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Essays And Poetry Offer A Look At Polly Brody's Life And Loves



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Essays And Poetry Offer A Look At Polly Brody’s Life And Loves

By Shannon Hicks

With her second book, a collection of essays with poems, Polly Laszlo Brody has combined autobiography, natural history, and personal tribute.

The Burning Bush is the second full volume of poetry by Mrs Brody, following her 1999 release of Other Nations. It is a soft-cover, perfect-bound 88-page collection (ISBN 0-9762091-5-25; $17) that reflect upon subjects as diverse as archaeology, bird behavior, aging and the effects of Alzheimer’s disease on a family, rain forests, and even evolution.

The book has been published by Antrim House Books, the company founded by the poet Rennie McQuilkin (co-founder and former director of The Sunken Garden Poetry Festival) to promote the work of Connecticut poets.

After sending a query to Antrim House, Mrs Brody received a note from Mr McQuilkin asking for a few chapters. After sending off a second email, Mrs Brody heard back almost immediately with a note that said, “I want to publish this!”

“He’s been very enthusiastic about this entire project,” Mrs Brody recently shared.

The Burning Bush, says Mrs Brody, is primarily a collection of essays. “The poetry occurs within the essays,” she said recently, although there are a number of poems presented outside the context of an essay. The collection was not created within a grand design, but the finished product continues to circle back to the ideas of the human connection to Mother Earth.

“I didn’t plan this, but I discovered after putting the poems together that these meditative essays, even the ones on subjects outside of my life, have this undercurrent of green woods and trees and our connection to them,” she said. “I didn’t have a grand design going in. These poems were written over the course of two years, and the fact they have this idea braiding them all together is very exciting to me. They circle back upon themselves.”

Life brings patterns, and one chapter honors that when it discusses a quilt that was created by a friend of Mrs Brody’s.

“Carpenter’s Wheel” begins by talking about the quilting project Nancy Cogswell undertook a few years ago, moves into an autobiographical segment about taking life for granted during her younger years, and even incorporates quantum physics before moving into a conclusion that makes perfect sense… just like the quilt her friend made.

“‘Carpenter’s Wheel’ is this pattern, a beautiful pattern,” Mrs Brody explained. “[Nancy] pulled seeming random bits of fabric from a large collection of scraps, worked them together, and created something that makes sense.

“Seeming random occurrence in pattern is actually a real interesting topic to me,” she admitted. “That short chapter reflects upon seemingly random events and how, when looking back, those events actually make a pattern and make sense. I find that fascinating.”

The Burning Bush opens with the poem “Omphalos,” and the first essay, “As The Twig is Bent.” The essay’s title comes from a Hungarian saying the writer remembers her father using numerous times while she was growing up: As the twig is bent, so grows the tree. The chapter that pays homage to that saying and to the author’s father is “very autobiographical,” said Mrs Brody, “and it explains much of how I became the woman I have become.”

A large part of Mrs Brody’s life has been devoted to all birds and their lifestyles. In fact in a story written a few years ago in The Newtown Bee, reporter Dottie Evans called Mrs Brody “an expert in all things avian –– from the body language of sea gulls to the annual migration of spring warblers.”

It’s not surprising, then, that The Burning Bush also pays tribute to birds as well as to the writer’s mother.

“I came into bird watching as a young woman,” she said. It was an interest, she explained, that she found on her own but was able to also share time and observations with her mother, the late Lucille Phelps Laszlo. Mrs Brody has since been a leader of countless bird walks, hawk watches, and Audubon Christmas counts, and she is a published poet as well as a naturalist.

“Birding was something we shared during our adult years,” Mrs Brody said. “She was a great gal. We used to go birding together.”

The love for nature came from both of Mrs Brody’s parents. Her father was a co-founder in 1958 of Earthplace, the 62-acre wildlife sanctuary and museum in Westport.

Her earlier work has received accolades, with many of her poems appearing in literary journals. In 1998 she was a finalist in the New Millennium Writings competition, she was selected in 1994 to read at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, and she has been a presenting poet in the New England Foundation for the Humanities “After Frost: Poetry in New England” series.

Of her new collection, poet and author Mark Doty has already said Mrs Brody “offers a book of deep affection for the natural world. Her rewardingly close attention to many branches of the ‘Bush of Forms’ makes for an engaging record of participation, love, and memory.”

An active conservationist all of her life, residents may remember a special birthday present that was arranged for Mrs Brody a few years ago. In August 2003, to honor her 70th birthday, Mrs Brody was surprised when a group of family members, friends and even some politicians greeted her in the Upper Paugussett State Forest in the area off Albert’s Hill Road and Echo Valley Road in northeast Newtown and unveiled a scenic road that had been named Polly Brody Forest Road.

DEP State Forester Donald Smith dedicated the road to Mrs Brody after hearing from many people of her work during the 1960s in saving the forest from development by coordinating the efforts of the town’s Conservation Commission, The Nature Conservancy, The Sierra Club, and The Open Space Action Institute.

Mrs Brody lived on Main Street in Newtown from 1956 until the spring of 1997. After 40 years in town she moved to Heritage Village in Southbury, yet she continues to maintain many of her local friendships.

She hopes to see plenty of friends later this year when she visits C.H. Booth Library for a reading and book signing program; the date of that program has yet to be set.

Meanwhile, a copy of The Burning Bush has been donated to Newtown’s library and copies are available directly from the publisher (www.AntrimHouseBooks.com, telephone 860-217-0023) and the author (send an email to berylline33@yahoo.com).

Mrs Brody will also have copies of the new book with her when she presents programs, which will start with the first public reading from the new collection on Monday, June 20, in Bethlehem. Mrs Brody will be at Bethlehem Public Library at 7 pm; contact Anne Small, 203-266-7792, for details about the publication party.

She will then be at Bent of the River Audubon Center, 185 East Flat Hill Road in Southbury on Sunday, June 26. The center will be hosting a Barn Dance & Family Day from 1 to 6 pm. Admission is $20, and there will be guided hikes, hawk and owl programs, multi-generational line, contra and square dancing, arts and crafts for all ages, and plenty of refreshments to purchase. Mrs Brody will be offering two readings from The Burning Bush.

Then in August she will offer a program at Earthplace in Westport on Sunday, August 28, at 3 pm (call 203-227-7253), and she is already scheduled to do a reading at Southbury Public Library on Tuesday, November 15, at 7:30 pm. The library is at 561 Main Street South, between Pomperaug Elementary School and Southbury Town Hall (telephone 262-0626).

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