Every year the Adirondack Center for Writing holds a contest for the best books either published in the Adirondacks or by an Adirondack author. Winners are announced in early June at the annual Adirondack Literary Festival. Poetry is one of the standard categories, and this year's winner in poetry was "Winterberry, Pine: Three Poets on Adirondack Winter," published by 30 Acre Wood Publications of Greenfield Center. The ACW also has a People's Choice Award, whereby the membership, not its judges, picks the best book of the year. This year it could be said it went to poetry as well, since "Karma in the High Peaks and Other Adirondack Writings" is a mix of four prose pieces and 40 poems written by six area writers and published by Ra Press of South Burlington.
Among the poets in "Karma," David Parkinson writes "in the dark/ a light rain/ is writing in Braille/ on the lake's surface/ and the far-sighted/ can only imagine it/ to be the truth." The speaker suddenly "reads" (sees) the limits of his knowledge. Judith Moore's "Crown Point Gray" speaks of a kind of climate, a time of year, and a time of life dominated by "Mysterious layers in a vast spectrum of grays/ Silver, ash, platinum, cinder, steel and pearl." No more can we think "gray" has only one thing to say to us. Gibson's rendering of the months is rich in rhythms, rhymes and other repeated sounds ("Who knows not glowing light now nightly grows."). Charley Watt's athletic encounters with death, his nicely sustained metaphor of the garden as enemy, and his love poems reveal a supple mind. Mary Anne Johnson writes graphically of the life of a farmer in springtime and the generations of women in a small town whose lives go largely unrecorded. Mary Randall's poems are quick and sharp-pointed. "Storm Song" begins: "Bright cracks in the sky/ drive right to my spine." The teacher in "Class" "leaps up to the blackboard/with a fluent fire in her words." These writers bear out the wisdom of Thoreau's claim ("I have traveled far in Concord."). They live in and write about the Adirondacks as though it was not the world's edge but its center.
"Winterberry, Pine" is written by three fine poets, Elaine Handley, Marilyn McCabe and Mary Sanders Shartle, who have written at least two other books together and twice before won ACW's annual poetry award. They like to take on a subject as a group, this time Adirondack winter: its cold coming, its fierce persistence, its deep joys, its reluctant going. These poems are as various as winter's moods, "An unease of yellow" in McCabe's "November, the "six feet of/ extravagance" in Shartle's bathtub "Soak," the "bone fierce white moods" which Handley says "match my own flintiness." This is an unusual book, in that it is written by a group which sees writing as a collective enterprise focused on a single complex subject. If you need company this winter, you couldn't do better than "Winterberry, Pine" and "Karma in the High Peaks."
Roger Mitchell is from Jay.
This review reflects the individual view of the reviewer, not the views of the Adirondack Center for Writing or the Enterprise.