Every year since 2006 the Maine Seacoast Mission has published The Island Reader, a wide-ranging anthology of poetry, prose, and artwork by residents of Maine’s unbridged islands. And every year the literary/artistic smorgasbord reminds us that islands are special places that people call home.
The 2023 edition, no. 17, gets right to the point with this short poem by Arria Carbonneau of Peaks Island:
bound to the ocean
to the rising of the tides
the salt in your nose. in your hair.
drink it up. let it swell inside of you.
Island livelihoods inspire a number of poems. Leona Buswell from Swan’s Island offers a rousing evocation of lobstering in her “Way of Life,” which opens:
On a cold and windy morning, you want to sleep in late
But the shedders and the day old bait won’t wait
So ya pack your lunch and get your gear
Kiss your mate just below the ear
LOBSTERING, IT’S A WAY OF LIFE . . . .
In his poem “Would There Be Wood,” Buswell’s fellow Swan’s Islander Weston Parker riffs on the life of a carpenter. “You can talk to the wood,/begging it to fit,” he writes,
but it may split
under so little pressure,
sending a splinter your way
to remind you
of its delicate feelings.
Capt. Joe Litchfield of Peaks Island shares a short play, The Fisherman’s Wife. One of the characters, Ethan, captain of the F/V Sarah C, vents: “Nearly all the good boats and fishermen have been forced off the waterfront by the condo ownin’ Boston Yuppies. No one cares about the workin’ waterfront guys anymore. No one. Cultural destruction if you ask me.”
Island kids contribute some fun poems. Audrey Barker of Isle au Haut declares, “I am happy and I like cats” while Anica Messer on Matinicus seeks to answer the question, “What is an island family?” She writes, “We all help each other when we need it,/And we all play with each other when we can.”
Several pieces take the form of reminiscences. In her “Maine Memories,” Judith Bowen Horky of Chebeague relates how her father had a boat named The Maygo, “thanks to the temperamental motor hanging off the back.”
Janet Moynihan from Matinicus recounts the creation of a hybrid truck by a lobsterman, “our good engine welded onto his good truck bed.” Both stories underscore the islanders’ ingenuity.
There is gratitude here too. Sarah Goodman Cuetara of Peaks Island offers thanks for, among other things, 50 milkweed seeds, for the soil that covers them, and for “next November’s explosion of nomad ballerinas.”
Pixie Lauer thanks the plants that form her compost pile as she hauls tubs of seaweed mulch gathered at Thrumcap and anticipates leaving Great Cranberry for the winter.
The “Best in Anthology” prize might go to Jane Goodrich’s splendid ode to a pin cushion. The longtime Swan’s Island resident and owner of Saturn Press considers the “faded cloth … sentinel on my dead mother’s dresser, a chaotic catchall defying order, defining haphazardness.” The pins provide a timeline of one woman’s life.
The artwork starts on the cover with a brilliantly comical painting by Tom Kilmartin of Peaks Island showing a seagull sipping Moxie through a straw. There are many photographs, including one of a snowy owl perched on a headstone by Mike Johnson, captain of the Maine Seacoast Mission’s boat, the Sunbeam.
The collection carries a heartfelt dedication to the Mission’s director of island health, Sharon Daley, who recently retired after more than 20 years tending to islanders. Among other accomplishments, Daley started the telehealth program and the outer island eldercare network.
“Sharon is best remembered, however, for the depth of her care and for giving a painless shot,” write the editors.
You can order a copy of the 80-page anthology or read it online at www.seacoastmission.org.
Thos. Moser in Freeport is hosting an exhibition of works by 60 artists featured in Carl and David Little’s forthcoming book Art of Penobscot Bay (Islandport Press). The show runs through January.