Tuesday, June 2, 2009


The Daoist folk deity's known as t'u-ti (literally land, soil, territory) are the little local gods of a particular place. For the third year a gathering has taken place on June 1st on a tall bank above the creek that tumbles through a series of waterfalls at the Christman Preserve. The Preserve is located in the Town of Duanesburg in New York State. A Tribute to local farmer and nature poet William Weaver Christman (1865-1937) the gathering of poets and their friends was joined this year by Anne Christman, his granddaughter, and by two neighbors representing families that have known each other for well over a hundred years. Here at the gathering spot there might be a t'u-ti belonging to the location. Any who visit the overlooking bank remark on the special serenity, the unclouded feeling present.

The t'u-ti sent out an invitation for the ceremony. The Fisherman of the Susquehanna watershed, the poets of the sacred Finger Lakes, the Normanskill poets of the number one hundred and twenty, the thirty-two officials of environmental conservation, the Great Spirits in charge of wind, rain, thunder, and lightning, the three ghosts of bards of local history, the five benevolents of small press publishing, the eight Immortals of poesy, the ten open mic readers of the Hells -- all were present on the appointed day.

These t'u-ti seem to be like numen, little gods of oak grove and sacred spring. I've been thinking about the mechanics of it all ever since I first learned of them a few months ago. One thing that is different from the western tradition is that some t'u-ti are celebrated persons, community servants who when living gave to others. Not like ghosts haunting or spirits being unable to pass on, these t'u-ti are new entities. The souls of a community's good servants still enter heaven but somehow something of the them is left as guardian spirit to protect and preserve what they accomplished in their lives. (I'm just making up this metaphysics as I go along.) It may not be measurable but at each touch (physical, emotional & spiritual) lets say a little tiny unmeasurable but there piece of the person touching moves to the touched. Someone's favorite hat; tools like a carving knife or loom; a room a person spent much enjoyable time in -- Did you ever get the feeling that something of the person lingered? We have identity, walls between us and the world, maybe for those giving of themselves to their works, to the needs of others, the walls allow a tiny bit of the person's essense to move from their essense to the world. I can think of a few people, Will Christman among them, who still evoke influence on others many years after their deaths.

Words are another thing. Writers, poets, singers and others in the expressive arts know about the energy transfer from sender to receiver. With sixteen people and twelve poets reading poems, Will Christman's words, thoughts, and poetic art were broadcast among those gathered in celebration of his life and legacy. Mike Burke added to the event by reading poetry of Will Christman's son Lansing and paired his his own poem with a similarly themed Will Christman poem In a Neglected Graveyard. Michael Czarnecki read a poem he had written minutes before and then marveled both his poem and Christman's broke into song. "A glee sparrow waking/Trills an old love dream:/Here in the shadow of lintel and eaves/I too am singing," Christman wrote. In general having so many readers made for a rich environment because, as each read at least one of Will Christman's poems, there was a nice variety of language and delivery. Walt Franklin had the most interesting tale having written and had published a tribute poem to Will Christman. In its original envelope he shared a letter Lansing Christman wrote him thanking him for the poem and including a cancelled check with W.W. Christman's signature on it for an autograph to keep.

Anne Christman was gratious enough to discuss her grandfather with the gathered. The whole question of a visit to the land by Robert Frost and the arguments he and Will had while touring the property couldn't be verified by Anne. There were strong opinions, with some having certainty that the visits happened and others still holding out for hard evidence. When I explored the Christman family papers at the New York Historical Association archive in Cooperstown, New York, I couldn't find any documentation. I asked her what Will would have thought of we poets going to the tavern for some drink, food, poetry and conversation after we were finished at the creek side today. She said "He would have been right with you. He liked people to enjoy life and did himself"

As everyone left for the parking area and on to Smitty's Tavern in Voorheesville, people separated and took different trails. I made a quick dash to creek side with Michael, Tim Lake, and Obeedude coming along. We then hurried back to the parking area only to be put in wait mode as the others meandered along. When Susan got there she realized she had dropped her green velvet blouse and went back to look for it. With other people waiting , I set off to cover the drive to Smitty's Tavern in as little time as possible. A nice crowd of poets were waiting and Tom Corrado had provided and set up his a mic. We got going "only" about 20 minutes late. What the impractical M.C.(me) thought might be three times around the circle of poets turned out to be only once around. The poets from "far" or "the west" were well received and excellent of course. Local poets were not too shabby either. Here's the line-up: Dennis Sullivan, Therese Broderick, Michael Czarnecki, Tom Corrado, Alan Casline, John Roche, Mimi Moriarty, Susan Deer Cloud, Tim Lake, Paulette Swartzfager, Mike Burke, Walt Franklin, Obeedude, Alan Siegle, Philomena Moriarty, Barbara Vink, Tim Verhaegan, Ron Pavoldi, and John Abbuhl. I wish I made good on my threat to continue the reading in the tavern's parking lot but as chairs went up on the tables and I gathered my papers, posters, and drum, I got to the front of the tavern and saw the poets had just moved to there and the conversations were whirling. I distinctly heard Mike Burke tell Michael Czarnecki he was going to pursue a shared interest in Chinese poetry. The poets from the Finger Lakes wanted to know more about the "Normanskill" poet Ron Pavoldi and damm if Ron had not earned the honorific by poetically documenting playing in the creek beds. It is not how many poems you have published but how often you've gotten your feet wet. John Abbuhl, I expect, learned more about poets today ( if not poetry itself) then all the other days of his life. I guess it is payback for the poets who toured his Pine Hollow Arboretum earlier in the afternoon and learned more about evergreens then they had any day of their lives. John now goes by the name "John of the Arboretum" within certain poetry circles of watershed intelligensia. Arriving back at my house, noted patroness of the arts and my wife Jennifer Pearce took (well to be fair it was two looks not one) and then went up to bed. She said she went from irritated to jealous because we were making so much noice and laughing so much. Very good and interesting conversations kept us going till early in the morning. After breakfast everyone went on their ways. What a warm and enjoyable time. We'll have to do it again next year.


On Tuesday I went out to the Christman Preserve to start tracing the small waterway that flowed past the Memorial Stone and had the small bridge built across it at the begining of the woods part of the trail. I didn't go far before I saw a fair-sized beaver pond. I turned around there, giving up my search for the source spring. Next time I'll have to be prepared to circle this little pond. I walked around looking, elusive sighting of deer near our spot and a large winged waterbird from the stream. I saw white and silver feathers on ascending wings through the trees. I'd say it sounded like a heron, but really my ears aren't that trained.


  1. Alan,

    Was great to be apart of this tribute reading. It was a fine gathering of peots in place. Certainly a moving experience for me.

  2. Alan,
    I am doing some research on WW Christman, Henry and Lansing, because of my father's work with Carl Carmer. I would love to get in contact with Anne Christman. Can you help?
    Lucey Bowen

  3. Our family oral history doesn't mention a visit from Robert Frost. There was correspondence, and I have a copy of a letter from Frost apologizing for not making the "promised" visit.
    David Arnold
    great grandson of W.W.Christman
    nephew of Anne Christman