Local poets to read poems on contemporary politics March 19

MIDDLEBURY — “Poetry makes something happen,” wrote poet Audre Lorde. Local poets and teachers J.C. Ellefson, Tal Birdsey and Gary Margolis will be trying to make something happen when they read new work at Havurah House in Middlebury, Sunday, March 19, at 5 p.m.
All three will be reading work — poetry and prose — which directly or indirectly addresses contemporary politics.
“Like so many in our communities, artists and writers are asking themselves how to engage in the political process,” said Birdsey, head teacher at Ripton’s North Branch School, who is organizing the reading. “We are witnessing events that are without precedent. There is a deep urge to respond and speak back to the enormity of the political moment.”
“The problem is, where do you start? How do you make the world hear you? All three of us have taken political or public problems and approached them from the local or personal level.”
Gary Margolis of Cornwall will be reading from his new manuscript of poetry, “Time Inside.” Some of these poems speak to his experience facilitating a poetry writing and reading workshop in a maximum security prison. Others are concerned with themes coinciding with recent American politics.
“These poems are the ‘deep news,’” said Birdsey, “weaving current events, unfolding day by day, using them to explicate both our individual place in public life and the more intimate matters of the heart, spoken before the back drop of the historical moment, which we are all trying to decipher.”
In this his seventh book of poems, Margolis continues to follow the lead of where a poem begins — a feeling, an observation, a turn of language — to where it will take itself, as well as us, his readers. He explores the relationship between outer circumstances and inner meaning and revelation; how the act of writing and reading is a bridge between the personal and the political. 
In his poem, “March Protest,” Margolis writes:
Even if all I have are some of the facts.
In these times hard to come by.
The truth always being changed.
No one can deny the wind and
the branches hammering against
each other. No matter if they sound
like waves crashing the sand.
His most recent book of poems is “Runner Without a Number.”
Birdsey, author of “A Room For Learning: The Making of a School in Vermont,” will be reading from a project he started on New Year’s Day of this year, in which he is writing 365 postcards, one every day, to President Trump.
“When my son was a little boy he wrote a simple postcard to President George W. Bush,” Birdsey explained. “The card said ‘Dear Mr. President, Now that you are elected again, can you end the war in Iraq?’ I decided I’d follow his lead and write postcards, too.”
Birdsey’s postcards include his own thoughts, quotes, questions, concerns and hopes.
“I’ve sent him postcards, some hopeful, some angry, always civil, with information regarding people he should know about, like Maya Angelou or Frederick Douglass or Elizabeth Cady Stanton,” said Birdsey. “I’ve sketched out philosophical ideas. I’ve made my own postcards. My students have made postcards for me. I direct him to consider the ideas of great thinkers and scholars and artists and leaders of history.”
The postcard project has evolved into an ongoing series of essays, from which Birdsey will be reading. These essays describe life here in Vermont, in a small rural community, and in a classroom of young adolescents.
“Sometimes I figure him sitting in our classroom as a student. I imagine how he would respond to our discussions, or how I would teach him, or what he might learn, if he was to listen closely. It’s my way of getting into his head and heart and giving him some tools to be good and succeed in life. Like teaching, though, it’s very frustrating sometimes.”
J.C. Ellefson teaches writing and literature at Champlain College, where he is the Poet-In-Residence and chair of The Committee on Verbal Insurrection. He is co-director of the Champlain College Young Writers’ Conference.
He is also the author of “Foreign Tales of Exemplum and Woe: Poems” (Fomite Press, 2015), about which Philip Baruth said: “Over the years, stanza by stanza, Ellefson has made himself the Poet Laureate of the Wondrous. Like a street preacher — not the fake kind but the undeniably enlightened — his voice suddenly lays hold of you, and only eventually are you aware that you’ve stopped in your tracks. This is an honest-to-God feast, a groaning board. Come very hungry. Plan to stay very late.”
Many of Ellefson’s recent poems have taken as their starting point lines from Walt Whitman’s “Leaves of Grass,” and bring the Whitman’s “democratic vistas” into the present moment. Lines from his poem “Walt Whitman Breaks Out (Of the Friday Afternoon American Literature Seminar)” show the poetic imagination brightly entangled with American history.
A bugler sounded his horn.
In the distance, I could see flocks of what appeared to be naked
children cavorting over a fruited plain. I could see 
a rocket’s red glare. I could see broad stripes and bright stars
slowly rising over the great purple mountain American playground.
Members of the community are invited to the reading, which will take place at Havurah House on North Pleasant Street in Middlebury. The event is free and open to the public. For further questions please contact Tal Birdsey at 388-7243.

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