Carand Burnet is a writer and musician. Her poems and essays have been featured in Crazyhorse, Gulf Coast, jubilat, Electric Literature, Good Fat, The Poetry Foundation’s Harriet Blog and was listed as notable in the Best American Essays.  Burnet attended two residencies at the Turkey Land Cove Foundation of Edgartown, MA, to work on her manuscript about Martha’s Vineyard poet Nancy Luce (1814-1890). In 2018, she organized the Tiny Writes Collaborative Poetry Project during her term as the Art, History & Culture Laureate of Newmarket, NH.

Tiny Writes Poet Participants Millspace Celebration Newmarket NH

Tiny Writes Poetry Project

As the 2018 Millspace Arts and Culture Laureate of Newmarket, NH, Carand Burnet organized a two-part project where residents anonymously collaborated with writers.

At Millspace: A Center for Art, History & Culture, Burnet displayed shadow boxes with staged miniature items from May 25th – July 7th.  All who attended the exhibit anonymously wrote a line about a favorite “poetic theater” box.  After the show, Burnet collected this writing and distributed it to poets who composed a poem inspired by this material written by the community.  On September 14th, participants read his or her Tiny Writes poem during a celebration at Millspace.

Located at 55 Main Street in Newmarket, NH, Millspace: A Center for Art, History & Culture is a vibrant civic space dedicated to cultural exploration and experimentation. Millspace offers community members roundtable discussions, workshops, panel sessions, lectures, gallery installations, film festivals, historic engagement, musical performances, education, and live theater.  This year is Millspace’s 5th anniversary!

The idea for this project originated in a writing group Burnet was part of lead by poet Emily Pettit. One exercise was to distribute envelopes that contained disparate images or miniature items and writers would compose a poem based on the provided material.  It allowed class participants to explore new subjects, imagery, and tone in surprising ways.

Participating poets:

Sarah Anderson, Bethanie Beausoleil, Wendy Cannella, Kathleen Clancy, Nicholas M Coulombe, Mark DeCarteret, Todd Dowey, Amy Fukuizumi, Alison Harville, Matt Jasper, Kate Leigh, Marybeth McNamara, Mike Nelson, Andrew Periale, Jessica Purdy, Jim Rioux, S Stephanie, Lauren WB Vermette, Jeff Volk, Jess Waters

Tiny Writes Poetry Shadow Boxes

Nancy Luce Gravesite Tribute to Hens

Nancy Luce, Poet of Martha's Vineyard

The Story of Nancy Luce and her “Poor Little Hearts” Chickens

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 investigation into 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 in her home 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 stayed unmarried and 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 mysterious 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.

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.

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 shed new light on the inspiring and life-affirming relationships between animals and humans.

Poetry Chapbook

“Henhouse”

Published by Projective Industries. 27 pages; edition of 120 in Chicago, September 2013.

Covers letterpressed on a Sigwalt Ideal No. 5; salmon endpapers.

© 2019 Carand Burnet.  All Rights Reserved.