Last fall Curator Cathleen Miller and I got to thinking that it might be nice to get out and visit with some of the authors whose work makes up the collection, and capture our discussions with them on video to share on the MWWC website featured writers pages. So, in early December we checked out the video equipment from our IT department, had a lesson in how to set it up and make it go and headed to Kennebunk to meet and interview Christine Teale Howes. Howes, now 84, is a poet, former Westbrook College teacher and former columnist for the York Country Coast Star.
Making our way up the walk on that crisp late fall afternoon, we noticed a well-nibbled pumpkin on the grass, obviously a treat kindly set out for the yard’s lucky squirrels and chipmunks. At the door Christine and her husband, Robert Howes, greeted us and invited us into the embrace of a room filled with books and art and made toasty by crackling wood logs in the fireplace. Such hospitality for critters and humans alike…
Once the video camera was expertly arranged we settled in to talk with Howes about her family life, her literary life and her collaborations with visual artists and musicians.
Born in 1927 in Granby, CT, to a minister come from Wales and his American wife, Christine married Robert M. Howes, a Methodist minister whose call to Kennebunkport’s South Congregational Church brought them to Maine. They had six children and, when Bob retired, they moved from Kennebunkport to Kennebunk.
In our interview Howes recalled launching her writing life at the age of 9 and immersing herself in the study of poetry from that young age. She developed her talents while a creative writing major at Syracuse University, and later attended the Breadloaf Writers’ Conference at Middlebury College and took an advanced writing course through Radcliffe College’s continuing education program. “At my first class,” she recalled, “everyone read something, and I have never had a piece of writing so thoroughly torn apart as that one was. It was very therapeutic!”
She taught English composition for a time at University of New England, and has lectured widely, including at Bowdoin and Westbrook colleges. Two of her poems were included in the 1979 SPECTRA I Anthology, published by Westbrook College and The Maine Association of Women in Fine and Performing Arts. In addition to giving many local poetry readings, Howes has also read at the Soiree de Poesie in Quebec and at Mansfield College, Oxford.
Characterized by her adherence to traditional poetic forms, her work is influenced by Edna St. Vincent Millay, D.H. Lawrence, Dylan Thomas, Amy Lowell, and Wallace Stevens. She has experimented with various forms, including those of Japanese verse and the 24 official Welsh meters. “Ambage,” a biographical tribute to her late father, is a series of 24 poems composed to fit those old Welsh structures. She is also very inspired by visual art and has collaborated with a number of artists. One example is Archipelago of Light, a beautifully illustrated book collaboration Howes did with painter Catherine Cabaniss of Birmingham, AL. We asked her if she might read a bit from Archipelago for us, which she gladly did, declaring, “I’d read on a street corner if anyone asked me to!” Stay tuned to see this clip once we complete the editing process.
Howes’ collaborative efforts have also extended to musical projects. She was asked for a poem by the Choral Arts Society of Maine, and her piece entitled “AMH” was set to music by the Society as part of the five-movement collection, Changing Perceptions, and performed in March 1995 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Portland. The poem was written for her stillborn son, Arthur McCarey Howes, and by the glow of the fire in the late afternoon light, she read this deeply moving piece for us:
Christine’s husband Bob shared with us his experience of living with a poet, explaining that, “In our bedroom we each have a (gooseneck) reading lamp…and there are nights I’m dimly aware that Christine’s light is on. And I know that, in the morning, she’s going to have poems that she wants to read to me, because she’s been writing through the night. She calls it a “white night.” She’s done that many, many times. I have a feeling that the creative welling-up in her mind – it takes over her life and she just simply has to write. It sort of pours out of her at times like that. It’s also an extremely satisfying experience for her. She’s just so happy – she hasn’t had any sleep all night and she’s been writing poems!” Christine smiles and adds, “It makes me easier to live with.” Bob concludes, “Living with Christine has been a wonderful literary adventure.”
We so enjoyed our time with Christine and Bob, and hope to have the fully-edited video piece up on the website soon. I’m learning iMovie bit by bit, frame by frame, and in the process I’m reliving gratefully this special afternoon of poetry and conversation.