Julia Shipley is the author of two poetry chapbooks, Herd and Planet Jr. Her manuscript, Adam's Mark: Writing from the Ox House, supported by a 2010-11 Vermont Arts Council Creation Grant is forthcoming from Plowboy Press. As both a professional writer and subsistence farmer she's intensely interested in the overlap and interplay between these two fields.
A native of suburban southeastern Pennsylvania, she spent part of her undergraduate degree in Environmental Education, traveling throughout the western United States with the Audubon Expedition Institute. During her twenties she migrated from farm to farm working for Community Supported Agriculture projects in the Northeast, and for the last decade she's tended the soils in Northeastern Vermont. Hence her work is often obsessively concerned with place, the fate of landscapes, agrarian ideals, and stories that track things from their germinations through their harvests and beyond.
A graduate of the Bennington MFA Writing Program and former Director of Writing Studies and Faculty in Humanities and Sustainable Agriculture at Sterling College, she now works as an independent journalist, teacher and caretaker of a writer's retreat, as well as growing and raising great food on Chickadee Farm in Craftsbury, VT.
Her poems and essays have appeared in Alimentum: the Literature of Food, Bloodroot, CutBank, FIELD, flyway, Fourth Genre, Hunger Mountain, Matter: Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Poetry East, The Salon, Terrain, and Whole Terrain.
Her articles can also be found in Seven Days, Burlington Free Press, Yankee, Vermont Life, Northern Woodlands, Small Farmers Journal, Vermont's Local Banquet, Stowe Guide, and Taproot.
A zealot [read: nutcase] about community newspapers, she's published regular columns about art, literature and place (Ten Sabbaths, Our Town, Our Other Towns and It Could Be Verse) in the Stowe Reporter, Cabot Chronicle, and Barton Chronicle respectively.
Some quirky and delightfully non traditional venues for her work have included being a writer in residence in the Habitat for Artists; having phrases of her poems adorn storefront windows in Stowe, as part of the Helen Day Arts Exposed Sculpture Exhibition; and contributing her essays for inclusion the UVM Lane Series Playbill.
She is cofounder of Chickadee Chaps & Broads -- a small spirited project promoting poetry and letterpress arts and curator of a poetry column celebrating the seasons and places of Vermont: It could be verse.
Contact Julia at: email@example.com
By Julia Shipley
My great-aunt Hope, who visited all 50 states after she and Uncle Bill had retired, once told me that she'd rather read a map than a novel any day. She would have loved DeLorme's Vermont Atlas & Gazetteer. Take page 47, for example: On it she could have found some of Cabot's main characters--Menard Road, Urban Road, Churchill Road--all named for families here. Then there's a theme: Houston Hill Road, Danville Hill Road, Bothfeld Hill Road, West Hill Pond Road. And then, of course, there's the beginning of the map: If you're reading left to right, the story starts in Elmore, Calais, Woodbury, and Marshfield; proceeds through Lower Cabot, Cabot proper, Cabot Plains, and East Cabot; and ends in Hardwick and Walden. But of course there are hundreds of ways to read a map, and therein lay my great-aunt's joy: the territory, the joy of investigating the mystery of a place.
By Julia Shipley
On the upper west side of Manhattan, on the first floor of the Museum of Natural History, sequestered in a dim corner is a slice of a mammoth sequoia, God's torso, I think as I gawk at this hunk which germinated from an infinitesimal seed in the year 550 AD, the year St. David converted Wales to Christianity. The year it was cut down, 1891, was the year the zipper was invented. None of us staring at this shard of a sequoia had even been born yet.
When it was exhibited at the Chicago World's Columbian Exhibition in 1893, according to the museum's docent, people were incredulous that a tree could ever grow so big, and disgruntled that it had been severed for their viewing pleasure.
The cross section — displayed on end showing the growth rings, all 1,342 of them, one for each year of the tree's life — is broad as a Cadillac Coup de Ville and tall as a UPS truck. Were it to somehow flop over and appear as it had in the forest the day it was finally cut from the stump, its dimensions would match that of our town's stout gazebo, a lone edifice on the Common where small orchestras play in the summer. In my mind's eye I grow the gazebo intoa sequoia tree that looms hundreds of feet over the town ground.…
By Julia Shipley
I hewed the road out of wilderness in 1779
with my pickaxe as one of Colonel Hazen's men.
I took over the yoke in 1789 when one of the oxen sickened,
pulling the sled the last hundred miles to Wolcott.
I herded a thousand turkeys over to Boston in 1826, making twelve miles a day at best.
I heard the motorcar sound from a growl to a roar carrying folks who were not my kin,
and I drove my own Jeep eighty-eight rutted miles a day delivering mail to this town.
I've known dirt roads:
Muddy, dusty dirt roads.
All my roads began as dirt roads.
This condensed history, which emulates Langston Hughes's poem "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," is based on some of the people and events making and taking the roads of Vermont. There are still 8,740 miles of dirt and gravel roads running under canopies of sugar maples, skirting lakes, bordering fields, presided over by rogue apple trees at intervals that match streetlights in more urban districts.
By Julia Shipley
Saplings stuck in the bank will show the plow truck, in a month,
the road's edge.
The torrential rains, wind. Later, after dawn, clotted flakes
cataract the skylight.
Her finger traces the valley of his back.
The windows are opaque with ice, fissure lines squiggle
like the seam where the plates of the human skull fuse.
Snow driven in the slice of space between the barn boards.
Snowflakes stick singly and doubly to a cow's roan coat,
skewered to a hair.
To cool a hot pie they place it in the snow beyond the back door
and cut into it an hour later. In the morning:
the plate shape embossed there, ghost of the full moon.
By Julia Shipley
When Blanche Orrilla LaBree Lamore was born in a rambling farmhouse on Cabot Plains, William Taft was President of the United Sates and the apple trees were blossoming. Now she lives in Lower Cabot in a house on West Hill Pond Road, partly built by her uncle. On May 26, 2012, seventeen presidents later, Blanche Lamore will be 100 years old.
When I met with Blanche to interview her about the view from age 99, I brought along a printout of all the US leaders who had served their term as Commander-in-Chief in Blanche's lifetime. I thought (in retrospect, wrongly) that this might be a way to understand stasis and change over the course of one hundred years. I began by asking her if she had any remarks to make about each President serving after Taft, who left office when Blanche was merely a year old. Of Woodrow Wilson, Warren Harding, and Calvin Coolidge, she had no comment. When I asked about Herbert Hoover, she politely demurred that she was more interested in Montpelier politics. Franklin Roosevelt? No comment, although, when I asked about a black and white photograph of a man and woman standing side by side, she explained that the man in the photo was her younger brother. The picture had been taken on his furlough during WWII. Blanche is smiling beside him. It's summer time and Roosevelt is at the helm. Harry Truman? "Oh," her face showed inspiration, "I liked him. He was different, more outgoing and liberal. They all have a lot of ideas."
Vermont's Local Banquet
"Why anybody would want to be either a farmer or a poet when there were spools turning in factories was beyond the grasp of the old man. That his grandson should desire to be both was almost enough to bring on a stroke."
According to the grandson's biographer, "Determined in his course, Robert laid the whole matter before his grandfather. He would have a farm, live on it, produce his food with his own labor, and write poetry."
And although the grandfather eventually purchased a farm for his grandson, he turned it over to the young Robert Frost with no real encouragement. "You've made a failure out of everything else you've tried. Now go up to the farm and die there."
As we know, Frost exceeded his grandfather's expectations. And many more have succeeded in this stroke-inducing thing—being both farmer and writer—and particularly here, in Vermont. And because of these dual efforts, we have a cultural harvest of literature. All of the farmer-writers mentioned in this article had firmly established their books and crops by the time I came into the world in 1972 (hence the title of this article), and all of them have inspired me since I moved to Vermont in 1997 with foolishness and feistiness, endeavoring to cultivate a farming and writing life of my own.
This one the color
of my shoulder in winter,
and this one, my shoulder in summer.
No seam no pock no
porthole, smooth as oil.
The surface curve:
just a tip and a buttock,
silent as a horn in the trunk,
how many times can we give
what's formed inside us—
never? Always? Once?