Two brilliant poets have left the earth, but their books live on in words and images
Our “Poet’s Poet” Leland Kinsey, a Tribute
BY HOWARD FRANK MOSHER
Earlier this month I lost a dear personal friend and Vermont lost its best poet since Robert Frost. Leland Kinsey of Barton, a seventh-generation Vermonter and gifted writer, teacher, naturalist, woodsman and storyteller, passed away after a long, courageous battle with cancer. Here is my tribute to Lee, who was also my fishing partner of 50 years.
For Leland Kinsey
May 2, 1950 – September 14, 2016
Leland Kinsey and I loved to fish for brook trout in the Northeast Kingdom. Not just trout. And not just anywhere. Brook trout in the Kingdom.
I suppose that there are good, trouty brooks in Orleans, Essex, and Caledonia counties that Lee and I never discovered. Not many, though. At least once a week during fishing season, for nearly half a century, Lee and I would strike out early in the morning and follow a brook miles up through cedar bogs, upland meadows, hardwoods and softwoods, to its source at an icy spring high on some Kingdom mountain.
Lee was a poet’s poet. By that I mean that he did not care one bit about renown. He cared about results, about writing powerful and beautiful poems, often about the Kingdom, where he was born and raised and lived all his adult life. Vermont State Poet Sydney Lea said it best. Leland’s poetry “chronicles the profoundest Vermont anyone might possibly know.”
It’s hard to tell for sure, but my guess is that several dozen of Lee’s poems, or major sections of them, were inspired by those fishing treks we made to the wildest and most remote corners of the Kingdom. In his sixth collection – perhaps my favorite – The Immigrant’s Contract, he recounts the life and times of a French Canadian who, as a small boy, comes to the Kingdom with his folks in a horse-drawn wagon containing all their worldly possessions. Over the next seventy-some years he worked as a horse trader, logger, timber cruiser, whiskey runner, log driver on the Vermont tributaries of the upper Connecticut River, dairy farmer, dam builder – the list goes on. On our fishing excursions we explored many of the places Lee brought to life in The Immigrant’s Contract. The Upper Jay Branch, where Lee’s Quebecois jack-of-all-trades helped build the first road over Jay Peak. The Upper Black Branch of the Nulhegan in the wilderness northeast of Island Pond.
Not to mention the wildlife we encountered, the goshawks and pileated woodpeckers, the twenty varieties of warblers and scores of woods flowers – Lee knew them all by name – the great glacial boulders brought down from the Far North 10,000 years ago, every species of tree that grows in northern Vermont. Along with family history and local work – farming, blacksmithing, lumbering, sugaring, cedar-oil distilling, welding – the natural world that we immersed ourselves in on our quests for brook trout was a constantly recurring theme of Lee’s poems.
Early on in our fishing partnership, Lee and I made a deal. If either of us ever caught a 20-inch brook trout, the other would have it mounted for him. We both figured this was a safe arrangement. One June afternoon on a swampy brook in the Victory Bog, miles from the nearest road, Lee caught a 16-inch two pounder. That was the closest either of us had come until last fall.
It was late October, after most of the leaves were down, and raining lightly. The only color along the stream we were fishing – never mind what stream or exactly where – was the rusty yellow of the tamarack trees. At the time, Lee was in between grueling treatments at Dartmouth-Hitchcock, but still very strong. Still as good in the woods as any man in the Kingdom. I couldn’t see him but somehow I always knew about where he was on a trout brook we were fishing. He knew where I was, too. From upstream, around a bend, maybe a hundred yards away, I heard him say, not loudly, “Good one.” That’s all he said but if you knew Lee, that was enough. Net in hand, I thrashed my way through the bankside alders and hurried around the bend.
There he was in the misting afternoon, standing in the water with the fly rod he’d built himself bent almost double. The hooked trout was about midway between us when it exploded from the dark water, leaping up and up and twisting like a salmon. Its fiery red belly and green back and pink side-speckles with violet halos, its big square tail, its crimson fins edged with white stood out against the low, gray sky even brighter than on a sunny day. It hit the water like a beaver smashing the surface with its tail.
I never knew a man better at playing a fish than Leland Kinsey. It was a battle royal but ten, maybe fifteen minutes later, I slipped my landing net under the big brookie and held it up, shimmering, gorgeous, for Lee to see. “You win,” I said. Who do you want to mount it for you?”
“No one,” Lee said. “Put it back in the brook where it belongs.”
I cannot say that I was greatly surprised. I removed the hook and turned the net inside out, releasing the trout. For a moment the fish hung in the tea-colored water. Then it shot off into the depths of the stream where it belonged, and Lee and I fished on into the wild heart of the Kingdom to which he belonged and of which he was, and will be for all time to come, the truest poet laureate.
Some photos of Lee for our memories . . . but his poems live on and we are honored to have been his publisher! If you want, you can listen to an interview Dede and Howard did on VPR here.
April is National Poetry Month and we have news to share!
POEM CITY, Montpelier, Vermont is one of our FAVORITE annual events….
On April 13 at 7:00 pm in the Kellogg-Hubbard Library, Leland Kinsey, Pushcart Prize nominee, will be reading from his new book Galvanized: New and Selected Poems, published by Green Writers Press in April 2016. Kinsey is also author of Winter Ready and six other books of poetry. He writes of the hard, dark life of the countryside in a haunting, spellbinding manner. Join Kinsey for an evening of poetry at the Library.
Later in the month . . .
A Round-table Discussion on Nature Poetry with GWP publisher Dede Cummings & Vermont poet Diana Whitney at the Kellogg-Hubbard Library.
April 30th at 1:30 at PoemCity 2016
Kellogg Hubbard Libray in Montpelier VT
AND NOW ONTO EARTH DAY (BIG) NEWS!
I’m super excited that The Order of the Trees is on the Nature Generation’s Green Earth Book Awards shortlist! I’m thrilled to see us—a Vermont based publisher — on this list with the major New York publishers. It is an honor to be included in this collection which features books that have a strong environmental stewardship message.
The winner and honor books will be announced on Earth Day, April 22nd 2016. Stay tuned!
HERE IS A PHOTO OF THE AUTHOR—This is the kind of reading she does for kids at libraries and schools . . .
EARTH DAY IS COMING! Green Writers Press is so pleased to help promote our fantastic children’s list for Earth Day. Along with The Order of the Trees, we have another exciting children’s book series we’d like to tell you about—our 2014 title/first in the series Josie Goes Green.
Green Writers Press is proud to publish the first children’s fiction book about taking action on climate change. Josie and the Fourth Grade Bike Brigade is the first in a forthcoming series about Josie Garcia, a feisty nine-year-old girl from Brooklyn who becomes a crusader for preventing disastrous climate change and other environmental threats. In each book, Josie takes simple, ingenious actions that bring real changes to her neighborhood and the world. The book is for ages 7-11 and is appropriate for schools, school districts, children’s social issue book clubs, and families. Nine-year-old Josie Garcia is an ambitious girl from Brooklyn who becomes an advocate for preventing disastrous climate change and other environmental threats. The feisty heroine in “Josie and the Fourth Grade Bike Brigade,” Josie was inspired by the children of P.S. 321 in Park Slope. Kenny Bruno; his wife Beth Handman, assistant principal of P.S. 321; and their daughter Antonia Bruno, who went to school at P.S. 321, co-wrote the new children’s book, which they refer to as children’s “cli-fi” — climate fiction.
Families and book lovers of all ages are invited to “Go Green With Josie” to learn about children taking action to preserve our planet this Earth Day 2016.
The book just came out as an audiobook, too, narrated by the wonderful Rosi Amador!
A GREAT EARTH DAY GIFT 🙂
Thanks for helping kids feel like they CAN make a difference on Earth Day!
AWP—The Association of Writers and Writing Programs—had their 39th annual convention and book fair in Los Angeles at the beginning of April. Dede went out and had a GWP table. It was thrilling to be around so many writers and avid readers and here was a great deal of interest in our press!
PARTIES! We love ’em!
Don’t forget our two big bashes in April.
The Hopper Launch Party is April 15th from 6:00-8:00PM at the Dianich Gallery at 139 Main Street in Brattleboro.
Our 2nd Annual GWP Earth Day Celebration at Next Stage Arts in Putney, Vermont, is on April 24th from 5:00-8:00 PM with readings/slides/music. Hosted by Vermont’s celebrated writer, Howard Frank Mosher.
LINK for info: http://nextstagearts.org/event/green-writers-press-second-anniversary/?instance_id=19674
Happy Spring (though we just got more SNOW in VERMONT!
Congrats to our authors! THE FOLLOWING POEMS AND SHORT STORIES HAVE BEEN NOMINATED BY GREEN WRITERS PRESS FOR THE 2015 PUSHCART PRIZE:
Julia Alvarez – “A Light Out: A Vermont Story in Five Voices” from Contempora1ry Vermont Fiction: An Anthology (Green Writers Press, 2014)
Green Writers Press: Giving Voice to Writers & Artists Who Will Make the World a Better Place
|Our fall books include Polly and the One and Only World, Love in the Time of Climate Change, Josie and the Fourth Grade Bike Brigade and Contemporary Vermont Fiction.We are so proud of our books. Please come join us November 9th at Next Stage in Putney, VT for a party to celebrate Contemporary Vermont Fiction with a reading and live music! If you’d like to contribute to that book to help Robin and Dede with expenses, Robin has created a beautiful Indiegogo campaign… The video alone is worth a quick look: www.indiegogo.com/projects/contemporary-vermont-fiction-an-anthology||We have had an amazing year here at GWP: The fact that our mission resonates with so many readers of good books is evident wherever we go and via the emails and letters we receive. From the Nantucket Book Festival to Bookstock in Woodstock, VT the Brattleboro Literary Festival and the Northern Woodlands Writers’ Conference, our authors are out there reading, signing books and lending their unique voices to the environmental movement. Many of us were at the Climate March in NYC, too, and we know that there is tremendous momentum in the world to create change! Our press is growing. Thanks for sharing!EVENTS: Brian Adams Book Tour; Don Bredes too! . . . Stay tuned for our 2015 Spring List!|
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|Photos by Dede Cummings
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Left: GWP poet, Leland Kinsey.Sign up for our monthly news by filling in the form at right! We will keep your email private!
Things at GWP are in full summer bloom, along with the heirloom yellow lilies given to Dede and Robin by Howard Frank Mosher—actually, I should say stolen yellow lilies, for Howard, his wife, Phyllis, and a local woman, now deceased (who was a Kingdom legend and most likely in one of Howard’s stories), snuck over to an abandoned farmhouse and dug up quite a pike if bulbs last fall. Howard brought them down to us as a gift at our inaugural publishing launch!
Join us to meet Dede Cummings, the publisher behind Green Writers Press, as well as authors from the new press. Phoenix Books is partnering with GWP — a new, Vermont-based publisher that prints their books in Vermont and seeks to change the way books are printed by using only post-consumer waste paper and not virgin timber — to celebrate this new indie publisher.