A wellspring of poetry

I admire her. I like her. I know her. And I’ve never met her. She’s Ann Hutt Browning. And she’s just published a book of poetry – her first book-length collection – titled “Deep Landscape Turning.”

Here’s a brief biography:

Ann Hutt Browning has two master’s degrees, one in psychology and one in architecture, four grown children, five grandchildren, and one husband of 50 years. Born in England, raised in southern California, she attended Radcliffe College and has lived in Missouri, Kentucky, France, Macedonia, Chicago, Virginia and now Massachusetts. She and her husband, Preston, a retired English professor, operate Wellspring House in Ashfield, Massachusetts, a retreat center for writers and artists. Some of her poetry has appeared in The Carolina Quarterly, The Southern Humanities Review, The Dalhousie Review, The Ecozoic Reader, Dogwood, Peregrine, Out of Line, Salamander, and several on-line poetry journals.

Here are two of her poems:


When she awoke in the morning
She threw back her all cotton sheet,
Cotton woven in a far off country
By a dark skinned girl chained to her large loom.
When she went into her kitchen
She ground beans to brew her coffee,
Beans grown, roasted in a far off country
Where the tall trees were cleared off the land
For the coffee bushes to be planted
And tended by boys not in school and men
Old before their time and where all the waste
From treating the beans is flushed and dumped
In the river, adding that detritus
To the human waste and chemical run
Off already there in the gray water
And where downstream others used the water,
That dark water, for cooking and bathing.

After her children boarded the school bus,
Wearing clothing made in the Philippines,
Mauritania, Taiwan, a hodge-podge
Of imports from other worlds, far off countries,
Where sweat shops flourished,
Filled with child workers,
She went shopping:
Guatemalan cantaloupes, Mexican tomatoes,
Chilean oranges, California lettuce,
Carolina rice, Michigan peaches,
Blueberries from Maine, all bought because
In her garden she grew hybrid tea roses,
Siberian iris, cross-bred daylilies in six colors,
Held down by pine bark, chipped in Oregon.

Then she roamed the market aisle marked
“Special,” and bought a basket, its colors
Imitative of Mexican folk art, made in China,
The price suggesting child or prison labor
Dyed the fronds of grass, wove the basket
And attached the label.

She ate a quick lunch of a hamburger,
The ground beef from a far off country
Where the virgin forest was burned off
So cattle could graze on tropical grass,
The bun made from Canadian wheat
And the ketchup, again those Mexican tomatoes.
She drove home to prop up her feet
On the foam cushioned sofa, turn on the TV,
Assembled in Nicaragua,
In a maquiladora by a woman
Who rose at five a.m. to walk three kilometers
To the bus, who then rode twenty-five miles
To the factory in the tax free zone,
Who worked from eight to five
With a quarter of an hour to eat
Or use the toilet,
Who got home at eight o’clock
To bathe and feed her three children,
With eighteen cents an hour in her pocket
On good days.

The woman on the sofa
Watched two soap operas
As usual on a week day,
And ate ice cream,
American ice cream.
She liked American ice cream.
She lived an ordinary life.


What happens now,
In the moments of our nights,
In the continuity of our days,
Shall be written in blood lines
Of darkened hearts, in the liquid
Gold plate of our broken souls,
In the long ligaments of naked limbs,
In the marrow of our fractured bones.
We stumble on with hesitant bodies;
We fall back, floundering.
How many are victims,
How many witnesses?
Can reason comprehend
The horror of explosions,
Lost lives of ordinary persons
Going about their ordinary work.
Hands touch and grip fast,
We embrace for soul’s sake.
Bond now and breathe together.
Breathe in, breathe out.
Take breath from autumn trees,
From ripe tomatoes on brown vines,
Grown old now, just as we
Are grown old
Before our time.


I encountered Ann Hutt Browning’s poetry through her husband Preston, who has worked long and hard to gain his wife’s poetry the attention it deserves — and to publish “Deep Landscape Turning.”

I heard all about Ann — and came to feel like I know her — during a week-long stay in spring of 2009 at Wellspring House a writers and artists retreat Preston and Ann started in Ashfield, Mass., in the eastern foothills of the Berkshires, in the neighborhood of Northampton and Amherst. It’s a beautiful dream-come-true, and the spirit behind it — the vision shared by the Brownings — permeates the place.  During my stay, I joined a few others in an informal readings of our works, five of us gathered around the hearth in Wellspring House’s cozy downstairs living room/library. Preston, a writer and scholar in his own right, chose not to  read some of his work, but instead to read some of Ann’s poetry – and she was there in the room with us, even though she couldn’t be there, as Preston’s beautiful reading of his wife’s writing made it clear that his effort to get “Deep Landscape Turning” into print was nothing less than a true labor of love.

“Deep Landscape Turning” was just published by Ibbetson Street Press in Somerville, Mass. Here’s how to order the book. Ann’s poetry is lovely and intelligent, lyric and insightful, both personal and universal. Her book costs just $15. And how can you go wrong spending just $15 on a new book by a fine poet named Browning?


Is “Shelter from the Snowstorm” a bonus track?

It’s like Jimmy Durante, say, tried to croon “Try a Little Tenderness.” It’s like, um, Screaming Jay Hawkins tried singing “Do-Re-Mi” from “The Sound of Music.” It’s like, er,  Andrea Boccelli trying to sing “Run, Run, Rudolph.” It’s like, um, Bob Dylan trying to sing “Moon River.” OK, it’s very much like Bob Dylan singing Henry Mancini’s song from “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.”

I’m talking about the not-an-urban-legend reports that the old elf himself has, indeed, recorded an album of Christmas songs. The album, due out soon, is titled “Christmas in the Heart.” All proceeds from the album’s sales will go to the charity Feeding America.

Would I lie to you about anything having to do with Christmas? No, Virginia. In fact, here’s the actual album cover:


And here’s the track list….imagine Santa Bob singing these Yuletide tunes: Here Comes Santa Claus, Do You Hear What I Hear?, Winter Wonderland, Hark The Herald Angels Sing, I’ll Be Home For Christmas, Little Drummer Boy, The Christmas Blues, O Come All Ye Faithful (Adeste Fideles), Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas, Must Be Santa, Silver Bells, The First Noel, Christmas Island, The Christmas Song, O Little Town Of Bethlehem.

At the top of my I-can-wait-to-hear this list: Dylan singing the “barump-bum-bum-bum” part of “Little Drummer Boy,” Dylan singing the “kids dressed up like Eskimos” part of “The Christmas Song,” and Dylan singing “the ding-a-ling/hear them ring” part of “Silver Bells.”

In fact, I think the great Dylan may have found yet another way to surprise us the way he’s surprised his fans during a nearly 50-year career filled with unexpected twists and turns. I think he should consider putting out a karaoke album — who wouldn’t want a chance to sing their very own karaoke making-believe-I’m-as-cool-as Dylan rendition of, um, “Desolation Row?  How about a polka album with a Jimmy Sturrs-type take on, say, “All Along the Watchtower?” Or how about recording some children’s songs? Wait, he’s done that already. Here’s Uncle Bob singing for all of you red-diaper great-grandbabies:

Dylan singing “The First Noel?” Next thing you know, Porky Pig’s going to try to sing Elvis Presley’s “Blue Christmas.”