MaryKate and Katie Holden
The strong sense of place that Kate, Mary Kate and Katie, three generations of women from one family, experience when they go to their lake house in Connecticut inspired each of them to write poetry. When they heard about the EPA’s Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder contest, the women combined their poems into one. Host Jeff Young talks with the women about their winning poem, A Place of Peace.
YOUNG: The root of the word ecology, “eco,” means “house.” And a house that’s truly a home can be a powerful link to our surroundings and the generations of people who passed through. That’s certainly true of the Talmadge family. Their home place in the Connecticut woods is so special to them it’s inspired three generations of poets. Kate, Mary-Kate, and Katie, combined their poems about the home into one and entered it in a contest sponsored by the Environmental Protection Agency: the Rachel Carson Sense of Wonder contest. And, they won! This month they celebrate the 100th anniversary of the house that inspired this winning poem. First of all, congratulations!
ALL: Thank you.
YOUNG: Now who am I talking to? Who’s who here?
KATIE: I’m Katie Holden, and I’m Mary Kate’s daughter, and Kate’s granddaughter.
MARY KATE: This is Mary Kate Holden. And I am in the middle.
KATE: And I’m Kate. The matriarch, the oldest one, at 92.
YOUNG: Now, before we hear the poem, place of peace, I’m wondering where are we in this poem, what’s the setting?
MARY KATE: The setting is at home in Litchfield County, Connecticut, which has been in our family for about 100 years. And it’s a place where all of us have spent summers, and no matter how far away we go from it, we always try to get back there for a short period of time. It’s very natural setting. There’s no radio and there’s no TV and there’s a lot of water, and it means a great deal to all of us in the family.
YOUNG: Well, since you all three wrote the poem, I’d like for you all three to read it for us, if you don’t mind.
MARY KATE: Ok, we can each read the part that we wrote.
KATE: Knee-deep in purple asters, where maples gaily spill,
Unwept living crimson on our firm New England hill,
Our little half-built house awaits you, serene and still.
Such peace is here
And quiet dreaming.
No din of fear
Like sirens screaming
Or brass bells tolling, no dark hate rolling
That troubles the wind-washed silence under
These white clouds flying.
Only the crying of a far bird calling
Like a feather falling
That flutters earthward from above.
Warm as the sun that softly spills
Its life-giving light across the hills,
Kindling the crimson apples for the day of your returning.
MARY KATE: When sunwashed sky turns crimson gold
And cool breezes fall from top of hill
Bringing clouds of bat food buzzing still
My heart stills quiet and my mind breathes
Lulled after the day's chores done. Memories wash over
Of small children laughing in silver drops of water,
Of teenagers dunking and gliding on skis
Blushing under other's gazes peeking through clover.
My family founded in elder days
Continues the call that Nature makes
For our souls returning to this place of peace,
Where time stands still until we say
Who we are and where we are from.
KATIE: I am from the Lake (wet, warm, natural)
I am from the lily, dogwood, earth, planted in the front yard.
My mother’s earth. I'm from long trips and dark features.
From the long line of Kate's and of Robert.
I'm from the stubborn and matriarchal.
From magic curtains and brownie kisses.
I'm from tall altars and winding passages with spires from the sky.
I'm from Europe- France, England, Germany, Ireland, Scotland,
A mutt all around.
From the broken butt to being my rock and storms.
The stubborn women through and through
I am from the old, dust, moths, mold.
I am from mothers and lakes and lots of people,
YOUNG: Very nice. I want to go there, I tell you, I want to go there.
KATIE: Everybody does.
MARY KATE: You’re all invited!
YOUNG: It sounds lovely. I want to ask about a few lines that stood out here. “I’m from the stubborn and matriarchal.”
KATIE: That part, we have very strong women in our family…
YOUNG: I gathered that.
KATIE: Yes, and I am very proud to be one of those women and hopefully one day I can be such a big presence that my mom and my grandmother are.
YOUNG: Kate does that hold true for your memories of your mother, your grandmother? Strong women all the way backs?
KATE: Well, yes, but we’re all different people. And my grandmother bought the property in 1910, so our hundredth anniversary is coming up. I wrote my part of this poem in world war two, when my husband was over in the war in Europe for about 4 years right after we were married, and this poem started out initially as a love letter to him to contrast our home with the blood spilling and the bombs dropping and the sirens screaming over in Europe.
MARY KATE: The wonderful thing about her part of the poem is that this place and the memories of this place, it was an anchor for my father when he was in the war.
YOUNG: There is such a strong sense of place being expressed through this poem and through your comments. And you don’t live in this area anymore, but real home is this house, yeah?
KATIE: Yeah, well this is how I explain it. I explain it that my home is in Greensboro, but my heart is in Connecticut.
MARY KATE: Yes we have very long roots; they extend for a long distance.
KATE: And our family has spread out all through the United States. Some of us are out in California, some in Florida, some in Maine, and we all go back there. We would drift apart if it weren’t for our place in Connecticut.
KATIE: And when I went to college, at that time I didn’t really realize how much that place meant to me, and that summer when I was able to go back, it was like I was going home. My heart was at peace, and I really had so much more respect for this place that I had left and started on my own.
MARY KATE: The wonderful thing about this place is that all the generations are there at a time. You have the new born babies in there little place, and the parents of teenagers watching the kids dunking each other, and the matriarchs and the elders looking on from a far and trying to keep up with everyone’s names. It was like that when my mother was small, it was like that when I was small, it was like that when Katie was small, and it continues to be that way.
YOUNG: Tell me about poetry in your family.
MARY KATE: It’s just a part of us. We’re all very creative people. Poetry is a way of expressing ourselves and it allows us to revisit some of our experiences and some of our feelings.
YOUNG: And Kate, was that something you tried to instill in your daughter and your grand daughter? A love of poetry?
KATE: I always loved poetry and grew up writing it as a little girl. And, I think that Mary Kate and Katie have also done that too. We just like to write.
KATIE: And for me, I have learning disabilities, and for me, poetry is a way to get out what I actually feel about something, and I’ve written so much about the lake it just seems so natural to combine our poems and make it into one big, kind of, story of a life of a place.
YOUNG: Kate, I’m wondering, what’s your earliest memory of that property, or that house?
KATE: Well, it’s a very interesting piece of property. It used to be a hay field filled of beautiful wildflowers. And it has evolved through all my 92 years into a typical, New England hardwood forest. As a little girl I loved every rock and every tree that I could climb and I used to name them. And, all the enchanting, butterflies and little bugs and caterpillars and wildlife has evolved from this beautiful hayfield into a forest with deer, wild turkeys, foxes, coyotes, and the whole landscape has been in evolution like all of us.
YOUNG: Kate Talmage, Mary Kate and Katie Holden, thank you all very much.
ALL: Thank you you’re very welcome.
[MUSIC]: Bill Frisell “Ghost Town/Poem For Eva” from Ghost Town (Nonesuch Records 2000).
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