Seventeen Park Lane
By Amy Mulvihill
For Woodbury poet Sandy Carlson, it's not just a cliche--home really is where the heart is, and her heart is firmly entrenched in Connecticut.
Reared and educated in Danbury--with relatives positioned across the state from Roxbury to Darien to New London--Ms. Carlson's identity and sensibility have been informed by the local lore she heard from her family members.
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Now she is adding her own chapter to the story, via verse.
Her recently published first volume of poetry, 'Seventeen Park Lane," celebrates the connection between family, tradition, and memory.
The title of the volume comes from the address of the "big, rambling colonial" in Darien that belonged to her grandparents, Marjorie and Fred Wiley, a place that for Ms. Carlson embodied the mythical symbiosis between place, family, and memory.
In a press release announcing the release of her book Ms Carlson explained it thusly: "My grandmother would fill her home with stories about [the] past, present, and future in a way that made me feel a part of her world. She created a home that was as much a psychological state as a physical one. The house belongs to someone else now, but the sense of home stays with me, even 21 years after her passing."
The house, originally designed and built by her maternal great-grandparents, was always "packed with stuff," and, in what Ms. Carlson sees as part of the "Yankee story-telling tradition," her grandmother would tell her stories about the objects and heirlooms, thereby providing a continuum of tradition.
Her grandmother's family, the Isbells, are old New England stock with a "vague Mayflower connection" and a firmer link to the founding of New London. Her family's presence in Litchfield County can be traced back to Jared Isbell, a "dirt-poor" 19th-century Woodbury tobacco farmer.
"He kept all these almanacs and journals," Ms. Carlson said with enthusiasm, "and they provide an absolutely fascinating picture of his life in 1860s Woodbury."
Much to Ms. Carlson's delight, two Isbells still call the area home. One of her uncles, Allan Isbell, lives in a nursing home in Danbury and is "a character," the poet said affectionately. Her other uncle, Gary Isbell, lives in Roxbury and, "knows every stone and tree for miles and has a story for each one."
This method of identifying oneself in a regional sense, as well as through family heritage, and the tradition of really belonging somewhere, is a custom that Ms. Carlson laments as something largely lost.
"In this corporate gypsy culture, a sense of belonging to a place is becoming rarer and rarer," she said.
Ms. Carlson's poetry, on the other hand, is unabashedly personal and deeply specific.
"I don't even pretend to stand outside my poems," she commented.
In "Precious Light," a poem from "Seventeen Park Lane," for instance, she makes reference to her grandmother's "...fine auburn beads and the chain of costume gold she wore so often." In another poem, "Thaw," she evokes the sounds, sights and smells of a classic New England spring thaw (Daffodils stoop in April snow./Snow will melt./...Worms press life into hard Earth.")
Interestingly, however, Ms. Carlson describes herself and her family as being intensely private people. So what brought such a public declaration of her private self?
"I had one of those fatal moments," she said with a laugh. "You know, a what-if-I-got-hit-by-a-bus-tomorrow kind of moment?"
"It occurred to me," she continued, "that it could be all gone--my memories and, by extension the lives of [my predecessors] would be lost. I wanted to pull it all together for my own daughter and nephews to preserve that sense of continuity."
From the Friday, February 13, 2004 issue of The Litchfield County Times