Friday, June 28, 2013

Q&A with Mimi White.

(Schoodic Peninsula, Acadia National Park, Maine, USA.)

I recently had the great pleasure of meeting New Hampshire poet Mimi White. Her poems and activism on behalf of the natural world are exceptionally inspiring, both for their attention to the details of a rural life in New England and for their far-reaching vision. No wonder that Mimi’s poetry collection, The Last Island, won the 2009-2011 Jane Kenyon Award For Outstanding Poetry. She’s also published two chapbooks, one of which was selected by Robert Creeley as the winner of the 2000 Philbrick Award.  Mimi has taught at several universities and was poet laureate of Portsmouth, N.H. And on the direct activism side of the equation, she was also chair of the Rye, N.H. Energy Committee. She was also Artist in Residence at the Schoodic Peninsula of Acadia National Park in Maine.

Here are Mimi’s generous answers to a few of my questions, followed by two of her  luminous poems.

Marybeth: Tell us about the path have you walked to become the poet you are today.

Mimi: I grew up in suburban Boston with little access to anything one might call “wild”, but I was lucky enough to live around the corner from Crystal Lake which in the late 1940’s and early 50’s was still crystal-clear. There I learned to swim, ice skate ( the lake no longer freezes), and fish for all species of warm water fish including pickerel, sunfish, hornpout, and carp. I explored most of my neighborhood and beyond on foot. I think these early explorations set me on a path of inquiry into what else the world might offer in the way of a less tamed universe. Later, when I was in my early teens, I went to Camp Blazing Trail in Denmark, Maine. There I fell in love with the wilds of western Maine. This all girls camp was a training ground for learning how to live in the wilderness. We felled small trees with axes ( I did get a rather nasty cut.), built fires, cooked and baked over an open flame, created hiking trails, learned how to navigate white water in our large canvass covered canoes, and hiked several mountains, including Mt. Katahdin, the tallest mountain in Maine. I was just beginning to develop my reading life and it was at camp that I declared myself a Transcendentalist.

Marybeth:  Ah, you and Thoreau. How does the natural world inspire and inform your creative work?

Mimi: I live on a small farm, 11 acres, in a small NH seacoast town. The land informed me and created the avid gardener and orchardist, really my husband tends the fruit trees. Over the years I have walked thousands of miles back and forth to the harbor with a dog always in the lead. I have weeded, pruned, planted, harvested, canned and tended. Maybe it is the tending that connects to writing poems. I started writing poems at about the same time we bought this home and the two have always been entwined. A few years after we bought the farmhouse we bought an island home on a lake in Western Maine, my old camping stomping ground. Both the island and the farm stimulate my imagination, root me in place, and give my writing a true sense of home.

Marybeth:  What do you do to keep that inspiration alive and flowing?

Mimi: Walking and swimming make me happy and keep me sane in a world that often feels foreign and unfamiliar, snowless winters, shrubs flowering in January.

I once read that what the world needs is more people who feel alive—to find the thing that does that for you and do it. Walking, swimming, and writing make me feel most alive—they feed off of and nurture each other.

Marybeth: How does your love of nature and your creative work intersect with advocacy?

Mimi: Of course I am saddened and shocked by our changing climate. And that we are responsible for these drastic changes—that we may take so many species with us as we destroy where we live— is almost beyond comprehension. About 7 years ago my husband and I started the Rye Energy Committee—its mission is to educate town residents about climate change and what actions they might take to lessen its effects. I worked five years on that effort until I knew the committee was self-sustaining and then I resigned. Poetry??? I had so little time to address that issue in my poetry when I was working on the committee, yet I kept writing. Now, when I look back on what I wrote, I see I was struggling to make sense of the world I was living in. Birds, orchards, bats, dogs, my daily walking, trees—I recorded in my poems the land as I knew it. I think I was trying to save it as if it were a snapshot or memoir in brief lines.

Marybeth: How do you see the role of artist in advocating for nature? What unique ways of thinking and acting does an artist bring to the task?

Mimi: The poet lives in two worlds---the one we see with our eyes open, the one we see with our eyes closed. Both carry the freight of being human. Poets and other artists ask questions—we have no answers. Only inquiry and passion will lead in an uncertain future.

I designed art/energy projects when I was on the energy committee. The first project was called The Wash Day Project. The goal was to get people in Rye to forgo their dryers for the clothesline. The act of hanging out laundry is deliberate—one small step to reduce one’s carbon footprint lead to other steps—all working toward the same goal. Artists then painted these lovely clotheslines. The project culminated in an art show and talk at the local science center where we addressed climate change and what actions we could all take to curb its impact. Art transforms behavior—it is not all science and numbers.

And now? After 40 years of living on this farm we are buying land in southern coastal Maine and building a zero net energy home. It is time to live as consciously as we can about how we live—to leave a legacy for our children—a home that will require almost no fossil fuel, that might have a charging station for an electric/hybrid vehicle, that will use the sun to power our needs. We will continue to grow as much food as we can, to support our local farms and fisheries and I will continue to write poems.



I had not thought the body

would be a hill

that I would need to climb every day

the table set for a stranger

even the spoons restless fidgety

cereal waiting for someone else

yet the fridge humming

the view to the orchard

known since childhood

Once a snake frightened a friend

who stopped by to visit

a small coil of happiness

sunning by the back door

but I was not there

to hear her scream

nor to tell her

they mean no harm

My oldest friend befriended snakes

in his garden

touched lightly

his skin to theirs

I had thought their hiss

the switch

that  turned on the sun

or best

the moon

like the one that rose over the hill

and I ate it whole.


What the Wind Says

for David Carroll

There is no sadness
when wind topples a pine
and leaves a hole for light to find
and darkness, too,

just the letting go
of boughs across the century,

then the long, green return.

The mind inhabits,
slowly, methodically - -
birdsong, shelter.

But imagine an emptiness so vast,
no forest, field, or rabbit hole;
no warren, den, or hollow log;

no voice in the wilderness,

who then will scribe for the wind
when the wind has nothing to say
and no place to go?


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A.R. Ammons.

I look for the forms
things want to come as

Two brief lines from the poet A.R. Ammons.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

WOLF: The Winners.

And the winners are... Carol Hult and Anonymous! So - if you two could send me your physical addresses, I'll get the book mailed to you. And the rest of you who commented, please send your email address to me at, and I'll get Jeff to send you the PDF.

Feel free to send that PDF, or any of the pieces in the book, out to whomever you'd like, especially anyone you know who might help effect change in how we "manage" and view wild wolves. We've got a very long way to go.