How many red-blooded American teenagers do you know who would take a week away from smart phones and in-your-facebook and other exercises in self-absorption in order to climb mountains and gain perspective through poetry? Zero, right? Well, I know 10 now, 10 fine young people from Vermont and Connecticut and Virginia and Texas and Kentucky and California who participated in one of Marlboro’s amazing (pre)college summer programs called “Poetry on the Peaks.” Led by fearless writing professor Kyhl Lyndgaard, I joined these intrepid youths for a hike up to the dizzy heights of Haystack Mountain.
Our man Kyhl chose Haystack because it reminded him of the work of ancient Chinese mountain recluse poet Hsieh Ling-Yün, who lived in exile in the fifth century and built himself a thatch hut to write poetry in. Get it—Haystack; thatch hut? I mean, Kyhl has a writer’s knack for metaphor. He pointed out that many poets and other writers have found their way to Vermont to follow in ol’ Hsieh Lin-Yün’s footsteps, metaphorically speaking, and get away from it all, get out of their own heads, get away from the notion that everything is revolving around them, and ignore their emails. I don’t know if any of them have built thatch huts, but you get the idea.
When we reached the top of the mountain, all hot and sweaty and flushed and panting and more sweaty (and that was just me), Kyhl didn’t waste a moment before reading poems by David Budbill, one of Vermont’s own mountain recluse poets. The teens took turns reading lines, then jumped right into writing some of their own poetry and journal entries—I have never seen a group of teenagers so quiet before. All you could hear was the heat rising off the rocks and a Swainson’s thrush fluting down the slope. I’m not kidding, a butterfly was making a colossal racket flitting around the group. I would not be surprised if some of these reflective young folks, many who had never seen a mountaintop before, might be next to follow the path of ol’ Hsieh Lin-Yün.