Carand Burnet

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Category: Writing

Nancy Luce Essay Featured on The Poetry Foundation

Appreciation goes out to the staff of The Poetry Foundation for including an excerpt of my essay, “The Chickens of My Heart: The Search for Nancy Luce” on the Harriet Poetry News Blog.  It’s another testament to Luce’s artistic merits and helps bring this fascinating writer to life for contemporary readers.   Read more here.

Poetry

Gravity Darkening

My current series of poems, Gravity Darkening, examines the mystifying relationship between the body and the mind, the physical world and the intangible words of the spirit, particularly when the alliance between these realms are severed by a sickness.  Gravity Darkening uses an experimental poetic structure to visually and conceptually interlink language and affliction. When one considers that the human body is composed of over thirty-trillion cells, and a poem can be made from a selection of approximately a quarter of a million English words, it only takes the smallest altercations of these microbes and syllables to shape creative expression, forging a syntax of the somatic and the soul.

Three poems from Gravity Darkening are available to read in Jubilat Poetry Journal, Issue 28


Henhouse (2011-2013)

WE WERE PART HEARTED,
Part saddled by sky. How skies, how fences, cage a cage.
Gather trees and break down to them.
Whispering, forget to shade this henhouse…

—”Danger Makes Our Gardens”

“Overturn memory,” proclaims a line from Carand Burnet’s Henhouse. As with hens tilling soil in a garden, Burnet’s poems reveal and obscure a personal history. Each poem penetrates this history in a staccato pacing, drawing up facets which seem at once domestic and mythic. From these fragments Burnet hems together an altered language playfully and deftly, a language which tells us “nature fakes lawfulness,” and “Night would consume all day if it could.” — Phil Montenegro

Published by Projective Industries Press

27 pages; hand-stitched binding; printed in a numbered edition of 120 in Chicago in September 2013.
Covers letterpressed on a Sigwalt Ideal No. 5; salmon endpapers.
5 1/2 x 6 inches

 

*Available for purchase at Projective Industries Press*

Poems published online:

Henhouse

We Were Only Folklore

 


 

THE PRINCIPLES OF FRAYING:
A Collaborative Chapbook

by Beathanie Beausoleil, Carand Burnet, & Ruth Lehrer

Published by Factory Hollow Press, 2012

 

 

Nancy Luce and Her Poor Little Hearts

The true story of a poet and her flock of chickens.

No one never can replace my poor little dears live and well,
No one never can be company for me again,
No one never can I have such a heart aching feeling for again,
No one never can I set so much by again, as I did by them…

-“Poor Little Hearts,” first drafted by Nancy Luce in 1859

As I ride the ferry to Martha’s Vineyard, I watch the island form from a matte purple haze. Underneath this atmosphere, an overcoat of silvery water constantly shifts and trembles. Their gestures are cobwebbed like the scales of a fish, or impressed fingerprints, or the hay meadows of Luce’s land. Watching the wave’s intricate movement I think of how many routines contribute to a life as a whole. I think of how many days Luce spent with her hens, as she sang to them, scooped her hands into barrels of southern corn, and gave them the comfort she so longingly desired for herself. — An excerpt from Poor Little Hearts

Nancy Luce Martha's Vineyard

My forthcoming creative nonfiction book about Nancy Luce, titled Poor Little Hearts, uncovers the life and writings of Martha’s Vineyard’s famous chicken lady.  Despite her local legend, her image is misrepresented in this day and age, and an astonishing narrative of determination and faith has been buried in the 125 years since her death.  The book tells my own personal history as I investigate Luce’s legend and her special family composed of chickens.  It is based on site-specific and archival research to show how a lonely, ailing woman became a recognized celebrity of her time.  The tale of Luce’s chicken’s gravestones — as well as her sound poem “Hen’s Names”—  was reprinted in newspapers across the country.  Thousands of tourists visited her homestead, and a group of donors from across the world helped Luce build one of the greatest and unique avian structures inside her home.  Luce believed in practicing equal empathy for all, regardless of gender, or one being human or animal.  Reflected in her correspondence and poems, virtues applauded and typically respected today, ignited controversy in her era.

Even in the most dire circumstances,
Nancy remained true to her literary
and artistic voice.

Nancy Luce lived in West Tisbury, then known as the village of New Town, from 1814-1890.  At age 26, she became seriously ill, turned away from society, and remained house-ridden for the rest of her life.  Although frail and destitute, she looked past the criticisms of her aberrant lifestyle and instead wrote compassionately about her pet chickens.  Luce’s most well-known poem, “Poor Little Hearts,” was written after the deaths of her favorite hens, Ada Queetie and Beauty Linna.  She remained unmarried, self-reliant, as she self-published her poetry and sold her booklets and photographs to the first tourists of Martha’s Vineyard.

As I am writing the biography, I realize that every piece of evidence that I discover about Luce confirms my idea that she was an intelligent and resilient woman, and most certainly not a farcical hermit. Luce intentionally created a sellable identity with the people that visited her homestead who purchased her hen poems and photographs; however, fame or independence would never alleviate her sufferings from an undiagnosed illness or her exclusion from society.  Her efforts were in hopes of forging a better world where the ailing and misrepresented could be respected and have a voice realized through the unbiased caring of all living creatures.

Nancy Luce and a Tribute to Her chickens

Nancy Luce’s Grave in May 2014

Nancy Luce Poet Gravesite with Chickens Martha's Vineyard

Revisiting Nancy’s Grave in May 2015

Chickens were Luce’s emotional pillar during her life of poverty, sickness, and seclusion. Her tribute to her hens was commissioning two gravestones for them after their passing. The letters on one headstone read Ada Queetie and Beauty Linna, along with their time of death, age, and a stanza of poetry. The second, stouter gravestone is dedicated to Luce’s chicken companion, T. T. Pinky. Luce’s final wish was to buried beside her companions at her homestead, however, the executor of her estate decided against the plan. Everyday admirers of Luce leave behind chicken tokens of appreciation resembling her “Poor Little Hearts,” at her graveside located at the West Tisbury Village Cemetery.

Nancy Luce Homestead in Martha's Vineyard

A view of Luce’s homestead

The Martha’s Vineyard Museum displayed her hen headstones, manuscripts, and correspondence from their special collections in an exhibit.  There is also a basic biography published in 1984, Consider Poor I: The Life and Works of Nancy Luce by Walter Teller, that frameworks important events in Luce’s life.  Upon new discoveries made during my research of the chicken poet, I believe that my book will respond to previously unanswerable questions about “The Madonna of Hens” and shed new light on the inspiring and life-affirming relationships between pet and poet.

 

Poor Little Hearts Writers Statement

As a writer, I collage fragments of history, poetry, and memoir. The events, literature, and people I find most compelling are those lost within historical documents waiting to be discovered. My current subject is the poet Nancy Luce. Luce, although a notable figure on the island of Martha’s Vineyard during her lifetime (1814-1890), is now an obscure folk character. Her contribution to literature is undervalued and I am working on a creative nonfiction book that reveals an extraordinary creative life that has been conceal for over a century.