Tuesday, May 30, 2023

Poem Published Today at Written Tales: STORM SURGE


Here's the link to the dramatic presentation at Written Tales: click here.

Storm Surge [published on Written Tales 5-30-23]

by Beth Kanell


First comes the wind, and then torrential rain—

there was no “eye” of peace, no silent space

but driven loss (one death) and pounding pain.


Why should I think I’d heal back, whole again

when half my hopes were his, his smile, his face,

gone with the roaring wind, the wrenching rain


and now these flooded fields that cannot drain.

My friend said, “Get a dog, expect new grace!”

But in her dark eyes, loss; trust pounds like pain.


He loved me as I am. That love’s a chain,

my anchor in this storm-soaked, battered place.

His life’s blown past like wind, like salted rain.


When healing comes, it’s tentative and plain,

a tender scar, a tentative new base—

as if a second life could lurch from pain!


Adopt the dog, and bonding close again

turns out to hold a storm surge that will race

and flood: Such wind may scream, such chilled rain:

This dog insists on love. Now comes more pain.


Monday, May 22, 2023

Where Poems Come From

A few weeks ago, I wrote a bluebird poem for an old friend. He makes bluebird houses. Also he makes poems. Later he asked me: "Did you just sit down and write that poem, just like that?"

"Nope," I answered. "It had been brewing for a few weeks."

For me, that's how it goes. One morning the last straw lands on the camel's back, or a spark catches on a shred of paper under a heap of sticks, and it's time to shut the visiting dog into her crate for a bit, so I can focus on the keyboard instead of delivering scratches, pats, and "good girl" crooning.

Today three poems erupted, after a long-ish dry spell (long for me, anyway). There's fourth one stuck in my chest, like a burp that refuses to escape. Well, maybe later.

At any rate, to reassure those of you who panic about when and where poems "come": I've had a self-assignment of topic for these, for about a month, with no lines crafted at all. Reading an essay this morning on how passages in the Torah are crafted, I found a Greek-rooted word that was new-ish to me: chiasm. By the time I'd looked up several aspects of it, I'd also found a poetry structure I wanted to try out, and realized that it's the word for the way our eyes and brain cross over information, inverting it into what we "see" in front of us.

Which led, at last,  to an opening I could step through, into a poem.

When I didn't care so much, it was easier to "toss off" a poem. Now, though ... it's a day's work, and more. Which, I admit, is how I like it.


Optic cabling -- a graphic by Ratznium. [Ratznium at en.wikipedia, CC BY-SA 3.0 <http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/>, via Wikimedia Commons]

Wednesday, December 14, 2022

You CAN Go Home Again if You Dare ... in a Poem

Yesterday's road trip into the Upper Kingdom -- the part of the Northeast Kingdom north of Sheffield Heights -- was my third within five weeks. 

Which is a lot, for a region I've carefully stayed away from for years now. Call it dipping a toe back into the ice water. I might not want to go all the way in, at this time of year! (I'm not one of those Polar Bear Plunge folks. Give me a good book and a thick sweater instead.)

At the intended goal location of yesterday's trip, I met someone who'd been living less than 2 miles from my home in Irasburg at the time when I gave birth to my second son, in an uninsulated house on the ridge, facing a spectacular view of distant Jay Peak. It took 23 cords of split wood to heat that house for a winter. And it was actually 41 years ago, but that doesn't fit well into the line.

So here's the poem:

Road Trip


December settles into biting cold, and the snow-cased fields

spool past, low metal structures, unpainted houses.

This is where I lived back then, close to the northern border.

Only blink, and a battered green car from forty years back

could pass in the other direction, my young-mother self cooing

to the baby in the snowsuit. With icy chunks of split wood

jammed into the Subaru’s flattened cargo hold, not enough

warmth even as the heater cranks, full on. “Home soon,

sweetheart.” Inside my patched jacket, past my blue sweater,

under the long-sleeved T, breastmilk leaking in anticipation

quick-chilling along my chest. One-third cord of firewood,

five days of heat for the house, maybe six. After lunch,

do it again—lucky to buy six cords with cash. The pale sun

sets early in December. That year’s best Christmas gift was

the slow cooker: It didn’t need to be watched or touched

until, baby nursed, diaper changed, husband hungry,

beef stew was ready. With food stamps, I always got

the cheapest cut of meat.

Tuesday, November 1, 2022

Not Every Poem Will Be a Great One ... but Still ...

Tis the season -- poetry classes have resumed, and I'm awake in a new way. Yes, the brisk November air helps, and so does the temporary end of garden labor. But to spend hours with a gifted teacher, being shown what works, what makes a poem strong, vibrant, joyful or tragic -- that's a whole other kind of awakening, and I'm thriving with it.

There are "exercises" after each class, and they've become my favorite homework. Sometimes they lead me to write poems that I'm really excited about, leaps in skill that mean a lot. At other times, like today, I step onto uncertain ground, and craft a "first try" that's heartfelt but not yet powerful. And yet, I love this stage, too: reminiscing, trying to pull out strands that (if the last class is anything to go by) will in turn pull up other feelings and images, and in a week or so, I will make a new discovery.

For today, I figured I'd write about missing my mother. It's a normal part of life to have one's parents die —we don't like it, but it's part of how time works. My mother died when I was just 28, heavily pregnant with my second child. I would have loved more years with her, but ... it didn't turn out that way.

Still, I hold her close.

Singing Your Songs


Clementine and “Wait for the Wagon,” ballads and longing

and lullabyes—after your sudden death, I searched

the secondhand stores for a copy of your book, Mom:

American folk songs. Jeannie with light brown hair. Old Smoky.

Lines that rhymed and endings sweetly certain.


In the key of C, you’d lift each tune till Dad could not resist:

his deep rumble, half a note off, happily sharing the car’s front seat.

Down by the old mill stream. John Henry. “In the evening

by the moonlight,” music that once soothed raw throats, tended

sore bodies, beside long-ago fields. If a mother sang it,


or a worker made it ring out freedom, you did, too. No regrets.

No holding back. You made your choices (a man, some babies),

planted black-eyed Susans, pressed tiny purple wildflowers

between the soft pages of old phone books, taught us all the verses

though I needed the book afterward, so many words. So many.


Sing with me now? Death’s still the same, four decades on.

I miss you, Mom; I’m walking with all of your songs.


-- BK

Sunday, August 21, 2022

Now I Know What It Is -- What It Lives Like

One of my earliest stories.

I started to "write" -- that is, to put writing in front of everything else, no matter what kind of writing, and in the beginning it was reporting for a little weekly "shopper" newspaper -- I started at age 22, while I was still working as a chemist in New Jersey and living with R, the man who'd become my second husband.

In that first breathless savoring of writing-by-choice, instead of writing for school or writing work reports, what exhilaration I found! Nothing else mattered as much. Fortunately for my partner and my income, at that point I wrote something once a month for the paper. Life could go on, in between.

Poems, those were different. I grew up writing poems; my mother wrote them, not the deep kind but the happy rhyming ones that were for children or to enliven an evening party. By 1972, when I graduated from college, I'd write a poem any time; if I liked you, I'd give you a poem. I didn't revise. I didn't re-think. I didn't think a whole lot, really, just scribbled them down. Thanks, Mom.

In 1996 I wrote The Adventure Guide to Vermont, for a plain fee, for Hunter Publishing; the editor said "it's your book" but it was work-for-hire in my life.

Then a Vermont novel seized me, and I wrote The Darkness Under the Ice, was told I'd written the wrong book, and started over, writing The Darkness Under the Water (published in 2008). With that, I discovered the heady sensation of creating characters and their world, and marveled that in one day, something came alive that hadn't existed before.

But I'll tell you now -- it was always Work. Triumphant when done, but ... Work.

What would it be like to be obsessed, compelled, by something I was writing? To breathe it in, around the clock? To find my life's core, the way I did when I found DK and gave him my heart and received his?

Now I know.

I'm writing a book that is always on my tongue and in my pulse. At night I turn the bedside light back on, to write a note about something for the next chapter. In the morning, I am impatient with breakfast and dishes and ordinary earning a living, because I have more notes all over my desk and they all involve what I will write when a pocket of time opens, later today or early tomorrow. (I meet commitments to others, before I indulge.)

It's waiting for me. I miss my DK, of course, always. But he'd understand what is happening, probably better than I do, and if there's a sort of post-life cheering section, he's standing at the front of it, pounding the air with a fist, and singing something by Arethra. He really loved Arethrea. Also Alicia Keys. I'll tell you about that, some other time.

Right now, there's a new segment waiting to be written, and I'm in love.

PS Don't expect me to vacuum in the corners. As I said: There's a new segment waiting. https://bethkanell.medium.com/

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Poem after Poem ... on a Blue-Sky Day in July

Last night just before I dug into my late-night reading, an email arrived, accepting three of my poems for the summer 2023 issue of Soul-Lit Magazine. What a wonderful gift to the evening! 

And today, "Do the Next Right Thing" was published beautifully in As It Ought To Be Magazine (https://asitoughttobemagazine.com/2022/07/26/beth-kanell-do-the-next-right-thing). Talk about glowing with joy!

It reminded me that I should explain something new in what I'm doing. Day upon day, I'm writing poems as I find the language for feelings and experiences that matter to me, some light-hearted, some discovering new parts of the grief journey (more than 3 years now since Dave died). And many, of course, celebrating this place: high on a ridge in northeastern Vermont, listening to the wind, the birds, and an occasional neighbor in action.

But I'm not always putting the poems out publicly right away (like, on Facebook or this blog), because it's my season to reach for wider groups of readers. Most of the publications that I'm sending poems to have a rule: It can't have been published (even on Facebook) before their chance to present it.

Since the poems aren't reaching you "as written," you might look at one and think it describes "today," when actually it began a year ago, was rewritten and revised "about 50 times" (as Donald Hall described it), and then crept out under cover of darkness to make a new friend.

So I thought I might give you something quite fresh from the writing desk this week. A lot of friends, and friends of friends, are going through the newest round of Covid variants. Sick for a few days, and then miserable for a few weeks afterward, drained. I ache for them (and know one of these days it will probably be my turn, too). This is called VARIANT, and now you know why:



Crawling through the long pandemic

death’s come closer than it used to:

masked, vaxed, boosted, still we shiver

at the risk—strange and incalculable as

the meteors crossing the night. Raw beauty

like the sequenced chain of DNA

potent and seeking.


Thanks for walking with me, friends. See you here again soon. -- BK 

Thursday, July 21, 2022

When We Make It to Autumn -- Book Celebrations Ahead

It's a hot muggy July afternoon, with intermittent thunderstorms. Everyone's taking photos of butterflies lately, and I just received my first bag of "extra" zucchini squash. Double chocolate zucchini bread and a cheesey zuke casserole will follow, this evening.

But as I tend the yard and gardens, tiny crickets hop out of the way, then dive under the greenery. At night, their chirps have replaced the peepfrogs as music in the darkness. And for me, that's the first reminder: Vermont's glorious autumn is not far away.

And it's going to be an incredible October for my writing.


Last year's release of THIS ARDENT FLAME, the second in my Winds of Freedom historical novels series, dropped into the hush of the pandemic -- no book launch, no events, no readers jumping into the pages. So this fall I'm re-launching the book. I'll be at the Pope Library in Danville on Saturday October 10. Then at NVU-Lyndon for Kingdom Connect on October 4, and with bookseller Kim Crady-Smith, I'll be in North Danville for a 7 pm book talk at the Brainerd Memorial Library on Thursday October 13. (More dates to follow!)

I'm eager to share the surprises I discovered about Vermont's thriving Abolition movement in 1852 -- and about "free black" residents here at that time. Plus, of course, there's the excitement of the novel itself!

Believe it or not, I have a SECOND book launch to savor this year -- Lilith Magazine's new short story collection, Frankly Feminist: Short Stories by Jewish Women from Lilith Magazine. My story in the collection is "What Was Cut," and it uses bits from my life as a La Leche League Leader, a person in 12-Step recovery, and a rededicated Jewish family member. I think you'll appreciate the spooky edge that it carries!

Watch here for more announcements ... September 4 is already booked for my poem "Sundown Psalm" in Amethyst Review, and some time in August, As It Ought To Be Magazine is publishing another of my poems, "Do the Next Right Thing." 

Come on, crickets, keep chirping!

Monday, July 18, 2022

North Danville Family Stories: Updates from Gerard Lamothe, July 5, 2022

There are so many details in each story about our families and our pasts, and sometimes people don't see the details in the same way. Although two of the people interviewed for my 2022 North Star Monthly article on North Danville went over the manuscript before I turned it in -- because I was aware that the connections were complicated and the photos a generation or two way from us -- Gerard Lamothe found that the final article didn't fit what he meant to say, and he expressed some doubts about what others told me.

Here are Gerry's notes of correction; he says his own speaking style may have led to many of the confused items from his own research.

"Original dam at the bottom ... flood of '27." Gerry says North Danville's big flood took place in 1897 instead. The dam was rebuilt after 1897.

bridge ... sawmill: Gerry says this was the gristmill, not sawmill, and related  bridge, also severely damaged in 1897. He notes that Arthur Sanborn bought both the dam and the gristmill so he could use both dams to run his sawmill.

He wants to make it clear that Aunt Addie was his great-aunt.

The image of the blacksmith shop and triplet houses: Gerry emphasizes that General Chamberlain was one of several early settlers, although he was the first in the village. He refers to a Tennie Toussaint article.

Gerry thinks the name McFarland was used without a D.

Rather than banning both dancing and billiards, he says the band was against both dancing and cards.

The bell mentioned, he clarifies, was a handbell.

Gerry says Arthur Sanborn's house is not in the photo; the unpainted building is the blacksmith shop, and the white Cape-style house belonged to Elgin Gates. Arthur Sanborn built his house on the former site of the blacksmith shop.

Gerry says Arthur bought the sawmill and Elgin's shop and home, and the dance hall, a building just below Elgin's blacksmith shop.

Gerry says the house was not sheathed in brick, but in wood.

Where Arthur's brother is mentioned, Gerry said that should be brother-in-law, Addie's brother Al.

Gerry says the lunches carried by Addie were not for the workers but for the students.

Gerry says Addie owned the mill and ran it with the help of Charles Sanborn.

Gerry believes Arthur's passion focused on the second mill (Walden Mountain) after he sold his own mill.

Gerry corrects the shooting of Charles in the leg, saying it took place instead in the ballroom at his house.

Gerry says Addie's sense of propriety affected the driving lessons of daughter Louella, not of Sharon.

Gerry corrects the dance hall shooting to take place at the Sanborn dance hall.

Gerry believes the mill pond did not rise to dangerous levels; instead, those waters came from the other dam by the town shed and the third dammed pond.

Gerry corrects the mention of poor flooring, saying it was to be put into the new school, not the old one.

Gerry's description of the outhouses was intended to say "limed," not "lined."

Charles was Arthur's uncle, not brother, Gerry says.

Gerry says that Elgin's blacksmith shop was built on the site of an earlier store, and that the store photo shown is not the Weeks store.

This page of Gerry's corrections should be considered in future historical writing about North Danville village.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

Writing to Save the World: A Project With My Grandsons

Broken shell (at left) and label from my blessedly optimistic sister-in-law Cheryl.

My grandsons' mother is doing a great job getting her sons educated, and each youngster is moving to a new school in the fall. This careful parent is already thinking about college as the long-term goal for her sons, and she's brought me into the process this summer because she wants them to write more often and with more attentiveness.

They travel in summer, which raises the challenges -- but of course, thanks to the pandemic, we have all learned to cope with that sort of distance. So the boys and I are writing something each week on a topic that I propose (although I'm open to them raising a topic; for now, they prefer that Grandma does this).

This week, I offered the website https://www.oceanoptimism.org, which I learned about through an On Being podcast. I thought it provided a good change from the doom and disaster we've all been discussing -- and the boys did, too. Each one wrote a really good piece on why we can harbor optimism about cleaning up our oceans. Each also indicated some level of personal commitment. They "get" why we are all trying to reduce our use of plastics, for instance, and they are "on it."

The same day I offered that challenge, I also received an email from Seth Godin that included promotion for his Carbon Almanac -- subtitled "It's Not Too Late." I think that's what we-who-want-to-save-the-planet need to internalize: Our choices matter, need to take place now, and are effective.

Here's the piece I wrote with the boys. I'd proudly share what the grandsons wrote, but ... that's THEIR writing, and they'll find their own way to share it. (That will have to be a topic for the end of the summer.)

Hope this gives you a boost today.

When I first heard about the #OceanOptimism tag and website, I felt skeptical. Ocean pollution seems so out of control! And every time I purchase a piece of fish to eat, the price reminds me that there is a crisis in ocean fish, as desperate as the crisis of America's western lands burning (not to mention the fires in Italy). With such a global sense of catastrophe, does optimism make any sense at all? Then I looked at the "tweets" that are tagged with #OceanOptimism, and other things came to mind. For example, one of the featured items right now quotes a scientist who is successfully bringing about change. She reminds us: "Take advantage of the unexpected. Trust your intuition. Learn to tell your story. Don't neglect the positive." None of those are spoken often by the people around me, but they reflect the best moments of my life, the times when I've felt that I enabled good results among people and organizations. They remind me also of the work of business guru Seth Godin (I learned about his work from my son Kiril), whose new Carbon Almanac is subtitled "It's Not Too Late." I learned from his writing, and from some examples around me, that people are capable of enormous amounts—if you help them to focus on their strengths and celebrate their achievements. Go positive ... go with optimism. Let's help our oceans recover.

-- With love from Grandma

Thursday, June 23, 2022

The Covered Bridges of Lyndonville, Vermont

Lyndonville, a few miles north of where I live, is having a renaissance of sorts. As usual, this one grows from the energy and determination of a few individuals able to light up more -- "Revamp the Ville" is the new slogan. I like it!

So it's a pleasure to see this article in the Caledonian-Record this week describing the planned Sanborn Covered Bridge Riverfront Park (tap images to see larger versions):


And with that, here are three covered bridge images from Dave Kanell's postcard and photo collection of the Northeast Kingdom. (There are five covered bridges still standing in the town.)

DK's research notes on this first image say Sanborn Covered Bridge (the one that the park will feature), Lyndon Center, photograph circa 1940s.

The second image, wrote DK, is the Burrington or Randall Covered Bridge (it's had both names), and the postcard was mailed in 1957.

The third is marked "Lyndon Center, Vt" on the back, and DK's notes say the photo is circa 1950s of the Miller's Run Covered Bridge.

Covered bridges have been essential for farmers in our area, as they enabled horses to pull loads safely across rivers. (In my book THE BITTER AND THE SWEET, July 2023, they enter the story often.) It takes a lot of determination to keep them standing after the horse era, so kudos to Lyndonville for this important effort.

Poem Published Today at Written Tales: STORM SURGE

  Here's the link to the dramatic presentation at Written Tales: click here . Storm Surge [ published on Written Tal...