Here I go again, writing about walking in the woods or gardening or hanging laundry or listening to birds. Same old story, but I can't stop telling it.
I've been interviewed twice within the past few months, and both times the questioner asked me about my sense of myself as a New England poet. That label is right up there with "southern novelist" and "New York painter" in the pantheon of imagined and imaginary clubs. But of course place could be anywhere for some artists, no matter where they live. I recently read a new collection of poems by a poet who has spent nearly all of his life in New England, and his nature poems (of which there were many) could have been set in suburban Philadelphia as easily as suburban Boston. I am not mentioning this as a criticism; I'm simply saying that he is not a New England poet in the way in which Dickinson or Frost was a New England poet. For them place was the instigator, the tyrant, the inspiration. Their fate.
So in that sense, yes, I am a New England poet. What I said in the second interview was fairly close to what I said in the first:
There's no question that, for me, hardscrabble rural Maine has become a muse, a character, and an impetus. For whatever reason, a lonely engagement with place has been common to many New England poets. For instance, poets as disparate as Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and Hayden Carruth consistently opened themselves to the complications of their physical world as it interacted with their morality and their imagination. Relying on this relationship is a strange ascetic impulse, certainly not one I've purposely sought. But it’s there. My landscape and its weather are harsh, but they also require my close attention. I can’t forget they exist. On a ten-below-zero morning, when I have to go outside and haul firewood, my life literally depends on how I choose to interact with my environment. In many ways, the epic, mythic, tedious, everyday reality of this place has become the imaginative geography that lies beneath most of what I write, even pieces that don’t specifically concern Maine.I might have written differently if my questioner had interviewed me in springtime--though spring, really, is only a turn of the page. Everything is still just as demanding and difficult. It's just that I, like everything else in my clearing in the woods, am intoxicated by air and warmth and the pressing distractions of creation.
Or as Frost wrote in "Mending Wall," "Spring is the mischief in me." He was speaking for the stones as well.