By Dennis Sullivan
On Sunday, Dec. 30, at Old Songs Community Arts Center in Voorheesville, the hosts of Sunday Four Poetry Open Mic presented the 2012 Arthur Dare Willis Award to poet, publisher, and editor Alan Casline of Delmar.
The award is presented from time to time to poets and publishers who have made a significant contribution to poets and poetry in our region. The 2011 award was presented to Albany poet, publisher, and blogger Dan Wilcox.
The Willis Award was established by Sunday Four hosts Edie Abrams, Michael Burke, and myself in 2011 to honor Willis (1936-2010), a poet, historian, philosopher, and teacher at Clayton A. Bouton High School in Voorheesville, for 25 years; in the minds of many, he was the best teacher ever to grace Bouton’s hallowed halls.
During his tenure at the school, Mr. Willis, in addition to being an engaging teacher and mentor, created and maintained for decades poetry and philosophy groups for students interested in the art of creation and questions regarding the meaning of life. The award was created to recognize his continuing spirit in the Voorheesville community and beyond.
Alan Casline is a fitting recipient of this year’s award because he has been engaged in writing poetry and publishing the work of poets for nearly 40 years. In 1975, he started the literary and social commentary journal Rootdrinker on a shoestring. Not only was the work of poets published there but also work by the Mohawks from Akwesasne, New England Organic Farmers and Co-op Marketers, Local Homestead pioneers in Alternative Energy, Upstate people, and groups that shared the journal’s folklore vision.
Casline established Benevolent Bird Press in 2006, which publishes the work of talented regional poets in limited editions, except for Harvesting Silence, as well as a reading series (with John Abbuhl) featuring prominent poets from the area at the Pine Hollow Arboretum in 2011.
In June 2007, Casline re-instituted the tradition of an annual reading in honor of Helderberg poet W. W. (William Weaver) Christman (1865-1937) at the Christman Sanctuary, a nature preserve named in Christman’s honor along the Bozenkill.
Benevolent Bird Press subsequently published the 25 sonnets comprising the Stove Pipe Street section of Christman’s The Untillable Hills first published by Driftwood Press to fairly wide acclaim in 1937. Will’s son Lansing was news editor for The Enterprise from 1934 to 1946 and his son Henry was the author of the much-used and highly acclaimed narrative of the Anti-Rent Wars, Tin Horns and Calico.
Casline has also produced a yearlong series of broadsides featuring the work of poets in the region accompanied by his own imaginative and highly-colorful woodcuts and photographs that are works of art unto themselves. He continues to be active in various writing groups in the area including the Every Other Thursday Night poets at the Voorheesville Public Library and the Delmar Writers Group. He has also participated in the noted Annual Smith’s Tavern Poet Laureate Contest.
In 2011, he was one of the organizers of the Cloudburst Council in Naples, N.Y. a mini-conference dedicated to poetic realities that brought together more than 25 outstanding poets from New York State and beyond. At the three-day gathering, poets read, discussed their work, and talked about the possibility of friendship among poets.
Among the events sponsored by Rootdrinker in the past two years were workshops for poets at the home of noted American poet Bernadette Mayer who lives near by in East Nassau, N.Y.
Casline holds a doctorate degree from the University at Albany in educational administration and policy studies — having attended St. Lawrence University for his baccalaureate — but remains true to his poetic heritage in the most ordinary ways.
Arthur Willis published in 2007 with Marcia Greenberg a beautifully-written and incisive treatise on teaching called Heart of the Matter: The Role of Attitude in Teaching, in which is discussed the intelligent and soulful way Willis approached and worked among students — with clarity, simplicity, and dedication. He would be highly pleased to know that an award in his honor was presented to Alan Casline this year for Dr. Casline’s continuing dedication to poets and poetry.