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Telling stories in verse

Poet’s ode to Mount Monadnock

  • Edie Clark, a longtime writer out of the Monadnock Region, recently published a new edition of her narrative poetry, "Monadnock Tales."
  • Edie Clark, a longtime writer out of the Monadnock Region, recently published a new edition of her narrative poetry, "Monadnock Tales."
  • Edie Clark, a longtime writer out of the Monadnock Region, recently published a new edition of her narrative poetry, "Monadnock Tales."

“If that mountain

were a town,

in that town

would live

painters and writers,

farmers and hikers,

dancers and fiddlers,

and

lovers,

their stories

written on the walls.”

So goes one of the first stanzas of “Monadnock Tales,” a book of narrative poetry by local writer Edie Clark.

In a series of 11 poems about Mount Monadnock, Clark tells some of those stories, those that are etched through generations of social, environmental and technological change, into the side of the mountain.

At one point, Clark talks about the 19th-century fire that burnt the top of the mountain bald, and at another she tells of the woman and toy poodles who stayed in the now-gone Halfway House and handed out warm sweaters to hikers. No story is too strange, old or obscure for Clark to share in her poem. They’re as varied and as intriguing as all the visitors that climb the most-hiked mountain in North America.

In the last lines of her first poem, Clark tells us:

“Mother of lore,

your stories

are told now.

We listen.”

Clark has been telling stories in the Monadnock region for over 30 years. She has been a writer and editor for Yankee Magazine since 1973, and she has also taught writing at several area colleges, including Franklin Pierce University. She now resides in Harrisville, where she bought a farm looking out at the mountain 16 years ago. On clear days and with an average pair of binoculars, Clark said it’s possible to see people dotting the mountain.

Clark had only lived within sight of the mountain for two years, though she knew it well from many childhood hikes, when she set out to write about Mount Monadnock in a collaborative project with local composer Larry Siegel. When asked why she and Siegel chose the mountain as their subject, Clark said in a recent interview in her Harrisville home, “It’s something everyone focuses on. It’s ours and we love it.” She later added, “I think it has broad reach to people. It’s accessible.”

Using the Mount Monadnock as their subject and muse, the pair prepared a 45-minute-long piece of poetry set to music. Clark described the musical component as ranging from country reels to symphonic, largely orchestrated movements. There’s even some rapping at one point. “I love the music,” she said.

The form of Clark’s poetry is lyrical and yet logical, its steady, consistent form allows the reader to access the rhythm of the mountain’s continuous solid presence throughout the years. Rather than burden the reader with immense interpretation, Clark chooses to let the mountain’s histories bear the weight of significance, letting her readers in on the story. “Communication is the bottom line,” she said.

Clark and Siegel’s piece was first performed in May 2002 at the Colonial Theater in Keene, and has since been put on six or seven times. “I’d love to see it performed more often,” Clark said.

Because of time constraints, not all of the poetry Clark wrote for the piece is included in the performance. Clark wanted to provide a pamphlet for performance-goers in 2002, “just so they could have the words,” she said. The pamphlet turned into the book “Monadnock Tales” at Peterborough designer Jill Shaffer’s suggestion, which sold well at the first performance. “It’s been selling ever since,” Clark said.

The newest edition of the book, which was available for purchase starting several weeks ago, includes not only the unabridged poems from the collaborative performance, but a brand new cover, a painting of the view from Clark’s window done by Dublin artist Georgia Seaver Fletcher.

The new edition also has two brand new poems that Clark wrote this fall.

Like a returning hiker looking for new trails, Clark forged on, telling new stories about the mountain in the new edition. One of the new poems, called “Ashes to Ashes,” speaks of all that remains on the mountain, all the pieces of people from the past that present travelers come in touch with as they make their way up the slope. These people include Abbott Thayer (1849-1921), a treasured local artist, naturalist and teacher who grew up around Mount Monadnock and whose ashes were left on the mountain in a cave. For a long time, only several people knew of the ashes’ location and would make pilgrimages to pay their respects, but then one day, a stranger used the urn to make some tea, in ignorance of its contents. Of this, Clark wrote, “Poof. The magic ended.”

Clark asks her readers to remember those who came before, even if they’re no longer visible or heard.

“When you make your trek

think of the ashes deep

and the many souls beneath your feet

that silently sing the

mountain’s sacred hymn

of birth, rebirth, and resurrections.”

It is Clark’s suggestion of the mountain and its visitors’ enduring presence that she communicates throughout her poems. As a journalist, Clark researched heavily in local libraries and through local people to find a multitude of perspectives and facts to share in her poems, revealing Mount Monadnock’s steady significance.

In a recent interview, Clark described the mountain as a part of this special community, where people are connected and caring for their towns. “We have a love for our place,” she said.

And for Clark, this love is strengthened through storytelling. “Stories assure us that we live in a beautiful place and that’s not going to change,” she said. “We have this wonderful, untouched mountain and it’s a great gift that I think we should celebrate.”

As Clark wrote,

“Even with

your changing

face,

you endure

all change.

All change.

We are,

all of us,

pilgrims

in need

of you.

We all drink from you.

And rejoice.”

To learn more about Edie Clark and her writings, see www.edieclark.com.

Elodie can be reached by phone at 924-7172 ext. 228, or by email at ereed@ledgertranscript.com. Elodie is also on Twitter @elodie_reed.

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