Monhegan Come Again by Richard C. Moore, with foreword by Earle G. Shettleworth, Jr.
Pawtuckaway Publishers, 2014. 96 pp. Softbound, $29.95
Island Voices II, Poetry of Monhegan Kennebunk: Stone Island Press, 2014. 52 pp. Softbound, $14.95
This year, the quadricentennial of Captain John Smith’s first visit to Monhegan is being marked and memorialized in many ways. The 400th anniversary has been an occasion for special exhibitions and entertainments on the island, including “The Famous and the Forgotten: Revisiting Monhegan’s Celebrated 1914 Art Exhibition,” the Monhegan Museum’s contribution to the festivities.
The 400th also has been the inspiration for several publications. In Richard Moore’s remarkable Monhegan Come Again, the New Hampshire photographer has turned to the wonders of digital photography to create composite photos that create a kind of visual inter-time zone. Working from antique postcards and photographs of the island, Moore took a CSI approach, a kind of visual forensics, lining up the past and the present.
With its unchanging quality, Monhegan seems the perfect subject for Moore’s “twice-seen” aesthetic. Other than clothing, a few satellite dishes and maybe a touch of vinyl on some of the houses, this island maintains a Brigadoon quality. Thus, many of Moore’s composites appear almost seamless in their intermingling of place and people: you have to look twice to see where vintage ends and modern starts.
Moore can be witty in his juxtapositions. The famous photo of the island’s cornet band (including the painter George Bellows on snare drum) is joined with a hand-made sign for ultimate Frisbee. Likewise, women in full-length skirts and men in straw boaters wend their way to the steamboat through a corridor of pick-up trucks.
The book concludes with a bit of ekphrasis: Iris Miller’s poem about one of Moore’s composite photos. In cataloguing the details in the image, Miller, who is the main figure in the photo, helps us understand the cross-historical nature of these composites—hints of a library not yet built, oxen moving, as it were, across time zones.
This verse makes for a nice segue to Island Voices II, where Miller is one of 12 featured poets, all women, who have been meeting weekly on Monhegan for the past 20 summers to respond to and encourage each other’s writings. Each poet is represented by one to four poems.
Leading off is one of the best-known poets of the island, Jan Bailey, who sets the stage for a range of island evocations. Her portraits of a seal pup and an ocean sunfish are stunning. Her lyric “Song” finds an echo in Kate Cheney Chappell’s “What Is Singing in Us,” which conjures the “island hymn sing night” where the gathered join in :Amazing Grace.”
Monhegan materializes in these poems, from Judith Grey’s “Fern Glen” (where the fiddleheads are “grouped as if for cocktails”) to Marilyn Ringer’s clothesline (where “the laundry snaps its happy song”). In addition to four poems, watercolorist Joanne Scott contributes a painting of a tree hung with lobster buoys for the cover—a fitting introduction to a working island where the elements are ever present and the “power of water,” as Jan Kornbluth puts it, holds the fishermen in thrall.
Monhegan Come Again and Island Voices II are available on Monhegan and at Archipelago in Rockland. The latter can also be ordered by mail for $18.75 (includes shipping, handling and tax) via Stone Island Press, P.O. Box 920, Kennebunk, ME 04043.
Carl Little’s most recent book is William Irvine: The Painter’s Journal (Marshall Wilkes).
Once my young nephew
thought they floated there;
he’d rope an island, bring it in.
These tips of mountain tops
keep age-old stories hidden.
The clanging buoy marks one
that failed to keep its head above water.
–Frances Downing Vaughan