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Marlow's book of poems an ode to its history, by Steve Gilbert

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"Marlow by Heart"

Sifting through the town’s rich historical archives, members of the Marlow Historical Society occasionally come across homegrown poems, hymns and lyrics.

They are snapshots of history, scattered in the troves, spread through time.

Historical society members know plenty about the town’s first settler, Solomon Mack, who arrived before the town was incorporated in 1761. He built his first cabin on land now encompassed by the Village Cemetery. Mack, repentant in his old age, left lots of rhymes behind. He is the grandfather of Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism and the Church of Latter Day Saints.

Members are curious why so little poetry seems to exist for much of the 1800s. They are impressed with their ancestors’ sense of home, as reflected by the numerous odes to Old Home Day celebrations in the 1900s. A theme of belonging to the land, particularly Sand Pond, is evident throughout the last century. And a burst of locally written prose accompanied the town’s 250th birthday celebration in 2011.

Thus, Maria Baril, president of the historical society, woke with clarity and an idea at 3 a.m. one day in late September: Why not arrange the town’s history in a book of poems, as composed by Marlow’s own residents, past and present?

“Maria has lots of ideas for lots of projects and I thought, ‘Here we go again.’” says a chuckling Loisanne Foster, a town historian who wrote the book’s introduction. “She’s extremely energetic and because I’ve done a lot of work on older Marlow, I knew I could come up with some early poems. So, I said, ‘Why not?’”

A mere month later, the result is “Marlow By Heart: Poetry of a Small New Hampshire Town.”

The 77 pages, ripe with color from Marlow photographers and watercolor artists, are arranged chronologically. The writings are book-ended by Mack, the town’s first settler, and today’s pupils from the John D. Perkins Elementary School. It opens with “Hymn,” written by Mack, and closes with a 250th birthday salute in rap by Anna Fay, 17 years old when she wrote it. Fay graduated from Ithaca College with a degree in writing last spring.

Baril describes the book as a sampling of Marlow poetry, thick with a variety of styles, haiku to odes, and an array of moods to match. They range from lyrical to humorous, whimsical to solemn. And Baril says there’s more than enough poetry that didn’t make the cut to assemble a Volume II.

“I just kind of moved the chips around. … I love research and writing,” says Baril, a native of Puerto Rico who fell in love with Marlow when she moved here with her husband, Joe, some 30 years ago. Her son, Julio Ojeda-Zapata, is the longtime technology reporter for the Pioneer Press in St. Paul, Minn.

Numerous photos and paintings by Stephanie Tickner brighten the pages. While Foster serves as the book’s historian, Tickner is the technology guru. She piloted the formatting of the book, including its layout, starting with a Word program.

“I learned how to make a book in the process,” Tickner says. “Thank goodness for Google.”

The front cover is a Tickner watercolor of the Ashuelot River. She originally painted it as part of the Navigation on the Ashuelot River project by the Historical Society of Cheshire County.

Tickner encounters Marlow history every day. She lives near the West Burial Ground heading toward Acworth, and has visited the headstones of Marlow residents Hepzibah Tubbs and Phebe Miller, Mack’s sisters. Tubbs wrote “Prayer,” and Miller wrote “Prayer by the Widow Phebe Miller” on her deathbed in 1797. Both are reflective of the 18th-century religious motif in book’s early poems.

Foster says many of the town’s settlers were Free Will Baptists from Lyme, Conn., with a strong emotional attachment to religion — and a penchant for bickering about it. For instance, in 1772 townspeople voted to build a church/meetinghouse, but couldn’t agree on a minster and fought for 20 years before a structure went up.

Foster settled on four main elements in incorporating a theme for the book: nature, spirituality, community ties and love of place. “Most of the poems have at least three of those in common, if not all four,” Foster says.

A native of Walpole and graduate of Dartmouth College, Foster was a longtime teacher at Stevens High School in Claremont. Two of her poems are included in the book: “Love Letter to Marlow,” and “Community: A Marlow Recipe for Recovery.”

“She is a Marlow treasure,” Baril says. “She’s a genius in genealogy and can talk for hours about old settlers and she doesn’t take a breath.”

Interestingly, a significant gap exists from about 1800 to the late 1800s. Little poetry can be found in the archives and no one knows why. Foster says Marlow’s population dropped in that period while industry in the area burgeoned. Maybe people were too busy, she theorizes with a laugh. “I’m grasping at straws here.”

Proceeds from the book, which costs $15, will help fund historical society projects. One of its biggest is the restoration of Murray Hall, which is on track for completion by next year. It will serve as the society’s headquarters and house its artifacts. It was on sale at Saturday’s Christmas on the Pond holiday bazaar.

The historical society, which numbers about 65, also publishes a quarterly newsletter that it revived in 2012.

Two centuries ago, with death approaching, Mack mournfully wrote the book’s first stanza:

How short and fleeting are my days, and chiefly spent in sinful ways; O may those few which now remain, Be spent eternal life to gain.

Fay counters with an upbeat crown on the final chapter in her “Marlow Rap of Class and Sap:

Marlow’s joy and bliss is found in every bend

and will last and last until the world’s end

And though that could be sometime next year

We Marlownians will live in joy, not fear!

Steve Gilbert is a columnist for The Sentinel.

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