By Martha L. Molnar
Poet for Hire? That is Cuttingsville native Ben Aleshire’s most recent incarnation. He has set up his manual typewriter to write poems for passersby on the streets of Paris, Madrid, London, Havana, New Orleans, and many other cities. Poet, artist, musician, troubadour and traveler, Aleshire has spent almost half his life traveling. This month he returns to the Rutland area to be the first artist at the 2021 summer residencies at 77ART.
After skipping pandemic summer, 77ART is back this year with two consecutive sessions in July and August for artists from around the country. They will spend a month in Rutland practicing their art and sharing their work with the community. 77ART strives to position the Rutland area as a center for cutting-edge art. Starting with just eight artists, the program grew to more than 30 in 2019. Studio space at the Opera House on Merchants Row is generously provided by Mark Foley, and technical support by The Mint makerspace.
As a poet for hire, Aleshire says he has written thousands of poems, from the joyful to the mundane to the tragic. “People ask me for love poems, hoping their wife or boyfriend will take them back, for eulogies to read at funerals, for vows for weddings, even for suicide notes,” he said, adding that he has been “a witness to so many people’s desires, fears, and joys.”
This vocation has taken Aleshire all around the world. In Paris, he lived inside the legendary Shakespeare & Co. Bookstore; in Edinburgh, he performed at the Fringe, the largest theatre festival in the world; in Madrid, he ended up on Spanish national television. Along the way he’s written poems for Jimmy Page, Sir Tom Stoppard, Bernie Sanders, and former U.S. Poet Laureate, Tracy K. Smith.
Not just a working poet, Aleshire is also an artist and photographer. This June he’ll be printing portraits with an alternative photographic process called cyanotype, a process invented in 1846 and used for traditional blueprints.
His work has been published in The Times of London, Iowa Review and Boston Review, and he’s received fellowships and support from the Vermont Studio Center, Bread Loaf, and New York University, where he’s currently a Goldwater Fellow. He also serves as a contributing editor for Green Mountains Review, and a freelance book critic for Seven Days.
On June 26, 7-9 p.m. Ben Aleshire will present a reading from his poems and essays. Joining him will be Pittsburgh poet and photographer, Clare Welsh. The evening will begin at 7 p.m. with snacks and refreshments in Aleshire’s studio, where prints, books, and photographs from Aleshire and fellow artist Clare Welsh will be for sale. At 8 p.m., Welsh and Aleshire will read from their work, followed by an informal meet and greet with the artists.
Twenty artists will be arriving in Rutland during July and August to participate in the 77ART residency program. A diverse group, they are all highly accomplished artists, most with advanced degrees from highly regarded institutions. Their art is multidisciplinary, ranging from traditional to video, taxidermy, soundscape, and performance art.