I was born in Concord, Massachusetts. Raised in Connecticut. Brookfield for the first eight years, four years in Marietta, Georgia (home of the Big Chicken and the Georgia Satellites), then back to Southbury, my hometown if I have one. The state's branded no country for young men, a place you go when you have a family and want to keep them safe. Surely that was my father's logic. I understand. He's from Brooklyn.
But Connecticut is a supremely weird place.
Brothers Dave and Jake Longstreth are from Connecticut. I went to high school with Jake, a talented artist who reminds me of Fairfield Porter. His paintings of suburban landscapes—parking lots, strip malls, tennis courts, treelines—mostly devoid of human movement (though not the human stamp), hold such a vivid familiarity that they work less like windows and more like mirrors. I would love to be able to hang , in my non-existent home, a painting like "Whales?"
Dave Longstreth's name you might be more familiar with. He's the lead singer/songwriter of The Dirty Projectors. Their latest album, Bitte Orca, was my favorite album of 2009, and is, at least to my ears, quintessentially Connecticut. Because it combines disparate strands to make its own thing. I suppose in that sense it's also quintessentially American.
There are large black, Puerto Rican, Italian, Polish, and Jewish populations in the state. People think Connecticut, they think Yale, the Gold Coast, Litchfield County, WASPs, The Gilmore Girls. They think white, but don't really have a fixed image, maybe just a cocktail party on a yacht. Connecticut to me is the Witch's Dungeon, the Barnum Museum, the Whalers, Freddie Fixer Parade, Denmo's, hip-hop, Holy Land USA, UConn basketball. All of it is true. We've got urban blight and pastoral romance within a mile of each other and one does not excuse the other. It can all be, and in one place. The Dirty Projectors mix right and proper our indie spirit, jazz experimentation, hip-hop beats, soul grooves, to bring me back to my youth at Pomperaug Regional High. White kids and hip-hop. Whatever. I grew up with hip-hop (the music and the attitude, the culture) and to hold my love at arms' length as if it wasn't a part of who I am would be like cutting off my middle fingers 'cause they might now and again get rude.
Yes, Connecticut is a supremely weird place. Maybe you have to grow up there to understand the occult power the landscape holds. You go out into those woods, you walk those hills, you stumble through the Hartford night, you stroll down Dixwell Avenue, you see the phantoms, you hear the songs. It's the home of ESPN for the love of. The poets most often associated with Connecticut—Wallace Stevens, James Merrill, Samuel Amadon—are magicians, in the literal sense. Not sleight-of-hand-men but true conjurers, as both Jack Spicer and Lytton Smith (in his fantastic book The All-Purpose Magical Tent) would argue and win.
I've known Sam Amadon since 2002. We met at the Bread Loaf Writers' Conference and instantly bonded over Connecticut. Sam is a Nutmegger through and through. His first book, Like a Sea (University of Iowa Press, 2010) marks a long-awaited and necessary evolution in American poetry, a mark that, if you're a poet, you must now try to hit.
Sam is very much a Connecticut poet, a Yankee peddler, a talker, an observer, a land of steady habits, transplanted and sustained. I'm proud to call him my friend.