Book.
Ladies and Gentlemen, please put your hands together and give a big Virtual Poetorium welcome to James R. Scrimgeour!
RON: Good evening, Jim. Welcome to our stage! Please have a seat and make yourself before we start the interrogation…umm.… I mean interview. Seriously, Paul and I really appreciate you agreeing to do this. You know, Jim, I too, spend as much time on the beaches and shoreline as I can. Our attachment to the ocean is probably much the same. I have a great deal of respect and fear of its capabilities, but I also love it. My question is: was there any single reason that made you fall in love with the ocean?
JIM: No single reason — don’t think there is a single reason you fall in love with anything (or anyone). Love is more complex than that. But I’ve always been attracted to the ocean (since I first saw it as a kid — love at first sight?) My wife and I have been living at the ocean in Rockport MA for five months of the year for the past nine years, and so it is not surprising that the ocean has seeped into so many of my poems or that my son, who, as you know, also writes poems, said one day: “Dad, haven’t you used up your quota of ocean poems?” And, of course, I had to write another ocean poem to answer his question.
RON: After reading some of your poetry, I couldn’t help but notice how you seamlessly blend history into much of your poetry. What do you call your style of poetry?
JIM: History is a part of life, and I believe that it is an important task of the poet to keep the past (including the child within us) alive, to provide some continuity between past and present (and our past and current selves). This is a task that I have always taken seriously. As far as style goes, I am who I am. My poetry is what it is. It is, I believe, my job to write my poems; it’s the critic’s job to try to define my style. I wish him/her all the best.
RON: You also write as though you were from a different era in time, such as in the Sunset 1904. That must require a considerable amount of research to depict the scene you write about accurately. Is that a fair question to ask?
JIM: I think that any author (poet or prose) has to do the research necessary to create a world that is distinctive, original, and his/her own, a world that the reader may wander around in for a while and maybe even learn something before returning to life in early 21st century America. I hope that I have created such a distinctive original world in all of my books, but especially in the Dogtown one.
RON: Who are your favorite poet or poets and why?
JIM: In alphabetical order: Emily Dickinson (expolsive imagery and word choice) John Keats (musical language — sound and content seamlessly merged) Robert Frost (for being his cantankerous self) Mary Oliver, William Wordsworth and so many others (for experiencing and sharing the divinity in the natural world) William Carlos Williams (for showing that poetry can be found everywhere and in everything) William Butler Yeats (for his musical language, vision and willingness to tackle political issues). There are, of course, many others but I have to stop somewhere.
RON: Being a professor you must have seen a great deal of talent from authors and poets in your classes. Did you ever teach anyone who went on to be famous? If so who?
JIM: No — I have taught many who went on to prestigious MFA programs (including Iowa, Emerson, and UMass) and who published books of poetry and poems in well known journals, and are currently teaching at universities, but no one I would call “famous.”
RON: If you had to chose a book of poetry to tell someone to read, who would be the author and what would be the title of the book?
JIM: It depends on who the someone is. I would recommend different books for different people. A person should, I believe, begin with poetry that connects with his/her life in some significant way. If I didn’t know a person well enough to make this kind of connection for him/her, I would say “See my answer to the question about my favorite poets and throw a dart!”
RON: Who was the biggest influence in your becoming a poet?
JIM: My wife has always been my muse, and all of the above mentioned “favorite” poets have been significant influences, but there also have been others, Walt Whitman, Wallace Stevens, Langston Hughes, Elizabeth Bishop, e.g., come immediately to mind. I don’t think there was a “biggest” — they were/are all big; they were all there when I needed them.
RON: What could you tell us about your own poetry, I guess what I’m asking you to do is define your work?
JIM: I’m not comfortable with defining my poetry, but I’ll be glad to tell you a little bit about my writing process and my work. Like Monet, I like to work “in plain air.” I like to take my camera, my notebook, my five senses and go out into the natural world “fishing” for poems. Whenever I come across something odd, unusual or beautiful (or all of the above) I snap a photo or two and then sit down in front of it and write a first draft of a poem in my notebook. Then later, as I revise, tighten, and type it into my computer, I will, if I am lucky, come to a realization as to WHY this experience was significant and then I will have the focus necessary to finish the poem.
RON: Okay…Paul, do you have any questions you’d like to ask Jim?
PAUL: Yes, I do. Thanks, Ron! Congratulations, Jim, on having your book Voices of Dogtown: Poems Arising out of a Ghost Town Landscape selected as a “must read” by Massachusetts Center for the Book! Could you talk a bit about the history of Dogtown itself and what about it that inspired you to write this book?
JIM: Dogtown is a ghost town located in the highland of Cape Ann, Massachusetts. I became bitten by the Dogtown bug shortly after I first began visiting Cape Ann over 20 years ago; I was especially interested in the lives of the last inhabitants who lived there from the end of the Revolutionary War until 1830 when the last inhabitant was taken, shivering and cold, to the poorhouse. The more I read about them, the more interested I became, and I started to take contemporary walks over this semi-mythical terrain with my notebook and camera in hand. I’m not sure exactly when it was that I began to hear the voices of some of these old settlers speaking to me.
PAUL: What was your process for writing this particular book like, and did it differ in any way from writing your previous volumes of poetry?
JIM: Many of my previous projects (like my long poem “The Route” in which I retrace the route in modern day Salem that the authorities took my great great great great great great grandmother on when they hanged her as a witch in 1692) involved significant historical research, but, as I see it, the main difference between this book and my previous ones is one of degree, is the amount of historical research involved. I still took my camera, notebook and five senses with me as I strolled the boulder strewn Dogtown terrain, but this book contains a couple of new dimensions — one of ordinary historical research, of course, but another dimension was made possible by my feeling of kinship with all the other poets and writers who had become fascinated with Dogtown over the years. Also, this is the first time that I “channelled” people who had died many years ago and made them an important part of my work. And, one final difference, another important dimension of the Dogtown book is that it contains a perceptive, well-written introduction by Carl Carlsen.
PAUL: How would you personally define “Poetry” and what do you feel are its most important aspects (imagery, rhythm, word choice, etc.)?
JIM: As noted previously, I usually resist attempting to define my poetry, but here is a working definition: “Poetry is the sharing of significant, valuable, intense human experience.” I believe the most important thing is for a poet to have the courage to share his deepest and most intense feelings openly and honestly with others. Imagery, rhythm (the sound of the language) and precise word choice are all important tools (but only tools) that help the poet say what he/she has to say, that help the poet write his/her stanza in the great poem of the world.
PAUL: In your many years of writing, have you developed a regular writing routine, and if so, can you describe it to us?
JIM: See my answer to Ron’s question about defining my work for a routine that I have found useful, but some of my strongest poems have arisen suddenly and unexpectedly from many different situations. For example: being assigned to do a lecture on Kafka, talking with my father-in-law over his kitchen table, picking up an old photo of my grandfather, sitting in the waiting room of an urologist’s office, or trying to find a can of chicken soup in a cupboard are a few of the situations that triggered some of my best poems.
PAUL: My final question for you is what advice would you give to someone who is just beginning to write poetry?
JIM: I would advise a beginning poet: 1) to be very careful with your diction, your selection of words. Keep in mind the words of Mark Twain: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” 2) to ground your poems in actual lived human experience and avoid philosophical abstractions — remember “nesses are messes,” i.e., don’t write about “lonliness,” write about human beings who are lonely, 3) to pay some dues, to spend some time thinking seriously about the ultimate questions of human existence. As Socrates said long ago, the unexamined life is not worth living; as I say today, the unexamined life is not worth writing about, and 4) to keep your senses and your notebook open — wherever you are, wherever you go.
RON: So unless someone in the audience has a question… no?…well then, I guess that concludes the interview portion of our program. Jim, thank you so much for a really fantastic and fascinating interview! Now, folks, please give our guest speaker James R. Scrimgeour a huge round of applause as he takes to the podium to present poems from his book Voices of Dogtown: Poems Arising Out of a Ghost Town Landscape …
JIM: All of the following poems are from my recent book: Voices of Dogtown: Poems Arising out of a Ghost Town Landscape (Loom Press, Lowell MA, 2019) which is a strange collage of historical research and original poetry. The six poems I have chosen will, I hope, give you at least an inkling of the scope and depth of the work and show that it is made up of (among other things) original poems, folklore, character sketches of the last inhabitants, tributes to other artists who have wandered the terrain and my semi-mystical encounter with a few of the more interesting settlers who I imagine are still living on the landscape in a kind of purgatory. Tammy Younger is one of these settlers, and the excerpt from her poem that I have included is in her voice — not mine, but I am the “geezer” she mentions, and the interaction between us forms an interesting undercurrent that flows throughout the manuscript…
On a Rock in Granny Day’s Swamp
a full professor, his L.L Bean slacks
torn by thorns, sits thinking of students,
his students, and Granny Day’s — over
200 years ago: Judy Rhines, Molly Jacobs,
Sarah Phipps, Jack Bishop Smith, Oliver
Younger, Johnny Morgan Stanwood,
et al. wondering if she lived to see
the twisted, gnarled, stunted growth . . . .
The professor looks over the line of rushes,
sphagnum moss, and cinnamon fern
at the edge of Boulder Pond, and wonders
what will he live to see; he looks at
the boulders, themselves, that dominate
the scene; he sees the same half submerged
rock creatures, basking without lotion,
without motion in the same sun,
thinner ozone layer, but the same sun
as two hundred years ago – Are those
the same large black birds twittering
in the undergrowth? Is it the same
quicksand beneath our feet?
—James R. Scrimgeour (from Voices of Dogtown: Poems Arising out of a Ghost Town Landscape )
Wrestling the Bull
James Merry, a Gloucester young man,
the story goes, (Copeland and Rogers, pp.36-37)
shipped out as a seaman on a vessel
which brought salt from the Mediterranean.
He visited Spain, witnessed several bullfights
and met some of the toreadors. After his return
his talk was all bull and bullfighting — friends
suggested he show them how it was done,
and he began to wrestle with a young bull calf
pastured at Dogtown. Since Merry was six-foot-
seven and weighed over two-hundred-fifty pounds,
he threw the bull easily enough and began
staging exhibitions of bullfighting for his friends.
Next year, however, the bull was much heavier
and stronger, and in his first exhibition, after
a long struggle, Merry went limp from exhaustion
and had to be rescued by the spectators. Weeks later
[September 10, 1892 – to be exact] — challenged
perhaps by the feat of a man who had thrown a calf
by the tail over Squam bridge – he went out alone
one morning (blueberrying, he told his wife),
left his pail at the edge of the pasture and
stepped inside for a private match with the bull.
Late that afternoon, when he had not returned,
neighbors went to search for him and found
his body. The trampled grass and bloody rocks
showed that Merry had been thrown many times
against the boulders. The bull, with blood
on his horns, was feeding calmly nearby. . . .
Interesting story — even though Merry shipped out
as a “young man” and was over 60 when
he went out into the Dogtown pasture for his
final session with the bull. . . . Three boulders
with barely legible runes (“1st attacked,”
“2nd attacked” etc.) mark the scene of the fight –
three boulders – in a field – the blood washed
and not washed away – three boulders –
so smooth and so cold — today,
when I touch them.
—James R. Scrimgeour (from Voices of Dogtown: Poems Arising out of a Ghost Town Landscape )
Abram Wharf (1738 ca – 1814)
“is listed in the Massachusetts Tax Assessment
of 1771 as owning one house, a head of cattle,
one swine and 3 acres of pasture land with
an annual worth of 2 pounds 2 shillings” (Sucholeiki, p.49)
the most educated man in Dogtown, a cousin
of Theophilus Parsons, Chief Justice of the Massachusetts
Supreme Court – respectable Abram played by the rules,
lived in Dogtown all his life — on February 9, 1762
(age 24) he married Mary Allen daughter of Benjamin Allen
and Mary Riggs. By 1800 he had become a noted
shepherd and farmer and owned most of the sheep
in town. As he watched the decline of the village,
his own house became “hardly habitable”
and one day in 1814, Old Abram (aged 76 years)
“sat by the fire sharpening his razor. ‘Sister,’ said he,
‘do you think people who commit suicide go to heaven?’
“‘I don’t know, but I hope you will never do such a thing,’
was her answer. ‘God forbid,’ was his solemn response.
“Soon, he slipped the razor into his shoe, went out,” (Mann, p.54)
and “put the razor to his neck and crawled under a boulder
to die.” (Dresser, p.15) Legend says no moss will ever grow
on that rock.
—James R. Scrimgeour (from Voices of Dogtown: Poems Arising out of a Ghost Town Landscape )
Marsden Hartley (1877-1943)
“The products of his singular and mystical encounter
[with the Dogtown landscape] were the pivot
upon which his later career turned.” – (O’Gorman, p.21)
“Dogtown is mine.” Marsden Hartley (quoted by O’Gorman, p.16)
The Old Bars, Dogtown, 1936
oil on composition board, (Cape Ann Museum, p.20)
Wedged between and sticking up
out of the signature boulders piled
atop one another at the back
of a clearing with a glinting rock
head surfacing out of a green sea
in the center — the old bars, in light
and shadow, blunter, larger than
life – in a rough circle, Dogtown’s
grotesque Stonehenge, pointing
everywhichway at all kinds of odd
angles into the blue with three
sour cream pancake clouds – burnt
brown in the center – clouds that
turn unexpectedly into three alien
spacecraft, then into three off white
ghosts hovering over the remains –
and finally into empty cartoon bubbles
in which Hartley refused to put
the old bars’ thoughts; we have
to supply our own captions.
—James R. Scrimgeour (from Voices of Dogtown: Poems Arising out of a Ghost Town Landscape )
Molly Jacobs and Sarah Phipps (a.k.a. Sally Jacobs)
Molly and Sarah, two girls who in their youth
“may have given their end of town a swinging
reputation,” Garland says, “but if they hastened its
decline, they, at least, broke the cheerlessness of it.” (p.63)
grown up, grown old, they would while away
their time, playing cards. “Sarah would get mad
at Molly and say ‘I shan’t tell you where I hid
the keerds. I hid them behind the old chest,
but I shan’t tell you.’” (Mann, p.55)
grown up, grown old, having played
the hand they were dealt — they lay together
(Molly and Sally Jacobs) in tattered rags
pulled up over their chins – they lay together
in their bed through the cold winter
days and nights — the snow fallen and
falling through what was once a roof –
lying there in each others’ arms –
barely moving, only slightly disturbing
the smooth white blanket
that covered them.
—James R. Scrimgeour (from Voices of Dogtown: Poems Arising out of a Ghost Town Landscape )
Thomasine (Tammy) Younger — continued
the villagers is so hare-brained, so pathetic, such
f….in’ arseholes — but mebbe I should be thankful –
their ignorance was my livelihood – some moldy bread
here, some firewood there, a stinkin’ fish or two – if
I was lucky – all I had to do was open my wooden window
and I would get somethin’, some tribute from everyone
who passed my door . . . my power was in their minds –
aah, it was so easy, too easy perhaps to become a witch,
to become one of the devil’s party without knowin’ it –
I’d feel (still feel) a sharp twinge every now and then –
I know – or part of me does – what I was did was wrong –
don’t mistake me now – I don’t regret for one second
wringin’ what meagre tribute I could out of those half-wit
villagers . . . .
The ol’ geezer understan’s what I is talkin’ ‘bout,
what gnaws at me is I knows, deep inside I knows I helped
keep belief in witchcraft alive – I knows ‘bout all the women
who have been, will be beaten, tortured, and killed by
ignorant, self-righteous snobs and mobs –
I hafta admit
he’s right! At least some of the blood of many innocents
is on my hands – but what choice did I have – short, wizened
and overweight – ugly old cow of a woman – even when I
was young – I couldn’t sell myself, no one would buy . . .
not like my niece Judy and her friends who gave “Dogtown”
its name – who turned our rock strewn never-would-be farms
into Gloucester’s red light district – Rhines, Jacobs, Phipps,
and Tucker – the f…ers – hafta laugh tho, when I think of
the damned fools that would come to visit them one day,
then preach against them the next –- Aarrggh! – f…in’
hypocrites – nothing I hates more than f…in’ hypocrites. . . .
And where is their youth now, where are those bodies,
those well rounded bodies – well worn from overuse, worn
nearly as smooth as the rocks around us? Gone! bodies
all gone — bodies old and bodies sold – long gone –
didn’t, don’t last more than a few years . . . . Aaah! the body –
don’t miss it that much . . . ‘cept when I thinks bout the waste,
bout Molly and Sally lying together neath their white sheets,
thinks mebbe I shoulda been born a couple hundred years later,
mebbe then I wouldn’t be so hateful an bitter – wha’s that
the geezers sayin’, they’ve got a word for it now—repression –
nothing makes you as bitter and as hateful as repression . . .hmmm,
hmmm . . . mebbe the geezer does understand some things . . .
hmmm, hmmm . . .
—James R. Scrimgeour (from Voices of Dogtown: Poems Arising out of a Ghost Town Landscape )
PAUL: Thank you so very much, Jim. That was just incredible! Folks, let’s show our appreciation for such an amazing feature, and give a rousing round of applause for James R. Scrimgeour !
As usual, we’ll be taking a short intermission before we begin our virtual open mic, but before we do, it’s time once again to present this month’s Poetorium group poem. This month’s theme was “Last Tuesday Evening” with people being asked to email us one to six lines starting with that short phrase. All contributions (which will remain anonymous) were then compiled into the following poem:
Last Tuesday Evening
Last Tuesday evening, I saw this strange flying object in the sky
shaped like a banana, hovering in front of me.
There was two white dots appearing on top of the craft,
then a brown one and a red one on top of that.
I realized then it was just a reflection of a banana boat being made
in the window of One Finger Joe’s Ice Cream Shop across the street…
Last Tuesday evening it rained cats and dogs
And I thought I saw some leaping frogs
C’mon sun – be gone clouds
I’m looking for a brighter day
Though the rain lasts through the night
I watch for morning’s ray of light.
Last Tuesday evening the value
of the sky plummeted and the moon
rose to a pale trembling on black water.
At dawn – a small murder of crows complaining
in the tall pines of the far shore isn’t a killing –
O, how loud the oracles of the new day!
Last Tuesday evening,
Abraham sacrificed Issac
And the Stock Market rose
To new heights.
Where is the angel
Of our better selves?
Last Tuesday evening was no exception
it dully followed Monday
then drifted into Wednesday
another dreary Covid day
in this time of pandemic exception.
Last Tuesday evening, I emerged from a premature slumber
and walked out into the night for the first time in months,
strolling past discarded face masks and latex gloves
illuminated by the pale glow of street lamps
as they lied clustered in gutters like the fallen leaves of Autumn.
Last Tuesday evening, with a strange sense of uncertainty
wafting through my mind like a threatening storm front,
I slumped to my knees and prayed
it would not be our last Tuesday evening.
Well, folks, that ends the first half of tonight’s Virtual Poetorium. We are going to take a short break so you can get a drink, use the facilities, or buy a copy of Voices of Dogtown: Poems Arising out of a Ghost Town Landscape by Jim Scrimgeour or even one of the other fine books of poetry brought in by other poets here tonight available at our virtual vendor’s table (you’ll be glad that you did). When we come back, Ron will be starting our virtual open mic.
RON: Okay, everyone, the break is over, lets find a seat and get the open mic started. First up on the open mic is me…
Because of the controversial subject matter in my poem, I am making the following disclaimer: I’m not intentionally trying to be offensive or am I trying not to come across that way. This is just me trying to find a reasonable explanation for why things are the way that they are, and I believe that this is just a dialogue in search of a reasonable answer…
This is the way I see it
It’s pretty much impossible
to wear a color that
you have never known before
For I am no more of you
than you are of me
and quite frankly, I’m tired
of someone trying to
make me feel guilty
for being a color that
I had no choice in making
of what and who I am
And it has less to do
about my color
than it has to do
with your color
or in any other color
And as a matter of fact
it’s all in the attitude
in how we wear the color
and be the color
and be comfortable in the color
as we are in our own personalities
Drop the facades of color
as an attitude
or as a description of who we are
and until such a time when we as a people
decide to drop these descriptions
there will be separation by color
and attitudes that are way out of line
Then color will forever be
problematic, just by the nature of it
My color is human
What color are you?
Next up in her fourth appearance at the Poetorium is Meg Smith, a poet, journalist, and dancer joining us from Lowell, Massachusetts…
MEG: In writing this poem, I took a cue from one of my favorite poets, Wallace Stevens. To me, flowers, and particularly roses, evoke a symbolism of both intimacy, and the struggle to connect to one another…
The Rose in the Jar
As sunlight runs to purple,
it can contain no virtue
for this adornment —
rootless, but blooded,
adorned for some
You, and I, each take a corner.
We might speak, or become something
lacking water, but sure in our course
RON: Now please welcome back to our virtual open mic, Jonathan Blake, a professor of English at Worcester State University and the creator and facilitator of the One Poem And… poetry reading that meets at WSU…
As if some transgression
Against the gods’ vanity-
His voice tethered
To longing, to lament –
The loon’s cry
RON: Our next poet has become a regular at the Virtual Poetorium in the last few months – please welcome Barbera Roberts!
“Alex! Play Jesu Salvator Mundi”
The wind is rising against the constellations
At the edge of the sea
While human lovers sleep alone
And families are lost among the stars.
Loneliness lies like a quilted mask among long lost elm trees.
Disturbed souls fret silently fastened in Faraday cages
While distant galaxies darken Earthly skies.
The intellect groans following the sweep of triple integrals.
My memories float across the Arctic Red River wetting the Yukon
While I search for Faulkner as if I lay dying.
Black souls and red buds guide the Great River
Snaking its way to the Sea.
Here the Blues were born where slaves once toiled.
“This is the White’s waiting room,” she said.
The virus silences music at Tommy Johnson’s crossroads
God says “Alexa! Play Jesu, Salvator Mundi”.
—Barbara H. Roberts
RON: Next up in the open mic is the one and only Dwayne Szlosek…
NOT SURE I SHOULD BELIEVE:
The crickets are at song.
Birds are spreading their wings,
floating on the light breeze.
The squirrels scamper up the trees.
The deer’s are huffing the leaves, as they run.
Riight where we stake out a piece of mother nature’s pie
Next to the waters edge, claiming it to be our own.
Something throws a stone, and hits the river’s water,
Making a big splash. We all run to take cover,
Looking at each other as our faces’ turn white like a ghost in the night.
Oh, what could it be that threw a stone and hit the flowing stream?
We look around our camp to see who it could be.
We see a silhouette, as the sun starts to set,
A very large and hairy shadow falling on the trees.
“Oh, what is it.? Human? NO!
I say that is not a person!.
Could it be the legendary Big Foot
For me and my friends to see?
Me without a photo to prove Big Foot’s existence,
For all that I can say is it’s time for us to pack it in,
To go back to the concrete jungle once again,
Because me and my friends are not welcome by Big Foot.
He sent us his message, to leave and never return to that spot.
We will never know, it was so long ago…
Thank you all! You have been a great audience.Good night to you all…
RON: Next up at the virtual podium is Howard J. Kogan:
The Dead Linger
The last time I saw him he thought I was my father.
When I said, No, it’s Howard, your nephew,
he smiled and winked
to let me know he was in on the joke.
Years later I still see that wink, that smile slide
across his face and know the dead linger among us
saying what they always have,
each gesture clear, each voice vivid.
While we, reading in the same room,
appear here in only an ethereal way.
Ghostly apparitions rustling pages, taking turns
getting each other another cup of coffee.
I wonder if whoever survives of our spectral pair
will find the other more here when they’re gone.
As though death would grant a final gift of irony
by waking in the other a vivid, lingering memory.
—Howard J Kogan
RON: Next to grace the Poetorium stage will be Gail Schuyler…
A L O N E
I flew solo today
felt a nudge to leave the nest
grabbed my hat
and left the rest
To go on an adventure
As free as a bird, I
flew high above the clouds
carried by the wind
without care or concern
simply happy to learn
How to be content
RON: Now please welcome in her very first appearance at the Poetorium – Sue Ellen (Susie) Kuzma…
SUSIE: Here is my poem Elements: Windy Day, Windy Night provoked by a storm – a poem about breath, words in a song, a German lied, how a storm, a normal natural upheaval, heaves us up now…
ELEMENTS: WINDY DAY, WINDY NIGHT
And the rains pour down, winds gallop on trees, through streets, bang
cans, fling themselves on houses. Wild movement prevails.
This could be bliss from a cell window – storm of a normal day.
Yet we are not prisoners, merely captive for our own protection,
cloistered ones who will host – or not – the heart-crown virus
Hit or miss.
We, the lucky here, sit in fear
or folly, faith in the minute – measure of time we’ve lost
A free and easy exhale our gold coin, our hourglass.
If two, we are aligned for our Arks.
If one, “allein” alone as a Trappist in a cell
sipping, tentatively at first, the Silence beginning to fill our cups.
The Great Silence
of the speechless night .
But listen – Night Sounds – drip from a sink tap,
tip of a mouse foot, faint tick of time,
an owl hoot over the black, spring-stirred earth,
only seeds of life there. A ribbon of rain.
And air, glottal snoring out your own mouth,
the groan escaped from a flickering dream,
The lucky, lucky inhale, continuing a tempo . . . .
—Sue Ellen Kuzma
RON: We now come to Bob Perry, a long time friend of the Poetorium…
BOB: This month I chose “The Divine Third”, recently published in my new poetry book Surrendering to the Path, this also is a poem chosen for the Autumn 2020 Poetica Magazine’s Mizmor Anthology spirituality in nature edition.
The Divine Third
Along the pathway towards Home
there you are, and here am I
but what is that gust of air between us
unseen, but deeply moving?
Just outside my periphery I spy it
like a bright aura around your shadow
living, moving, and having being
animated by our connection.
Wherever two or more are gathered
under the yew tree or in the city
along the riverbank and in the tenements
every conversation is a testament
revealing the power of the Word.
—Robert Eugene Perry ( from Surrendering to the Path)
RON: Now please welcome to the virtual microphone, Christine Burlingame…
She’s all ribbons, daisy chains and lace
Delicate hands and a pretty pale face
Stopped in another era long ago
-a pocket watch ticking much too slow
She’s sleepy Sunday afternoons,
And clothing prints with flowered blooms.
She’s a vintage beauty that sells out the show.
A love so purely felt for her, can only grow.
Those bedroom eyes and that
lustful colored hair,
Make falling for her a seductive,
intimate love affair.
For when she opens her pressed lips in a part to speak
Her voice pours warmly down your throat
like a glass of whiskey neat.
She’s like the sweet melodies from a shiny new gramophone
She’s the girl to dance the waltz with
then the one to beg to walk home.
Yes, she’s proper and prim like a once warranted curtsy
An angel with hidden wings that walks this earth with mercy.
She’s slivers of sun on a hardwood floor.
A girl yearned for by a soldier long lost at war.
She’s wildflowers strung together in a springtime crown,
And in a room full of people, she’s that face in the crowd,
That makes you want to shout out loud,
“Can I touch your hand or simply be in your existence?”
Girls like her are found only in the rarest of instance.
So you watch her from a distance,
Because to just be in all of her golden bright.
Is enough to make you feel that
All the wrongness in this world can now be made right.
RON: And now last, but not least, in our virtual open mic tonight, please welcome our friend from California, Eugenie Steinman…
After leaving Lake county with its orchards and lakes we took a trip to San Francisco. I was surprised at how sad the situation was.
This poem first appeared in Black Bard, a publication out of Sacramento in 1992…
With Limited Funds
We went to the city for a special treat.
There were a lot of nice people at home on the street
With just the clothes they were wearing and nothing to eat.
There were signs saying “I’m hungry and cold”.
Some had babies, some were old.
They walked over to us to politely say
“Do you have some change you could throw my way?”
With limited funds we had decisions to make.
Who should we give money to for our hearts sake.
We gave some to a dancer who tapped like from the day he was born,
Then to a man playing a horn,
Then to those who had nothing to sell,
Not able to entertain so well.
With limited funds, how could we choose
Between the lady with the baby and the man with no shoes?
Should we skip the girl who looks a little fat
And the one with some coffee (at least she had that)?
With limited funds, how could we be fair?
There were so many needy.
We’d so little to share.
—Eugenie Steinman (originally published in Black Bard)
RON: Okay, folks, before I close out the show, I’d like to bring back to the podium, my co-host and cohort Paul Szlosek…
PAUL: Thanks, Ron! The following poem was originally pubished in Sahara and will appear in my upcoming chapbook The Farmer’s Son…
Summing Up the Fifties
Only in the center of this last century,
would we find our fathers driving
such monstrous vehicles with
machete fins and blinding chrome
cruising down highways and freeways
all leading to the new frontier
of sweet suburbia. Everywhere, we saw
free-flowing forms, the sinewy curves
of kidney-shaped swimming pools,
boomerang-shaped coffee tables,
and, of course, Jayne Mansfield
& Marilyn Monroe.
Famished eyes could feast upon
an ever-present palette of powder pink
and charcoal gray,with smatterings
of turquoise and topaz for dessert.
No lack for color then, except
for faces glimpsed on television sets,
men of drab suits and minds,
who saw the world as if it were
a newspaper, an embarrassed skunk
a zebra with sunburn
(black and white and Reds all over),
forming their House Subcommittees
to name the names and flush
all the color out.
—Paul Szlosek (originally published in Sahara)
Before I turn the virtual microphone back over to Ron to close out the show, I just want to thank everyone that participated in tonight’s program including our feature Jim Scrimgeour, the talented contributors to our group poem, and everyone in the virtual open reading: Bob, Howard, Jonathan, Gail, Meg, Christine, Barbera, Susie, Eugenie, and Dwayne. You are all amazing people and poets and without all of you, there would be no Poetorium!
RON: In closing out the program for another month, It always seems to go by so quickly it seems as though only a few minutes have past since we started tonight. I really and truly do not enjoy saying adios for another month. Folks after the show is over please mingle for awhile and introduce yourself to someone you don’t know. And one more thing please tip your Bartender well they need to make a living too! Please support your friends by buying there books that are set up around the room.
In closing out I want to read a poem I wrote not to long ago. It’s called…
Troubadours of the Night
You were there
They were there and so was I
The troubadours of the night
had spoken to the ruckus crowd
the night the light came on
and they did too
and we impatiently waited
for the word that made us think
Then the introduction was made
my sight though not perfect
it sees differently than yours
my hearing though not good as it was before
you’re hearing things that I do not
and when reading between the lines
no longer works or matters
We have to intently listen
and exchange ideas
and express our opinions freely
with no anger or retribution
to agree to disagree
and to mutually dream a dream
as dreamers do
and write the thoughts
as thinkers do
and change the direction
of where we go
We are the voice of reason
and the voice of the unheard
we are the vision
we are the light of the world
Good night, everyone! (I’m waving)
God bless from Paul and I.
Stay safe. Be well.
Good night, Mrs Cowart, where ever you are!