Poets of Franklin County
It’s not an exaggeration to say that poet Kristin Bock grew up with a paint brush in her hand. She lives now in a beautiful Greek Revival home in Montague Center with her husband, painter Geoff Kostecki. Their home is filled with paintings, in both modern figurative and classical realist styles. Bock’s father was also a painter and Kostecki his “one and only apprentice,” Bock said, adding with a laugh, “I stole him from my father.”
Bock grew up painting alongside her father, a mechanical engineer who painted for pleasure.
Working with her father “Gave me an awareness of texture and qualities of light and the language between objects,” Bock said. He would pick his objects carefully, she said, setting up still life compositions and lighting them meticulously.
Bock describes her father’s realist works, which are in the lineage of trompe d’oeil paintings, as, “very nostalgic, very sensitive, very vulnerable, very different, actually, from his persona. He would express all of his kindness, almost, through his art. That’s where it all went.”
Outside the world of his paintings, in the world Bock, her younger brother and their mother inhabited in their Connecticut home, Bock’s father could become frighteningly angry. Diagnosed as a severe depressive, he was subject to fits of rage followed by remorse. Bock found herself, even as a young girl, comforting her father after these episodes, rubbing his feet or head, “literally comforting him in my arms,” she said. “So, that’s a hard thing, when you’re made to be a parent figure to your own parent.”
“So, I not only saved him but art saved him,” Bock said. “Beauty is what saved him.”
It may be that beauty is saving Bock as well. Her 2008 collection of poems, “Cloisters,” chronicles a year of grief in which Bock mourned not only her father’s death but the loss of a longtime friend through estrangement. And though there is plenty of sorrow in these highly imagistic poems, there are also moments of beauty that pierce through like shafts of light.
“A cloister, in Medieval times was this place to go and find regeneration through solitude and reflection,” Bock explained. And so, entering the book, which is small and almost square, is an act of contemplation. Even the way the book looks and feels in your hands — its unusual size, its dark, mysterious cover — asks you to begin the intentional process of paying attention.
“Cloisters” is structured to move through “poems of denial, poems of anger and bargaining and acceptance,” Bock said.
One poem, “Nostrum,” Bock says, “was born” from the experience of sitting by her father’s bed in the last weeks before he died. Her father had COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and emphysema and was on oxygen, Bock said. Often, in the night, he would knock the cannula from his nose and wake panicked.
“So, I was always listening, half-asleep, running in and comforting him. That’s that feeling of being at the edge of my bed listening to him,” Bock says of the poem’s first lines.
The hallucinations the poem’s narrator counts “like sheep” refer to a “loud dream state” her father would enter, “where he’d be talking half-in and half-out of consciousness.”
The worm crawling out from under her lifeline alludes to her own mortality. The end of the poem, Bock says, expresses “how in those last few weeks together we did become a lot closer.” Though her father could never outright ask for forgiveness, Bock said he wanted to be granted it, and she did.
“And so we found that sort of peace in the end, that cloud caught in the waist of an hourglass.”
Some of Bock’s poems require a little sleuthing. A dictionary, especially of antiquities, would not be a bad thing to have at hand. This poem’s title, “Nostrum,” means a patented medicine, but more like a snake oil, Bock explained. “Something that’s lauded to be this cure but it’s really not.”
And the epigraph from Virgil is translated in italics later in the poem: The best days are the first to flee.
Bock says that at readings she might explain a reference or give a definition but in general, “I want to trust my reader. And trust their intelligence; that they’re going to look something up if they don’t know what it is. And that’s fun. I love learning new words, through poems especially.”
“I’m writing very different poems right now,” Bock said. “Much more playful and much less somber and serious ... And they’re longer, too, more prosaic.”
She’s been gathering these poems in a manuscript and sending it out to book contests. Bock expressed gratitude to her writing group for giving the new manuscript “a stiff haircut,” paring it down.
During the academic year, Bock teaches business writing at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. When she can, she assists her husband in the restoration of liturgical art, a process she finds similar to the work she does as a poet. “It’s the same idea of restoration and regeneration,” Bock said.
“Cloisters” by Kristin Bock is published in 2008 by Tupelo Press, Dorset Vermont.
Trish Crapo is a writer and photographer who lives in Leyden. She’s interested in books written by a Franklin County poet and/or published by a Franklin County press. She can be reached at email@example.com.