It is snow
not a garden
but a white
It is only
snow - here
Peter Kilgore is in this sense original, and his roots work
amazingly from the first European landings at Mount Desert up to
the present. He has been acutely aware of the changes to his home
state, and city, for years. I am thinking of a poem in the 1977
Presumpscot Review (published at the University of Southern
Maine) titled "Portland Renewal Authority," which recounts what
the narrator used to see on Portland's streets over against what he
sees now; much of what he used to see has been replaced by new
buildings and roads. Though Kilgore never mentions Portland in
The Bar Harbor Suite, the place-names wash over each other's times
in the same way.
Those memories are pushed further back, through extensive
readings about the first settlers in Maine and New England.
Simultaneously, a number of the "present" sights seen by the
narrator of "Portland Renewal Authority" have vanished. A sort of
inverse relationship exists between the attempt to broaden one's
capacity to comprehend Maine (by divining the recollections and
histories of a given place, an old place, say, Bar Harbor) and the rate
at which the mnemonic landmarks are being wiped out. Bar Harbor,
despite its tourist attractions, may be accessible for the poet because
its ancient history seems alive in 1987. Portland is not the same
place it was even ten years ago, and may indeed be less accessible
for the poet than the Bar Harbor of 1525.
The fact that Peter Kilgore has left Portland, then, is significant.
The depth of his feeling for Maine and Portland has altered a great
deal, I am guessing, in the past few
years, from a point where he would never consider leaving his home
state to a point where he actually did it. The Bar Harbor Suite is a
powerful book because it evokes Kilgore's native historical and
personal intimacy with his place and because it is a last link with a
Maine past: Maine's past and present is Kilgore's past and present.
Though the poet has left, at least these poems remain. If the whole
Maine context disappears in the current cultural invasion, as
Contraband did, then at least these poems remain. Jim Bishop is still
in Orono, I understand.
This review was first published in Puckerbrush Review in 1988. Peter Kilgore died in 1992.
Jim Bishop now lives in Bangor, Holsapple in New Mexico.
© Dana Wilde 2008; Puckerbrush Review 1988
Contraband: A Recollection
Reading Forays home
The Mind Errant
The Bar Harbor Suite
By Dana Wilde (1988)
The Bar Harbor Suite by Peter Kilgore. Cover & art work
by Michael Waterman. Nobleboro, Maine: Blackberry
Books, 1987. $3.
The significant news from Portland is that Peter Kilgore has left
town. He has gone west, and I mean far west - Washington state.
"So what" might be the right response to such news, considering we
live in a culture that feeds in some perverse way on mobility and
rootlessness. Lots of people move: Bruce Holsapple went west,
David Empfield went southwest, Jim Bishop goes underground and
disappears for years; Michael Barriault - who knows?
I am talking about the old Contraband crowd, naturally, and
thinking of The Bar Harbor Suite all in the same instant. To back
up: Contraband suspended publication a year or two ago, more or
less officially, or as officially as anything ever got official with
Holsapple and Kilgore. To back up more: Contraband in the early
1970s was Maine's first independent small magazine - when small
magazines really were small. A poetry magazine when poetry had
not yet been industrialized by academia. The Bar Harbor Suite, that
is, is published by Blackberry Books rather than Contraband Press,
which is a shame. Nothing against Blackberry whatsoever, mind
you; the shame is that Contraband is not around to bring out
Now Kilgore himself is not around either, and still with his book in
mind, his absence raises questions about what is happening in
Maine. Maybe this will get clearer if I say something about the
The poems in The Bar Harbor Suite are brief and formally precise,
like the poems in Kilgore's 1976 volume Drinking Wine Out of the
Wind. They smell of the Maine coast and of the hayfields inland. A
lot of poets work for these smells but rarely achieve them with
accuracy. Kilgore succeeds, although his style is scant. The rhythms
are tightly controlled and the sound and diction ring true and
consistent, as we can expect from someone as persistent and acute as
But throughout the fifteen poems, there may be a need for a few
more words. Even amidst bright images and a light tone, an
abstraction dropped appropriately from time to time might clarify
the purpose, if not the philosophy, underlying each poetic moment.
These poems act like Down East haikus. They drive real figures
down and through you, sparsely and effectively; that's the haiku
part. But the figures also frame sensibilities derived profoundly
from a western sensibility - settlers from Europe - and the lack of
abstractions fails to clarify this sensibility. The images do not stand
by themselves in some cases.
The tension derives mainly from Kilgore's main theme of time and
place. The Bar Harbor Suite concerns the wash of the past over the
present, and vice versa. If "Bluenose (as/the story goes)/is where/our
trip/began," and if the trip (or just the book) ends "where Route
3/runs into/1," with mention of "Estaban/Gomez (1525)" and
"D'Iberville" in between, then clearly metaphors are at work which
we do not understand to work in the same way in haiku. Bluenose,
that is, suggests Mount Desert itself, which is one of the first places
Europeans (Champlain, I think) made records of coming ashore in
the New World. The trip began there, with ideals for what might be
accomplished: "Unity/Harmony &/Freedom." Needless to say, the
three ideals are the names of Maine towns.
So the explorers' ideals and excitement about the New World
transform themselves into ideal figures in Kilgore's poetic trip to
Acadia and Bar Harbor. A literal trip to Mount Desert in the present
is rooted irretrievably in Mount Desert's past. In fact, other places
and memories wash into the consciousness of the narrator and his
partner and color their experience of Bar Harbor: Nova Scotia, the
Cape, and Texas all surface for a moment. I only want to point out
that the place names in these poems are figurative, but that the ideas
underlying the figures are sometimes blurrier than they might be,
and some small discursive passages might be in order.
The sensibility is purely Kilgore's, though. And I say that with the
idea that Kilgore is rootedly from Maine. Maine is part of him, he
doesn't distinguish by abstraction between one thing and another; in
the same way the place is indistinguishable from the time, or all
times. The following poem strikes deep in the heart of the matter of
Maine for those who are natives, or close to it, and reveals Kilgore's
relation to the place: