Vermont's Poet Laureate Chard DeNiord On Poetry, Vermont And Grief

Jun 15, 2016

Vermont's poet laureate, Chard deNiord, wants you to know that one mode of language that is too often neglected, and for all the wrong reasons, is poetry.

Chard deNiord was appointed to the post last year. He lives in Westminster West and was the co-founder of the New England College MFA program in poetry, and teaches at Providence College. He's also the author of numerous collections of poetry including Night Mowing, Sharp Golden Thorne and The Double Truth, and a collection of interviews with poets called Sad Friends, Drowned Lovers, Stapled Songs. His latest volume of poetry is called interstate.

"While on the one hand there are poetry programs all over the country, MFA programs, there's this weird divide in this country between those who read poetry and those who simply don't. I think the last NEA statistic was 6 percent of America's reading public read literary novels and poetry," deNiord said. "And yet it's essential language."

"People hear a simple poem, like William Carlos Williams poem, 'So much depends upon a red wheel barrow glazed with rain water beside the white chickens,' even though most people love that poem, they have no idea what it's about. What exactly depends on a red wheelbarrow? Well, it's the power of that image. Would it help to know that William Carlos Williams, who was a doctor, was looking out the second story window in a tenement in New Jersey attending to a boy who was dying of TB and he reached over and grabbed his prescription pad and wrote that poem down? Williams didn't think it was important for the reader to know that. He just felt that that image was so important."

Vermont has influenced deNiord's poetry but he says he has to be careful about not repeating what other great Vermont poets have written. "My challenge is to write what I can. That sounds simple, but it's also for a poet profoundly true. You can't write what you can't."

"Vermont is a magical place for poets. You never know what's over the next hill or mountain, and it's extraordinary tradition of just tough people carving existence out of the land here and that's really a wonderful metaphor for writing poetry. I've torn up dozens and dozens of poems because after writing them I've realized [Robert] Frost wrote about that much better."

To write poetry, deNiord said you have to be in touch with your "dream mind."

Listen to the full interview to hear two of deNiord's poems, including one inspired by recent mass shootings in the United States.