Celebrating local poets

  • Henry Maxey, a young poet with a finalist poem in the youth category of this year’s Poet’s Seat Poetry Contest. Contributed photo

  • Elaine Reardon, a local writer with a finalist poem in the adult category. Contributed photo

  • Matt Scotten, a finalist in the adult category. Contributed photo

  • Malia Hanes, a finalist in this year’s poetry competition benefitting the Greenfield Public Library. Contributed photo

  • Poet’s Seat Tower overlooking Greenfield on a windy day in 2017. Staff FILE PHOTO/Paul Franz

  • Maggie Provencal, a young poet in finalist. Contributed photo

  • Local poet Ernie Brill, a finalist in the adult category. Contributed photo

  • Frederick Goddard Tuckerman. WIKIMEDIA COMMONS

  • Lynne Pledger, a finalist in the adult category. Contributed photo

  • Maggie Provencal, 14, of Colrain, a poetry finalist. Staff Photo/Paul Franz

  • Jon Calame. Contributed photo

  • Karina Berenson. Contributed photo

  • Ashley Schlinger Contributed photo—

  • Leo Reiber, a youth finalist. Contributed photo

  • Gary Greene. Contributed photo—

Staff Writer
Published: 6/21/2021 2:36:50 PM

In 1847, the reclusive American poet Frederick Goddard Tuckerman moved to Franklin County from Boston seeking a quieter lifestyle and a closer connection to nature. He died 26 years later as a relatively obscure poet, known for his sonnets but overshadowed by his Pioneer Valley contemporary Emily Dickinson, having only published one book of poetry in his life — but not before leaving an indelible stamp on his chosen hometown of Greenfield.

Today, named in his honor, Poet’s Seat Tower overlooks Greenfield from a hilltop as “a lighthouse for poets,” said Marianne Snow, a board member of the Friends of the Greenfield Public Library, which hosts the annual Poet’s Seat Poetry Contest as a fundraiser for the library. The tower recognizes the tradition of local poets like Tuckerman, who found inspiration in Franklin County’s rolling hills and quaint vistas. It’s visible for miles. And, following Tuckerman’s trailblazing footsteps, the Main Street library’s annual poetry competition — now in its 30th year and on the bicentennial of his birth in 1821 — honors the creative efforts of modern-day writers.

“It brings people together in a really unique way — it’s not about politics; it’s not about religion; it’s about the poems,” said Snow, who helped organize this year’s event, which was open to Franklin County writers of all ages. “It gives people a chance to exercise (their) writing talent — and there really are quite a lot of voices and poets in this (region).”

Under normal circumstances, local poets would gather around this time of year to read their work aloud in front of an audience. This season, however, as in 2020, there will be no in-person poetry reading event due to the ongoing pandemic. Instead, a selection of finalist poems — separated into categories — will be published in the Greenfield Recorder’s Thursday arts section over the next month or so. Winners will be announced at some point after all the poems have been printed.

According to organizers, there was more interest among local writers this year than in past competitions. 

“One thing I noticed was the increased number of poems this year, especially in the young poets group, two or three times as many as last year, and adult poems increased in numbers, too. That was heartening,” said Dennis Finnell, a member of the Poet’s Seat Contest Committee. “Altogether, about 275 poems. The increase may be due indirectly to the pandemic, people isolated for months and needing to say something. I do think the sharp increase in poems from young poets is due in part to a special effort by the Poet's Seat Contest Committee and staff of the Greenfield Public Library.”

Topics tackled in the poems varied from broad overviews to more personal anecdotes. 

“There was a poem focusing coolly, matter-of-factly on receiving a mother’s ashes via UPS, then spreading them on strawberry bushes. There was the poem recalling a poet’s father sitting under a cedar tree grading papers,” Finnell said.

They ranged in topic from the George Floyd protests to the presidential election to climate change and nature — a subject close to Tuckerman’s heart.

In a 1965 anthology, “The Complete Poems of Frederick Goddard Tuckerman,” editor N. Scott Momaday, who went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1969, describes the Greenfield poet as “a man who made herbariums. He had an eye for the minutest aspects of the world. When he wished to focus upon the veins of a leaf, or to find a metaphor for the appearance of an evergreen spine, he could do so with extraordinary skill. His poems are remarkable, point-blank descriptions of nature; they are filled with small, precise and whole things: purring bees and vervain spikes, shives and amaryllis, wind flowers and stramony.”

Poetry finalists

Finalists in the adult category: Lynne Pledger; Sharon Dunn; Gary Greene; Jon Calame; Elaine Reardon; Chelsea Jordan-Makely; Matt Scotten; Ernie Brill; Karina Berenson. In the youth ages 12 to 14 category: Maggie Provencal; Lillanna Inman; Leo Reiber; Henry Maxey. In the youth ages 15 to 18 category: Malia Hanes; Ethan Chase; Felicia Ann Gallison; Ashley Schlinger; Zoe Charbonneau. Below, listed in alphabetical order, is this week’s selection of finalist poems in the adult category. More poems will be published in the coming weeks. Winners will be announced when all the poems have been published.

‘The Cedar’ by Karina Berenson

I remember my father grading

his papers under the Cedar tree.


The same tree that held the tether

ball that Toby would jump at

before he was sold, along with the farm, and

our whole lives.


The same tree that to this day, the smell

makes my brother think of the home

we had before we left for town.


The bark shaved and papery, but

so soft its splinters never pierced

our hardened and calloused soles.


Never injected themselves into the

soft flesh of our small fingertips, as we

reached up for one more climb, one step

closer to a birds-eye view.


Grading in the beautiful sunshine

of a clear, crisp weekend day.


A day made for playing in leaf piles

and piled on piggy-back rides

in the brown grass.


Grading and grading until a bird

shat on one of the essays.


The bird knows what a piece of crap this is.


But I remembered hearing that bird shit

was a sign of good luck.


And I, high up in that tree, wondered

if I could now see more from there

than ever before

‘The Meteor and The Daffodil’ by Ernie Brill

Bipolar, schizoid — call it what you will.

He zooms through storming days and thrashing nights.

A meteor pats bees in daffodils.


His family won’t admit he’s deeply ill.

Their desperate love deprives them of insight.

He once patted bees in daffodils.


Any offered love he tried to kill.

His strange hell’s hold on peace is very slight.

Bipolar, schizoid — call it what you will.


I cannot get my obsessive fill

Of rambling blogs careening out of sight

Recalling patted bees in daffodils.


I cannot name the pouring rain that still

Mirrors rain in the mourning’s wintry light.

Bipolar, schizoid — call it what you will.


All I can do is wait until

He sets himself on fire, or sets himself right.

Bipolar, schizoid — call it what you will;

He patted buzzing bees in daffodils.

‘A Sweep of Light Late Sunday Evening’ by Jon Calame

Finally I think I know what kind of time I am currently living in:

I live in the time of artificial light on the upper branches of trees.


As cars pass by and maybe sometimes a street light illuminates 

one side of the whole upper portion and branches of a tree —

and that never happened before and it surely won’t happen again 

here on earth, after all our work, so it distinguishes us. 


This time that I’m speaking of must pass (in a proportional way) 

as quickly as the headlights of that truck passed over 

the tree outside our second-story window.

It was enchanting, it made sense in the moment, 

and it was very strange to everyone who might have seen it.


There was something haunting about it, 

and something lovely about it, 

and something that never should have been.


The tree itself, if it has any kind of sensitivity to these things,

surely must have found it amazing as well, and 

outside the regular sphere of treelike experiences.


As for us, we proceed apace down that road, 

piercing and carving (with our lights) through the darkness, 

and the tree is returned to its proper darkness too.

That is how this time passes.


But when it was there, it was like some second Sun, 

or second Moon, or a third illuminating sphere

that is just us being here, making light and some kind of commotion 

and flashing our presence in a graceful sweep

across the upper bodies of trees, barns, fields, and other people.


This is where we were and we have the light to prove it. 

Greenfield Recorder

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