Letter to the Community - 7/9 Update

Please click here to read an update to the Westminster community from Bill Philip.
Nineteen years ago, the English Department decided to enhance its already robust contemporary poetry curriculum by creating the Westminster Poetry Series. Every year, the department invites a major poet to visit Westminster for two or three days, usually in the spring. The entire school studies books of poems by the visiting poets, guaranteeing an especially knowledgeable audience, something all of the visiting writers have loved. A generous grant from former trustee Maureen Goldfarb and her daughter Kirsten Ford ’00 funds the series.
This year’s visiting poet — the 18th Westminster Poet — is Rennie McQuilkin. He lives in Simsbury right across the Farmington River from Williams Hill and will be on campus on Monday, April 16 and Tuesday, April 17. He will read to the entire school at 2:20 p.m. on Monday in the Werner Centennial Center. In addition, McQuilkin will be visiting with English classes during the academic day on Monday and Tuesday.
McQuilkin is currently in his second year as poet laureate for the State of Connecticut (he is also the poet laureate for the town of Simbury). He has long been a leading figure in the vibrant poetry scene in Connecticut. He was the founder and first director of the Hill-Stead Museum’s Sunken Garden Poetry Festival, one of the most successful poetry festivals in the country, and he is also the owner, editor and publisher of Antrim House Books, a small press devoted to publishing books by a wide variety of Connecticut poets, including former Westminster teacher Mollie Pilling and current Westminster teacher Michael Cervas.
McQuilkin is the author of 12 books of poems, and his poems have appeared in numerous magazines and journals, including Poetry, the Yale Review, and The American Scholar. He has received a lifetime achievement award from the Connecticut Center for the Book, and in 2010 his volume of new and collected poems “The Weathering” was awarded the center’s annual poetry prize under the aegis of the Library of Congress. McQuilkin began writing poems as a sixth grader at Allen Creek School in response to being kissed “on a dare” by a girl, and he’s been writing poems ever since.
The Irish poet Eamon Grennan has this to say about “The Weathering”: “Rennie McQuilkin offers poems of a grainy, poised, exacting honesty. There’s sort of Shaker furniture feel to their mix of plainness and grace. Grounded and unabashedly local as they are, these poems can yet be ‘at home in the sky’ and ‘in touch with everywhere,’ offering a deep reading of a truly examined life.”
According to poet Richard Wilbur, “Rennie McQuilkin’s poems are spare and accurate, and they have an unostentatious brilliance of structure, a seemingly offhand way of threading thought through their particulars.” Simple, honest, unpretentious, but surprisingly moving and profound, McQuillkin’s poems are easy to read and hard to forget.
Below are a few examples of his poems. The first poem turns an awkward encounter between a husband and a wife into a moment of rediscovered love. The second comes out of a scary experience McQuilkin had when he was teaching at Miss Porter’s School. And the third shows just how near to Westminster McQuilkin lives and lets all of us look forward to some more outdoor rock concerts on campus.

List of 3 items.


    It’s that time of year,
    the hedgerows hung with bittersweet.
    Potato time.

    How early the freeze, I’d say
    if we were speaking. We’re not.
    We turn our spading forks against

    the earth. It’s stiff,
    the Reds and Idahos hard as stone,
    a total loss.

    Once it was us against the beetles,
    blight, whatever was not potato.
    How they flowered, rows and rows

    in white. Now look.
    We give it one last try, and there
    far down in softer soil,

    a seam of them, still perfect.
    One after another
    we hold them up to the dying day,

    kneel down to sift for more. 
    In the dark of earth, I come upon
    your hand, you mine.

    for Kelly, my student

    Her turn had come. She knew
    by heart almost 
    the lines she was to speak
    but gave us, God help her,

    the truth
    beyond the lines,
    beyond the book she dropped,
    its pages thrashing to the floor
    like broken wings –

    the truth
    she beat her head upon,
    bit into so hard
    I could not pry her jaws,
    teeth grinding –

    the truth beyond us
    she saw as ever,
    her risen eyes gone white
    as bone.

    I did what I could,
    I held her and held her, seized
    with sudden love and knowing
    we all fall down.

    In the end
    I carried her curled in my arms
    across one threshold
    and another.

    I am too old. All the more reason to love,
    from a field, flood plain and river away,
    the syncopated cadence of the drums,
    ground of the bass, wordless wail of rock

    at the strobe-lit dance of a summer school
    on its bluff across the Farmington – love
    how the music comes, goes and comes again 
    in the currents of a cooling night,

    how it matches the fireflies sparking over
    the smartweed, vetch and ryegrass
    of a spring-fed field and among the small
    moon-struck willow leaves,

    the fireflies flashing like an amplifier’s 
    green golds, each of them a separate beat, 
    each signaling

    I am
    the one, and each one right – like the stars
    in that other dance overhead, whose fires
    flare up and fade and flare again..

Westminster School

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Westminster School is a private, coeducational boarding and day school for students in grades 9-12 and Postgraduate, located in Simsbury, Connecticut. The suburban New England campus is midway between New York City and Boston. In keeping with our support for a diverse community, Westminster abides by all applicable federal and state laws and does not discriminate on the basis of any protected characteristic, including race, color, religious creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, national origin, ancestry and/or disability.

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