On course

Walk somewhere, and you know that place better, even if you’re resisting it. I’m reflecting on many days at my alma mater Vermont College of Fine Arts, which announced this week it is letting go of its beautiful campus atop Montpelier’s steep hillside.

The programs will continue, thankfully, with a new location for in-person residency, and continued virtual residencies and study-abroad programs. My loyal heart is grateful for that. Poetry and its allies will outlast real estate, you can be sure.

At the NYC Poetry Festival 2019

Still, a place like this holds so much, especially when you consider what mentorship entails. I remember vividly each first-meeting with my teachers: a picnic table, a window-corner, a lecture hall, a stairwell. And I’ve returned several times since graduating to assist with residencies, building even more connection with the place while offering guidance and comfort to those new to the program. My poet-heart takes its shape from this campus.

So it’s an inner landscape as much as a place in the world. In pandemic times, I think I’ve truly embraced visiting the inner versions of my dreamscape rather than actual places. I revisit the icy train station at midnight to pick up a guest writer, the urgent care waiting room with sick students, the crepe restaurant for brunches with friends.

The plaque above is on a trail in Stowe, Vermont, where I stayed during a few of my VCFA residencies. The quote here about “extraordinary meaning in one’s life” can’t approach the profound impact my MFA experience had on me and my loved ones. It was like a covered bridge, providing sheltered passage over rough water.

I think many of us had that feeling in moments there: in myriad ways we were offered some kind of shelter so that our paths toward that slim, faint light would be safe and sure. Resistance and wrong turns continue in my poetry and art practices, but here I learned how to bring myself back home to source. To stay on course.

A poem by Tu Fu, translated by David Hinton

Ch’i-siting our new house

Here beside Bathe-Flower Stream, the stream’s west bank,
our diviner finds the site near a forest pond’s quiet mystery.

I knew leaving the city would end the dust of human affairs,
but there’s all this clear water too, and it eases refugee grief:

countless dragonflies dipping and soaring in a single skein,
a lazy pair of harlequin ducks drifting and diving together.

From here I can journey ten thousand miles east on a whim:
just sail a little boat off to yin-dark Mountain-Shadow home.

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