Stephen Cramer is the author of Shiva’s Drum, a National Poetry Series winner. He teaches in the creative writing program at Johnson State College in Johnson, Vermont. His new book, Tongue & Groove, will be published by the University of Illinois press in November 2007.
Two years agoâ€”and since I wrote Tongue & Grooveâ€”my wife, Joanna, and I moved from New York City to Burlington, Vermont. We were absolutely thrilled by our new surroundings: we could kayak on the lake a few blocks away or hike any of the numerous mountains that were visible from our apartment. But because in my first two books I’d gleaned the bulk of my images and metaphors from the city, during the first few months in New England writing came slowly.
One of the first poems I worked onâ€”and this was a good six months after the moveâ€”was about Champ, the lake monster that inhabits Lake Champlain. The strange new subject matter was thrilling for me. I began to write about all kinds of news stories (about loggers, for instance) and historical events (the launching of Voyager), things which, for some reason, I wouldn’t have in the city. I found that the move freed me from what I thought I was supposed to write about and opened up my poetry, exactly the opposite of what I’d expected.
My body was affected by the move as well. My breathing slowed, and I could feel my shoulders drop. Poetry, I’ve always believed, but could never, until now, prove, takes cue from your musculature. So my poems were relaxing a bit too, both in their syntax and their diction. I played with the idea of changing some of the more recent poems that I’d written in the city, but it was too late; they’d already gone to print. I take comfort in the fact that they reflect who I was at the time of writing, and leave behind a record of who I was.