Clemente’s Poetry at Whitman Birthplace Sun 10/14/07

Vince Clemente Honored and Reads This Sunday

Think of Walt Whitman and you are talking about Vince Clemente. It works the other way. You are reading one of Vince Clemente’s books (“Snow Owl Above Stony Brook Harbor,” “Sweeter than Vivaldi,” “A Place for Lost Children,” etc) and you are suddenly thinking — here is a “child” of Walt Whitman, there being many considering themselves the sons and daughters of the Great Bard: William Heyen, Galway Kinnel, Sharon Olds, William Stafford. Clemente and Whitman were both born on Long Island, both Brooklynites, both nurtured by what they call Paumank, their minds and spirits gifted with the feelings one draws from a place on earth that they love. People will experience all this richness of language and tenderness of feeling when Mr. Clemente receives the Long Island School of Poetry, Poet of the Year Award from the Walt Whitman Birthplace Association, at the Birthplace’s Interpretive Center in West Hills at 3 P.M., this Sunday, October 14. 

 Recently, my oft-delivered remark goes as follows: “Our nationally famous poets are excellent. They write as well as the Long Island poets.” Though there is an edge of humor about this, I believe it. Too long there has been an assumed hierarchy of quality that nationally known artists are better and that is why they are “famous” – that is, known throughout the country and even abroad. Well, this is a miss-assumption. The well known  regionally, but not so well known nationally, are evenly as excellent — and can be more excellent.

Example: Me. Vince Clemente of Sag Harbor whose latest book is  Under a Baleful Star: A Garland for Margaret Fuller, poetry of extraordinarily lovely language involving the 19th Century author and women’s leader and friend of Thoreau, Emerson, etc. Fuller was lost with her husband and son when the vessel, “Elizabeth” aboard which they were returning from Italy shipwrecked off Fire Island in 1850. Mr. Clemente in his introduction says “this volume is an ongoing ˜conversation” with one, once described by literary historian Van Wyck Brooks as, ˜Not so much a great woman writer, as a great woman writing. . .”

Contemporary American poetry is greatly characterized by superb language and Me. Clemente is one of those poets (nationally and regionally) demonstrating this attribute in all his books as well as his latest:  “Dawn, a russet wingbar/ across the lake” (V. at Mackinaw Island):

XXII. The Elizabeth Off Fire Island

The lifeboat from Fire Island Light
retreated, beaten back by waves
now dune-high

The howitzer sling fell short.
off by 20 rods, it tumbled
like a broadbill rent by buckshot.

Then a woman sighed:
Dear God, please
don’t let us die!

We saw the Elizabeth split,
tunneled by marble cargo
ploughing its side,

like a bone piercing a wound,
a child torn to pieces
by a lunatic, escaped from an asylum.

Vince Clemente
Under a Baleful Star

This will be a movingly beautiful and meaningful reading, Mr. Clemente’s voice radiating from his love for Long Island and his transitional remarks elegant and insightful. Vince Clemente, mentor to many poets on Long Island, icon for all, deserves a full house.

Maxwell Corydon Wheat, Jr.
Poet Laureate
Nassau County

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