HARMONY, MAINE| aUGUST 30, 2011
Maine is an enormous state, and also a lonely one. Our largest city, Portland, is a blip on the cities-of-the-world map, last metropolitan outpost of the Northeast Corridor, an urbane seaside burg that is liable, among airport baggage handlers, to be confused with Oregon. Yet Portland lies in far southern Maine. Above it looms the bulk of our craggy, thin-soiled, brief-summered land mass, jutting awkwardly toward the seas of Greenland, toiling into the Canadian wilderness—few people and fewer roads and as cold as a rat’s ass for eight months of the year.
The poets who live in this state are a motley lot. By and large, the famous writers cluster around our college towns. Meanwhile, the bulk of us scrabble words onto the page wherever we happen to have ended up—which is to say that our difficult landscape and its people loom over our lives and our work. As Anne Britting Oleson writes, “Our trials and tribulations here on the side of the mountain are turning us into granite.”
The poets I invited to contribute to LOCUSPOINT have all had long, intense relationships with their particular versions of Maine, whether that version be coast or forest, friends or fears, ugliness or love. “Maine haunts me and I welcome the haunting,” writes Nancy Henry, and she is not alone. As different as we are, I believe that all of the poets in this collection are haunted by our homeland and what it demands from us.
“When I lived in the city,” says Jay Franzel, “I was always conscious of a sense of ‘something’s about to happen’—something unique—whether or not it actually would.” But in Maine, what mostly happens is weather, which forces us to endure year after tedious year of not only melancholic misery but also our own endlessly amazed innocence. “Come spring,” writes Bruce Spang, “you see people . . . on the street, in their yards with scant clothes—and it is strange, as if you had never seen such creatures before. So the climate makes for surprises and for wonder, the closing-in and the coming-out.”
Compared to many places around the United States, Maine is not ethnically diverse, but its geography varies greatly. Thus, as I compiled this collection, it seemed important to invite poets from different regions of the state. I did try to balance men with women, and I also purposely decided to feature poets without a wide national presence. But my largest criterion was long familiarity with their work as striving poets. Although each of us mutters alone in her own drafty corner, our shared lonely apprenticeship has created a bond of honor and affection.
Nonetheless, I initially resisted the idea of featuring my own poems alongside theirs. Although LOCUSPOINT managing editor Charles Jensen had given me the option, it seemed like a cheap way to get a publishing credit, and I was embarrassed about even considering it. But finally I decided to go ahead and include them, in large part because they focus on a facet of Maine that Leonore Hildebrandt describes so concisely: how easy it is “to romanticize Maine's beauty and overlook the social challenges presented by the decline of its resource-based economy.” Shuttered factories, fished-out waters, and clear-cut forests have changed not only our landscape but also the culture of its people; yet the people themselves have forced this change upon the land. Chattering to an empty room, the television chronicles opiate addiction, family violence, the horrendous triple murder that recently damaged my own town forever. Maine is destroying itself, child by child, tree by tree.
Meanwhile, the poets keep watch, scribbling alone in our drafty corner. Sometimes we write about desolation; sometimes, as Carl Little says, we write about “the folks who sort the bottles at the redemption center in Ellsworth.” Both tales exist here; both must be told. The poets in this collection have spent their writing lives in thrall to the complicated, tormented, joyous character that is Maine, and it gives me great happiness to share their voices with you.
is the author of three collections of poetry, most recently How the Crimes Happened (CavanKerry Press, 2010). Her memoir, Tracing Paradise: Two Years in Harmony with John Milton (University of Massachusetts Press, 2009), won the 2010 Maine Literary Award in Nonfiction as well as an Emerging Writer’s Fellowship from The Writer’s Center in Bethesda, Maryland. New poems and essays appear in the Sewanee Review, Threepenny Review, Prairie Schooner, and many other journals. Dawn is associate director of the Frost Place Conference on Poetry and Teaching, held each summer at Robert Frost’s home in Franconia, New Hampshire. She lives in Harmony, Maine, with photographer Thomas Birtwistle and their two sons. (photo credit: Thomas Birtwistle)