In a town known for an abundance of artist types, Will Nixon emerges as a poet (Love in the City of Grudges and My Late Mother as a Ruffed Grouse) especially bent on commemorating the locality of Woodstock. A resident of the famous village for a couple of decades, he co-penned two books with Michael Perkins, Walking Woodstock: Journeys into the Wild Heart of America’s Most Famous Small Town and The Pocket Guide to Woodstock, exposing readers to the history and geography of the area from a pedestrian point of view.
His newest offering closes in on familiar people and places and common events – but it does so with a literary twist. Acrostic Woodstock employs the poetic form wherein lines begin with letters that spell out a word – in this collection, the title of each poem. For example, Nixon initiates readers with the invitation to “Enjoy Woodstock”:
Nation without a name.
Yelling with ridiculous joy.
We all need
Other versions of
Don’t believe the
Shadows or the
Kill your crazy dreams.
Acrostics can be tricky, involving more complicated double and triple patterns, and you might wonder how and why the form was invented (it was of Greek origination, probably passed on through the French). As for Nixon, he says that he uses it as a “whimsical warmup exercise” to get his more serious creative juices flowing. “I pick a random phrase for a title, which I also write down the margin as the first letter for each line. Then I fill in the lines, favoring spontaneity over coherence.”
The results of this practice intrigued him and led to this collection of more than 70 acrostic poems featuring Woodstock notables and well-known spots around town: the library, the cinema, the hardware store, the various eateries and retailers, the cemetery and those interned there. Observations on roadkill and realtors and the WDST Roundtable share page space with iconic attitudes and references. And all the while, readers strain to get the connotation: “Do I know who/what he’s talking about? Am I on the inside or outside looking in?”
I asked Nixon if he ever runs out of words: “No, but fresh words are harder to come by. My poetry motto is, ‘Don’t tell me what I already know.’ My challenge is to surprise myself by what I write. The acrostic form wouldn’t let me slip into my ruts. I had to take a new turn every five or six words.” He seems always to be up to something, and questioned whether or not he ever gets bored, this self-described “prince of a suburban family of four” admits that by age 12 he was probably “a bit bratty and smart.”
Now his smarts and natural curiosity serve to celebrate the community. I asked if he ever imagines living elsewhere, away from Woodstock. “All the time.” he says. “I’ve been in the area for 20 years. My life is a familiar routine. In recent years I’ve gone away for a month here, a month there, and felt invigorated by being in new places. Yet I do come back. I walk out to the mailbox in my bathrobe and see Overlook Mountain filling the skyline like my own Mount Rushmore, and I feel anchored here.
“One reason I wrote Acrostic Woodstock was to take field trips into the village to play tourist, so that I could notice things that I missed by assuming I already knew the town. I wrote Acrostic Woodstock to fall in love with the place again.”
The Golden Notebook will host “Performing Arts of Woodstock [PAW] Reads Woodstock Poems by Will Nixon” to launch the book this Friday evening. Three PAW regulars will read from Acrostic Woodstock, including Adele Calcavecchio, the president of PAW; George Allen, who appeared in PAW’s productions The Importance of Being Earnest and 2 X Pinter; and Mourka, who joined PAW for Lives of the Saints and All My Sons.
A “Woodstock Poems Scavenger Hunt” will run from 5 p.m. on Friday through 5 p.m. on Sunday, December 6, with 12 shops and restaurants offering copies of “their” special poems from the book. People who collect all 12 poems and report in to the Golden Notebook will be eligible for a $100 gift certificate to the place of their choice. The participating shops and restaurants are the Golden Notebook, Oriole 9, Jean Turmo, H. Houst & Son, Candlestock, Bread Alone, Catskill Art & Office Supply, Catskill Mountain Pizza, Sunflower Natural Foods, Yum Yum, Lotus Fine Art and Sunfrost Farms.
On Saturday, December 19 at 5 p.m., the Woodstock Library will host “Woodstock Poems” in a performance of more than 20 people reading “their” poems from Acrostic Woodstock, including Rebecca Turmo, Bill Markle, Jody Bryan, Brian Hollander, Martha Frankel, Mike Reynolds, Crystal Schachter, Dayl Wise, Marilyn Crispell, Doug Grunther, Paul McMahon, Jessica Kerr, Robert Wyatt, Vivian Letizia, Gordon Brown, Terry Funk-Antman, Marc Delgado, Melissa Misra, Phillip Levine, Laura Weiss, Kevin Smith, Jeffrey Davis, Jacqueline Kellachan and Win Morrison.
Nixon has also collaborated with local entrepreneur Mike Haller, co-creator of PixStori, an app designed to record audio shorts combined with still images. To hear some of the subjects reading Acrostic Woodstock poems, go to www.pixstori.com/partners/#b463577fea0191efe40bffe97a08ef0a.
Book launch: Will Nixon’s Acrostic Woodstock, Friday, December 4, 7 p.m., Golden Notebook, 29 Tinker Street, Woodstock; (845) 679-8000, www.goldennotebook.com.
Reading: Woodstock Poems, Saturday, December 19, 5 p.m., Woodstock Library, 5 Library Lane, Woodstock; (845) 679-2213, ulsterpub.staging.wpengine.org.