A Round of Robins

 

 

A Round of Robins

 

 

 

by Eric Schoonover

 

The snow from the last of the storms
melts into rivers that run down
the steps and a round of robins
jump and flutter ahead of me

in the evening’s blue snow. Six
of them, or maybe more, hop then
flutter, but the failing light won’t
tell me gender. They lead my way,

up those fifty-seven steps, to a
warmer time when snow drops
rouse and hopes enlarge to
greet a spring of warmth and light.

NOTE: There is no agreed upon collective noun
for robins: there are at least fifteen candidates, but
a round of robins seems to be the favorite.

 

Eric Schoonover is a writer living in Gloucester.
“fifty-seven steps” alludes to the staircase
leading from Spring St. up to Winchester Ct.

Former T. S. Eliot East Gloucester Summer Home Given New Life

By Holly Clay

TS Eliot’s Boyhood Summer Home       © 2019 Bing

We shall not cease from exploration. And the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.—T. S. Eliot

Several times during the years after poet and Nobel Laureate T.S. Eliot married his second wife Valerie Fletcher, in 1956, they made the trip across the Atlantic from London to Eliot’s family house, high above Niles Beach in East Gloucester.  The old summer house on Edgemoore Road had been sold decades before, but Eliot liked paying the house and its new occupants, Mr. and Mrs. John Cahill, a visit. The Cahills recalled the famous poet’s presence while pointing out the room that had once been his. It was the smallest because he was the youngest of six. They also remembered tears in the poet’s eyes as he made his way through its rooms. Each visit brought him down a memory lane flooded with feeling.

Clare Reihill, an Eliot Foundation trustee, says, “Valerie said the home in Gloucester, was the only place he’d ever experienced pure happiness.”

In 1965, after Eliot’s death, Valerie, then 37, became Eliot’s Literary Executrix, dedicating her life to looking after his legacy.  She worked with Faber and Faber, the London publishing house aligned with the estate, where Eliot had been a director. While at Faber he founded and edited the prestigious literary journal Criterion, (1922-1939).

After Valerie’s death, Reihill and her co-trustee Judith Hooper found a letter, the contents of which came as a revelation.

“Valerie wanted to buy the Eliot house,” Reihill said.  “It had come up for sale in 1965 or 1966. She wrote to her mother, ‘I wonder if I should buy it because he loved it so much.’”

“The letter was such a wonderful thing to discover,” Reihill, said, “a blessing beyond the grave. The connection was so strong, Valerie thought acquiring the house would be consoling for her.”

But Valerie didn’t buy the house. Its $65,000 price tag would have strained her budget. As a consequence, the ties with the United States grew looser.

During his youth, T. S. Eliot and his family divided their time between St. Louis in the Midwest, and Gloucester in New England. Both places abided in Eliot’s psyche, as they did in his writing.

Eliot once commented, “In New England I miss the long dark river, the ailanthus trees, the flaming cardinal birds, the high limestone bluffs where we searched for fossil-shell fish; in Missouri I missed the fir trees, the bay, and the goldenrod, the song-sparrows, the red granite and the blue sea of Massachusetts.”

Reihill says: “Gloucester had a profound influence on Eliot. The place was enormously important to his poetry. His sisters were married here. There was a piece of Eliot’s heart here.”

Gloucester images not only enriched his writing but also “shaped him as a poet,” writes Robert Crawford, author of Young Eliot: From St. Louis to The Waste Land (2016).

“Indeed, maritime images rooted in Gloucester reverberate throughout Eliot’s work,” Crawford writes, “whether it’s ‘the hand expert with sail and oar’ from The Waste Land or ‘the ragged rock in the restless waters’ and ‘the sea is all about us’ in The Dry Salvages, a poem that is itself named for a group of rocks off Cape Ann.

“In Cape Ann,” Crawford continues, “Eliot lists many of the region’s birds — the ‘Swamp-sparrow, fox-sparrow, vesper-sparrow,’ and the house itself even makes an appearance in Ash-Wednesday: ‘From the wide window towards the granite shore/The white sails still fly seaward, seaward flying/Unbroken wings.’”

An acute awareness of his New England ancestry informed Eliot’s thought as well.  He once said, “My family was New Englanders…The family guarded jealously its connection with New England…”

And, so, the Eliots returned here, having chosen Gloucester as their summer residence. Initially, they stayed at the nearby Hawthorne Inn. In time, plans took shape for a home, the brainchild of Eliot’s father Henry Ware Eliot (1843-1919). The East Gloucester house at 18 Edgemoor Road, “the Downs,” as the family named it, was completed in 1896. Eliot would have been an impressionable seven or eight years of age.

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For the next almost 20 years he would reside here in summers, even “coming up” during his Harvard years. Then came the break. He visited only once between the time of his permanent move to England in 1914 and his father’s death in 1919.  The house was sold. Eliot’s mother Charlotte Champe Stearns (1843-1929) said she could no longer afford the upkeep. She was deeply saddened by the loss.

Reihill says, “She was pained” about selling the home, which has since had a number of owners, including the T.S. Eliot Foundation since 2015.

Hooper says, “So now is the fulfillment of a dream,” a dream held by Eliot’s widow and perhaps by Eliot himself.

The acquisition and rehabilitation process is a story in itself.

Hooper and Reihill say it was a “shock” to learn the house was for sale. “Someone sent us the link, ‘T.S. Eliot Summer House for Sale.’  We knew of its existence, but we thought it had been destroyed long ago. It was irresistible because we wanted to forge a new connection with America, a link.

“Sales of Eliot’s works had been lower here in the U.S.  His poems, plays, and essays are not on syllabi to the same extent they are in England. He’s a slightly forgotten, slightly problematic figure in America. We’re interested in rehabilitating his reputation and establishing the fact he belonged here.”

Hooper handled the business and legalities of buying the property, as well as overseeing renovations and upgrades.

She says, “The Foundation bought it to be a retreat for writers who could do everything Eliot could do, the full range of craft: essayists, poets, playwrights, critics, editors. The restoration had to do with making it fit a group who weren’t a family. This is a long term thing for us.”

Hooper says, “It was with warmth, the way we were accepted. Anything to do with T.S. Eliot, well, people have been helpful and interested.  People here are proud of the connection. I felt welcome, personally, so I want this house to work all the more. Fiona Atkinson, the decorator, and I spent Thanksgiving here with Dana Hawkes, the previous owner and now Director of the Eliot House in Gloucester. Then, I was here for Christmas with my family, before we got going on construction projects. It’s a strange thing to say, but it feels like coming home.”

The Foundation undertook renovations designed to make the house last another 100 years as a destination for writers.  The garage extension was converted into a handicap-accessible bedroom and bath, the other baths in the house were upgraded; the house was totally rewired and the interior freshly re-painted.

They worked with local people, for the most part.

Hooper says, “I didn’t realize that ‘local’ meant Gloucester. We actually began by finding professionals over the bridge. That’s a million miles away, I realized, even though it’s only 40 minutes.”

Once she realized how locals define “local,” she tried to contract on Cape Ann or at least nearby. “Fiona, the decorator, shopped in Gloucester, Essex, and Ipswich buying things from antique shops, and dare I say, ‘junk shops.’ We also bought a lot of Dana’s pieces. The sofa in the drawing room was Dana’s.  And, all the rugs.”

As a writers’ retreat, “the Downs” constitutes a perfect adaptive re-use for the once-upon-a-time home of a world-celebrated Nobel Laureate. Residents stay an average of two weeks at a time. They work in a variety of genres. The Foundation directors vet applications for residency.

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The Eliot House has been accepting writers in residence since 2016. They can accommodate five people and can just fit in a sixth. The foundation supports the whole effort. Hawkes even prepares dinner for the guests.

Hawkes writes, “Last year we had 22 writers residing at the house. The house is open from April to October and is closed during the winter months for now.

“We have had many inquiries about the residencies through word of mouth from those who have stayed with us, along with winners of the Chapbook Award from the Poetry Society of America and the annual Fellowship Prize of the Academy of American Poets. Most of the writers are from the US.

“We have an annual poetry reading to launch the opening of the season’s residency. We also are investigating the idea of having a T.S. Eliot Festival in the foreseeable future.”

Ocean Vuong, recipient of the 2017 T.S. Eliot Prize for his poetry, reads at the Eliot House in the Spring of 2018.

In addition, the Foundation considers “the Downs” to be part of the Gloucester community. As such, Reihill and Hooper would like to see programs developed on the local front.

Hawkes comments: “We would very much like to do something with the local schools. I have made some inquiries with regards to this and the idea is at its infancy – a work in progress. If something is to be done, probably not until 2020.”

Notes:

Thomas Stearns Eliot lived from 1888 to1965. At 25, in 1914, he left the U.S. permanently. In 1927, Eliot became a British citizen, formally relinquishing his U.S. citizenship. He received the Nobel Prize for literature posthumously in 1948.

Judith Hooper and Clare Reihill serve as Trustees of the London-based Eliot Foundation, which maintains close ties with Faber and Faber. Dana Hawkes is the Gloucester-based Director of the Eliot House.

 

Holly Clay is settled in Gloucester after many years of living overseas and in Washington, D.C. Holly is a member of the Gloucester Historical Commission and the Annisquam Historical Society.  With a background in education and writing, her professional energies are currently devoted to studying and teaching yoga and meditation.

 

Kumba, my Gloucester Pangur Bán

by Eric Schoonover

This poem was inspired by “Pangur Bán,” a 9th-Century
Irish poem about a scholar monk and his cat.

 

KUMBA                                  Photo SBPollack

Cats are such fine fellows
neat and fierce, quick and soft.

Their lives are tidy at the edges
carefully surveying all—before the leap.

In that ancient poem, Pangur’s dedication to mousing
is likened to his monk’s devoted writing.

They labor in their different vineyards (yet close by)
catching mice, discovering meaning in the text, each

wrapped in deadly silent focus: the mouse upon the
floor, the portending skull upon the desk.
   Sic transit gloria mundi.

 I met my Pangur on a dark and stormy, boldly
crying at my door with impatient ice-matted fur

the neighbor’s cat neglected neighbors told.
I let him in, he stayed for years

and we nourished each other’s silent padding ways
tho my pen would scratch and he would purr,

signatures of our contented ways. But Kumba’s
gone. Another neighbor? No, I fear the car

as we live against a fast street, challenging
our arthritic days. But then . . .

in a ninth life, he stands moaning at the door
ear torn, blood-matted but eyes still bright.

I let him in, he leans against my leg as if a dog.
Mice beware! The challenge of my page awaits!
. . . and our lives resume.

 

KUMBA with the author.  Photo credit SBPollack

Eric Schoonover is a writer, boatbuilder, and watercolorist, who lives in Gloucester in a small 1735 Cape Ann cottage with his wife, also a writer. He is the author of the award-winning The Gloucester Suite and Other Poems and a novel, Flowers of the Sea. His latest book, Telling Tales, has recently been published.

 

SPRING

By Eric Schoonover

Gloucester Harbor, 1894.                  Childe Hassam (1859-1935)

 

When they put up the signs NO PUBLIC TOILETS

I’ll know. And when the daffodils bloom in

front of the bank on Rogers and the gulls

fight and flutter over the chimneys, I’ll know.

When the sailing team yanks their amazing 420s through

the wretched gusts in the harbor; and when the

night thermometer reads 38 and it’s rain and rain,

then I’ll know it’s spring in Gloucester . . . maybe.

 

 

Eric Schoonover is a writer who does enjoy Gloucester’s spring. Eric is also a  boatbuilder and watercolorist, who lives in Gloucester in a small 1735 Cape Ann cottage with his wife, also a writer. He is the author of the award-winning The Gloucester Suite and Other Poems and a novel, Flowers of the Sea. His latest book, Telling Tales, has just been published.

 

 

To An Unseen Loon

Loon © Marianne Thompson

by Barbara Beckwith

 

Listening for

Your loud loon-laugh

Lets me hear soft sounds

Bushes washing the harbor’s edge

Insect swarms, oardrip.

 

Searching for

Your long body skimming over water

Leads me to see secret shapes in driftwood,

Read meanings into your unseen deep dives

And surprise surfacings.

 

If by chance

I ever finally see you,

Mid one wild cry, I may lose you,

Your full mad beauty being half mine.

 

So if you dive deep and don’t come up

Except where I’m not looking,

I won’t mind.

Don’t let me make a poem out of you.

 

Barbara Beckwith writes essays, journalism, and poetry, often focused on her experiences with nature. She lives in Cambridge but often visits Gloucester, not to fish, sail, or lounge on its beaches, but to allow its slower pace to renew her writing.

The Skiff

model by author

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

by Eric Schoonover

Maybe we’ll go down to the beach
letting the water come up to our knees.

There’s a skiff there, in the weeds,
empty and waiting, its oars akimbo:

inviting.  We’ll troll, maybe, my fingers
over the side, to feel the water

mutter and slide, catching so many
motes as my hand can hold. But then

the plash and now the squeak of the oarlocks
do take us away, furtive. Maybe I’ll look

at your legs, brown, and beyond, facing me
and maybe I’ll think of our love that’s

always been held by the water.
Maybe we’ll float off the boat

and our bodies will then drift
to the isles where it all began.

Where maybe we’ll hold so
tight, against the harbor’s

famed serpent, now wilting, sliding
our firm lustrous bodies into a lasting kiss.

 

SPollack Photo

Eric Schoonover is a writer living in Gloucester. His most recent book, Telling Tales: A Gathering of Stories was published in 2016. Harboring, a novel about a Gloucester artist, will be published in 2018.

Crossing the Bar Again

Lobstering Off Eastern Point                                                    © Jeff Weaver

In the slosh and tumble of waves around ledges,
at the favored lobster spots close to shore, the white working boat
maneuvers about rocks, gear shift growling,
runs down on pots, the men scooping them up,
hauling traps aboard, pulling the writhing bugs out, checking length
sometimes tossing most of them back in
thinking it’s time to shift the pots further offshore.
It seems the hold is never quite full,
when they turn the helm to home.

It’s not all work, for there is a time
for awe and wonder in going
to and fro, in foggy uncertainty, or clear air
when the horizon is crisp and stark,
or when clouds boil, flowering in blue sky,
or when the black of a coming storm menace,
or in the calm of sunrise, waters flat as can be,
never the same from day to day,
but same never-the-less.
You’re on your own out there.

They do not visit this place
as the yachtsmen do, to pleasure the day
they live this world, all of it, its peace and hell alike.

Then back home again and out on the town
into dazzling lights, dark bars, a drink
having fun with women
punk rock songs and randy jokes.

Saint Joseph certainly must be there,
with faith’s wafer and wine certainty and protection
warding off threat of wave and rock
in the heave and thrust of swells
uneven footing, a dangerous winch cable
screaming on its spool.

There is a muscle taut energy
in this small 35-foot lobster boat
heir to the fast Grand Bank fishing schooners,
proud large trawlers, the great hauls.
These rock crawling scavengers
are all that’s left to harvest now,
bend the muscles to.
It’s traps now, was nets then, always the haul,
the heft of the prey on the deck
in the heave and rolling wave of the sea.

The big thing to think about
what many of us do not
is who and where we are in this world.
So few know, but those whose working rhythm
is embedded in it, do.

A Saint Joseph medallion dangles from the rear-view mirror
of their pickup loaded with traps and pots
and its angry foul bumper stickers.
But when some mindless snob on autopilot
with cutters on his flashy yachts’ prop
tears through a line of pots all the day’s money’s gone
What’s Saint Joseph to do then
you have to keep asking.
Oh, they’re not paying what they used to, 3 bucks a pound,
not worth it sometimes when they’re 10 bucks afterward.
Every day, passing by the Dog Bar, offloading the stuff,
tired, returning to the slip, tie up, disembark
and, bone hope weary, might take to drink again.

In the coherence of this life,
(the faith and ceremonies, a Cardinal’s blessing
once a year doesn’t do much)
no matter how small it seems
faith punctuates the daily chores,
but it’s the rhythm of the lobsterman’s life
out and back again, bait and reap
that sustains as it does for all working men,
the doing of it.

Kent Bowker

 

Kent Bowker started with poetry at Berkeley in the Fifties, then became a physicist working mainly in optics.  His new book of poems is Katharsis: Sifting Through a Mormon Past.  He lives in Essex, next to the Great Marshes and is treasurer of the Charles Olson Society.

 

Desert Penguin

by  

Eric Schoonover

Gloucester Winter © T. M. Nicholas

Gloucester Winter © T. M. Nicholas

I walk down the street that looks at the sea:
Gorton’s smoke and smells muddle, and I feel like a desert
penguin, scuffing the gaudy snow that falls and falls
and I look at the sea with its own wavy snowspots.

You said I could see over to County Mayo; hardly. But our
cousin’s from there. The harbor-birds hunch aboard housetops,
as I walk down the street that looks at the sea. They think of
a take-off, but then worry a full-flap landing, flashing the snow.

There’s nothing of her distant Ireland in view. Just wind, that’s all
and our cousin slaps the mop at the messy snow that I’ve tracked
on the floor as the window looks at the sea, streaked with its
melting snowdrops. Then she mingles her whiskey with weeping.

I feel that my life must flop in the snow and I borrow from the
colleen’s brew, for my days are like shadows constantly seeking
the white of the snow, of the flecked sea, of purity of thought
. . . as I walk down the street that looks at the sea.

11-13 February 2017

 

eric-schoonoverEric Schoonover, Professor Emeritus of American literature and literature of the sea, lives in a small 1735 Cape Ann cottage with his wife, a writer. His most recent book, Telling Tales, was published in 2016.

 

Peace on Earth

Winter in Gloucester Frederick Mulhhaupt (1871-1938)

Winter in Gloucester                                   Frederick Mulhhaupt (1871-1938)

I love the smell of evergreen
in a not-yet frost-covered Wood.
Mother Nature provides the forest scenes
that do our Spirits good.
I’m grateful for the sounds I hear,
like the music of my Grandchildren’s laughter.
A cherished gift my heart will hold dear
this Season, and ever after.
I’m grateful for the sights I see,
like the love in the eyes of my wife.
Special moments with friends and family
are the most precious gifts of Life.
No expensive present or shiny things
can fill my heart with mirth.
It’s the little things that Christmas brings
which provide my Peace on Earth.

 

 

jimmy-tarantinoJames Tarantino (Jimmy T.) is an exemplary outdoor enthusiast who heralds his love of family, his friends, and his passion for all things Gloucester.

October

Autumn at the Shore. Joseph Eliot Enneking (1881 - 1942)

Autumn at the Shore.                            Joseph Eliot Enneking (1881 – 1942)

The leaves are falling

The dense green wall of foliage slowly disappears

into yellows, oranges, mixed greens,

the growing bronze of towering oaks,

dots of scarlet here and there,

and in this thinning, vistas opening up:

more than we can,

for it is about us, of course in the long run

though we may not see it that way,

for the vistas opening here, always it seems

to the sea.

The sea that surrounds this island of Beau Port, Gloucester

or the sea tide that floods the marshes

our island sea

it’s sad for those who cannot open up

closeted in importance, or lost in drug fueled evasion

who can’t feel the ebb and flooding surges

of this sea in us and around us.

Kent Bowker
October 20, 2016

 

Kent BowkerKent Bowker started with poetry at Berkeley in the Fifties, then became a physicist working mainly in optics.  His new book of poems is Katharsis: Sifting Through a Mormon Past.  He lives in Essex, next to the Great Marshes and is treasurer of the Charles Olson Society.