“The poet has a calling to share the echoes, free the voice, jog the memory, and translate the silence to revitalize the moment.” — from “A Calling” by Philip Rose
MILBRIDGE, Maine — Leaning on his cane, wearing bright yellow suspenders that resemble tape measures, Donald Crane doesn’t look much like a poet. Instead, he looks much more like the farmer he once was. He’s quick to admit, too, that he “daydreamed through English Lit 101.”
But for most of his life, Crane said, he compulsively wrote verses on little scraps of paper. Tiny poems and snatches of words that reflected the coast of Washington County and the people of Maine. As time passed, those verses grew up and matured and now are word-portraits of Down East people.
“Marie figures she can always
fall back on clams dug from the flats
below Spruce Point: for even if
the kids balk after a couple of meals,
she can probably trade a ten-gallon
bucket down at the market
for day-old bread and some cans
of soup from the back of the shelf.”
— from “Piecing,” by Donald Crane
Sitting opposite Crane at the breakfast table on a damp, chilly Down East morning recently, Philip Rose said he was an English teacher for many years and wallowed in poetry from the masters. Now retired and spinning his days away as a sea captain, Rose’s poems narrate stories in a reverent Down East dialect.
“Aww, there’s nawthin’ crawlin’.
Didn’t pay for the bait ’n gas.
Never seen nuthin’ like it.
I put a gang a’ traps out early
had a little run a’ luck,
even a shedder or two, suhprised me,
really — but that’s been it.”
— from “The Lobster Catch Today” by Philip Rose.
Crane and Rose are members of the Salt Coast Sages, five poets and an angel, who recently published their first anthology of poems, “A Rump-Sprung Chair and a One-Eyed Cat.”
This is a very diverse, very particular group of poets — each with a different style and flair.
Grace Sheridan, once a civil servant, uses the everyday scenes near her Cutler home as the wings for her poetry.
“A newspaper clipping arrived by mail
in an envelope from a cousin
with a folded note inside that said
this may be of interest to you
and I read about the Davis Place —
eight new condominiums
on 1.13 acres of land
at the corner of Prospect
and Route 111.
A sentence struck my eyes;
became a relentless tornado;
sucked up half of my heritage;
… family … home … demolished
in the center of a clipping
that measures three inches square.”
— “The Clipping” by Grace Sheridan
It is their years of living, the place that they live in and their combined grace and history that the Salt Coast Sages bring to their collection — a collection of pure Down East: its working waterfront, its harsh winters, its breathtaking beauty, its poverty and its independence.
There’s the tale of the snapping turtle, killed by a fisherman and left abandoned by the side of a dirt road; an obese woman trying to keep up on the line at the sardine factory; yard sales in the rain; fishermen being picked up, half-frozen but alive, by Coast Guard cutters; truckers hauling fish; and farmers eating crackers and milk for supper.
The words — in all their delicacy and roughness, all their beauty — spin poems of the Down East coast and lives.
All past 50, the Sages met in a poetry class at Sunrise Senior College at the University of Maine at Machias. Their instructor was their angel — Kelly Lombardi, who died of cancer late in 2008. Even as they toast their own successes, this group grieves for their leader and are quick to say the book is their homage to her teaching.
A photograph of a silver-haired smiling Lombardi has been prominently placed at the center of the table the poets share on this morning.
They said the book honors Lombardi and her confidence in the Sages, all of whom have been previously published in periodicals and other mediums.
“She was a gourmet cook and would host us in her little cottage at Roque Bluffs where she grew antique roses and lived with her dog and 2½ million books by the sea,” Crane said.
“On a rainy day, what
better place to be
than in a used bookstore
with a rump-sprung
chair and a one-eyed
cat, and a well-masked
friendly fluffy-furred dog.
A good used bookstore
has a reading light and
a crate by the chair
where you can pile
a bunch of treasures.”
— from “A Used Bookstore” by Kelly Lombardi.
“This book emphasizes that we recognize and value the different voices that we have,” Rose said. “We delight in them. This collection represents a really worthwhile effort.”
Gerald George is a writer and editor and quickly admits he loved ninth-grade grade poetry and committing “Paul Revere’s Ride” and “The Wreck of the Hesperus” to memory. “When I was young, though, I might have said ‘Poetry is what you write when you don’t have a reason.’ But now, it gives me great pleasure.”
“Duckwall’s dime store
had racks of comic books.
Its door opened on West Main Street.
I sat on the plastic tile floor,
clutching my one dime, trying to choose
between Red Ryder and Gene Autry.”
— from “Abilene, 1949” by Gerald George
Among the Sages, George said, “there is a huge difference. Each of us has a unique style, each of us focuses on different subject matters.”
For Sheridan, “Every poem is a prayer; an exploration of myself and the relationships between people.”
For Crane, “Poetry is a new world to explore. It sings. Even in contemporary poetry there is enough music, enough meter left that I hear it.”
For Rose, “The right word can say so much more than an entire sentence. The right poem is like a dream, like a wish.”
For George, “We are not just navel gazing. This is important to us.”
And for Sharon Bray, a freelance journalist living in Orland, poetry is something she does “because I cannot not do it. It is as innate a drive as eating, sleeping, pulling weeds in the garden. It is a special place I go.”
“When I am an old woman,
I will use my tea bags twice
and rely on neighbors for scraps
to feed my chickens.
I will wash up every night and change
underwear once a week, do laundry
the first Tuesday of the month or
maybe six times a year
when I have collected enough bottles
and cans for coins to spend
on soap, water, and electricity.”
— from “We Know What’s Coming” by Sharon Bray.
The Salt Coast Sages will hold a series of poetry readings and book signings. They are: 7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 8, Lubec Memorial Library; 11 a.m. to noon Saturday, Aug. 15, Machias Wild Blueberry Festival; and 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 27, Ellsworth Public Library.
The Sages also are hosting the fourth annual Roque Bluffs Poetry Festival featuring Irish poet Paddy Bush. The event is Saturday, Aug. 1, and reservations are required; call 203-255-6800. There also will be a ham and bean supper and an open-mike poetry reading at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. The public is invited. Tickets for both events will be available for $7 at the door. The dinner will be in the chapel and the reading in the Community Center.
The Sages’ book of poetry is available at many Down East bookstores and gift shops including Tin Ceiling and Unique Possibilities in Machias, Calais Book Store, Mr. Paperback in Ellsworth and through the group’s Web site, www.saltcoastsages.com or contact Gerald George at firstname.lastname@example.org or 255-6800.