February 20th: Anna Birch and Chris Volpe Feature

Stone Soup Poetry meets from 8-10 p.m. every Monday at the Out of The Blue Art Gallery at 106 Prospect Street with an open mike sign-up at 7:30 p.m. Featuring on the 20th of February, Anna Birch and Chris Volpe not only feature at Stone Soup for the first time, but they also have the pleasure of premiering the first book from their collaborative effort, Penhallow Press.

Anna Birch has successfully operated her own local one-woman art company, Queen Oscar Designs, for nearly a decade. Her poetry explores the absurdities and complexities of everyday life and relationships. Anna has been an active part of the seacoast poetry community for many years, participating in various school programs and workshops, as well as being a featured reader at both the Kittery Art Association Literary Series and Larry Simon’s Beat Night. She has been a member of Portsmouth’s City Hall Poets for ten years, and is currently compiling her first book manuscript.

Chris Volpe, a graduate of SUNY Stony Brook, received his M.A. in writing poetry at the University of New Hampshire, where he was awarded the Ann Pazo Mayberry Award and the Elizabeth Jones Scholarship for his poetry. His poems have appeared in The New Republic, New American Writing, The Antioch Review, The Prose Poem, Mudfish, Third Coast and The Bitter Oleander. His work has been featured on Poetry Daily and his book manuscript, “Night Traffic,” was a finalist for publication by Carnegie Mellon University Press in 2004. He works as a communications professional and teaches poetry workshops, literature, and the history of art at the University of New Hampshire and Franklin Pierce College.

Chris and Anna were introduced by a UNH poetry professor in 1999. They were married this past summer and live in Portsmouth, N.H. Together they operate Penhallow Press, an independent literary small press and letterpress printing company. The press’s first title, “Fistfuls of the Invisible,” poems by Exeter native James Rioux, has just been published, Sample poems from Birch and Volpe are included below.


I imagine the mothers held tight their children’s shoulders
the day you came to the fair,
traveling from Limerick to Galway to Ennis
you and the bearded lady, the palm-reading soothsayers
the velvet clad gypsies.

Voice thrower,
spell binder,
whiskey breathed man
with the empty wooden child on your lap.
You find your place on a makeshift crate turned upright,
the crowd forms a loose distant circle around you
as you wheeze life into the deadwood.

In Latin, your profession means
speak from the belly
and so you must talk from inside and outside the center,
live inside two different heads,
hold the short future inside your throat.
You carry the conversation like a scared cat on a platter
that you tease and then comfort,
prod and snare.

You watch the children wrap their arms around their mothers knees,
curious enough to be yours for a moment,
spell bound enough to throw you money for food.

Still, the children do not trust your son of wood and wire,
of cloth and shadow,
its squeaky voice of hysteric invention
rings inside their ears, full of strain and delivery.

Nor do they trust you,
the lurch of your coupled sway,
your cheeks stiff and puckered,
smile oddly stuck.

Wooden child of transfer and trick
tottering bundle of backtalk and spook.

Who is that hungerless child you carry in a sack
who demands nothing,
and does not laugh or bleed or talk off cue?

The one on which you have
such a strange and secret reliance,
where your own voice
meets its smaller and more distant companion,
concealed half-child of your own making.

At night, he rests dangling on wooden pegs in the kitchen
and watches you off to bed,
his insistent, high-pitched questions, his vacant eyes
still hard at work in your dreams.

--Anna Birch


The shadow I should have worn proudly
Snuck off with bad company as soon as it could:

Waylaid by deep snow, half-light of long alleys,
Another distracted omen.

Crows rolled half asleep past my windows.
Bees carried the vernal wreath elsewhere.

Had to look twice for my sleeplessness.
So inept was my glamour.

Had to stand in front of the wind.
So divided was my resolve.

Had to lie down under the bridge of sky.
So uncertain of where I’d better be going.

All my life my mother had to wake me
Calling softly into the back seat, we’re home.

--Chris Volpe

Click here to visit the Penhallow Press site.