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Page 32: Five Newish Books by Vermonters

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COURTESY OF THE PUBLISHERS
  • Courtesy of the publishers

Seven Days writers can't possibly read, much less review, all the books that arrive in a steady stream by post, email and, in one memorable case, a leash of foxes. So this monthly feature is our way of introducing you to a handful of books by Vermont authors. To do that, we contextualize each book just a little and quote a single representative sentence from, yes, page 32.

Inclusion here implies neither approval nor derision on our part, but simply: Here are a bunch of books that Seven Days readers might like to know about.

Clothesline Saga

Noah Burton, Vegetarian Alcoholic Press, 60 pages. $12.34.

They tell you your
circus is no longer
afraid, that the kettle drum
of ponds, whole
terrariums of capped lives,
are suddenly serene.

Noah Burton is a man of many interests. He's the owner of the Queen City business Knock Knock Natural Coffins and Woodworking and a poet with a background in philosophy.

Burton published his second book, Clothesline Saga, earlier this year. The pocket-size volume includes 57 works exploring themes such as domestication and development.

Overall, the collection lacks the musicality that makes poetry by the likes of Sharon Olds and Sylvia Plath so pleasing to read, and Burton's metaphors range from confusing ("The night slips on me like a cold sock." Aren't socks usually warm?) to revelatory ("a B-52 cuts clouds, fillets them / with warheads"). Still, Clothesline Saga offers exceptional moments, like this one from "The Purpose of the Thimble Inside the Cabinet": "You are sitting in the laced light of a lamp, / that is how the quilt is made."

— Kristen Ravin

Among Familiar Shadows: Memories and Reflections

Bruce Coffin, Swallow Tail Press, 261 pages. $13.95.

For me, those long days in that house with the displaced and distant people of my father's family were redeemed only by my mother's sympathetic presence and the certainty that she shared my sense of isolation.

In his latest memoir, Bruce Coffin describes his family's annual Thanksgiving at his paternal grandfather's home in Woodstock, a tableau so empty of warmth that it might have occurred in black and white.

Coffin's Woodstock youth was the subject of his first personal history, The Long Light of Those Days. Here he revisits childhood scenes with an eye for the devastating details that sum up a lifetime of unspoken tensions: "It is easier for me to see my uncles with their coats on standing at the back door, saying goodbye, than it is to see them arriving..."

But not all is Puritan bleakness; in this engaging memoir, Coffin illuminates the people and places of his past with humor and warmth. Read to the end for a dynamite description of the time he mistook a hunk of soap for a piece of marzipan.

— Chelsea Edgar

We Have Met the Enemy and He Is Us: The Opiate Education of a Vermont Doctor

Beach Conger, Onion River Press, 308 pages. $17.99.

Although strictly speaking I was her doctor, what I was, in fact, was a negotiator on behalf of the medical establishment.

This is the fourth book by Dr. Beach Conger, set in the fictional town of Dumster, Vt. ("just a few miles down the road from South Royalton"). While the town may not exist, the real-life Conger has been practicing in Vermont since 1977. It's unclear how much of the tale is fictionalized, but Conger, who shares his name with the narrator, appears to have based it on his own experiences. He's a skilled writer whose pen can handle both quirky small-town characters and paragraphs jam-packed with medical history.

The latter come in handy, as Conger lays out the ways in which physicians have been complicit in the opioid epidemic. Doctors have too long allowed blame for the crisis to be shifted onto pharmaceutical companies and addicts, he writes in the intro. "This book is about trying to do the right thing."

— Margaret Grayson

Turn It Up! Music in Poetry from Jazz to Hip-Hop

Stephen Cramer (editor), Green Writers Press, 392 pages. $24.95.

Billie Holiday's burned voice
Had as many shadows as lights,
a mournful candelabra against a sleek piano,
the gardenia her signature under that ruined face.

Stephen Cramer's obsession with the intersection of poetry and music has long provided the thumping backbeat to his work. The award-winning Burlington poet and University of Vermont senior lecturer in the English department has penned six poetry books.

Most recently, Cramer is the editor of Turn It Up! Music in Poetry from Jazz to Hip-Hop, an ambitious collection of poems about music. He takes a few guest solos with his own verses inspired by Miles Davis, Public Enemy, Nirvana and others. But Cramer's primary role here is bandleader, orchestrating lyrical works by the likes of Langston Hughes, James Baldwin and Joyce Carol Oates.

Each of the book's three sections — jazz, rock and hip-hop — sings with syncopation and soul, from former U.S. poet laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Rita Dove's ode to Lady Day, "Canary" (excerpted above); to Vermont poet Major Jackson's "from Erie." Turn It Up! is like a mixtape made by a friend with impeccable taste.

— Dan Bolles

Songs From a Voice: Being the Recollections, Stanzas, and Observations of Abe Runyan, Song Writer and Performer

Baron Wormser, Woodhall Press, 176 pages. $17.95.

I was a town kid who could look away from the endless taking from the earth and pretend with everyone else that people knew what they were doing.

Montpelier author Baron Wormser tells us at the outset of his 18th book that Abe Runyan is a fictional character. But it's clear the boy is loosely based on Bob Dylan: a keenly observant, intense kid growing up in northern Minnesota in the 1950s whose first "tool of liberation was a beige transistor radio." Who falls in love with folk and blues and rock and roll and yearns to know the "elsewhere" of it all. Or, as Abe describes himself, "Jewish boy from West Nowhere meets spirits of Robert Johnson, James Dean, and Buddy Holly."

Songs From a Voice grounds a richly imagined faux memoir in a distinctive period of American music and in the emerging consciousness of the duck-and-cover generation. Wormser's immersion in both the popular and political zeitgeist is deep. His telling of Abe's journey unfolds in evocative sentences you want to read aloud, like singing.

— Pamela Polston

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