August 26, 2012

Author Q & A: Creativity put into words

By Bob Keyes
Staff Writer

Most people who follow Maine writers know Stuart Kestenbaum as a poet. He is the author of three collections of poems, "Pilgrimage," "House of Thanksgiving" and "Prayers and Run-on Sentences."

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Tim McCreight

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TO LEARN MORE about "The View from Here," go to

Garrison Keillor has featured Kestenbaum's poems many times on his radio program, "The Writer's Almanac."

Those who are active in Maine's art scene probably know Kestenbaum as the director of Haystack Mountain School of Crafts in Deer Isle. Since 1988, he has led Haystack on its road to an international reputation for its ability to offer craft artists the finest opportunities to learn and tap their creative impulses.

Kestenbaum recently collaborated with Harpswell metalsmith and book publisher Tim McCreight on a volume that brings together not Kestenbaum's poems, but essays he has written about craft, community and the creative process. It also includes the texts of three keynote speeches.

"The View from Here," published by McCreight's Brynmorgen Press, springs from Kestenbaum's role at Haystack. He writes a twice-yearly column for the Haystack newsletter, Gateway. The column is fueled by thoughtful observations from his unique perch on the coast of Maine.

"The View from Here" is very much a collaboration between the two. Kestenbaum provided the words, and McCreight molded those words into a handsomely designed volume that also is available as an iBook.

We spoke with both men last week.


Q: What was the idea behind this book? How did it come to be? Tim, did you urge Stu to collect his writings? Stu, was this an idea that has percolated for some time?

A: SK: I've been writing the columns since 1989, and began to think about publishing them as a group. I approached Tim, who responded enthusiastically. We did give some thought to revising the pieces -- editing them so they might be less Haystack-specific -- but in the end decided that there was a continuity to the work the way it was.

Concurrent with the columns, I had also been writing about craft and creativity, usually at talks given at art schools and conferences, that were a more expansive format.

TM: Stu has been a friend for several decades, and I have always been a fan of his writing. He has the poet's ability to help us see the common moments of our lives with clarity and, in his case, often with fondness. As a member of the Haystack community, I have read Stu's biannual messages in the school's newsletter for many years. I wish I could take credit for the idea to gather them into a book, but that thought came from the author. I will, however, take credit for quickly saying that it was a good idea.

As Stu mentioned, I wondered if there was some virtue in editing the pieces to filter out references to the Haystack school and Deer Isle, Maine. Stu was patient enough to allow me to do this -- an exercise that quickly demonstrated that the essays were of a piece with the place for which they were written. They are contained in this book in exactly the same form as they first appeared.

Because the essays span a 20-year time-frame, they allow us to see not only the progression of a writer's skill, but the evolution of a creative individual settling into his community and his professional life.


Q: There is a certain seasonal flow to these essays that feels comforting. They are imbued with a sense of place and a sense of purpose. What is the influence of that place on your writing?

A: SK: The sense of place is essential to my writing. The details ground me. Thinking back to when I first moved to Deer Isle, I was so struck by the sense of community, both at Haystack and on the island. I think the common sense of both craft and rural living has found a way into my work.

(Continued on page 2)

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Stuart Kestenbaum


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