Maine's new poet laureate is an off-the-grid homesteader. Credit: Courtesy of Staci Emery

Nearly every aspect of life on her homestead inspires Julia Bouswma’s poetry, from the cadence of life on the land to the reality of wildlife.

Bouwsma is Maine’s new poet laureate, and she plans to spend the next five years sharing her connection to the land while also supporting poets around the state. The appointed position was created in 1995 and honors a distinguished Maine poet for their work while also empowering them to promote poetry in the state.

For Bouwsma, daily life on the 86-acre, off-the-grid homestead that she and partner Walker Fleming purchased in New Portland in 2007 provides much inspiration.

“I move between the desk and page into the garden or out to split firewood,” Bouwsma said. “So my hands are doing one thing and my head can be doing another and that contrast is where poems happen for me.”

Often she said she comes back inside, sits down and realizes the poem had been in her head for some time, but the physical work has brought it out.

“For me both poetry and homesteading are practices of connection,” she said. “We homestead because we want to live closer to the land and have that physical connection to our food and what keeps us warm and for me poetry is very much about connection and being deeply tuned in, listening and observing.”

Living on her homestead is like being in an ongoing conversation with the land, Bouwsma said.

“It is so much fun to think on who has been on the land before us,” she said. “Of course, it was Indigenous people on the land first and everyone who has been here has shaped it in some way and left traces of themselves.”

When she and Fleming first walked on the property before buying it. Bouwsma said she felt an instant, emotional connection to the land.

“When we drove up, I think we both knew it was what we wanted, though my partner jokes that I knew it first,” Bouwsma said. “I was going by poetic feeling.”

The homestead sits at the end of Millay Road, which Bouwsma said caught her attention because it’s the last name of one of her favorite writers, American Pulitzer prize winning poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. Turned, out there was a good reason behind the road’s name.

“This was the farm founded by John and Sarah Millay, the paternal great-grandparents of Edna St. Vincent Millay,” Bouwsma said. “I have loved her works since I was a kid.”

According to Bouwsma, Sarah Millay’s grave is on the property.

All of that has made Bouwsma want to delve into the life of the Millay family, St. Vincent Millay in particular. She is planning a book of epistolary poems — or letters — to the poet, though that format may change over time as she gets into the writing.

When she is not writing poems, Bouwsma is thinking about poems, and she said life on the homestead is a great muse and has allowed her to find her poetic voice.

The couple raises pigs and layer hens, grow vegetables, tap maple trees for syrup and harvest their own firewood. To power their home, they rely on solar panels.

“Right now, my partner is building a large timber-frame garage and we are living in the camp that was here when we bought the land,” Bouwsma said. “And right now that camp is falling down around our ears.”

Once finished, the garage will provide space for Fleming’s timber-frame construction business. It will also have an upstairs area where the couple will live while they build their own timber frame house and add wind generated power.

“It’s a slow cooker process,” Bouwsma said with a laugh. “I’ve learned to detach myself from building timelines.”

She has had two poetry collections published, “Work by Bloodlight” in 2017 and “Midden” in 2018. She is also an adjunct professor at University of Southern Maine and director of the Kingfield Webster Library.

“Homesteading definitely feeds into my poetry,” she said. “I have been writing for a long time but my poetry became my poetry on this land where the rhythms and cadence of farm work are now the rhythm and cadence of my poems.”

Correction: An earlier version of this report misstated John and Sarah Millay’s relations to Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Julia Bayly

Julia Bayly is a reporter at the Bangor Daily News with a regular bi-weekly column. Julia has been a freelance travel writer/photographer since 2000.