Poet’s Seat contest winner speaks to cathartic process of writing poetry

  • Preston Hood III reads his winning poem, “beauty is a cardinal,” at the award ceremony for the Poet's Seat Poetry Contest April 26. Recorder Staff/Christie Wisniewski

Recorder Staff
Published: 5/2/2018 2:42:23 PM

Preston Hood III sat at a circular table wearing a bright red fleece jacket. His hearing assistant dog sat loyally by his side, wearing a red bandana. Hood had just won the 2018 Poet’s Seat Poetry Contest for his poem, “beauty is a cardinal.”


Probably not.

“I’d always see (cardinals) and enjoy them,” Hood said, acknowledging his winning poem and his fitting outfit.

‘beauty is a cardinal’

Two months before the poetry contest, Hood began to work on “beauty is a cardinal.” The first part came naturally, and Hood admitted he could have ended the poem there.

But he didn’t.

“I like to write and then put it away for a while,” he said, explaining that he put this poem away for a week before coming back to it again.

Cardinals are a meaningful symbol, not just to Hood. They’ve been seen as symbols of healing, luck and positivity. According to Hood, this poem specifically shows how people can move through difficult times. And he’s had his share, living in an abusive household and later fighting in Vietnam with SEAL Team 2.

“I know I’ve been through a lot of hell in my life,” he said.

The final product of the poem mingles the peace of nature and the dread of being a soldier fighting in Vietnam.

The poem starts by Hood recalling his experience fighting in Vietnam and the emotions it caused then and now.

“People would call us baby killers,” he admitted. “What most of us did was shut up, become silent and hide away.”

While Hood may have went to live off the land, through his poetry, he did anything but “shut up” and “become silent.” He firmly believes that living off the land saved him.

“I’m really glad that poem was picked,” he said, smiling.

Chaotic past, healing poetry

Hood began writing poetry when he was 14 or 15, but he truly began to “put everything down” when he was 16. He described his upbringing as “chaotic” and “abusive,” and recalled taking care of his younger sisters. This turmoil fueled his writing.

“We all have our wounds but we have to open them up to others,” he said.

He said his writing gradually improved as he read more books and critiqued his own work. Eventually, his poetry took a turn toward being more nature-based.

Poetry became his passion early on.

“When I wrote at that age … I wrote because it made me feel good,” he said. “I was depressed about the situation I was in. (Poetry) was more therapeutic. Even now, it’s therapeutic.”

Hood thinks he greatly improved his poetry around 2000 and 2002.

“I started writing and was able to finally grasp how to put it all together,” he said, explaining that he went through plenty of edits from mentors who would cross out words galore.

“My poems write themselves,” Hood said. “I don’t know why. There’s got to be some reason.”

The first CD he put out was called “Snake Medicine” in 2002.

“It was really dark poetry,” he said. “People were really worried about me … they were like ‘Is he gonna commit suicide?’ No, I’m fine!”

From then on, Hood decided that his poetry books would need to be accompanied by a CD so the reader could also listen to the words from the poet’s own mouth.

In 2005, he was awarded residency in Ireland to finish his first book of poetry, “A Chill I Understand,” published in 2006. This book was a finalist for the 2007 Maine Literary Awards. His book “The Hallelujah of Listening,” published in 2011, won the 2012 Maine Literary Award for Poetry.

Living off the land, living life

Hood grew up in Swansea, but left for prep school in Maine after flunking his junior year. Then, he stayed in Maine for 45 years.

Of those 45 years, he spent 21 living off the land with his kids.

“We had no running water or electricity for 13 years,” he said. They had a pit in the ground for refrigeration, a root cellar and raised goats for milk. They grew apples for cider and tapped maple trees for syrup. Hood worked in the woods with a horse.

“It was the best thing I’ve ever done and I’d do it again,” he said definitively.

Last year, Hood found a place in Colrain on the North River close to Vermont, and this is where he’s lived since. He likes that it’s close to the Post Traumatic Stress (PTS) program he helps out with; he teaches therapeutic creative writing as a volunteer. The program seeks to help veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan with coping.

Hood is also a level one teacher in a new program; a psychologist named Dr. Scott Cornelius got him involved in yoga nidra meditation, which is a deeper state of relaxation “between sleeping and dreaming.” However, just being a level one teacher isn’t good enough for him. He wants to get certified, too.

Looking forward

This June, a book titled “Illness, Resiliency, and Spirituality,” with a 6,000-word chapter by Hood called “What It’s Like to Pass Through Time After Vietnam” will be published.

Hood’s chapter is political, yet influenced by nature like many of his other writings.

Hood also wants his readers to know that he doesn’t just write about his time in Vietnam; he writes about plenty of topics — like art — but his past is a permanent piece of him.

“It’s part of me,” he said of being in Vietnam. “It’s who I am. I’m moving on with my life and I’m not going to sit by the wayside and have life tell me where I’m going.”

Christie Wisniewski covers Montague and Gill and can be reached at

or 413-772-0261, ext. 280


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