Introducing Poet's Walk

By Linda Buckmaster | Jan 15, 2021

Way back in October 2018, another lifetime ago, the annual Belfast Poetry Festival offered the first “Harbor. Poetry. Walk.” This event featured nine Midcoast and beyond poets, plus the director of the Belfast Museum, Meagan Pinette, for a stroll along the harbor from the Memorial Bridge to the Boathouse.

It was a dazzling day, but blustery for October, and at every stop, we did the best we could to get a bit of shelter and speak up to be heard above the wind before it stole our words away. I like to think the poetry flew around the harbor that day as our audience of 40 fellow walkers followed along from place to place.

I thought a fitting way to begin this new column, “Poet's Walk,” was to feature some of those poems. In future columns, I will present other Maine poets, contemporary and historical. I hope to make the poems I choose accessible to a wide audience.

Along the harbor walk, we stopped at various pre-planned places to hear from Megan tidbits of Belfast history and a poem that reflected something about the atmosphere of that spot. The poems aren’t necessarily about that particular stop or even Belfast history, but rather celebrate the familiar landscape, both natural and cultural, you can find most places along Maine’s jagged 3,478 miles of coastline. A good poem frequently has specificity — grounded in particular place names, plants, local haunts, a specific moment in time, maybe people — and expands into something larger.

Thomas Moore was Belfast poet laureate from 2016 to 2018. His poem, “Crossing Belfast Harbor Bridge,” has both specificity and expansion of the larger concerns of us humans. In the poem, it’s 5 a.m., a time I know Tom often frequents the bridge, a quiet time with the sun spreading a Turkish carpet across the water. We know he can see Turtle Head from the bridge and he imagines the sun coloring other harbors Downeast.

Although Tom makes very specific mention of Belfast haunts, the poem is not really about the city. It is about the narrator, the “I” of the poem (who, incidentally, isn’t always the author — more on that in later columns). This narrator muses on his own dark inclinations — will I jump? And he tells us in the last couplet that he’s there for his own needs, the “emptying out,” like the tide, of what we don’t know, but we can tell by his choice of words such as “reek” and “cold, close sea” that something other than sunrise is on his mind.

Crossing Belfast Harbor Bridge

It’s five a. m., dead low tide. A jogger’s glowing

heels jiggle like fireflies across the flats, and

 

a red Turkish kilim spreads over Turtle

Head, Dice Head, and Eastport beyond. Gulls

 

rise with mussels to smash on the rocks.

One heron strikes a pose. I glance behind,

 

shadows flickering — Is someone following? —

and peer down wondering if I might jump

 

onto that dank bottom, jacket clanging

in the sudden upward slam of air. An empty

 

semi rumbles past. Spires of potato steam

rise like genies from the blancher at Penobscot

 

McCrum making Jo-Jo Wedges, Twice Baked,

and Easy Prep Naturals, the early crew

 

on coffee break at the top of the stairs.

At the Front Street Shipyard the captains have

 

deserted the yachts and the boats have crept

closer to shore. An eighty-foot sloop is poised

 

on the travel-lift slings. Rollie’s Bar and Grill

is closed and Traci’s Diner hasn’t opened yet.

 

I am here for the emptying out, for the reek

of seaweed by the cold, close sea.

 

Poet's Walk is not taking submissions of poems at this time.

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