Poems with the Twang of Maine

From JFA Newsletter no. 1, November 1984; published in the Boston Globe, Friday, June 29, 1984

The Agamenticus Poems, by Donald Junkins, Hollow Spring Press.

Nowadays they call it York, Maine. But before Maine became part of the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1652, the settlers called it what the Indians called it; Agamenticus, "the other side of the river."

York was also called Gorgeana, after the first charter holder, and was the first city in America that England chartered. But Donald Junkins is interested in Agamenticus — the settlement on the other side of the river of time.

Junkins eighth volume of verse is a remarkable, pungent, twangy, dramatic and lyrical exploration of the time of his ancestors' lives, and the way that time touches him — and — us now. Though short, the book has a huge cast of characters and three main plots.

First, we see the Rev. Joseph Moody (1700-1753) grow from under his preacher father's wing, ogling his Agamenticus cousin while he courts a Glouchester girl, prancing on the beach on stilts till he mounts the pulpit of his own Baptist church, where his own congregation evicts him for hanging a white handkerchief over his face as a kind of penance, after burying his wife and child.

The bloodlines piercing the white clouds,
See! the great mouth of mimicking Micah.
The Kingfishers prating in the pulpil.
They say moody Moody, I say look
On these baptizing hands that tossed the clods
On Lucy's pine box next to little Lucy's pine Box.
Meanwhile women sit on the beach and read or,
like Moody's cousin Mary, pary:
… for the openess of this day.
The last pale raspberries on my tongue,
And the single daisy by the road:
The clear remembrance of last night's dream.
The white froth of yesterday's storm's wave.
And the brown-eyed Susans' curtsy
In the wind;
I pray for solitude's white pearl of peach
From the blue mussel's side.

While Moody was still a boy, Donald Junkins' ancestors Olive and Samuel married in a Cochranite ceremony, much like Quakers, and to save their souls the Baptist church of Agamenticus had all it could do not to draw and quarter them before Olive and Samuel married legally to save their lives. Donald Junkins' 16 "Straggling Women Poems" are a brilliant evocation of the risks and daring, provinciality and timidity, gentleness and cunning that all the characters in this drama had in common.

All of these historical monologues are arranged among a series of poems set in 1979 and 1980 in which Donald and his family hunt old Junkins graves. These poems are almost a cheat, because modern-day Junkinses are presented as clear-headed, innocent spelunkers of the depths of Maine culture, while Joseph Moody and Olive Junkins are painted in their most florid fits and beatitudes. Described in this way, Agamenticus becomes the other side of the self, that shadowy, unconscious part where each of us does penance on the stilts with white handkerchiefs draped over our faces.

These are fine, memorable poems that speak with cadence of Maine and the murmur of old broken hearts and old healed ones. Agamenticus is a rounder, better-loved, truer terrain than Spoon River, and much closer to home. Donald Junkins has traced his WASP roots up into a tree of life.

For more information on this and other books by Donald Junkins write:

Mr. Donald Junkins
Hawks Road
Deerfield, MA 01342

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