Sunday, January 17, 2010

Outing Edna St. Vincent Millay Friday at Chapters Bookstore

Lawrence Ferlinghetti's "Edna St. Vincent Millay 2008" oil and silkscreen on canvas, 30 x 23 in. George Krevsky Gallery.

When Peter Bergman and James Kraft talk about poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, she lives again, and you feel like you have time travelled back to a different age. Not everyone knows she had many affairs with women before marrying, and may have had affairs on the side all through her adult life. But we are talking about a time when being "out" was not common, and while Millay hid little when a young rebel, as a wife she was more circumspect. One hopes the evening will turn to whether Millay continued her affairs with women after she was married, and which of her poems are written about women rather than men.

Writer, playwright and critic Peter Bergman is a familiar face at Berkshire openings. Here a rare photo of him from Rural Intelligence.

In any event, this evening promises to be a celebration of Millay and her work. It will take place at 6:00 PM, January 22 at Chapters Bookstore, 78 North Street, Pittsfield. (413) 443-2665. Kraft is a Professor of Literature and author of several books about writers, while Peter Bergman is the director of the Edna St. Vincent Millay Society. A colleague and fellow critic, his byline is familiar to Berkshire theatre goers as the chief critic of The Advocate weekly. With Clark, he will read and discuss Millay's poetry, her life and her relationships with other women. The reading and discussion is co-sponsored by Chapters and the Berkshire Stonewall Community Coalition.

In her younger days, when she discovered lesbian love, she gave herself fully to it.

Edna St. Vincent Millay was a hot poet and playwright in the twenties, and lived in the Berkshires (or more precisely, the Taconics) from 1925-1950. She made no bones about being both a homosexual and a heterosexual so if one insists on a classification, bisexual is probably most accurate. How much of her love life is incorporated into her works the upcoming evening will reveal.

"Vincent" as her friends called her was certainly her own person. She attended Vassar and her time there was some of her happiest and carefree. Despite the repressive restraints of the time at Vassar she was able to explore her sexuality with friends and classmates with few inhibitions.

Millay's life was not all love and roses. She suffered from depression, alcohol abuse and died alone.

For those who attend, the evening at Chapters will reveal more personal details about her love life than you are likely to see on the Biography channel. The speakers are not superficial reporters of pop culture on another assignment. Peter Bergman, for example, spends his days in Austerlitz, New York, home of Millay's beloved home Steepletop.. In fact, he is executive director of the Edna St. Vincent Millay Society and has spent much of his adult life immersed in her world.

Is Millay still relevant? Of course. Even today one of her poems has been inked onto a current fan's backside.

For more background on Millay's lesbian side there is an interesting entry at that gives a fine overview of her life, public and private. You could also join the ESVM Society and share in a number of special events they sponsor each year to celebrate her life. The restoration of her home is an ongoing project, and contributions are always welcome.

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