By Ginny Masullo
Like the beautiful resources of our state and national parks, William LaPage, who lives near Eureka Springs, is a national treasure. Author of three books of poetry and a book of essays, all about parks, he will be reading from his latest book of poetry, “Along the Buffalo” (2010), on Tuesday evening at Nightbird Books and Hammontree’s on Dickson Street in Fayetteville.
LaPage has dedicated his entire life to parks. While his curriculum vitae portrays his dedication in deeds, his writings reveal the heart that understands the fundamental essence of parks as they relate to human nature. That LaPage, after 50 years of working in and for parks around the world, is now using the artful word to promote his beliefs is a natural progression.
With an undergraduate degree in forestry, a master’s in social research and a doctorate in public policy, LaPage, who has written poetry most of his life, believes that “unlocking the secrets of the Earth is as much the work of the poet and the artist as it is of the historian and the scientist.”
LaPage says that the Buffalo National River is one of the most inspirational parks he knows. Last June, he spent a month there as artist in residence. “Along the Buffalo”ar poems were all conceived during that time.
LaPage’s poetry reveals that an integral aspect of the Buffalo’s mystery is its rich history of entwinement with humans. The old cabins, the rusted farm implements, the graveyards and rotting wagons inspired for LaPage a different kind of depth from the magnificent Rockies where he was also been artist in residence.
Their burying places all, regardless of name,
tell a sad story, one that’s ever the same:
You can live a long time in these Arkansas hills,
if you can just survive infancy
and those childhood ills.
I’ve wandered their plots
and I’ve read their stones,
they were never immune,
whether Hickman, or Farmer,
or Tyler, or Jones.
I’ve stood by the graves
feeling embarrassed relief
to have never been faced
with the loss of two tiny daughters
and the unspeakable grief.
There’s an unspoken dirge
running through all of these stones,
that what lies below
are testaments to courage
not moldy old bones.
Throughout the collection of poems, the reader becomes solidly part of the river’s song. LaPage closes the book with these words: “Holding onto bits of wilderness is not magnanimity or nobility, it’s not egocentricity or vanity; it’s simply one way that humanity can choose to demonstrate its collective sanity.”
Join the sanity of Ozark Poets and Writers Collective at 7 p.m. Tuesday. OPWC meets the last Tuesday of every month inside Nightbird Books on Dickson Street. Audience members are encouraged to stick around for the open mic, which will take place both before and after LaPage’s reading. The event is free.