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‘It’s restful just to think about New Hampshire:’ These renowned poets have connections to the Granite State

‘It’s restful just to think about New Hampshire:’ These renowned poets have connections to the Granite State

Two road signs pay tribute to poet Robert Frost's 'The Road Not Taken’. Photo by Neil Stanners/ GettyImages

By Stacy Milbouer

February 21, 2024

New Hampshire is the unrivaled muse for some of the world’s best-known poets. Many have written here, and put the state on the literary map, including three Pulitzer Prize winners and three United States poet laureates.  

Pulitzer Prize winner Charles Simic was born in 1938 in Yugoslavia (now Serbia) and died last year at 84 in Dover. As a child during World War II, his family had to be on the move and that life as a displaced person informed much of his later poetry. Simic moved to the United States when he was a teenager and worked his way through New York University. Even though he published his first poem at age 21, Simic’s surreal and metaphysical poetry began getting international attention in the mid-1970s, about the time he moved to New Hampshire where he taught English and creative writing at UNH for more than 30 years. His volume of prose poems, “The World Doesn’t End,” won the 1990 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. In one of those poems, he wrote, “Never since the beginning of the world has there been so little light. Our winter afternoons have been known at times to last a hundred years.” Simic also received a MacArthur Foundation Grant, the Griffin international poetry prize, the Wallace Stevens Award, and the appointment as a U.S. poet laureate in 2007. 

Four-time Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Frost’s most beloved poems including “Mending Wall,” “The Road Not Taken,” and “Stopping by the Woods on a Snowy Evening,” were not only written while he was living or visiting here, but inspired by the world he could see outside his windows at his homes in Derry and Franconia, both of which are now museums open to the public. Some of those poems and other Granite State-inspired verse were published in 1923 in Frost’s “New Hampshire” which won the 1924 Pulitzer. In the last stanza of the title poem, Frost wrote: “I choose to be a plain New Hampshire farmer/With an income in cash of, say, a thousand (From, say, a publisher in New York City)./It’s restful to arrive at a decision,/And restful just to think about New Hampshire.”

 U.S. poet laureate Donald Hall Jr. was born in Connecticut in 1928 and is considered one of the major American poets of his generation, according to the Poetry Foundation, which defined his work as exploring “the longing for a more bucolic past and … the poet’s abiding reverence for nature.” Much of that natural reverence came from the years Hall lived on a farm in Wilmot, New Hampshire with his second wife, the poet Jane Kenyon, whom he met while teaching at the University of Michigan. In 1975, the couple moved to Eagle Pond Farm, which his great-grandparents built in 1865 and which he visited in the summer. It’s where he wrote his first poem and so many others. He stayed there after Kenyon died in 1995 and until his death at age 89 in 2018. Hall was a prolific writer, who published 50 books of poetry, memoirs, essays, and children’s literature during his lifetime and in 2006, became the 14th U.S. Poet Laureate. In 1983 Hall wrote “On Eagle Pond,” – the small body of water for which his farm was named. “In April the ice rots. Over the pocked glaze, puddles / of gray stain spread / at midday. Every day an ice-fisherman / waits one weekend too many, and his shack sinks/to remain among reeds and rowboats.”

Poet/author Maxine Kumin was born in Philadelphia in 1925 but moved to a remote farmhouse in Warner in 1976 where she lived with her husband, Victor, for the rest of her life. As the country’s poet laureate and one of the nation’s most recognized poets, Kumin traveled to lecture and receive awards, but always came home to Warner where she wrote, kept her beloved horses, tended a large garden, and walked through a verdant pasture which she named The Elysian Fields. It’s in that pasture, named for the place where the ancient Greeks believed the good and heroic dead could enjoy for eternity, where her ashes were spread when she died at the age of 88 in 2014. In her poem, “The Path, The Chair,” she referred to this specific part of her farm as “our outermost and final summer pasture, / The Elysian Field, dotted with granite/outcrops that invite the passerby / to pause, climb up, take in the view.” In the essay “Our Farm, My Inspiration,” written shortly before she died, Kumin wrote, “Now, as I look back over the poems I have written in the past 50 years, I see how many of them are set in the landscape of the farm …much of my work is rooted here.”

E.E. Cummings, was born in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1894 and died at age 67 in North Conway in 1962. He was one of America’s best-known avant-garde poets but was also a painter, playwright, social satirist, and essayist. He went to Harvard University but from his early childhood through his death, spent summers and vacations at Joy Farm, a 200-year-old registered historic landmark, and the family’s vacation home on Silver Lake in Madison, New Hampshire. Cummings’ controversial style, some of which was honed in New Hampshire, included breaking the rules of punctuation, syntax, and spelling and throwing over poetic tradition to create his unique style. Just shortly before his death, Cummings wrote the text for “Adventures in Value,” a photography book which featured images of Joy Farm, and taken by Marion Morehouse. Although many of his poems dealt with social criticism and strong political opinions, Cummings was best known for his love poems, like,” i carry your heart with me(i carry it in my heart)i am never without it(anywhere i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done by only me is your doing,my darling)”

 

Author

  • Stacy Milbouer

    Stacy Milbouer is an award-winning journalist and has covered New Hampshire for many publications including the Boston Globe, New Hampshire Magazine, and the Nashua Telegraph.

CATEGORIES: LOCAL HISTORY
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