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May 31, 2010

Former Vermont Poet Dan Chiasson in HuffPo

OK, this is really just a "Vermonter makes good outside Vermont" story. But if you've heard of Burlington native Dan Chiasson — now a Wellesley prof, poetry editor of The Paris Review and frequent poetry reviewer in places like the New York Times — Friday's story in the Huffington Post is a great place to check out his work.

For one thing, the story offers Chiasson's short poem "Falls, Bristol, VT" in its entirety. And it's nothing like most nature poetry we read.

When interviewer Christopher Lydon asks him about the place of poetry today, Chiasson says, "What I'm doing is trying to figure out ways to keep some mystery of the self and language alive."

As to his Vermont upbringing, Chiasson had some very interesting things to say about that back in 2006, when he was interviewed by Guernica:

"I feel totally excluded from the literary tradition of New England because I’m a French Canadian half-breed. My ancestors worked in mills. It’s kind of funny that the first poet I fell in love with was Robert Lowell, whose ancestors owned the mills. In terms of the high, New England sophisticated tradition of refinement or the Hawthorne tradition of having a traceable past of ancestors who did things on the public record and wrote—Lowell’s a part of that—I feel totally excluded. From the tradition of the natural world, as in Frost, I feel totally excluded. My Vermont was full of fire escapes and convenience stores.

"I was dimly aware growing up in Vermont that there were mountains on the horizon, that there was a lake nearby, but it was an urban childhood in a small city, Burlington, which was pretty blue collar at the time and has since become a kind of utopia. We just lived in the city on a busy road with a lot of houses that were apartments. There was a women’s college down the street; I’ve written about our land, which backed onto a ravine we shared with the college. It was full of really disgusting things, like mattresses and old hair-dryers. Nature to me was very likely to have a hair-dryer entangled in it."

Check out his newest book Where's the Moon, There's the Moon, published in February.

Dan Chiasson has a fresh and compelling way with words. My favorite is "Lincoln's Dream," which appeared in The New Yorker awhile back.

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