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January 24, 2014

Vermont poet laureate reads at Salem State

Sydney Lea, poet laureate of Vermont, will read from his work at Salem State’s Ellison Campus Center next Thursday at 7:30 p.m.

In addition to writing poetry, which has appeared in 10 volumes that include last year’s “I Was Thinking of Beauty,” he has also written a novel and several volumes of essays and criticism.

“I’ve been reading the book of essays he wrote with this other poet, Fleda Brown — ‘Growing Old in Poetry,’” said J.D. Scrimgeour, professor of English at Salem State. “It is really interesting. You get a sense of the distinctness of his life.”

Lea writes about life in the woods of New England and often reflects on the experience of hunting.

“In that sense, he’s kind of an unusual figure, although there is a tradition of writers like that, connected to the gamesman’s life,” Scrimgeour said. “His writing is very humane, and it’s like you’re in a conversation with a really smart, unpretentious person.”

Lea’s latest work of nonfiction, “A North Country Life: Tales of Woodsmen, Waters and Wildlife” from 2013, recalls storytelling traditions from Maine.

“That relish for language spills over into all the poetry books I have written,” Lea said in an interview with the radio program “Write the Book,” which is posted at his publisher’s website, fourwaybooks.com.

But those oral traditions are threatened with extinction in our digital age, he said, and certain forms of literature may disappear with them.

“I’m not trying to be nostalgic, or trying to diminish the importance or perhaps the fruitfulness of this technological revolution, but I think ... that the kind of writing that I do, particularly lyrical poetry, might be in the eve of its existence,” Lea said.

Scrimgeour was impressed by Lea’s discussion of the value of art in a blog post on his website, sydneylea.net, titled “On ‘Cultural Studies.’”

“He’s addressing the fact there is a strain of literary criticism now that isn’t at all interested in the aesthetic and is all about how literature is produced to impress people, and that the idea of beauty is a way to manipulate and subjugate people,” Scrimgeour said. “He’s arguing in favor of beauty.”

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