Poetry collection, history book pay homage to western Massachusetts landmarks

  • “Broad Brook: Poems From Fitzgerald Lake”

  • “Williamstown and Williams College: Explorations in Local History”

Staff Writer
Published: 1/2/2019 3:13:44 PM

BROAD BROOK: POEMS FROM FITZGERALD LAKE

By Kathie Fiveash

Off the Common Books

offthecommonbooks.com

The Fitzgerald Lake Conservation Area in Northampton is a popular draw; the 852-acre mix of water, forest, meadow and marsh offers opportunities for hiking, birdwatching, canoeing, even snowshoeing if there’s enough snow.

Kathie Fiveash, a poet, teacher and naturalist who divides her time between Florence and Isle au Haut, a rural island off the coast of Maine, finds particular inspiration at Fitzgerald Lake. Her latest collection of work, “Broad Brook,” is named after the Broad Brook Coalition, a nonprofit group that, with the Northampton Conservation Commission, manages Fitzgerald Lake.

The 32 poems in Fiveash’s new book represent the passage of a calendar year, moving from late winter and early spring, through summer and fall, and back to the return of winter.

In all those seasons, Fiveash finds something to chronicle, from the emergence of small animals from winter burrows, to a drifting carpet of fall leaves.

“Return,” for instance, celebrates winter loosening its grip with this wonderful opening: “The spring pronounces promises in mud, / patient water thawing deeper down, / rain, roots waiting for the flood, / roots drawing water up to swell the buds.”

The change of seasons also marks the cycle of birth and death for many creatures. In “Skeleton,” Fiveash comes upon the remains of one: “A cryptic calligraphy scrawled on the earth, / the crow’s bones lie in a white design — /scattered, featherless, stripped of flesh / next to the vernal pool under the pines.”

Fiveash writes feelingly as well about her late partner, Tom, in “November Light,” her memories of him tied closely to the approach of dawn that the poem describes. And in “Opening,” she imagines being part of another world as she watches a fish moving beneath the ice of the frozen lake.

“The fish has caught me, crouched on my knees in snow. / The lake’s body blooms beneath me, chilling / thoughts, senses, memories. I’m curled / on the surface of all that lies below, / lost on the sweep of ice, dissolved and willing. / The fish flicks its tail, trailing its world / to where I cannot follow, and lets me go.”

All sales of Fiveash’s new collection will benefit Broad Book Coalition. The book can be purchased for $15 at Collective Copies in Florence and in Amherst, and at levellerspress.com.

WILLIAMSTOWN AND WILLIAMS COLLEGE:
EXPLORATIONS IN LOCAL HISTORY

By Dustin Griffin

University of Massachusetts Press

umass.edu/umpress

Dustin Griffin, a professor emeritus of English at New York University who now lives in Williamstown, takes an unconventional approach to his history of the small town nestled in the northwest corner of Massachusetts, right on the Vermont and New York borders.

In “Williamstown and Williams College,” published by University of Massachusetts Press, Griffin compiles 14 essays — vignettes, really— that look at specific chapters of local history, stories that lie behind the features visitors might discover in town or on the Williams campus, such as a Civil War statue or a popular hiking trail.

For instance, in “A Tale of Two Cities — and a Country Town,” Griffin, who’s also a 1965 graduate of Williams College, examines the historic connections the town and college have had with Boston and New York City. His observation is that both have gravitated more toward the Big Apple.

The reasons? Geography was a big one early on. The Housatonic River gave settlers and then traders in Williamstown easier passage south, toward New York, than to Boston. In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the mountains to the east of Williamstown proved a barrier to railroads and roads headed to Boston, rather than to New York.

Even today, Griffin notes, a Williamstown resident must go 30 miles to Pittsfield to catch one of only two trains a day to Boston, while someone willing to drive about an hour west to Rensselaer, N.Y. (next to Albany) can take one of 10 daily trains to New York.

About half of Williamstown’s baseball fans root for the Red Sox and half pull for the Yankees, based on an analysis by the Harvard Sports Analysis Collective, Griffin adds. “Mapquest says that it’s 156 miles to Fenway Park and 158 miles to Yankee Stadium.”

Elsewhere in his book, Griffin reflects on the “enduring legend” of how Zephaniah Swift Moore, the second president of Williams College, “decamped” to become Amherst College’s first president in 1821.

He allegedly took a batch of books from the Williams College library with him — part of the longstanding rivalry between the two liberal arts schools.

That story has led to some “theatrical” drama over the years, Griffin notes. In the 1990s, as one example, members of the Williams College Marching Band presented their Amherst counterparts with a $1.6 billion fine for overdue library books.

“Old legends don’t disappear altogether, and it’s likely that before many years pass, it will once again make its appearance,” he writes.


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