Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Robert Collén on "The Town and the River"

The following comments (by the author) about "The Town and the River" were recently added to our site's Virtual Gallery.  The poem itself is here.

by Robert Collén, July 10, 2010
The poem, “The Town and the River,” grew out of a slideshow I had been presenting to groups in Orange and Athol in the early 1990s. The photographs and commentary focused primarily on the Millers River as the organizing feature of the landscape, and secondarily on the architecture and layout of the town.

A few years later, as I was reviewing the notes, I found myself writing a poem about the town and the river that flows through the center. After innumerable drafts, I read it to Marcia Gagliardi, who immediately suggested that Haleys publish it as a booklet.

Not long after the poem was published, my good friend and next-door neighbor, Ralph Henley, came to the house, holding a large painting he called “Millers River Sunrise.” Cynthia Henley included the painting and the poem in the May 16, 2010 exhibit of her father’s work. Whenever I look at it, I think of Robert Frost’s lines from his poem, “A Tuft of Flowers”:  

‘Men work together,’ I told him from the heart, 
Whether they work together or apart.

Haleys published a tenth anniversary edition in 2003. Anne Williamson, who was then Wheeler Memorial Library Director, put this version on-line in the library’s virtual gallery. The current Library Director, Walt Owens, permanently maintains the poem on the site.

In the poem, I mythologize my Nordic passion for birch trees and my fascination with the Millers River. Other themes deal with classical influences on the architecture of the town, the devastating consequences of the Great War (1914-1919) with which we are still living, my homage to Walt Whitman, and the railroad as a symbol of our restlessness and our longing to return home.

Like Henry David Thoreau, “I have never got over my surprise that I should have been born into the most estimable place in the world, and in the very nick of time, too.”

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