Slayton: Budbill

Jul 20, 2016

David Budbill’s 76th birthday celebration featured readings of his plays and poetry by actors, scholars, and others who have long treasured this poet’s work. It was a truly memorable evening, marred only by the fact that David is now quite ill with a neurological disease.

Budbill’s poetry celebrates place very deeply - specifically, this place, Vermont, and the working people who live here. His work is about the Vermont we all know.

When he first came here, he learned to use a chainsaw and went to work in the Lamoille County woods. There he met the characters and listened to the stories that informed his first book of poetry, The Chainsaw Dance. That was in 1976. Other poems and other books followed, and gradually, David created a fictionalized version of his own locality that he called Judevine.

Then in the 1990s, his focus deepened and David began writing poems about his own life, thinly disguising himself as Judevine Mountain, an old Chinese sage, somehow established on a Wolcott hillside. 

David loves and has read deeply the poetry of ancient China and Japan, and his poems for the past couple of decades have explored the links and similarities between that ancient world and our contemporary world.

Most of the poets of Tang Dynasty China had been banished from the major cities of their day and lived in remote, rural places with a lot of natural beauty, often near mountains, lakes, and small rivers. They came to love the simpler life they found there, and wrote about it. 

David Budbill - self-banished to Vermont, like many of us - has lived most of his life in this particular remote, rural place – and written about it, deeply and clearly. In fact, I’ve long thought David should have been named Vermont Poet Laureate long ago. 

His poetry and plays stand as a monument to our existence in this place. He celebrates the simple, profound pleasures of building a fire in the wood stove on a winter morning, gardening to produce some of our own food, walking in the woods and fields, savoring the seasons, and enjoying the quiet beauty of this northern part of the world.

These simple expressions of our contemporary life here in Vermont link David’s work to the common humanity those ancient Eastern poems also express, and as Vermont poet laureate Robert Frost once wrote - “to everything on earth the compass round.”

They are, in fact universal, and will enrich the life of Vermont and the larger world forever.