As the community at UMA gears up for this year’s 16th annual Terry Plunkett Poetry Festival, we thought it would be fun to revisit some of the literary creativity of UMA years past as featured in a short-lived and under-the-radar journal — albeit a hardy and beloved one — Kennebec: A Portfolio of Maine Writing.
Published in sixteen annual issues between 1977 and 1992, Kennebec was the editorial fruit of Gordon Clark, Terry Plunkett, Bob McGuire, Clara Schroeder, and a handful of others over its brief and wondrous existence, and provided an outlet for local writers of a range of talent and notoriety to showcase their art both on and off campus.
Kennebec was the Augusta contemporary of UM Orono’s Maine Review and USM Portland-Gorham’s Presumpscot Journal, whose writer- and readership represented their respective northern and southern regions but did not seem to satisfy the craving for literary output and audience in central Maine.
Kennebec, some years, appeared in a neat 8.5″ x 11″ glossy print (seen here); other years it was a wide and tall insert in central Maine’s Kennebec Journal newspaper. In any case, and in whatever form, Kennebec gave a voice to a community of readers, writers, opinion-makers, and storytellers in Maine.
(Read every issue digitized or to explore each issue’s index to see who was writing when, visit the link at the UMA Libraries here: http://libraries.maine.edu/Kennebec/kennebec.htm)
To begin, here’s a clip from issue #1, April 1977, whose cover is featured above. This editorial commentary at the outset of the very first publication signals the tenor, and the mindset, in which this literary creation came to be, as well as the outsider perspective of its first editor. Gordon Clark’s brief essay reflects very much the conscious and critical spirit of the times, as well as a deep dissatisfaction with the local atmosphere that surrounded him, but also a great, worthwhile hope for bringing life to a community through literature.
How have things changed, or how have they stayed the same?
. . .
(from Kennebec: A Portfolio of Maine Writing, Issue #1, April 1977, http://libraries.maine.edu/Kennebec/v1p63.pdf)
This first issue of Kennebec comes at a time when very few connected with
our University system seem to possess a clear idea of where, academically,
“things are at.” Like the “Argo Merchant” we appear to have captains and
crews whose training leaves much to be desired; our compasses fluctuate with
the proclamation of each new statement of University and campus goals; and
the major concern of our citizens receiving thc cargo – educated men and women and services – is that the price is right. (For right read “cheap.”) We hear that the financial support given the University by Maine citizens, depending on the category, ranks between 45th and 50th in the nation. The administrative and legislative use of the term “dedicated” in relation to highways, hunting and fishing, provides its own ironic commentary. Somehow we have failed to understand that higher education, with its deep humanistic traditions that underly Western civilization, is the only insurance we can buy that gives
some hope for the endurance of democratic aspirations and forms. It seems to us that a society that perceives education as purely job-training, the acquisition of rudimentary literacy skills, that insists on “cheap” education, is doomed to always be last – or maybe, like the “Argo Merchant” . . .
Over ten years ago in August we came to Augusta for the first time. A certain drowsy ambience still possessed the town, a genteel decay downtown and treelined Western Avenue still reaching lovely up and to the west. We sat on the porch of the Augusta House above the river and were served drinks by an elderly waitress who obviously disapproved of drinking. As we observed through latticework the passage of traffic about the circle, she went inside and regaled us with musical selections from another time. Her handling of
“Over There” struck us as particularly good.
Since then there have been changes. In fact, regardless of our questionable educational standing, we can see little in the way of a claim to ranking Maine as number one in possessing the nation’s ugliest capitol city – no easy achievement, given the lovely physical setting of hills and river, the classically handsome capitol building, the elegance of the governor’s mansion and the graceful sweep of capitol land down to the Kennebec. There
were the fine old homes of Western Avenue, the still-charming waterfront business district, the outlying fields shelving into woods. Yet, unobserved from the front porch of the Augusta house, the work had begun. It was the sixties that saw the first concerted effort by certain dedicated Augusta citizens to transform our capitol city into what it is today. Working
from the basic assumption that any controls or zoning were part of a Communist conspiracy, the old buildings were raped or razed. Trees fell. Shopping
centers jammed the Avenue. Business edifices were erected which possessed in common a remarkable resemblance to the more garish chemical toilets – and with the same life expectancy. Neon lights blazed and screamed all over town – over the franchised eateries, discount houses, gas stations, used car lots and sterile motels. Today, one block from our state capitol, vulgarity presses in. The chicken-processing plant just upstream adds its own ribbon of decor to the Kennebec below a crumbling business district.
Our sad conviction is that Augusta is beyond recovery as a suitable location for the capitol of Maine. But wishing to be constructive, we propose a solution. Let there be selected somewhere in our unpopulated western hills (thus perhaps inducing legislative vision) an enclave of say, some five square miles. Let this be Maine’s new “Brasilia”! We propose that all the many buildings in Augusta still unravished and suitable for preservation be dismantled and re-erected at this site. Besides the capitol building, we recommend all
the old stone federal, county and state buildings, e.g., the county jail complex, the P.O., the fine old granite buildings that made up part of the old State Mental Hospital across the river. Replicas of demolished buildings and homes could be undertaken. And finally we suggest a rebuilding of the old Augusta House at our ‘Brasilia’, as it was at its best, with suitable landscaping. It will have a front porch where we can relax with a drink. Somewhere in the background, on an upright piano, an elderly waitress will be playing “It’s a Long Long Way From Tipperary.”
April, 1977 G.B.C. [Gordon B. Clark]