Poet earns hometown recognition

CORNWALL — Gary Margolis is indeed reaching lofty heights for his poetry prowess.
It wasn’t long ago that he was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for his third collection of poems, “Fire in the Orchard.”
This past spring he released his fourth book, titled “Below the Falls,” inspired by the emotional search in 2008 for missing Middlebury College student Nicholas Garza.
Now Margolis — director of counseling and associate professor of English at Middlebury College — can add “Cornwall town poet” to his literary résumé. The Cornwall selectboard last month unanimously conferred that moniker on Margolis, who will periodically pen poems for his fellow townspeople, works he said will be inspired by the community’s beautiful landscape, seasonal changes and his neighbors past and present. Local, national and international events will also influence his writing.
“It was incredibly supportive and generous for (the selectboard) to do this,” Margolis said on Monday.
Indeed, while Vermont has a state poet laureate — who happens to be Middlebury’s own Ruth Stone — it is unusual for a community to have its own “town poet.” Margolis’s local readers and friends encouraged him to pursue such a non-paid, largely ceremonial designation.
He did, and the selectboard was more than pleased to designate Margolis as Cornwall’s first-ever town poet.
“Few communities, let alone a village as small as Cornwall, benefit from the presence of an acclaimed, widely published poet and even fewer recognize that person as an honored member of their community,” Cornwall selectboard Chairman Bruce Hiland said. “Cornwall is proud to claim Gary as our new laureate.”
It’s an appointed, rather than elected, position with as-yet undefined expectations. But Margolis will take his title seriously. He pledged, over the next few years, to write several poems specific to the town of Cornwall. It’s something he has done before, informally and formally. He was previously asked by town officials to author a poem marking Cornwall’s bicentennial. That poem is titled: “How We Know We’re Here — For Cornwall in Celebration of the Two-Hundredth Turning of Her Tine.”
The last stanza of that poem reads:
“Abernathy, Robbins, Bingham, Sperry, Peet,
and Foote — to which we now add ours, turning
on the tine of our two-hundredth year.
It’s how we know we’re here.”
It is no accident that Margolis references longstanding Cornwall families in his writing.
“It is about always knowing that I am standing on someone else’s land,” said Margolis, whose Sperry Road property itself is steeped in a lot of history sure to inspire his writings.
He and his family live in what was formerly an old tenant farmhouse, built circa 1795. It is the former site of the Vermont Medical School, and the family has — since acquiring the property in 1973 — occasionally found old artifacts, including physicians’ instruments and a mortician’s slab.
Margolis plans on submitting to the selectboard around three poems per year. The board will then decide how to share those poems with the populace.
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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