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May 19, 2013

Remembering Poet T. Alan Broughton, 1936-2013

Sota-Book-worldVermont writer and teacher T. Alan Broughton passed away in the early hours of Friday, May 17, at Vermont Respite House. He will be remembered by generations of University of Vermont students — Broughton began teaching English there in 1966 — and by readers of his novels (four), short stories (two collections) and powerful poems (nine collections).

The last of those poetry collections was A World Remembered (2010). It's a searingly eloquent work that deals from many angles with the prospect and fear of death. "The terror of obliteration threads its way through this work devoted to preserving something from that fate," I wrote in my review. "Though the author declares himself a nonbeliever in any afterlife, his words often take on the tone and force of prayer..."

In 2003, Peter Kurth reviewed Broughton's short-story collection Suicidal Tendencies for Seven Days. He quotes Broughton as saying that "every time he sits down to write he still feels 'baffled and anxious. ...I only wonder how I got away with it.'" But he assuredly does "get away with it," Kurth continues.

Broughton's surname was much in the news last fall when his former wife, Burlington heiress Lenore Broughton, was revealed as the funder behind conservative super PAC Vermonters First. Judging by his poem "Candidates," published in Seven Days in 2006, T. Alan Broughton's own view of political races was more thoughtful and tinged with irony than it was partisan.

On a personal note, I remember Broughton and his wife, Laurel, as friendly and helpful colleagues during my days teaching at UVM. But it was only after I left the university that I discovered Alan's poetry.

A poem of his that I've returned to over the years is called "Song for Sampson" (read it here). It's one of the more powerful poetic memorials I've read, even though the one being memorialized is not a beloved person but ... a house cat. While the poem has its light moments, there's nothing cute about the way Broughton describes Sampson the cat marking the house with his scent —  "until," in the poem's last words, "he became immortal as the darkness / we eased him into, leaving us blessed."

Poems like this leave us blessed, too.

Broughton's obituary is here. A celebration of his life will be held on Saturday, May 25, at 11 a.m. at Trinity Church, Shelburne. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested contributions to Vermont Respite House or to Kids on the Ball at the King Street Youth Center.

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