A tribute episode to the remarkable poet.
We recently learned that Jean Connor passed away on November 9 at age 102. Jean was the reason that Passager started publishing books.
Jean was the 2001 Passager Poet, and in 2005, Mary and Kendra were still marveling over her work. A phone conversation with Jean resulted in her sending Mary a folder of poems. Out of that developed Passager’s first book, A Cartography of Peace. Since that time, Passager has published over 30 books, including a second one that Jean wrote.
Her obituary described her as daughter, twin sister, aunt, friend, librarian, administrator, traveler, faithful Christian, lover of nature, gardener, humorous storyteller, volunteer, traveler, and poet.
Passager’s co-editors Kendra Kopelke and Mary Azrael said, “She meant (and will always mean) everything to us — from her deeply meditative poetry to her many letters that trained us how to become book publishers. Because of her work, we publish books. Because of her generous spirit, we know to think hard and systematically about how to sell books of poems. We will always look to her for how to live generously and deeply, with care and dignity, what it means to use your imagination. We can never express our gratitude to Jean the poet, the librarian, the teacher.”
Jean said she wrote her first poem at Girl Scout camp when she was 12. She was an English major at Middlebury College, but said that although she read a lot of poetry, there were no poetry writing classes. She said, “My desire to write came from reading so much good poetry.” Jean spent her career around books, as a librarian, but didn’t get back to the idea of writing poems until much later, after she retired. She said, “By and by, people forgot I was a librarian and began to call me a poet.”
She said she prefers writing poems over other literary forms because it provides “a chance for the use of the imagination and small, finishable products.”
She talked about needing what she referred to as “the width of time,” a time to collect yourself, let ideas come through. She said, “You’re not always certain where a poem is going, and you have to give it time to bubble up.”
Here’s Jean Connor’s poem “On the Nature of Silence.”
Silence is not made
from wood or ivory,
not wrought from iron
or absence, that absence
of which lilacs speak,
waiting out the winter.
Silence is a meeting place
beloved of the Holy, a place
of returning. I go, as to a meadow
bright with promises of June,
a meadow where bobolinks still rise
and yield themselves to song.
“On the Nature of Silence.” Jean Connor.
Jean said, “I am fed by the natural world, by nature, and that’s one reason I’m happy to be in Vermont, where we’re surrounded by beautiful things: mountains, lakes, flowers, birds. All of those are springboards for writing. But it’s really a marriage of that which is in us and being attentive to the beauty outside.”
Here’s her poem “Summer.”
should be as this one, suspended
and the slow coming on of stars,
the great bear first, then the jeweled
crown. Let every solstice pause,
linger in a meadow, imagined
or real, blue with lupine,
the fields wide, the self small,
a place afloat between this
fixed earth and the transparencies
of clouds. Give silence room,
there anger seeps away. Out of the hidden,
fireflies may come to semaphore
a blessing. Beneath the deepening sky,
bright wands and an old cartography of peace.
Jean Connor’s poem “Summer.”
When asked at age 102 if she had had a good life, Jean responded, “I am still having it!”
We’ll end with Jean reading her poem “Of Some Renown.”
For some time now, I have
lived anonymously. No one
appears to think it odd.
They think the old are,
well, what they seem. Yet
see that great egret
at the marsh’s edge, solitary,
still? Mere pretense
that stillness. His silence is
a lie. In his own pond he is
of some renown, a stalker,
a catcher of fish. Watch him.
“Of Some Renown.” Jean Connor. Jean passed away in November. But in Passager’s pond and many others, Jean was and will continue to be of some renown.
To buy either of Jean Connor’s books, A Cartography of Peace or A Hinge of Joy or to subscribe to or learn more about Passager and its commitment to writers over 50, go to passagerbooks.com.
You can download Burning Bright from Spotify, Apple and Google Podcasts, Audible, and a host of other podcast apps.
For Kendra, Mary, Christine, Rosanne, and the rest of the Passager staff, I’m Jon Shorr.