Slayton: Budbill’s New Book

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(HOST) Commentator Tom Slayton has been reading David Budbill’s new book
of poetry, in which he finds much to enjoy and much to contemplate.

(SLAYTON)
David Budbill’s latest book, Happy Life, gives us 100 more poems
wrought from his life on a hillside in northern Vermont. As he has in
recent years, Budbill refers often to classical Chinese and Japanese
poetry, and sometimes thinly disguises himself as "Judevine Mountain,"
an old Chinese poet somehow established on a Wolcott mountainside.

Yet Budbill knows he’s not a Chinese hermit. In fact, he says so explicitly in one of his current poems:

"I’m
not the mountain recluse I pretend to be," he writes, admitting happily
that he has a wife and a daughter, and, tragically, a son now dead.

There
are, to be sure, echoes of Chinese poetry in the poetry of David
Budbill. Exploring them gives his poetry literary depth. The ancients
wrote often about the passing of the seasons, the sadness of growing
older, the melancholy beauty of fall. And those, too, are themes for
David Budbill.

But actually, in the new book, "Happy Life,"
David Budbill pretty much sets aside the transparent disguise of
Judevine Mountain and writes as himself. The poems are as clear, as
crisp and direct as ever, perhaps even more so, now that the literary
device has been all but cast aside. They are not Chinese poems; they are
Vermont poems, deep and true…

Here’s a short piece entitled, "Everything," that will give you a taste of Budbill’s current work:

Milkweed pods

crack open

seeds dishevel, fall…

Everything

sweeter and

more fragile

now

In
the context of this book, which includes several poems on aging, that
"everything" obviously includes the poet himself. It doesn’t have to be
said to be expressed.

Such echoes and resonances in his poems
deepen them and give them universal meaning. Often they are laced with a
sharp, self-deprecating wit, as in the poem "On looking at a picture of
Himself," in which Budbill says – as many older men have said upon
seeing themselves in photographs or, perhaps in the mirror in the
morning:

"Who is that old guy standing in front of my woodpile?

How come he’s got my overalls and chaps, and my

hardhat on?…"

In
other poems, he builds a fire in the woodstove on a winter morning,
drinks a cup of tea in the afternoon, works in the woods in the fall, or
in his garden in summer, walks with his dog, sees a new house, with all
its new promise being built across the valley, savors the seasons and
enjoys the fleeting beauty of this beautiful world. He worries about
growing older, as we all do, and treasures the fragile beauty of early
spring, as many Vermonters surely do.

Though he’s pretty much
given up his mask as an ancient Chinese sage, these simple, universal
concerns still link him to the common humanity those older poems
express. And the poems in his new book, Happy Life, full of sharp
observation and deep wit, continue to give us truths about life in this
chilly part of the world in words as crisp and clear as a mountain trout
stream.

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