“It’s Been a Great Honor
. . . and pleasure to serve as the eighth poet laureate of Vermont. I have especially enjoyed working without a prescribed job description, undertaking projects of my own design.” So said Chard deNiord reflecting on his four-year term that ends in November.
His activities testify to his commitment to the service of poetry. Over the past four years, he has given readings at schools and community venues throughout Vermont, led workshops, judged poetry competitions, taken part in Poem City events, headed and participated in Writers Resist readings in Vermont and New York, interviewed Vermont poets on BCTV and at the Next Stage Arts Project in Putney, hosted readings for emerging poets, taught full-time as a professor of English and creative writing at Providence College, served on a committee for the Brattleboro Literary Festival, collaborated on projects with sculptors Nancy Winship Milliken, Rod Nava, and Greg Gomez, served as the keynote poet at the Feverish World Symposium, and helped to establish the Ruth Stone Foundation. He also composed a chapbook of poems for the Green Mountain Orchard dance pageant, wrote bimonthly articles for the Brattleboro Reformer and Valley News, published his work in such journals as The Kenyon Review, AGNI, Plume, Poetry, The New York Times Magazine, The Gettysburg Review, Poetry International, The Harvard Review, and The Southern Review, and completed his sixth book of poetry titled In My Unknowing, which the University of Pittsburgh Press will publish in 2020.
Balancing the Load
In addition to those activities and projects, deNiord has published three books since becoming poet laureate—an anthology of Vermont poets he co-edited with Syd Lea, his predecessor, titled Roads Taken: Contemporary Vermont Poets, a book of interviews with ten eminent American poets—Natasha Trethewey, Carolyn Forché, Galway Kinnell, Martín Espada, Jane Hirshfield, Peter Everwine, Stephen Sandy, Ed Ochester, Stephen Kuusisto, and James Wright’s widow Anne—titled I Would Lie To You If I Could, and a book of poetry titled Interstate. Chard started interviewing poets in 2004 when he was directing the New England College MFA program. Such poets as Galway Kinnell, Maxine Kumin, Donald Hall, and Jack Gilbert visited the program as either faculty or guests. In addition to these poets, he also included Lucille Clifton, Robert Bly, Philip Levine, and Ruth Stone.
Chard confesses he’s often hard-pressed to find a workable balance between teaching, writing, and fulfilling his duties as poet laureate. “I’m not the most organized person in the world,” he admits. “So I find it ironic sometimes that I get as much done as I actually do. My gratification as a poet lies in discovering something I had no idea I knew. I’ve come to believe in my muse as a mysterious presence who transports me at mostly inconvenient times to surprising new expression. I simply feel it’s up to me to record that expression, that poetry which, as Ruth Stone always used to say, the poet can’t take credit for.”
Chard is also involved with projects that extend beyond the page, one of which is a grant he’s applied for from the American Academy of Poets that would provide ample funds for improving diversity and inclusion throughout Vermont by enhancing programs that already exists at such organizations as the Sundog Poetry Center, the Vermont Studio Center, the Vermont Arts Council, Antidote Books, and the Next Stage Arts Project.
Joining a Long Legacy
Chard is humble in recognizing Vermont’s other poets laureate, describing them as “of a caliber that exceeds most other states.” Observing that Vermont has been home to wonderful contemporary poets for over seven decades—including such treasures as Robert Frost, Galway Kinnell, Grace Paley, Louise Gluck, Ellen Bryant Voigt, Ruth Stone, Jay Wright, Robert Penn Warren, Hayden Carruth, Sydney Lea, and David Budbill, along with several others—he credits Vermont’s “fierce history of independence and ingenuity, its heavenly landscape, it’s poetic legacy, and what Galway Kinnell called its ‘silence’” as distinguishing features of its enduring character. He further notes that “the poets laureate in Vermont have always had a national reputation as well as a local one, following Frost’s criterion for himself, namely “to keep one foot in Vermont and the other in the nation.”
Our eighth poet laureate made his own contribution to the state’s traditions. He recalls his response when asked what he wanted to do in this position at the start of his tenure as poet laureate. It was: “To be an effective ambassador for poetry.” Chard deNiord, we thank you for being exactly that.