Reviving Amherst’s arboretum: Organizers hope poetry reading will draw attention to town gem

Last modified: Thursday, June 19, 2014

After years of neglect, a group of residents is trying to help the Amherst Regional Middle School Arboretum blossom again.

Located on a sweeping, grassy hill behind the school on Chestnut Street, the arboretum was created in the 1980s by teachers Rob Lord and Phil Covelli, who planted the original trees that are still there.

Since that time, it has been mostly forgotten.

“It’s an almost unknown resource in town,” said Jonathan Klate, an Amherst resident who lives nearby, in a recent phone interview. He described the spot as a grassy area with a few unusual-looking tress, traversed by a path often used by joggers. “Most of them don’t even know they’re going through an arboretum,” he said.

Klate says he hopes to revive the spot and is holding a poetry reading to bring attention to his goal.

The second annual “Solstice Poetry Reading,” presented by the Amherst Poet’s Arboretum Community Interest Group, will take place June 22 at 7 p.m. at the arboretum. The event will feature readings by poets Doug Anderson, Jessamyn Smyth, Carolyn Tacey, Mike Veve and Ron Welburn.

Klate said he hopes that it will help create interest among community members in refurbishing the arboretum.

“I would love to see regular poetry readings there and use the site for the appreciation of nature,” he said.

Two of the five poets on the program — Tacey and Veve — teach poetry in the New York City public schools.

Near the arboretum is the home and garden of the late G. Stanley Koehler. Until Koehler’s death two years ago, Klate says, he used to pause during walks on the arboretum’s footpath to talk to the poet and professor emeritus at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“He would be out there rolling around in the dirt, tending to his vegetables, and I would talk to him about the arboretum and how beautiful it was,” Klate said.

After Koehler’s death, Klate thought the arboretum should be restored and dedicated to all of the town’s poets.

Last year, he held a poetry reading at the site, to get the ball rolling, and now plans to make it an annual event.

Poets convene

According to Klate, this year’s poets are diverse and highly regarded.

Anderson, whose first book of poems, “The Moon Reflected Fire,” won the Kate Tufts Discovery Award in 1995, is widely published and has received awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Massachusetts Cultural Council and the Massachusetts Artists Foundation. He teaches at Emerson College in Boston.

Smyth was a finalist in 2013 for the Green Mountains Review’s Neil Shepard Prize, and received an honorable mention in 2006’s “Best American Short Stories.” She is the founder and editor-in-chief of the literary and arts journal, Tupelo Quarterly, the founding director of the new Guest Writer’s Conference and a visiting faculty at Quest University in Canada.

Tacey writes poems about the natural world, with a scientific edge. Veve’s work has appeared in “Jabberwocky,” The Massachusetts Review, and in the poetry anthology “El Coro: A Chorus of Latino and Latina Poetry.” He is a fellow of New York City’s Academy for Teachers and of the Cullman Center Institute for Writing at the New York Public Library.

Welburn is an English professor at UMass and also directs the undergraduate Native American Indian Studies Certificate Program. The latest of his six books is “Coming Through Smoke and the Dreaming.” One of his poems, “Yellow Wolf Spirit,” was included in “Best American Poetry 1996.” Welburn has also published jazz and international music reviews in Jazz Times and other periodicals for over two decades.


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