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Arts & Artists  

New Hampshire Poet Showcase
From NH Poet Laureate, Walter E. Butts

At my request, the NH Arts Council is providing me with a link to the poet laureate page on their website in order that I may continue to showcase poems by a number of New Hampshire Poets. The poets will be by my invitation only, but I plan to include those who are seriously working at their craft from many areas of the state.

Featured Poet: Janet Sylvester, Somersworth

Janet SylvesterJanet Sylvester’s first book of poetry, That Mulberry Wine, was published by Wesleyan University Press. Her second book, The Mark of Flesh, came out with W.W. Norton.  Her new book of poems, Breakwater, is under consideration at a number of publishers.   A collector’s edition chapbook of poems, A Visitor at the Gate, was hand-printed and bound by Shinola Press.   Sylvester’s poems have appeared in many journals and anthologies, including  The Best American Poetry; Triquarterly; Boulevard, Harvard Review; Georgia Review; Virginia Quarterly Review, Poetry Daily and many others.  She is a recipient of the Grolier Poetry Prize, a Pen Discovery Award and a Pushcart Prize and has been awarded multiple fellowships to the MacDowell Colony, Yaddo and Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.  She directs the low-residency BFA in Creative Writing Program at Goddard College in VT and teaches a class on writing and environmental crisis at Harvard Extension.


Before moving to Portsmouth, NH in 2008, I lived in Kittery, ME for a year and commuted to Boston for work.  I crossed the now missing Memorial Bridge countless times.  Stopped on the bridge one frigid February day, I looked to my left at the harbor and saw what appeared to be a visual artist's rendering of a spiritual state: water, lit with dozens of slightly tilted triangles made of steam in ineffable shades of silver, copper, pink, and pale blue under the early-morning sun.  The vision was riveting, and then traffic was given the signal to move forward.  I discovered that the phenomenon is called sea smoke.  It's the heart of the poem, beating in that sinuous collocation of canals, river, and harbor islands, a tidal place.  Living in Kittery, and then Portsmouth, the daily motion of the water, visible or invisible, informed who I was.  I can still feel it.  When I began to work on the poem, layered as most of my poems are, this heart beat among other images of the place the water moved through--its history, its present vivid as the backyard's old apple tree.  I was home; I wasn't home yet.  Little did I know.  When the tide recently returned me to New Hampshire, I re-learned its truth.  "Sea Smoke" was originally published in Blackbird.

Sea Smoke

Frost on a window, indistinguishable from roses

knotted into a curtain, burning

as blue dawn drains  into it

from the backyard apple, its parabola

of ruddy spheres

what’s left of summer.  Across the fence, a red boat’s dry docked,

buttoned against snow

that won’t arrive until  later. 

Warming your hands

at a cup of coffee

in the kitchen, you send your wish into the hemlocks, and

beyond them, to the bridge

that takes you away, commuting days.

You want to root here,

into the water’s going

and coming, to be home, to be home, in this old place

long skirts hurried

through to the small barn

a Mexican restaurant worker rents

now.  Instead, you layer sweaters,

walk out to scrape ice from the car, coughing, like luck, into drive. 

Past the Square that plows

have already heaped into drifts, 

you slide onto the bridge

and—how can it be worded--the braiding tensions of the current,

the light the world flows inside,

have turned to precious metals.  

Every register of platinum

and rose gold issues into

the frigid channel, coaxed

by sun into thermal plumes, bright  steam cooling to droplets bent

by air into pyramids—

dozens of them—

seemingly still.  You

stop, idling for minutes

to let the bridge raise, then drop; the day’s first fruit, a form of fog

exhaled by water,

already gone, as

the future accumulates

in the rear-view mirror:  an apple tree,

dirt-brown, disappearing into the vanished chapel of its leaves.



Click here for a list of previous Poet Showcases

Last updated: November 28, 2012

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