CORNWALL — Almost two years after Nick Garza’s body was discovered in Otter Creek after a months-long search, the story of the vanished Middlebury College student lingers in the minds of the community.
Below the Falls, a new collection of poetry by Pulitzer-prize nominated Cornwall resident Gary Margolis, delves into the emotions of those months of searching in the winter of 2008.
“One of the ways that I express and relate to my own world is to write poems,” he said.
And during that winter, he had a lot on his mind. Margolis is Executive Director of Mental Health Services at Middlebury College, so he had a unique perspective on the emotions of the community as the search stretched on. And with two children of his own who are in their late 20s, the search for the missing student hit home for him. That is how one section of the book — the section dedicated to the memory of Nick Garza — came to be.
“I was writing those poems over the course of (that winter),” he said. “It was a way to be with it, to experience and relate to it.”
Ever since Margolis was in college, poetry has been a way to understand the world. He studied psychology, sociology and anthropology at Middlebury College and played sports, but after some time there his poetry also began to find a voice.
“I wrote poems in high school, but they were hidden by my athlete self,” he said. “Middlebury allowed it to be, invited it out and nurtured it.”
He has been writing poetry regularly ever since — having a full time job, raising two children and being active in the community never stopped him. Weekend mornings are his usual poetry-writing times.
“When you have a busy life you get much more efficient about how you use your other time,” he said. “It’s like anything that you get practice at — when you sit down to do it, those writing muscles are more ready to go.”
Margolis also has his own special place for writing. It’s a cabin on his property that he noticed every time he drove through Ripton. Eventually he bought it and had it moved down to Cornwall. And even though it has moved, its origins near the Frost Cabin in Ripton are special to him.
“There’s something about a place where the muse is. It’s where you can just get to your work,” he said.
Margolis has long been a proponent of locally published poetry. Several years back, he began sending his poems to the Addison Independent, each time receiving a note that the paper did not print poetry.
Then he had the idea to send the poems as editorials, and the paper began to publish them. Now he has a regular poetry slot in the newspaper, as long as his poems focus on Addison County, national or international events. He sees this as a way to bring poetry as into the community as a forum for art and discussion.
“In other countries poetry is very much a part of daily life,” he said.
Margolis’ last book, entitled Fire in the Orchard, was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize after it was published in 2002. But when Margolis put together the manuscript for Below the Falls — made up both of poems he wrote during the winter of 2008 and of other, more general poems that he has written in the years since his last book — it seemed like a project that should be published close to home.
So he approached the Addison Press, the parent company of the Addison Independent, with the manuscript. Sure enough, the book was published. This, he hopes, will encourage local readership of the book.
“For the most part, when you publish poems away, you rarely have any kind of interaction with the reader,” he said. “The idea of having community readers has been very gratifying.”
And to him, increased local interest in poetry is a good thing.
“It's encouraging to young writers, and to any writer, to see poetry being published locally,” said Margolis.
You can find poems from the book and hear Margolis reading here.
Andrea Suozzo is at firstname.lastname@example.org.