Seriously, what could be a funnier title than Robert Frost’s Answering Machine? by Daniel Waters (Indian Hill Press, $15). The West Tisbury wit-man, known far and wide as D.A.W., has been posting his quatrains in The Vineyard Gazette, Yankee Magazine, and on N.P.R. When we hear his doleful voice – Disney could cast him as Eeyore in the Winnnie the Pooh cartoons — reading his own hilarious, too-true verbal apecues on the air, we pat down our desks for a pen so we can share the ditty with friends.
Like this one entitled Cricket
We understand why crickets croon
In praise of life, the stars,
the moon . . .
But what could possibly inspire
The one behind our
Mr. Waters published his first poems in 1982 when he worked as a typesetter for the Vineyard Gazette, and cheerfully dashed off short verses to help the layout department fill in leftover inches, according to the poet “serving as typographical grout between news stories and advertisements.” The quatrains were an instant hit and, more than grout, became another inducement to plunk down the appropriate coins for the newspaper.
Before long people were pestering the poet to publish his quatrains in a book. At last, decades and hundreds of poems later, Mr. Waters has obliged with a first installment. He writes in his preface, “If you’re one of those readers who died of old age before it got published, I apologize.”
The Poet Laureate of West Tisbury has published several chapbooks of more serious (but still rhyming!) poetry: Quirks of Nature, 1997, Needing Winter, 2005, and Remembering The Islander and Other Vineyard Poems, 2007. This first volume of the fun stuff is adorned with Mr. Waters’s striking linoleum-block designs, and printed on the antique machines of his beloved Indian Hill Press.
And now, the poem that inspired the title, Robert Frost’s Answering Machine:
Your call’s important; thanks a heap,
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep,
So leave your message at the beep.
Extensively published poet Warren Woessner, who lives in Minneapolis and has a home on Meetinghouse Way in Edgartown, is also a chemist and an attorney, so if the latter two professions go down the tube, he can always fall back on being a successful poet (sorry for the little joke about poets earning a living, but in Mr. Woessner’s case this could very well obtain).
In his new and selected poems from 1987-2007, Clear All the Rest of the Way (The Backwaters Press, $15), Woessner weaves a spell with reflections on years spent in Manhattan, in Alaska, and all points of the compass throughout the U.S., giving the collection the feel of a road trip composed of shadows and light and crystallized moments of sudden insight. Some involve the Island. In a poem called Alberto, Woessner writes: “The Captain let us stand / on the starboard bridge / and scan a jagged range. / Shearwaters skimmed the peaks / while storm petrels hunted valleys / that slowly filled with gold.”
In Squibnocket Beach he writes, “Hard rattle of granite / shaken by waves — / ball mill miles long / making sand.”
In poems for other locales, melancholy Edward Hopper shades filter through: In North Leeds, Wis., Woessner writes, “One year away and I forget they’re real, / the no-name bars / with no history but yours.” In Wales, Alaska he muses: “three plywood rooms perched / on the dunes with no thought / of the view. Tiny windows opaque / with salt and gray plastic film. / the bare bulbs burn all day. / The kerosene smells lethal.”
Woessner is, among his many other passions, an avid birder. Thus his poems are graced with images that bring his studied creatures to life: “Chickadee and siskin have songs / not too high to hear.” And “Thousands of blackbirds rose up / all at once, hung a second / caught in their own wind.” And “A couple of mergansers swam off, / heads up, trim.”
Poet Jonis Agree contributes this blurb to the back cover, “Woessner speaks with the authority of one who has spent his life in the world – rendering its simple, sometimes terrifying and complicated beauty by knowing the motions, the gestures, and small signals only the best poets observe and give back to us.” In this vein, it’s especially rewarding for us when a talented poet like Woessner gives back a precious corner of our own little Island, as in the poem entitled Burial Ground:
Winged skulls fly low
on ragged stones,
clustered like castaways
on a bar, tide rising.
Each year a few more fall,
sink beneath the sandy sod.
Now the yard is almost clear
of names but every plot is full.
Flickers pick up a feast of worms.
The grass stays green all year.
Artist and writer Edward Hewett has lived on the Vineyard for 35 years, and is largely known for his murals in the Chilmark and Vineyard Haven libraries, and for his painted wooden chests, held dear in numerous private collections. Now he turns his eye to cartoons — the cool, sophisticated, New Yorker-ish kind —in Extremebirding (Westmeadow Press, $12.95).
The title ‘toon shows a fusty, middle-aged man in a brimmed hat seated right alongside a miffed looking baby bird in the heights of an osprey nest — the kind we have all over the Island that resemble gigantic portobello mushrooms skewered by telephone-pole-sized toothpicks. No dialogue, just the caption “extremebirding.” It’s a form of extremesilliness of which more is needed in our modern world.
Another cartoon shows a group of youngsters thronging around a museum painting. The canvas depicts a single dot in the lower right hand corner and the teacher reads from a guidebook, “This was his Period period.” Another reveals a doctor addressing a woman seated across from him at his desk. A plant stalk topped with three straggly leaves grows from the top of her head: “I have your test results, Mrs. Knellder, and it seems that niacinamides, monoglycerides, riboflavin, guar gum and green dye #5 have combined in your case to make an avocado plant.”
Still another goes straight to the funny bone of us Islanders: Two women hob knob over the rail of a Camp Ground cottage replete with gingerbread trim, a flag thrusting from the second floor balcony, and flower pots strung from the eaves. The woman seated on the porch reveals, “We wanted it white with black trim but the neighbors flipped out.”
On the back cover, Vineyard artist Jules Feiffer’s endorsement reads, “Low-key, charming and civilized, these are cartoons out of a tradition that seems to have been misplaced over the past 30 years. In addition, Mr. Hewett can draw. What ever happened to that tradition?”
When you come right down to it, a charming and civilized volume of cartoons is every bit as pleasurable as sitting down to a box of chocolates. And the calories are nil.