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Slayton: Budbill's New Book

10/06/11 7:55AM By Tom Slayton
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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...


sweeter and

more fragile


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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