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PRI's Environmental News Magazine

A Place Called Home

Air Date: Week of November 13, 2009

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Mary Kate and Katie Holden

The strong sense of place that Kate, MaryKate and Katie, three generations of women from one family, experience when they go to their lake house in Connecticut inspired each of them to write poetry. When they heard about the EPA’s Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder contest, the women combined their poems into one. Host Jeff Young talks with these women about their winning poem, A Place of Peace.

Transcript

YOUNG: Ours is a mobile society. But no matter where we roam, many of us still feel a strong connection to the home-place. For the Talmadge family, that place is a humble house in the Connecticut woods. It’s inspired three generations of poets. This year, the three women, Kate, Mary-Kate, and Katie, combined their poems into one and entered it in a contest sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency: the Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder contest. And, they won! We have all three poets on the line from Durham, North Carolina. First of all, congratulations!

ALL: Thank you!

YOUNG: Now, who am I talking to – let’s see who’s who here?

KATIE: I’m Katie Holden, and I’m Mary-Kate’s daughter, and Kate’s granddaughter.

MARY-KATE: This is Mary-Kate Holden, and I’m in the middle.

KATE: And I’m Kate, the matriarch, the oldest one at 92.

YOUNG: Now, before we hear the poem, “Place of Piece,” I wonder, where are we in this poem? What’s the setting?

MARY-KATE: The setting is at a home in Lidfield County, Connecticut, which has been in our family for about 100 years, and it’s a place where all of us have spent summers and no matter how far away we go from it, we always try to get back there for a short period of time. And it’s a very natural setting, there’s no radio and there’s no TV, and there’s a lot of water, and it means a great deal to all of us in the family.

YOUNG: Well, since you all three wrote the poem, I’d like for you all three to read it for us, if you don’t mind?

MARY-KATE: Okay, we can each read the part that we wrote.

YOUNG: Okay!

KATE: Knee-deep in purple asters, where maples gaily spill,
Unwept living crimson on our firm New England hill,
Our little half-built house awaits you, serene and still.
Such peace is here
And quiet dreaming.
No din of fear
Like sirens screaming
Or brass bells tolling, no dark hate rolling
That troubles the wind-washed silence under
These white clouds flying.
Only the crying of a far bird calling
Like a feather falling
That flutters earthward from above.
Warm as the sun that softly spills
Its life-giving light across the hills,
Kindling the crimson apples for the day of your returning.

MARY-KATE: When sunwashed sky turns crimson gold
And cool breezes fall from top of hill
Bringing clouds of bat food buzzing still
My heart stills quiet
And my mind breathes
Lulled after the day's chores done. Memories wash over
Of small children laughing in silver drops of water,
Of teenagers dunking and gliding on skis and
Blushing under other's gazes peeking through clover.
My family founded in elder days
Continues the call that Nature makes
For our souls returning to this place of peace,
Where time stands still until we say
Who we are and where we are from.

KATIE: I am from the Lake (wet, warm, natural)
I am from the lily, dogwood, earth, planted in the front yard.
My mother’s earth. I'm from long trips and dark features.
From the long line of Kate's and of Robert.
I'm from the stubborn and matriarchal.
From magic curtains and brownie kisses.
I'm from tall altars and winding passages with spires from the sky.
I'm from Europe- France, England, Germany, Ireland, Scotland,
A mutt all around.
From the broken butt to being my rock and storms.
The stubborn women through and through
I am from the old, dust, moths, mold.
I am from mothers and lakes and lots of people,
With love.

YOUNG: Very nice. I want to go there. I tell ya, I want to go there.


Mary Kate and Katie Holden

KATIE: Everybody does!

MARY-KATE: You’re all invited to camp.

YOUNG: It sounds lovely. I want to ask about a few lines that stood out here: I’m from the stubborn and matriarchal.

[Laughs]

KATIE: That part - we have very strong women in our family.

YOUNG: I gathered that.

KATIE: Yes. And I am very proud to be one of those women, and hopefully, one day I can be such a big presence that my mom and my grandmother are.

YOUNG: Kate, does that hold true for your memories of your mother, your grandmother? Strong women all the way back?

KATE: Well, yes. But we’re all different people and my grandmother bought the property in 1910, so our hundredth anniversary is coming up. I wrote my part of this poem in World War Two when my husband was over in the war in Europe for about four years right after we were married. And this poem started out initially as a love letter to him. To contrast our home with the blood spilling and the bombs dropping and the sirens screaming over in Europe.

MARY-KATE: The wonderful thing about her part of this poem is that this place and the memories of this place, it was an anchor for my father when he was in the war.

YOUNG: There is such a strong sense of place being expressed through this poem and through your comments, and yet, you don’t live in this area anymore. But, real home is this house, yeah?

KATIE: Yeah. This is how I explain it. I explain it that my home is in Greensborough, but my heart is in Connecticut.

MARY-KATE: We have very long roots – they extend for a long distance.

KATE: And our family has spread out all through the United States. Some of us are out in California, some in Florida, some in Maine. And we all go back there. We would drift apart if it weren’t for our place in Connecticut.

KATIE: And when I went to college, at that time I didn’t really realize how much that place meant to me. And that summer, when I was able to go back, it was like I was going home. My heart was at peace and I really had some much more respect for this place that I had left and started on my own.

MARY-KATE: The wonderful thing about this place is that all the generations are there all the time. You have the newborn babies in their little place and the parents and teenagers are watching the kids dunking each other. And the matriarchs and the elders looking on for afar and trying to keep up with everyone’s names. And it was like that when my mother was small, it was like that when I was small, it was like that when Katie was small. And it continues to be that way.

YOUNG: Tell me about poetry in your family.

MARY-KATE: It’s just a part of us. We’re all very creative people. Poetry is way of expressing ourselves and it allows us to revisit some of our experiences in some of our feelings.

YOUNG: And Kate, was that something you tried to instill in your daughter and your granddaughter – a love of poetry?

KATE: I always loved poetry and grew up writing it as a little girl, and I think that Mary-Kate and Katie have also done that, too. We just like to write.

KATIE: And for me, I have learning disabilities, and for me poetry is a way to get out what I actually feel about something. And I’ve written so much about the lake it seems so natural just to combine our poems and make it into one big kind of story of a life of a place.

YOUNG: Kate, I’m wondering, what’s your earliest memory of that property, of that house?

KATE: Well, it’s a very interesting piece of property. It used to be a hayfield full of beautiful wild flowers. And it has evolved through all my 92 years into a typical New England Hardwood Forest. As a little girl I loved every rock, and every tree that I could climb and I used to name them, and all the enchanting butterflies and little bugs and caterpillars and wildlife has evolved from this beautiful hayfield into a forest with deer, wild turkeys, foxes, coyotes. And the whole landscape has been in evolution like all of us.

YOUNG: Kate Talmadge, Mary-Kate and Katie Holden, thank you all very much.

ALL: Thank you, oh, you’re very welcome.

YOUNG: Ours is a mobile society. But no matter where we roam, many of us still feel a strong connection to the home-place. For the Talmadge family, that place is a humble house in the Connecticut woods. It’s inspired three generations of poets. This year, the three women, Kate, Mary-Kate, and Katie, combined their poems into one and entered it in a contest sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency: the Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder contest. And, they won! We have all three poets on the line from Durham, North Carolina. First of all, congratulations!

ALL: Thank you!

YOUNG: Now, who am I talking to – let’s see who’s who here?

KATIE: I’m Katie Holden, and I’m Mary-Kate’s daughter, and Kate’s granddaughter.

MARY-KATE: This is Mary-Kate Holden, and I’m in the middle.

KATE: And I’m Kate, the matriarch, the oldest one at 92.

YOUNG: Now, before we hear the poem, “Place of Piece,” I wonder, where are we in this poem? What’s the setting?

MARY-KATE: The setting is at a home in Lidfield County, Connecticut, which has been in our family for about 100 years, and it’s a place where all of us have spent summers and no matter how far away we go from it, we always try to get back there for a short period of time. And it’s a very natural setting, there’s no radio and there’s no TV, and there’s a lot of water, and it means a great deal to all of us in the family.

YOUNG: Well, since you all three wrote the poem, I’d like for you all three to read it for us, if you don’t mind?

MARY-KATE: Okay, we can each read the part that we wrote.

YOUNG: Okay!

KATE: Knee-deep in purple asters, where maples gaily spill,
Unwept living crimson on our firm New England hill,
Our little half-built house awaits you, serene and still.
Such peace is here
And quiet dreaming.
No din of fear
Like sirens screaming
Or brass bells tolling, no dark hate rolling
That troubles the wind-washed silence under
These white clouds flying.
Only the crying of a far bird calling
Like a feather falling
That flutters earthward from above.
Warm as the sun that softly spills
Its life-giving light across the hills,
Kindling the crimson apples for the day of your returning.

MARY-KATE: When sunwashed sky turns crimson gold
And cool breezes fall from top of hill
Bringing clouds of bat food buzzing still
My heart stills quiet
And my mind breathes
Lulled after the day's chores done. Memories wash over
Of small children laughing in silver drops of water,
Of teenagers dunking and gliding on skis and
Blushing under other's gazes peeking through clover.
My family founded in elder days
Continues the call that Nature makes
For our souls returning to this place of peace,
Where time stands still until we say
Who we are and where we are from.

KATIE: I am from the Lake (wet, warm, natural)
I am from the lily, dogwood, earth, planted in the front yard.
My mother’s earth. I'm from long trips and dark features.
From the long line of Kate's and of Robert.
I'm from the stubborn and matriarchal.
From magic curtains and brownie kisses.
I'm from tall altars and winding passages with spires from the sky.
I'm from Europe- France, England, Germany, Ireland, Scotland,
A mutt all around.
From the broken butt to being my rock and storms.
The stubborn women through and through
I am from the old, dust, moths, mold.
I am from mothers and lakes and lots of people,
With love.

YOUNG: Very nice. I want to go there. I tell ya, I want to go there.

KATIE: Everybody does!

MARY-KATE: You’re all invited to camp.

YOUNG: It sounds lovely. I want to ask about a few lines that stood out here: I’m from the stubborn and matriarchal.

[Laughs]

KATIE: That part - we have very strong women in our family.

YOUNG: I gathered that.

KATIE: Yes. And I am very proud to be one of those women, and hopefully, one day I can be such a big presence that my mom and my grandmother are.

YOUNG: Kate, does that hold true for your memories of your mother, your grandmother? Strong women all the way back?

KATE: Well, yes. But we’re all different people and my grandmother bought the property in 1910, so our hundredth anniversary is coming up. I wrote my part of this poem in World War Two when my husband was over in the war in Europe for about four years right after we were married. And this poem started out initially as a love letter to him. To contrast our home with the blood spilling and the bombs dropping and the sirens screaming over in Europe.

MARY-KATE: The wonderful thing about her part of this poem is that this place and the memories of this place, it was an anchor for my father when he was in the war.

YOUNG: There is such a strong sense of place being expressed through this poem and through your comments, and yet, you don’t live in this area anymore. But, real home is this house, yeah?

KATIE: Yeah. This is how I explain it. I explain it that my home is in Greensborough, but my heart is in Connecticut.

MARY-KATE: We have very long roots – they extend for a long distance.

KATE: And our family has spread out all through the United States. Some of us are out in California, some in Florida, some in Maine. And we all go back there. We would drift apart if it weren’t for our place in Connecticut.

KATIE: And when I went to college, at that time I didn’t really realize how much that place meant to me. And that summer, when I was able to go back, it was like I was going home. My heart was at peace and I really had some much more respect for this place that I had left and started on my own.

MARY-KATE: The wonderful thing about this place is that all the generations are there all the time. You have the newborn babies in their little place and the parents and teenagers are watching the kids dunking each other. And the matriarchs and the elders looking on for afar and trying to keep up with everyone’s names. And it was like that when my mother was small, it was like that when I was small, it was like that when Katie was small. And it continues to be that way.

YOUNG: Tell me about poetry in your family.

MARY-KATE: It’s just a part of us. We’re all very creative people. Poetry is way of expressing ourselves and it allows us to revisit some of our experiences in some of our feelings.

YOUNG: And Kate, was that something you tried to instill in your daughter and your granddaughter – a love of poetry?

KATE: I always loved poetry and grew up writing it as a little girl, and I think that Mary-Kate and Katie have also done that, too. We just like to write.

KATIE: And for me, I have learning disabilities, and for me poetry is a way to get out what I actually feel about something. And I’ve written so much about the lake it seems so natural just to combine our poems and make it into one big kind of story of a life of a place.

YOUNG: Kate, I’m wondering, what’s your earliest memory of that property, of that house?

KATE: Well, it’s a very interesting piece of property. It used to be a hayfield full of beautiful wild flowers. And it has evolved through all my 92 years into a typical New England Hardwood Forest. As a little girl I loved every rock, and every tree that I could climb and I used to name them, and all the enchanting butterflies and little bugs and caterpillars and wildlife has evolved from this beautiful hayfield into a forest with deer, wild turkeys, foxes, coyotes. And the whole landscape has been in evolution like all of us.

YOUNG: Kate Talmadge, Mary-Kate and Katie Holden, thank you all very much.

ALL: Thank you, oh, you’re very welcome.

 

Links

To read Kate, MaryKate and Katie’s poem, as well as winners in other categories, click here

 

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