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Well Versed

State of the Arts



Once upon a time in China, the government purged poets from the land — that’s the premise of “How Poetry Nearly Died,” from Burlington poet T. Alan Broughton’s recent collection A World Remembered.

Well, poetry is in no danger of dying around here, as a cluster of recent publications from Vermonters shows. If anything, it just needs readers. In honor of National Poetry Month, we’re surveying some of the books of local verse we received in the last year. Look for more next week.

Peggy Sapphire of Craftsbury, who began publishing poetry after retiring from a career in education, calls herself her “family curator.” Her first collection, A Possible Explanation (2006) delved into her immigrant parents’ legacy of activism. Her new one, In the End a Circle, offers terse, haunting, personal lyrics about aging, love, lust and loss. Deceptively simple, they assemble the portrait of a woman always changing without releasing the past. In “What a Saver Saves,” Sapphire catalogues family relics she’s putting in storage, ending with the intangibles that sometimes last longest: “Chopin’s Preludes inhabit / my octave-wide piano hands / which lay these refugees / in my trunk.”

Martha Zweig of Hardwick volunteers for the Hardwick-Greensboro Restorative Justice program and the North Country Animal League and writes widely published poems that are impossible to describe in this space. Think Gerard Manley Hopkins, Emily Dickinson and other poets who make words do as well as say, crossed with the sly colloquialism of a Robert Burns. Without warning, whimsical meditations on animals and Mom’s aspic recipe become sinister intimations of mortality. You’ll need to read these lyrics twice, but it’s worth it for passages like this one from “Invocation” in her new collection, Monkey Lightning:

I like a slow season. Allow the thing

its sweetening heat, fruit-heart, the hush

it adjusts to, fostering seed.

With luck, gobbled up & dropped again

In fresh indignities of dung to prosper far