BRANCHING OUT: 15 YEARS OF TENANTS HARBOR POETRY READINGS; Limerock Books, Thomaston, Maine; 84 pages, trade paperback, $14.
Generally I’m not a fan of verse anthologies, which provide little more than fleeting glimpses of any particular poet. But “Branching Out,” a selection of writings by five poets who gather every summer to give readings in Tenants Harbor, showcases not only generally very entertaining poems, but also enough from each poet to grasp what he or she is up to.
Most of the entries are crisply, competently handled, mainly conventional open-form poems, many of which have narrative elements that must have been enjoyable to listen to summer evenings. Some highlights for me were Mary Burchenal’s verses on teaching high school students in Brookline, Mass., (for Nicolai, a new foreign student: “It doesn’t take long in this country / to see the most important thing: / American high school girls are fascinating”) and several touching poems on home and family, including a mindful, honest and wry mother’s-eye view of teenage sexuality in “What I Want to Tell You About Boys; for my daughter Zoey at twelve.”
Christopher Fahy, the Thomaston resident, among whose books is “ Chasing the Sun,” a vivid novel modeled on the life and character of Rockland poet Leo Connellan, offers shots of down-Maine dry humor and wistful recollection. “You Blew It” is a song on fled youth whose tune most people, men at least, 50 or older will recognize.
The poems of Jonathan Aldrich, retired from teaching at the Maine College of Art in Portland, are exceptionally well-made in a conventional, largely sober postwar idiom. The opening poem, “Child Poet,” conveys an atmosphere and events that echo the half-real, half-dream psychology of the protagonist of Harrington novelist Robert Froese’s “ The Origins of Misgiving”; there may be unseen psychic links up and down the Maine coast.
Rounding out the selection are the vivid recollective images of David Riley and verbal-playful lyrics of Elizabeth Gordon McKim, both based in Rhode Island and summering in Tenants Harbor.
“Branching Out” carries an unusual sense of authenticity and purpose, and pretty much everything in it is worth having around to freshen your routines, just as the readings that spawned the collection must have been. “Branching Out” follows up the poets’ first collection, “Summer Lines,” published in 2006, which is equally well worth looking into. “ Branching Out” is available by writing to firstname.lastname@example.org or Limerock Books, 15 Mechanic St., Thomaston 04861.