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Slayton: State of Mind

11/08/10 7:55AM By Tom Slayton
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(HOST) Commentator Tom Slayton has been thinking about why the Green Mountains seem to invite - and enhance - creativity.

(SLAYTON) Over the last 50 years, Vermont has become a haven for artists, writers, and other creative people - basically, a haven for the life of the mind.

Why is that? A recent interview with the poet Galway Kinnell - and other talks with prominent artists and writers over the years - offer a few suggestions. Artists often say they are here because Vermont is beautiful, welcoming - and quiet. There is something about the open spaciousness of the Vermont countryside that nurtures creativity. And Vermonters, both native and imported, generally seem to share a wonderful characteristic invaluable to artists, writers, and other creative types, and that is - they leave you alone! They are friendly and there if you need them, but they allow you to pursue your work in peace.

Vermont is rural and small, and those two attributes have produced a working landscape and a resilient, pragmatic culture that somehow benefits creative work. There’s no real difference between Vermonters and rural people anywhere, but we’re pretty close-knit here, and it’s really hard to be grumpy to someone if you’re going to run into them downstreet tomorrow.

Another reason that Vermont has been attractive to creative types is that it is, relatively speaking, cheap. When Galway Kinnell came here some 40 years ago, looking for a plac to live, he simply drove northward until he found a place where the price of real estate matched his resources. In Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, he bought a house and land for $800. He still lives there.

Later, when he toured Vermont as the State Poet, he found that Vermonters not only wanted to hear his poetry - they wanted to show him theirs! There aren’t many places in this world where the local farmer or teacher could have their poetry critiqued by a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet.

Kinnell’s poetry has often been based on his affection for the Vermont countryside and his Vermont neighbors. And that poetry has, in turn, deepened our understanding of what it means to be Vermonters - to be human beings, really. By connecting intimately with Vermont and Vermonters, Galway Kinnell has, like so many other Vermont artists, helped create our distinctive Vermont culture - as it, in turn, helped to create his poetry. It is an ongoing process, and Vermont as a place is a crucial part of it.

However, Vermont’s working landscape is now endangered. Some say it could be lost in our lifetime if we can’t find a way to save working forests and working farms.

I hope that suburban vistas and suburban values do not supplant our rural vistas and rural values. But that has already happened in many parts of Vermont.

My hope is that we will find ways to keep Vermont farmers and woodsmen on the land, doing real work. Then, the inspired insight that can come from the creative mind interacting with a distinctive place will go on, and Vermont in years to come can continue to be a green oasis for the life of the mind - and the life of the land.
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