Philip Kuepper: “Poetry wouldn’t leave me alone”

HTBS’s poet Philip Kuepper was interviewed by Mystic & Noank Library’s Christine Bradley for the library’s Local Author Series. From the Mystic & Noank Library YouYube Channel.

15 April 2022

By Göran R Buckhorn

April is the sweetest of months, Göran Buckhorn thinks.

“April is the cruellest month,” wrote T. S. Eliot 100 years ago (well, in October), when his most famous poem, “The Waste Land”, was published. The poem is regarded as the most important of modernist poetry, and to this day, poetry readers and literary scholars are trying to figure out what is so cruel with April?

In the USA and Canada, April is National Poetry Month, while in the UK, October is the month to celebrate poetry. In October 2009, the BBC announced the results of a poll to find the UK’s favourite poet. Yes, it was T. S. Eliot.

So, as we are in mid-month of April, HTBS would like to celebrate our own poet, Philip Kuepper.

The first of Philip’s rowing poems on HTBS, “The Race”, was published on 13 March 2010. It reads:

The Race
All that year, he rose,
Just after dawn broke
Light across the sky.
He took his shell to the river,
Laid it on the water,
And slipped quietly,
Effortlessly, into rowing.
Each day he grew
In strength, in confidence,
Each day his mind
A day closer to realizing
Competitive readiness.
The day of the race
He arrived early, ready.
He laid his shell on the water.
He eased into the race,
As though he was one with the race,
His oars, his arms become one.
He could see the finish line,
In his mind, before he saw it,
Just ahead of him. It was then
He saw, in a flash,
His shadow cross it, a second before him.

HTBS tries to post one of Philip’s poems every Sunday, and by now he has published more than 400 poems on this site. Through the years, he has managed to drum up quite a large group of followers of poetry-interested HTBS readers.

When Philip is not writing poems – and he seems to do it with great speed – he is working at the local library in his hometown, the Mystic & Noank Library in Mystic, Connecticut.

The Mystic & Noank Library is located in a wonderful building on Library Street. It was in 1891 that sea captain Elihu Spicer, who had started his career at sea at age nine and rose from cabin boy to master and was captain on several sailing vessels, announced that he was planning to build a public library for the communities of Mystic and Noank, where he was born in 1825. When the library opened in late 1893, Captain Spicer had sadly been dead for several months.

Mystic & Noank Library. Photo: Göran R Buckhorn.

Though the Mystic & Noank Library might be in an old building, it is run by a highly efficient staff lead by Christine Bradley, who was appointed Executive Director of the library in December 2020. Bradley and Chris Kepple, director of development, have worked on taking the library into the social media sphere, and the library is now very active on Instagram where many of the photographs are showing the cute library cats, Violet and Matilda.

Earlier this year, the library started a Local Author Series. Now in April, the featured author was Philip Kuepper, who was interviewed by Christine Bradley. Amongst other things, they chatted about Philip’s book A Sea To Row By – Poems, which was published by HTBS at the end of 2015. (The book is available on Amazon.)

In the 32-minute interview, Philip mentions how he started to write poetry and what is driving him to continue this quest. He is extremely productive as can be seen on HTBS.

Here is the interview (where Philip is saying some nice words about HTBS):

Let us wrap up with another one of Philip’s poems, one that the poet wrote two weeks ago:

The Sea Worthy
Perfection of the ship mattered
for meeting with the perfected
imperfections of the sea.
Whatever the sea threw at the ship,
the ship had to be such to throw it back.
It was a conversation
written in challenge,
and spoken as such,
most of it hostile.
Even when calm, the sea
was building, to throw the ship’s way.
The sea, calm, was at its most threatening.
One could not determine what to expect.
It could be next to nothing.
It could be disaster.
Seldom is the sea half-way.
(Actors desiring learn
the techniques of dramatic acting,
could serve themselves well
by sitting at the feet of the sea.)
And a ship must be
built to withstand these
moods, these flashes
of sudden rage, sudden quiet.
To dip one’s oar into such a body?
Is it brave? Is it insane?
For myself, I pass on it,
and bow forward the adventurous.

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