Excuse for Being Here:

Life Among Thoreau’s

Reflections

By Robert M. Chute

Just Write Books, Topsham, 2013

218 pages, large format softcover, $20

Robert Chute’s poetry has been appearing in various venues in Maine for about six decades, and his latest book, “Excuse for Being Here,” surveys not only his poems, but the events, principles and history that have informed them.

Chute, who now lives in Poland, Maine, was born in Naples, attended Fryeburg Academy, the University of Maine and Johns Hopkins University, and mapped a professional life as a biology professor at Bates College. He has been an environmental activist with the Congress of Lake Associations and a supporter of Veterans for Peace, and he also wrote poetry which collected awards that included a Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance Distinguished Achievement Award in 2011. So much for the confinements of vocational specialization.

His new book selects from his copious files poems that have given special measure to his ideas and experiences of the natural world under the influence of the ideas, writings and personal history of Henry David Thoreau. Interspersed among them are prose reflections on his own growth in west-central Maine, consisting of frank, good-natured recollections of childhood blossoming into adulthood (one or two of them entertainingly fictionalized). It is a kind of surveyor’s triangulation of memory, nature and ideas.

In one particularly vivid chapter, he retraces his tracing of the river trip that led to Thoreau’s early book “A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.” As a young man, Chute grew fascinated with the history behind the 18th century captivity narrative of Hannah Duston (“the first woman in our country to be honored by a statue — hatchet in hand”) as recounted by Thoreau in “A Week.” From his extensive measurements of the story, he developed a series of poems, some of which are given in “Excuse for Being Here.” The opening lines of one, “Fryeburg, Maine: 1960,” perhaps crystallize the book’s triangulations:

I went to school here. Ground where Pequawket

may have been was a square town with square houses

on black streets. The river interval was still

rich with corn, squash, bean.

Chute is not Thoreau — who could not abide the strictures of a regular job, let alone a life in academia — but his measure of Thoreau’s natural and moral philosophies and his own experience of the Maine woods, forms a telling unification of personal and community history. “Excuse for Being Here” is an extravagant saunter with the author, complete with family photographs and other visual artifacts, through a long, creative life lived among the forests of Thoreau’s thought. This book shows one way a member of society, as it were, understands himself as a part and parcel of nature.

Robert Chute’s books include several novels and more than a dozen collections of poetry, many of them available through Just Write Books, and his website (A Poet on the Verge of Science) is at www.scientificpoet.blogspot.com.

Off Radar appears about twice a month in the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel’s What’s Happening? Please send news of Maine books and literary events to Dana Wilde at [email protected].