The People’s Poet
Tribute to David Budbill, the People’s Poet
Burlington Book Festival
September 16, 2016
Thank you for inviting me to introduce my poet-friend of 45 years as he receives this richly deserved tribute. I raise my voice so it may reach David on Murray Hill in Montpelier.
When I speak David’s name I want to say in one loving breath “David and Lois.” They came to northern Vermont over four decades ago and found their true home, taking many kinds of jobs — from logger to teacher — to hold life together and to live with integrity, raising Nadine, writing, and making art.
David declares he wants his poems to be simple. But simple does not mean superficial; David’s poems are subtle — they go deep. He wants people who do not sit around talking about anaphora or anapests or spondees or radical enjambment to read and enjoy them. They do. Witness how many times a Budbill poem has been selected by Garrison Keillor to read on the Writers’ Almanac. It must be some kind of a record!
David sought to combine the contemplative sensibility of the ancient Chinese poets with the hardscrabble life of working Vermonters. In his fictional world of Judevine Mountain, he succeeded in recognizing and giving people — those who do not often live in literature — unique and unforgettable voices. In other works, he celebrates the seasonal, harsh, beautiful isolation of that world. We then see it as he says it: “Ninety days is what we get/ just ninety days of frost free weather….got to get outside and get together.”
David has been equally attuned to the fight for civil rights, to the attractions of urban diversity, to the pulse of jazz. His poems are scripts and scores for our lives.
David, most worldly mountain poet, we honor you tonight.
To conclude, a haiku for David:
The mountain sage now
lives and thinks on Murray Hill:
Our People’s Poet.
— Ellen McCulloch-Lovell
— photo by Joe Desrosiers