Announcing The Poetry Distillery

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During the Poetry Barn’s ribbon cutting ceremony last October, I wondered how the words that dispersed into that evening’s sunset could be represented in a publication, how the many voices could be curated in a way to represent the Poetry Barn’s array of talent.

Poetry Barn's director Lissa Kiernan and I had been in discussion for a long time about the idea of starting a journal. We were enthusiastic yet trepidatious about the project as the community had so much powerful work to offer and we knew we could not represent it all. We desired to create a safe space that would at once be inclusive but also representative of the most polished poems generated through the Poetry Barn. How to proceed?

After the ceremony, my nerves were diminished, as it became clear to me that the talent on display demanded a body of published poems. Lissa and I began the work toward creating the Poetry Distillery, envisioning a process of collaborating with Poetry Barn authors toward distilling poems to fruition as an extension of the workshop process.

Our hope is that the journal can be both a source of inspiration for readers, and a place for authors to create poems that are "aged to perfection," rather than rushed to publication. To that end, we are delighted to announce our inaugural collection of poems. We hope you enjoy them and consider submitting one of your own!

Ryan Clinesmith, Editor, The Poetry Distillery



Opening the Oak Door


In contemplating how best to honor Poetry Barn’s Indiegogo supporters, I gradually became obsessed with the metaphorical possibilities of the oak tree. We are blessed with a beautiful location in Catskill Park, a 700,000-acre forest preserve which includes many noble oaks, and is happily protected from many forms of development.

Predictably, my first thought (best thought?) involved the common notion that from tiny acorns mighty oaks grow. But as I researched the oak, I unearthed less cliché aspects of its character, each of which seemed to confirm its appropriateness as organization mascot.

For example: How it grows slowly, becoming a repository of experience and wisdom. How it ranks high among wood types in strength and knowledge. How its sheer mass attracts lightening (and once struck will continue to thrive), as poetic inspiration is oft said to strike.

Moreover,  the word "druid" derives from the Celtic term for oak “duir" and the translation of duir is "door.” Celtic lore, then, tells us that druids accessed the ethereal planes of higher thought and epiphany by "opening the oak door."

When I read the following poem by Walt Whitman, my oaky intentions solidified:

I Saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growing

I saw in Louisiana a live-oak growing, 
All alone stood it and the moss hung down from the branches, 
Without any companion it grew there uttering joyous leaves of dark green, 
And its look, rude, unbending, lusty, made me think of myself, 
But I wonder’d how it could utter joyous leaves standing alone there without its friend      near, for I knew I could not, 
And I broke off a twig with a certain number of leaves upon it, and twined around it a        little moss, 
And brought it away, and I have placed it in sight in my room, 
It is not needed to remind me as of my own dear friends, 
(For I believe lately I think of little else than of them,) 
Yet it remains to me a curious token, it makes me think of manly love; 
For all that, and though the live-oak glistens there in Louisiana solitary in a wide flat          space, 
Uttering joyous leaves all its life without a friend a lover near, 
I know very well I could not.

-Walt Whitman

Though our tree is not a “live-oak,” nor is our barn located in Louisiana, Whitman’s poem echoes beautifully my conviction that the Poetry Barn would not exist without its friends. Thus, I am thrilled to honor them with an oak tree art installation. The work's designer and architect, AnneLouise Burns, exceeded my expectations in creating a sculpture of outsized, overjoyed beauty—its gorgeous green leaves inscribed with our friends' names testifying to the grace and fecundity of our community.

May our oak tree, both figuratively and literally, continue to leaf out as our canopy of friends widens and puts down deep roots. Enjoy these photos of the tree-making process, and many thanks to our dear friends for believing!

The tree is currently inscribed with the following names on individual green leaves:

  • Abigail Wender
  • Alexandra van de Kamp
  • Alicia Elkort
  • Amy MacLennan
  • Andrea Hines
  • Andrea Levin
  • Anita Rankin
  • AnneLouise Burns
  • Annie Sue Brannan Walker
  • Avra Wing
  • Bernard Goldberg
  • Beth Umland
  • Brenda Mann Hammack
  • Charles Crittenden
  • Cindy Hochman
  • Claudette Kiernan
  • Denny Fuller
  • Diana Jones-Ellis
  • George Held
  • Gloria Boyer
  • Ivy Miller
  • Jaime Lee Jarvis
  • Janet Passehl
  • Jay Brady
  • Jeanne Marie Beaumont
  • Jennifer Givhan
  • Joshua Davis
  • J. Stephen Rhodes
  • Judy Jones
  • Julie Standig
  • Karen Neuberg
  • Karrie Waarala
  • Kelly Boyker
  • Kim Kovac
  • Kim Kovac
  • Ksenia Horobchenko
  • Linda Kleinbub
  • Lissa Kiernan
  • Lynda Gennaro
  • Malaika King Albrecht
  • Marcia Gagliardi
  • Marcia LeBeau
  • Margaret Watson
  • Maureen Alsop
  • Michelle Kiernan
  • Molly Sutton Kiefer
  • Nandini Dhar
  • Pamela Brown
  • Paul Baumann
  • Robert Stutts
  • Ruth Hill
  • Susan Berger-Jones
  • Susan Yount
  • Suzanne Kiernan
  • Teale Chattin
  • Vladimir Kasnar
  • Warren Baker

Want your own leaf? 




Ribbon Cutting at the Barn


The Poetry Barn’s ribbon-cutting was filled with excitement and verse. From fire spinners to an open mic, the intimacy and breadth of the Poetry Barn was on display the entire night. The opening of the lending library was an exclamation point at the end of an already thriving artist community. As a space, the Barn has come together as a perfect place to retreat and write. I have spent time surrounded by it’s books pondering my own creativity and have come away inspired. The Poetry Barn is aesthetically beautiful, from the new art installation to the stacks, and the ribbon cutting was nothing short of a testament to the commitment of those involved with the community. Well-attended with an open mic full-to-the-brim, the ribbon-cutting was a celebration of the wonder that Lissa Kiernan has created. Poets spoke to the setting sun as it foreshadowed the fiery night. As those who attended took a moment of silence to watch the purple evening, it seemed that the Barn had become the catalyst of inspiration. Then the reading continued into the night. Fire twirled as people dispersed. Lingering conversation around a bonfire, and a powerful place for words was solidified. 

—Ryan Clinesmith

Dharma Bums: Hiking & Haiku

 John Stevenson and poets

John Stevenson and poets

A half dozen poets hike up a mountain. While it may sound vaguely like the set-up of a bad joke, it turned out to be the start of a wonderful weekend. 

The intention was to hike up Phoenicia’s challenging Tanbark Trail together, in pursuit of inspiration and in homage to Jack Kerouac's The Dharma Bums. But as one might expect from a group of creatives, many of us chose to follow our own path. Some looped west to Phoenicia Overlook (1,140 feet), others trekked west to Grand View Ledge (1260 feet), more than one of us slipped on a wet rock or leaf and landed on our behinds.

Trail guide Will Nixon helped us identify Doll’s Eyes and striped maples. Haiku author John Stevenson, former president of the Haiku Society of America and current managing editor of The Heron's Nest, recited his first haiku within five minutes, and went on to pen at least a dozen more. 

The following day, John helped us polish our proto-haiku before leading us in a renga, a form of collaborative linked verse, resulting in the following work. Enjoy!

Unmatched Socks

Ashokan shore--
gathering the first
colored leaves

I slip on a wet one
and break the ice

the morning begins
with cold coffee
and a warm radio

old ragweed rattles
into a snowy sky

facing the window
I remember your breath
in my ear

shadows map
those precious wrinkles   

an insect explores
the inside
of a tulip

the motorcyclists
have stopped for burgers

a side of fries
new leaves
evening stillness

(lk) (ms) (as)


js: John Stevenson
lk: Lissa Kiernan
at: Anique Taylor
sp: Sue Petrie
ms: Mary Stevens
wn: Will Nixon
as: Alana Sherman

The Tyranny of Silence

 Doug Anderson (bottom left, top right) Jay Wenk (bottom right)

Doug Anderson (bottom left, top right) Jay Wenk (bottom right)

Flower Power: The Poetry of War and Healing, a workshop at the Poetry Barn led by Doug Anderson, who has written about his experiences in the Vietnam War in both poetry (The Moon Reflected Fire, winner of the Kate Tufts Discovery Award) and nonfiction (Keep Your Head Down: Vietnam, the Sixties, and a Journey of Self-Discovery), at once placed me in a rightfully uncomfortable space while freeing me from the idea that I could not engage with the subject matter. Doug and workshop participant Jay Wenk, a veteran of WWII who liberated three concentration camps including Dachau, discussed with each other the necessity of silence in combat.

The necessity of silence in the face of ambush or patrol. The sacrifice of rubber bands in gas masks to keep dog tags from jingling. The need to keep canteens full or empty so as to have no sloshing. Among these details came the commonality of war, and I noticed, as I was reading Timothy Snyder’s On Tyranny, that silence seems always to be a prerequisite for totalitarianism and the violence it is associated with. Whether this is the silence of equipment on the battlefield or silence among civilians. The idea that in silence we “obey in advance” seemed to underline the lessons of Doug Anderson’s workshop—at least for a civilian.

This workshop transcended a didacticism which might have accompanied a workshop meant to teach those unfamiliar with combat. Instead I came away with an awareness of the interconnectivity between social norms and violence. Especially in our current culture of defamation and pre authoritarian culture, workshops like Flower Power: The Poetry of War and Healing become links between history and the present, and foreshadow what the present might render in the future.

In many ways this was the most striking workshop I have attended at the Poetry Barn, for the generative poetry we shared, and for the lessons and connections I came away with. Ultimately, I boil down my experience in this workshop to this: Beware of silence and write on!

Ryan Clinesmith

Bookish Goodness at the Catskill Interpretive Center

 Poetry Barn's table at the Catskill Interpretive Center Book Fair

Poetry Barn's table at the Catskill Interpretive Center Book Fair

The Second Annual Catskill Interpretive Center Book Fair, a working collaboration between the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, Writers in the Mountains and Poetry Barn, was a wonderful convergence of literature and nature. Though the wind played a few tricks on exhibitors while setting up their tables, the weather gods, overall, were kind to us, delivering clear blue skies, plenty of sun, and mild temperatures.

An exhibitors’ tent featured books from such regional publishers as Black Dome Press, McPherson & Co., Bushwhack Books, Calling All Poets, Hope Farm Press, Post Traumatic Press, Purple Mountain Press and WoodstockArts—twenty-four booksellers in all!

The number of presenters for the Fair increased from forty last year to more than seventy this year. Writers in the Mountains and Poetry Barn authors read from their works from 11:30-1:00 in Venue B at the fair. Poetry Barn's slate of readers included Simona David, Tina Barry, Soraya Shalforoosh, Ana Silva, Ryan Clinesmith, Marcia Loughran, and Doug Anderson.

The afternoon concluded with a wonderful panel titled “Songwriting in the Catskills,” featuring 2014 Blues Hall of Fame inductee and “folk blues legend” Elly Wininger, songwriter Dave Kearney of Pine Hill, Thunder Ridge fiddler and solo performance artist Dorraine Scofield, and naturalist/musician James Krueger—a fitting coda to a day-long deep immersion in the region’s book and cultural lore.

Along with the book fair the well-appointed Catskill Interpretive Center was open to help visitors plan their next hike, water adventure or tour of the Catskills.

Poetry Barn at the Catskill Interpretive Center Book Fair

A remarkable mix of publishers, exhibitors, workshops and authors—including two special guests with books of regional significance—are coming together for the Second Annual Catskill Interpretive Center Book Fair at the Center on Route 28 in Mt. Tremper on Saturday, June 24, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. The Catskill Interpretive Center Book Fair is a working collaboration between the Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, Writers in the Mountains and Poetry Barn.

Poetry Barn Celebrates 50th Anniversary Of Summer Of Love

“Summer of Love: #PeaceLovePoetry” is a series of poetry events inspired by the underground literary and arts flourish leading up to 1967. From Flower Power: Poetry of War and Healing, to Significant Others: The Women Beats, the fiftieth anniversary of the cultural phenomenon will be explored through the Poetry Barn’s home neighboring Woodstock.“The core values of the movement—compassion, social consciousness, and environmental awareness—are undergoing a resurgence,” observes Poetry Barn’s founding director Lissa Kiernan.

Third Fridays at Woodstock Library

We're excited to announce our second season of "Third Fridays at Woodstock Library." Each third Friday from April - November, we feature readings by notable writers from the area and beyond, then turn over the mic to our talented audience.

Interested in sharing a poem, song, or story during the open mic? Simply choose a slot on the sign-up sheet that will be provided prior to the reading. Readings take place promptly at 6:30 pm; the open-mic begins at 7:30 pm.

Many thanks to Woodstock Library Director Jessica Kerr, Librarian Kim Apolant, and all the members of the library staff for their support and generosity.


April 21: Mike Jurkovic & Robert Burke Warren

May 19: Post Traumatic Press Authors

  • Leslie Gerber - Lies of the Poets and The Edge of Sleep
  • Susan Hoover - The Mathematics of Disengagement
  • Sharon Israel - Voice Lesson
  • Judith Kerman - Postcards from America
  • Alison Koffler - The Others and Animal Trance
  • Gretchen Primack - Kind
  • Walt Nygard - The Summer Joe Joined the Army
  • Dayl Wise - Basic Load

June 16: Warren Wilson MFA Program Alumni

July 21

  • Doug Anderson
  • Matt Spireng

August 18: Stonecoast MFA Program: Faculty & Alumni

September 15: Emerging & Spoken Word Poets

  • Ryan Clinesmith
  • Gabriela Garcia
  • Bad Stanza
  • Xandra Seline
  • Arianna White

November 17



Poetry Barn to Host Gail Straub for Woodstock Bookfest

 Gail Straub, best-selling author and co-director, Empowerment Institute

Gail Straub, best-selling author and co-director, Empowerment Institute

We are honored to be chosen as the host for Gail Straub's Woodstock Bookfest one-day intensive workshop: Life Story’s Two Essential Partners: Fact & Imagination.

Gail states of her workshop: "No one can create your story except you. When fact and imagination are in intimate partnership the most transformative and effective writing occurs . . . in a fluid mysterious way that is often astonishing."

Gail Straub is the author of five books including the best selling Empowerment, the award-winning feminist memoir Returning to My Mother’s House, and most recently the fairy tale Réveil . . . and the Old One at the Edge of the World. Currently she is working on a book exploring landscape as a pathway to consciousness. A pioneer in the field of empowerment, she co-directs the Empowerment Institute, a school for transformative social change where over the last three decades she has offered her work to tens of thousands of people worldwide.

2017 marks the 8th annual Woodstock Bookfest, under the directorship of Martha Frankel. From April 27 – April 30, 2017, the event will host a plethora of classes, panels, keynotes, their infamous Story Slam, parties and more, all in the unique surroundings of Woodstock, New York.