FARMINGTON — Sometimes sad, sometimes humorous, Maine Poet Laureate Wesley McNair’s latest poetry collection, “The Lost Child: Ozark Poems,” has an understory — one of grief and reconciliation with his mother.

McNair, a resident of Mercer, will share poems from the piece during a local launch of the book at 7 p.m. Oct. 2 at the Farmington Public Library.

A stretch from his traditional New England-based poetry, the new book begins with poetry about his mother’s last days in 2012.

It moves on to a section of poems about fictional characters, ones who are somewhat based on his mother’s family in the Ozarks of southern Missouri, he said.

The last section relates his journey to the Ozarks with her ashes, where McNair and her elderly siblings scattered them at the family grave site.

“The book had quite an effect,” he said. “When I finished, I was stunned by it. Although she lived nearby in New Hampshire, I had to go to the Ozarks to find my mother.”


Along with coming to know and understand his mother better, the work preserves the world she knew.

McNair also discovers relatives “who are a part of who I am,” he said. “It explores another part of me and the America they represent.”

The lost child was his mother’s lost childhood. As the oldest child of six growing up in the Ozarks during the Depression and Dust Bowl period, she became responsible for her siblings and was like a mother to them, he said.

She was raised in an environment and a generation where it was important to just survive, he said. She was tight-lipped about feelings. The poverty of the Depression shaped them in certain ways, he added.

These families bore the brunt of the Depression.

Stories passed on about sandstorms that went on for days and ruined crops communicate the hardships that families experienced, he said. When windows were locked but the sandstorm still blew sand under your pillow, there was no time for emoting feelings.


There was no space for Dr. Phil, he added.

While in her eighties, his mother suffered a massive stroke and was in an acute care center. Fearing these were her last moments on earth, it triggered feelings of grief, he said.

Elderly relatives from the Ozarks come to visit her. McNair developed an unexpected bond with them, he said.

He was invited to a family reunion in Missouri a few months later and stayed with his mother’s favorite sister. She spent time talking to him about her siblings and their families. McNair later wrote down the stories, and some of them developed into poems.

“It was the truth of my mother’s people and their history,” he said. “Writing poems helped me understand her in a different way.”

The last two poems of the collection relate her death and his grief as he held her hand and sang her favorite song, “Tennessee Waltz.”


As a writer and poet laureate, McNair’s goal is to bring poetry to the people through different means such as schools, newspapers or YouTube.

Gone are the days when schoolchildren and Grange members would recite poetry by heart, he said. Parents used to read to them at night.

As a writer, he’s thought about his audience.

“I speak to the life they have lived the best way I can,” he said.

His goal underlies his initiatives as Maine’s poet laureate. He has worked on a new one each year.

The first one involved poetry publications in 30 newspapers around the state. Another was the Maine Poetry Express, where members of the community choose a couple poems and talk to an audience about why they picked those particular poems and what they mean to them.


Another initiative, Poets in Public, involved putting Maine poets on the Internet and YouTube.

This spring, an initiative called “Written Word, Spoken Word and Hip Hop,” was launched at Mt. Blue High School. Schools around the state will soon see video of that presentation for use in classrooms. The effort is to change the way poetry is taught in public schools and help open students up to new forms of poetry, he said.

Next year, a final step is to create a legacy website that pulls all the initiatives together, he said.

“It will restore, I think, the broken connections between poetry and its audience, the general community,” he said.

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