Taking back the word ‘inauguration’

  • Sunrise over Lake Huron, 5:12 a.m. For The Recorder/Trish Crapo

  • Northampton poet Brett Averitt’s poem “Inaugural” is a calm and beautiful evocation of sunrise over a lake the writer clearly knows and loves. Contributed photo

For The Recorder
Published: 1/23/2017 4:01:41 PM

The other day, wanting to find a subject for my upcoming column, I picked up my copy of the “Gallery of Readers Anthology 2017” that I wrote about last week and opened it at random. I figured everybody in the 465-page book was a local poet or writer. I ought to be able to find somebody whose work I liked and who had time to talk with me.

The book fell open to page 211 — Brett Averitt’s poem “Inaugural.”

The coincidence seemed a bitter irony at first. Averitt’s poem is a calm and beautiful evocation of sunrise over a lake that the writer clearly knows and loves. It ends with gladness. It seemed to stand in stark contrast to the inaugural ceremony that was looming — an inauguration that I fear will be the beginning of four years of sharp division in country.

Then I thought, “Well, maybe through poetry we can take back this word ‘inaugural.’” Maybe we can remember its sense, unsullied by politics, of marking the beginning of something new, maybe something good — another chance, another day. Even if we can only hold that meaning temporarily, long enough to get our bearings again, that might be worth it.

Averitt’s “pink rind on the horizon beginning again” was like a balm, then.

The “Leaves at the bottom of the frozen top, disrobing/ Into slime where mud is made later” became a healing salve I could rub into the wounds of these contentious political times.

I found a home phone number for Averitt online and left a message. Her husband called me back and gave me his wife’s cell phone number, asking me to phone later in the day, after she’d had a chance to go to a doctor’s appointment. I didn’t know that when I phoned, Averitt would be answering from a bed at Linda Manor in Leeds, where she is recuperating from a broken shoulder and hip.

“I’ll be here six weeks until the bones begin to heal up,” Averitt said quietly, with a soft Southern accent that made me want to talk to her all night.

Averitt, with her husband Bob Averitt, then the head of the American Studies department at Smith College, helped to found the Gallery of Readers reading series in Northampton in 1991. Her collection of poems, “Ladder to the Roof,” was published by Gallery of Readers Press in 2012. She was born in Ennis, Texas. She and Bob grew up on either side of the Trinity River, Averitt tells me. They came to Northampton in 1961 to teach, he at Smith; she at Smith and at Westfield State University (then College), where she taught literature and poetry and writing. Averitt enjoyed the diverse student populations she encountered at the two schools and the opportunity to live a life steeped in literature and poetry.

“It’s just been a joy to be next to lines of poems all my life,” Averitt says. “It’s a great idea to keep it close to your heart that way.”

When I tell her how I came upon her poem “Inaugural,” Averitt asks, “Well, isn’t that mysterious and wonderful?”

“It always is a new beginning with an inaugural,” she said. “I have to say that this is one that I’m apprehensive about. But we have to remain positive.”

Averitt says that the upcoming inauguration has made her think back to 2008, “And what a shocking surprise it was to have Obama.”

She means shocking in a good way, she clarifies, then continues, “I thought, ‘Here he is. In my lifetime, we’ve elected a black president.’ And he was handsome and smart and all of that.”

Her poem “Inaugural” is driven by “the energy of going back to the images you’ve collected through the years of being in nature,” Averitt says.

“Somebody said the other night there was this great orange moon,” she adds. “Did you see that moon?”

I have to admit that I did not. And now I wonder why. I’m moved by how grateful Averitt seems to the staff at Linda Manor for bringing her descriptions of a moon she wasn’t able to see from her nursing home bed, and how eager she is for more news of it.

She tells me she’s growing tired, and I can hear it in her voice, so we talk for just a few minutes longer.

The circularity of the seasons can be a comfort, Averitt says. “In the middle of an icy storm, you know that spring will come around again.”

“It’s not particularly a comfort to the human story, nature,” she adds. “But we belong in it. It’s part of our soul.”

Trish Crapo is a writer and photographer who lives in Leyden. She is always looking for poets, writers and artists to interview for her columns. She can be reached at tcrapo@mac.com




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