I am a Vermont Artist: LN Bethea
LN Bethea is a poet, an arts activist, and a Silo Sister. This is what she says about being an artist in Vermont.
How has living as an artist in Vermont affected your creative process?
Let me be clear, Vermont not only changed the course of my art, it altered the trajectory of my life. I was like a sightseeing tourist dutifully following my GPS straight into Lake Champlain. I never saw it coming!
I first came to Vermont over thirty years ago. I was as green as its mountains. The only thing I knew about Vermont was it was the whitest state in America. That fact terrified me as a black girl coming from North Carolina. During that summer I fell in love with Vermont and completely fell in love with one of her native sons, a beautiful boy. My life has never been the same. I was strong willed before coming to Vermont. The love I discovered here made me fierce. I took my new self out into the world. Passion poured into my work.
After about ten years of living, loving, and making art, my now Magnetic Man and I returned to Vermont. Here a home has been made, children have been raised, and a new relationship to my creative side has been discovered. At a certain level, art–whether visual, performance, or literary–becomes a business. Often business begins to shape the nature of art. The artist is made to consider what will sell and what does the audience want. Living in Vermont has freed me from those limitations. I write and perform my poetry according to who I am and nothing more.
Through fully being myself, I’ve discovered a community of truly unique individuals, the Cambridge Arts Council. We bring poetry, music, and art to our small corner. With a Vermont Arts Council Animating Infrastructure Grant, we painted the silos in Jeffersonville, announcing to the world “We are here!”
Being a black spoken word poet in one of the whitest states in America has freed me from trying to get it right in order to fit in. No matter what I do, I will never be like the others. I might as well be myself.
What is something about your art that has changed over time?
In my teens and twenties, I wanted to change the world on a grand scale. I had visions of using my craft, my voice, in an impactful way. I was working in NYC, surrounded by up and coming artists and the possibilities were endless.
One day I had an epiphany. My art was like a pebble cast into an ocean’s crashing waves. The results of all of my creative energies were lost, even to me. Gathering my life I moved to a quiet place, Vermont. Ignoring the outside world, I began to tend my own garden, literally and figuratively. For years, I poured all my creative expression into how I lived. Eventually I began to gather pebbles, putting them in my pockets. Before a prized pebble could become a burden, I cast it into a puddle–speaking my poems to the trees. Puddles became pools which became ponds. Now, I enjoy occasionally casting into lakes and watching the ripples swell and fade. In my fifties I’m still trying to change the world. I’m just doing it one mind at a time.
What is your vision for the next several years?
Only recently have I been able to wear the mantel of poet without cringing. Poets are people with books. Poets went through years of training in their craft. Poets are those people gifted with heightened senses which allow them to experience the world more clearly. I claim none of these. Yet, the words write themselves in my head and only quiet when I give them voice.
My hope for the future is to give them a home outside myself. A book is the traditional home for poems. My poetry doesn’t look comfortable on the page. Familiar formatting and fonts are confining. As soon as my spoken word poetry is written, it simply becomes words. Perhaps, YouTube is the way to go. Creating a channel, recording my poems.
While I’m content with my poetry only being heard by the few within the reach of my voice, these are troubling times. Throughout history artists have brought light in the darkness. Art changes the world by giving voice to the silenced. Using technology as my megaphone, I will once again be casting my pebbles into the crashing ocean while hopefully maintaining the illusion of my puddles here in Vermont.
The “I am a Vermont Artist” series explores how artists’ creative expressions reflect their experiences of ethnicity, gender identity, religion, disability, or age. Covering all artistic disciplines, and a range of backgrounds—from New Americans to the state’s first residents—we hope to amplify voices that deepen our understanding of what it means to be a Vermont artist.