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VPR's coverage of arts and culture in the region.

Craven: Kinsey And Budbill

At the recent Burlington Book Festival, I looked over a selection of poetry for sale by Vermont writers, and a wave of sadness came over me when I spotted editions by Leland Kinsey and David Budbill. I’d just received word of Lee Kinsey’s passing and I knew that David’s impossible illness was worsening and that he’d entered hospice care. I was moved to think how much of themselves each of these gifted writers invested, into a fertile imagination of our place.

I met Lee Kinsey during the late 70’s - when he was working with Northeast Kingdom elementary school students. His light touch was just right, to stimulate children as young as six years old to find original and imaginative voices for their emerging views of the world. The Burklyn Arts Council produced a handsome letter press edition, which includes these students’ poems – and “After the Sun” remains on my shelf of most cherished books.

Other fine writers have crafted affecting poems rooted in Vermont - including Adrienne Rich, Galway Kinnell, Hayden Carruth, Ruth Stone, Robert Frost, and others. Kinsey, a seventh generation Vermonter, set richly evocative Northeast Kingdom scenes and he linked his nuanced sense of the natural world to simultaneously personal and universal feelings. He got inside working people’s life and his telling of French Canadians in “The Immigrant’s Experience,” reaches us in ways that might not be possible again.

Playwright, poet, jazzman, and activist David Budbill was a favorite of Garrison Keillor and his daily readings on the Writer’s Almanac. But David was a populist long before that.

Critic Thomas Disch wrote that Budbill’s poetry is “as accessible as a parking lot and as plain as a pair of Levis.’” Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Donald Hall wrote how Budbill “sees parts move in a unison - sometimes graceless, sometimes ugly, always resolved in a human wholeness.”

Budbill’s epic writing in “Judevine,” inspired probably the most popular and enduring play to ever come out of Vermont. But before it reached the wider world, Judevine toured to communities in every corner of our state. He inspired all who saw it to imagine themselves as actors and not spectators of their own time and place. It remains a monumental achievement of character and culture. And to the sense that our own lives are validated when this experience of place is rendered with such deeply felt insight, sensitivity, humor, and affection.

Jay Craven is a filmmaker who teaches at Sarah Lawrence College and directs Kingdom County Productions
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