Valley Verses: Greenfield poet reflects on nature’s beauty, human experience

  • Longtime Greenfield resident Fred L. Oakes has released a book of poems, which is available at Franklin County libraries and at World Eye Bookshop. For the Recorder/Nicole Braden-Johnson

  • NICOLE BRADEN-JOHNSON

For the Recorder
Published: 3/27/2019 4:25:18 PM

Fred L. Oakes’ refreshingly unpretentious poetry collection titled “Poems by F. L. Oakes” is a delightful meditation on nature, the passage of time and human experience.

Born in Boston and a Greenfield resident for 53 years, Oakes’ poetry reflects on a natural environment typical for the New England region. Having been a flower designer at the now closed Yetter’s Flowers and Gifts in Greenfield for 30 years, Oakes has an attention to natural details that helps illuminate each page.

“I like the changing of the seasons, and every day of each one of them,” he said. “It’s a blessing really to be able to enjoy them.”

Oakes cites his father as his writing inspiration, along with his wife, Sam.

“It was my father who inspired me to write poetry,” Oakes explained. “He introduced me to poetry when I was a kid. It’s informed myself, my life, ever since.”

After graduating from Turners Falls High School in 1953, Oakes studied English at the University of Massachusetts Amherst until he started working as a florist his junior year. His father had also written poetry, though he never published any of it, and was an English teacher.

Despite his father’s poetic influence from an early age, Oakes did not take pen in hand until much later.

“A couple of years ago when I was 81, I sat down at the table to write a poem,” Oakes recalled. “I took such pleasure in that writing, I haven’t been able to stop.”

Mary Oliver and Billy Collins are Oakes’ chief literary influences, whom he claims are some of “the best, down-to-Earth people who write honest poetry.”

Mirroring Oliver and Collins’ style, Oakes’ poetry is clear and picturesque, like in his poem “November”:

“Warm gray days and fog filled air

Skeletal trees against the sky”

Some of the poems don’t have punctuation. Oakes explains that this was originally due to a scanning error, but he then decided that he preferred the poems that way. He also strives to make the rhythm and rhyme schemes of his poetry organic.

“I don’t like rhymes that go da-di-da-di-da. I like to put the rhymes back in the poem somewhere, more subtle rhyming, I guess. That way it flows instead of jolts.”

The poetry collection’s cover features the black sillhouette of an owl against a bright, yellow moon.

“I designed the cover to be an eye-catching cover,” he explained. “So, when people look at it, they’ll say ‘Who the hell is F. L. Oakes?’ and when they look inside, I’ll have them hooked.”

Autobiographical moments slip in throughout the pages.

“You’ll find me in (the poetry) somewhere, and my dog,” he said. “He’s in the third poem.”

Oakes also wrote a poem, “The Way Out,” about his late friend, Doug, whom he met in 1943 when they were in first grade. Through the lens of this friendship he explores the nature of time, youth and mortality:

“Time began to fly

We rode it through hard times and good

My old friend and I”

Oakes’ book was printed by Lotus Graphics in Brattleboro, Vt., which is owned by Oakes’ daughter, Allie, and her husband. He is set to have another collection with 40 more poems come out this spring.

“Poems by F. L. Oakes” is available in Franklin County libraries and at World Eye Bookshop.

Nicole Braden-Johnson of Conway is the author of “Unheard Melodies,” a monthly poetry column in the local “The Visitor,” and has also been published in several literary journals. She is always on the lookout for poetry news and events, and can be reached at bradennicole@gmail.com. Visit her website at unheardmelodiesnkbj.blogspot.com.


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