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June 04, 2013

Farmer Poets Know How to Milk It

Image for Farmer Poets Night"My mind is on cows so much that I think cow, dream cow, and it seems paint cows without realizing what I am about," wrote landscape painter and poet William Otis Bemis (1819-93).

Twenty-first-century Vermont still has more than its share of "farmer poets." They'll congregate on Thursday at Middlebury's Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History, which is hosting a Farmer Poets' Reading as part of its ongoing gallery exhibit "From Dairy to Doorstep." (That show features a Bemis painting of — what else? — cows.)

Do farmer poets find themselves writing about bovines the way Bemis found himself painting them?

You'll have to attend the reading to find out. Of course, not all the poets scheduled to attend are dairy farmers — for instance, Jim Ellefson, Champlain College's poet-in-residence, who grows garlic. Or "mushroom grower and beekeeper" Alice Eckles. Or David Weinstock of the Otter Creek Poets Workshop, who simply comes from an egg farming family.

But I happen to know for a fact that Julia Shipley, a farmer poet from the Northeast Kingdom and freelance contributor to Seven Days, has written some pretty awesome poems about cows. (Read a mini-review here.) She'll be reading her verse at the museum, too.

The organizers invite you to "bring your own poem to share" — and we're guessing it does not have to be about livestock.

Just don't scare the critters as you practice your dramatic recitation, as depicted in the above print from an 1874 book called Farm Ballads (Will Carleton, Harper and Brothers, Franklin Square, N.Y.).

Might sour the milk.

Farmer Poets' Night, Thursday, June 6, 7 p.m. at the Henry Sheldon Museum in Middlebury. Free, donations accepted.

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