Though the poems are not directly about the city he grew up in, Newburyport native Craig Bask says his collection, "Lost in Hindsight," chronicles his early life and coming of age in the Clipper City.
The book, published by Finishing Line Press, was recently nominated for the 2009 Pulitzer Prize as well as the 2008 Dylan Thomas Prize.
"I wrote this collection when I was younger, between 16 and 18, living in Newburyport," said Bask, 27, who writes under the name C.S. Leaf. "Newburyport is a small city, but a very important city and one I think of often."
Bask grew up on High Street and Moseley Avenue and attended the Belleville and Rupert A. Nock Middle schools before going to Newburyport High for two years. In 2001, at age 19, he moved away, living in New York and traveling around the country before getting married and settling in Lowell.
Now, Bask hopes his nominated collection of poetry can bring him back to his roots and the place he still calls home.
"My family has all moved away from Newburyport," Bask said, noting his parents left Newburyport for Spain before moving to western Massachusetts where they now reside. "But I'm still focused on Newburyport, and I do consider it my community."
Bask credits the vibrant arts community in Newburyport as providing his earliest influence. A longtime participant in the local Theater in the Open, he said most of his friends growing up were artists and musicians.
The poetry readings in Newburyport proved to be the jumping off point for "Lost in Hindsight," Bask said. Early drafts of the poems in the collection were originally read to audiences at the former Middle Street Foods and with the Powow River Poets at the Newburyport Art Association.
Bask sticks to more traditional forms of poetry in the book, covering subjects such as love, loss and coming of age.
"In a lot of ways, it's very traditional and lyrical," he said. "There is a lot of emotion; there are playful poems, simple love poems and poems about loss and growing up."
He hopes the collection will influence people to read more poetry and have more appreciation for the art form.
"It's an old tradition, and I hope people find enjoyment in the words themselves," he said. "The legacy of poetry is impressive and important; they are the first communicated stories."
Bask is currently working on another Newburyport-centered project — this one focused on the eccentric Lord Timothy Dexter, whose autobiography, "A Pickle for the Knowing Ones or Plain Truth in a Homespun Dress," contained nearly 10,000 words and 33,864 letters, but lacked all punctuation.
By researching the one-time Newburyport resident and his work, Bask hopes people will develop more of an understanding of Dexter and his role in American literature and poetry.
"By inspiring some controversy in the intellectual world, maybe there can be some talk about who really is the father of poetry in America," he said. "(Ralph Waldo) Emerson and (Walt) Whitman came after Dexter and surely read a copy of Dexter's book."
Bask is currently enrolled in a poetry program at Goddard College in Vermont, where he spends two weeks each semester studying one-on-one with poets. He is also starting up Anamorphy Press and Anarcho-Syndicalist Publications, a small letter press and publisher that he founded with his wife.
"We hope to give young writers more exposure," Bask said. "The point of the press is to find new writers and invest in poetry, how important it is and move (it) forward."
Between raising his 2-year-old son with his wife and finding the time to write, Bask remains laid back about his Pulitzer Prize nomination.
"It's a good thing. I don't think I'm going to win though," Bask said with a laugh.
FROM A GAPE AROSE A ROSE DIVINE
From a gape arose a rose divine
The waves whipped the beach sands bare¬
Bones bleached and unhinged
The flesh and shell, the fish and spine
Electrons changing orbitals¬
Four tones absorbed
Specters educe an infinite line
A gape arose, a rose divine
And with one ray of light did grow
A quantum with each fraction of time
From a gape arose, a rose divine.
— From "Lost in Hindsight" by C.S. Leaf