Once called the unofficial poet-laureate of the Northeast Kingdom, poet Leland Kinsey has died at the age of 66.
Kinsey was born in Barton. He was a seventh-generation Vermonter and farmer whose poetry was shaped by his life farming in the Kingdom and by the people around him.
Friends describe Kinsey as a masterful poet, a gifted teacher and an avid fisherman, not to mention a farmer, a printer and naturalist.
He spent most of his life working the rocky soil that his family farmed for generations. His dedication to that hard work, along with his love of that unique northern geography, come through in his poetry.
Vermont author Howard Frank Mosher first met Kinsey when he was a student in Mosher's high school classroom. He learned that Kinsey wrote poetry and asked him to share a few poems.
“And I remember taking one of them home and showing it to my wife, and she said, and I quote: ‘My goodness, this kid should be teaching you.’"
Mosher says Kinsey went on to study poetry, and ultimately earned an MFA at Syracuse University.
Afterward, Kinsey was offered a job teaching at the university, but Mosher says Kinsey made a bold decision to instead return to his native Vermont and write without the support of a university. The two became fast friends and neighbors.
“He wrote not because he wanted to be seen as a poet, or because he wanted acclaim, but he wrote because he loved good writing, and he loved the subjects that he wrote about.”
Those subjects included the natural world around him, rivers, trout, chimney swifts and the farm fields where he "picked stones" and the tractors he repaired, or any number of other scenes from daily life whose imagery he used to explore themes of work, family and time.
“He wrote better about nature than any contemporary poet I can think of," Mosher says. "There was nothing about the birds and the butterflies, and the trout and the deer and the moose of New England that he didn't know.”
Mosher says that being a seventh-generation Vermonter, Kinsey wrote about the state "from the inside out." Mosher considers his writing some of the most authentic representation of Vermont that there is.
"His like will not be seen again," Mosher says. "He was really the essential Vermonter who could do anything — he could milk a cow, he could fix a broken tractor, he could give a lecture at Harvard on modern poetry, he was a polymath.”
His publisher, Dede Cummings of Green Writers Press based in Brattleboro, echoed that sentiment: “He has been a teacher, but he’s also been a sugar maker, and a logger and an ornithologist; he’s a fly fisherman. He’s just a renaissance man.”
Cummings says Kinsey dedicated hours of work to the at-times back-bending task of farming the land.
“He approached poetry in that same vein, of this is hard work,” says Cummings. “He said he would go out to his little cabin — his writers retreat on property — and read aloud poems to himself to hear the cadence of the lines.”
Cummings says it was Mosher who introduced her to Kinsey's poetry about three years ago, and after reading his work she quickly agreed to publish the book of poetry, Winter Ready.
“I immediately fell in love with Leland's writing, which is so Vermont, that's all I can say. The flora and the fauna of Vermont, and the farming life and the beauty of our state, it’s all there.”
Kinsey also taught poetry to students in more than 100 Vermont and New Hampshire schools, as a part of the Artists in Schools program.
Kinsey died Wednesday night at age 66 of lymphoma. He is survived by his wife, Lesley; daughters Hannah and Desiree; his son, Harris; and his sister Natalie Kinsey-Warnock.
His latest collection, Galvanized: New and Selected Poems, was released this spring. And his publisher says he was working on a new book of poetry, which will be published some time next year.