New book by Mike Pride captures NH literary era

Mike Pride’s final book, Northern Voices, is an exploration of the livesand works of a remarkable generation of Northern New England poets.

Mike Pride’s final book, Northern Voices, is an exploration of the livesand works of a remarkable generation of Northern New England poets. Courtesy

Mike Pride’s final book, Northern Voices, is an exploration of the livesand works of a remarkable generation of Northern New England poets.

Mike Pride’s final book, Northern Voices, is an exploration of the livesand works of a remarkable generation of Northern New England poets. Courtesy

By RAY DUCKLER

Monitor staff

Published: 05-17-2024 1:36 PM

Modified: 05-20-2024 10:25 AM


Before he died last spring from a rare blood cancer at age 76, the community knew the local newspaper editor was a well-rounded author, a prolific writer who loved the written word and its ability to summon clear images without being verbose.

For years, Mike Pride wrote books, editorials, columns, news stories, sports stories, journals, seminar lectures, just about anything that had to do with words on a page.

He felt as comfortable writing about baseball and his beloved Yankees as he did when providing context on the First in the Nation Primary.

With an unmatched work ethic, Pride’s literary output, beyond his duties as the editor at the Concord Monitor for 25 years, was tireless when it came to writing. So it should be no surprise that he immersed himself in yet another writing style, this one dependent on crispness and brevity more than other forms of writing: poetry.

Pride didn’t write poetry. But his rich history communicating with and befriending some of the best poets in the country resulted in “Northern Voices,” released posthumously on April 25 to coincide with Pride’s death in 2023.

He spent quality time with the likes of Donald Hall, his late wife Jane Kenyon, Charles Simic, Maxine Kumin, Wes McNair and Sharon Olds. They were Pulitzer Prize winners and Poet Laureates, and their Granite State ties made Pride proud. He ate with them, drank with them, hiked with them and learned from them.

For nearly three decades, he invited these giants to speak about their poetry at the Monitor, and the result for some of the raw reporters was tighter writing, more exacting.

Former Monitor editor Felice Belman, now the deputy metro editor at the New York Times, recalled the impact these poets had on a young Monitor staff.

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“Mike really managed to evoke a bit of a lost world – all those famous (or soon to be famous) poets in the same place at the same time, many laboring in the long shadow of Robert Frost and wrestling with a more contemporary idea of New England poetry,” she said via email.

Frost’s name is prevalent in the book, described as the master of Granite State poetry whose shadow loomed large over these poets’ notepads and computer screens.

“Their everyday writing lives were strikingly similar,” Pride wrote in his final book. “They were not recluses like J.D. Salinger, the novelist and short-story author in Cornish who died in 2010, but their dwellings served as retreats where they could think, write, and contemplate with as much as modern society allows.”

Pride authored, co-authored or edited eight books. He spent nine years as a Pulitzer Prize Board member beginning in 1999. Then he came out of retirement to serve as administrator of the Pulitzer Prize for three years.

The book was dedicated to former Monitor colleagues Belman and Mark Travis, both close friends with Pride, who helped edit it and knew Pride’s approach to writing better than most.

Wrote Travis in Pride’s obituary, “Words were his bond with others. He developed deep relationships with New England poets by telling their stories and reviewing their work.”

Monique Pride, Mike’s wife of 53 years, provided encouragement that helped Mike realize that his intimate knowledge of the six poets mentioned above gave him rare insight. A book, Monique knew, would be worthwhile.

Pride never saw the finished copy, which includes on the cover one of Monique’s paintings of mountains in the background, green grass in the foreground, and a mailbox across the road with ‘R. Frost’ in white letters on a brown box.

Pride wrote about Hall a lot, perhaps more than any other individual in the book.

Pride visited Hall, who died in 2018 at the age of 89, many times at Hall’s home, Eagle Pond Farm in Wilmot, which he inherited from his grandmother. He brought him food, conversed about their love for words and pushed his wheelchair before Hall died.

Pride used his clean writing skills and the journalistic instincts stored in his DNA to capture full snapshots of his subjects. Something real. Something showing all sides. He felt it was his duty to include nuggets of information when writing about public figures.

“Time and reflection,” Travis wrote in the book’s foreword, “enabled him to balance his affection for the poets he wrote about while adhering to his journalistic standards.”

For example, the reader learns that Hall was named poet laureate in 2006 and he received the National Medal of Arts, draped around his neck by former president Barack Obama in 2010.

But Hall also liked to party and chase women in college. “He became the denizen of the college cocktail party circuit,” Pride wrote. “A first dinner date, he recalled in a jaunty tone, was assumed to include breakfast.”

Pride spends time on Hall’s depression and how it affected his work after Kenyon died from cancer in 1995 at age 46.

We read about Kenyon, a regular contributor to the Monitor, who refused to let cancer slow her down, agreeing to keep writing despite her pain. Wrote Pride, “Jane made time to answer my invitation to keep writing for the Monitor, her handwriting flowing across the postcard like a ribbon.”

He offers insight on Maxine Kumin, who became enraged when someone said to her, “You write like a man.”

Also included are the cynical, brooding poems by Simic and how McNair’s tough childhood led to the hardscrabble characters he wrote about.

Pride wrote the book’s first three chapters in 2019, but later had difficulty getting words onto the screen. He knew he had the knowledge – both personally and professionally – to finish the job, but his writing – journals, newspaper articles, books etc. – kept him busy and interfered with his focus on poetry.

Monique pushed him to finish. Travis did as well. Pride had acknowledged to Travis that he was aware of who the right person was to write such a book. With Pride’s intimate knowledge, based on the endless time he had spent with some of the most celebrated poets in the nation, this was a no-brainer.

“(He) seemed unable to resist any of the invitations to write or speak that appeared in his inbox,” Travis wrote. ” ‘Mike,’ I’d say, reminding him of his own words, ‘the poetry memoir – it’s the story only you can write.’ ”