Monday, June 18, 2012

Monday Muse: Vermont's Poet Laureate

. . . it's often a matter of learning to trust yourself,
you know, that what you've observed and what you've rendered
and what you've said is adequate, that it doesn't need to be
expounded upon so that the reader will get it.
~ Sydney Lea, on writing with restraint* 

The successor of Ruth Stone, Sydney Lea began his term as seventh Poet Laureate of Vermont in November 2011. In recommending Lea for appointment, the Vermont Arts Council cited the poet's virtuosity and "dramatic intensity, narrative momentum, and musicality".**

Lea maintains an active schedule of poetry readings around the state.

Information about the four-year position and related resources can be found in my post about Stone.

* * * * *
. . . the supposed constraints of form—meter, rhyme,
regular stanza and so forth—are really the opposite
of constraining: that is, my attention to such apparently
 mechanical matters enables me to quit worrying for a while
 about where a poem is going, what it is meant to be. 
Formal obligations are in fact a gateway into a sort of playfulness
 in my writing; I can just lose myself among the possibilities
 of language for a spell. . . .***

Founder of the New England Review, which he edited until 1989, Sydney Lea, Ph.D., has published not only poetry but also nonfiction, a novel, and essays. Lea's poetry collections include, most recently, Six Sundays Toward a Seventh: Spiritual Poems (Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2012), Young of the Year (Four Way Books, 2011), and Ghost Pain: Poems (Sarabande Books, 2005). His Hunting the Whole Way Home (Lyons Press, 2002) includes both essays and poems. Among Lea's other volumes of poetry are Pursuit of a Wound: Poems (University of Illinois Press, 2000), which was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, and  To the Bone: New and Selected Poems (University of Illinois Press, 1996), awarded The Poets' Prize. An eleventh collection,  I Was Thinking of Beauty, is to be published by Four Way Books in 2013. 

Lea co-edited, with Robert Pack and Jay Parini, The Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry (Middlebury, 1985), which was awarded an English Speaking Union Best Book Award. 

Lea, a lyrical, formalist poet who also writes in free verse, draws inspiration from his surroundings, producing in his work what the Vermont Arts Council has described as "extraordinarily evocative descriptions of northern New England's landscapes, animal and plant life, and the seasonal panorama."** His subjects range over rural life, friendship, loss, youth, aging, the passing of generations, illness, death, redemption, memory, weather, places, music, sports.

While subtly complex, Lea's finely crafted poems are accessible, erudite without seeming high-brow, and not without humor. His poems tend to be long, as do the lengths of his lines, which are dense with detail and memorable images. His narrative and prose poems bear the qualities of the best story-tellers, their conversational tone reeling you in. Lea's a keen observer of place and of people, giving particular attention to down-and-out and what and how people suffer. Poet and essayist Fleda Brown has called Lea "our generation's Edwin Arlington Robinson."

Here are a few lines to give you a sense of Lea's voice and talent at setting a scene, evoking a mood, and creating striking image:

[. . .] First love meant hot vinyl
all through one summer. They crooned
along with that Platters tune

they treasured, "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes."
Long drought, but they felt exalted by sighs:[. . .]
~ from "Slow Burn"

It comes in sharp, a smell like the James River's foam.
It remembers azalea, willow, the sway
Of laurel, or camellia's pink-smoked buds drawing open
like a women's hands with moonlight in his dark room. [. . .]
~ from "Canary Weather"

A highly successful writer, Lea is the recipient of numerous awards, including a Fulbright Fellowship (1992), a Guggenheim Fellowship (1987), and a Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship (1985). He has published poems, essays, criticism, and stories in Agni Online, BloodrootGreen Mountains ReviewImage JournalKenyon Review, Mid-American ReviewPoetryThe New Yorker, The Atlantic, The Georgia ReviewThe New Republic, The Ohio ReviewRiver Teeth Journal, Shenandoah, Verse Daily, and many, many other literary periodicals, as well as in more than three dozen anthologies.

Over more than four decades, Lea has taught at many higher education institutions, including Dartmouth College (from which he retired in 2011), Yale University, Middlebury College, Wesleyan University, and Vermont College. 


All Poetry Quotations © Sydney Lea

* Quoted from "A Conversation with Poet Sydney Lea", Iron Horse Literary Review, September 22, 2011

** Vermont Arts Council Announcement of Sydney Lea's Appointment as Poet Laureate

*** Author Interview with Sydney Lea at Sarabande Books, July 2009 (This is a particularly insightful interview in which Lea talks about poetic form, poems as stories, openness to subject, faith, and inspiration.) 

"Gov. Shumlin Appoints Sydney Lea as the New Vermont Poet Laureate", Governor Office, September 9, 2011

Sydney Lea Profiles at Image Journal (Artist-of-the-Month, July 2007), Poetry Foundation, Poets & Writers, and Vermont College of Fine Arts

Sydney Lea Poetry Online: "To a Young Father", "Milton's Satan", "Gate and Beggar", and "Abattoir Time", All in Sampler Section of Sydney Lea Website; "Beautiful Miles", "Over Brogno", "The Blainville Testament", and "Wedding Anniversary", All at Poetry Foundation; "Fathomless" at How a Poem Happens; "Slow Burn" and "Winter Poet", Both at Agni Online; "I Was Thinking of Beauty" and "To a Young Father", Both at Vermont Public Radio; "Barnet Hill Brook" at The Rabbit Room; "Peaceable Kingdom" and "Recession", Both in The Atlantic; "Six Lies About Nature, Ending with a Soul-Tune Line" and "Evening Walks as the School Year Starts", Both at Fleda Brown; "I Was Thinking of Beauty" at Verse Daily; "Tranfigurations", "Eye on the sparrow", "Grace", and "Dispute with Thomas Hardy", All at The Christian Century; "Mudtime in the County", "Canary Weather", "From Another Shore", and "Vermont: August Fever", All at The Virginia Quarterly Review; "Forever" at Numero Cinq; "Rat Rink" and "The 1950s" (Rough Draft with Sydney Lea) at Splash of Red; "Wherever You Live", "Maya", "My Time Machine", and "The 21st Century", All at Splash of Red; "Some Locals" at Ascent; "Children, Singing" at The Atlantic Monthly (Audio Included); "Young of the Year" at Poetry Daily; "Evening Walk as the School Year Starts" and "Recession", Both at Academy of American Poets; "Hunter's Sabbath: Hippocratic" at The Writer's Almanac; "Snowdust" (Audio Recording of Lea Reading); "The Feud" at Poetrynet; "Garnett and Leon in December" at Valley News; "Never" at The Journal; "Bent Tree, Straight Shadow" at Harvard Review Online; "Ghost Pain" at Image Journal; "Wonder: Red Beans and Ricely" at Enskyment

Sydney Lea, "Let Ideas Emerge from Poetry, Not Poetry from the Idea", Burlington Free Press, February 24, 2012 (Of particular note is Lea's statement, ". . . I place great emphasis on the intellect in verse. . . But I stress too that intellectual control of a poem is something to apply after the materials have been allowed to float to the surface. . . Even though "ideas" inevitably emerge from one's poetry, in my view they must not determine it.")

Sydney Lea, "Poetry a Call to See the Nuance in Life", Burlington Free Press, January 1, 2012

Sydney Lea, "Unskunked: An Essay", Numero Cinq, March 13, 2012 (In this wonderful essay, Lea writes about narrative poetry-writing and other delights.)

Jill P. Baumgaertner, "Hints of Redemption", Review of Ghost Pain, Religion Online

Fleda Brown, "Sydney Lea", Michigan Writers on the Air: Commentaries on Poetry, March 2011

Warren Johnston, "Sydney Lea: Taking Stock at 68", Valley News, May 27, 2011 (This is an excellent article.)

Jane Lindholm, "New Vt. Poet Laureate To Promote Poetry Statewide", Vermont Public Radio, September 29, 2011 (Audio)

Sally Pollak, "In Frost's Footsteps: Vermont Poet Laureate Sydney Lea", Burlington Free Press, October 9, 2011

Tom Slayton, "Sydney Lea's Poetry", Vermont Public Radio, April 12, 2012 (Both the audio and a transcript of the interview are provided here.)

Hunting the Whole Way Home at GoogleBooks (Preview Pages)

Pursuit of a Wound: Poems at GoogleBooks (Preview Pages)

Edwin Arlington Robinson

Sydney Lea Reads, New England Review Vermont Reading Series, November 10, 2011:


Louise Gallagher said...

Yeah! a new poet laureate to explore!

Thank you.

Diane Lockward said...

Sydney will be the Craft Tip poet for my July Poetry Newsletter!