Bill at the Jacob Edwards Memorial Library
(Source: Jacob Edwards Memorial Library)
If there is a poet among the Worcester group who represents the small town, Bill Tremblay is surely that man. His poem, “There is Only One Endless Poem” speaks of this.
My town is called Southbridge
its streets and gutters
run with the rain
of my memory
every space in it definite enough
to be a place
has an episode of the poem
hidden like a demigod in it
I make my Via Delorosa
through the cobbling streets of this town
how it flowed into me
how the outside world like the Quinebaug River
flooded my town of ecstasy
Bill Tremblay was born and raised in Southbridge, and grew to love the town of his birth. “Southbridge is a great place to be from,” he said. “I feel that I owe a great deal to the community for providing such a good place to grow up in. It’s a place where parents cared about their children and people cared about education.” As he grew older, he idolized the local football great Bill Swiacki, and went to Columbia University on a football scholarship. It was there that he was introduced to the works of T.S. Eliot. “I was astounded. I hadn’t realized you could do that in poetry, make it so dramtic, internal, suggest so much about loneliness and alienation. It was a revelation.” Also while he was at Columbia he was introduced to Jack Kerouac, a poet who had also attended Columbia University on a football scholarship, but he had dropped out due to injury. Surprisingly, Tremblay would also follow in the footsteps of his newfound hero, dropping out due to injury. He then transferred to Clark University, in Worcester, Massachusetts.
At Clark he was very successful. He published his work in Helicon and also The Clark Review. By graduation he had received the Hoyt Poetry Prize.
Tremblay was writing his poems in isolation while he was teaching at a number of schools around the region, including Southbridge High School, Cole Trade School, Sutton High School Tantasqua Regional High School, Sturbridge and Leicester Junior College. A friend told him that he should contact fellow poet Robert Bly for suggestions. “He was enormously helpful to me. I took a lot of encouragement from him,” said Tremblay. Robert Bly would also later introduce Tremblay to another successful Worcester poet, Fran Quinn.
Bill Tremblay supported the student strike after the Kent State and Jackson State killings, and was asked to leave Leicester Junior College; this prompted him to enroll at University of Massachusetts at Amherst. Though he was studying for his Ph.D. in American Literature and had even completed all of the course work for his degree, he switched to the MFA when his newest manuscript was accepted for publication “in a gesture of solidarity with my new identity as a ‘published poet.’”
While at the University of Massachusetts, one of his teachers was Joseph Langland: “Over the months I came to admire Joe more and more for his generosity and his commitment to the community of poets, especially in Worcester, where he was a frequent and beloved visitor.”
With Langland he worked on a study of Charles Olson. “Joe was often in disagreement with Olson’s ‘projectivist’ poetics since there was no accounting for music, for the sounds poetic language can make,” said Tremblay.
When Tremblay began teaching again, he drew on what he’d learned from the teaching skills of Langland, whom he admired greatly, trying to model his teaching style on him. “I dare to think that in my better moments I modeled myself on Joe’s example as a poetry teacher. He helped poets become what they wanted to be, rather than stuff them into one preconceived mold.”
At the current date, Bill Tremblay has published 6 full length volumes of poetry and has another on the way. He has been teaching at Colorado State University for thirty years, and his work there has earned him the John F. Stern Distinguished Professor Award for his years of service.
"The Lost Boy," from his last book, Rainstorm Over the Alphabet, has been selected for inclusion in BEST AMERICAN POETRY 2003, which will be published in September, just about the same time as his latest book, Door of Fire, will be published. He also hopes to come back to Worcester to do book signings at that time.
At Colorado State, he has served three times as Director of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Colorado State University. Outside of the college, for fifteen years, he was Poetry and Managing Editor of Colorado Review.
Though he is far removed from his childhood home, his memories are clearly strong. “I stepped outside to cool off, remembering my own neighborhood when I was a kid & how easy it is to lose the community,” he reflects in “The Community” from The Anarchist Heart.
And yet Tremblay’s poems are often tender. “The Third Son” from The Anarchist Heart, is a fitting example of this tender tone. “The struggles have not ended. I have taken the world into me & the armies of darkness & of light forever march toward each other in my fears & hopes whenever I write a poem. But this morning, the morning you were born, I had this vision I could be a messenger. If you wonder why I look at you & smile, unaccountably, sometimes, it’s because I see that.”
- Crying in the Cheap Seats, 1971
- The Anarchist Heart, 1977
- Home Front, 1978
- Sacred Sun: New and Selected Poems,1985
- Duhamel: Ideas of Order in Little Canada, 1986
- Rainstorm Over the Alphabet, 2001
- Door of Fire, 2003
Bill with Margaret Morrissey, Adult Services Librarian at Jacob Edwards Memorial Library in Southbridge (Source: Jacob Edwards Memorial Library)
Bill at the window in the Jacob Edwards Memorial Library. (Source: Jacob Edwards Memorial Library)
Joseph Langland was Tremblay's teacher and mentor.
- The struggles have not ended. I have taken the world into me & the armies of darkness & of light forever march toward each other in my fears & hopes whenever I write a poem. But this morning, the morning you were born, I had this vision I could be a messenger. If you wonder why I look at you & smile, unaccountably, sometimes, it’s because I see that.
- — Bill Tremblay Third Son from "The Anarchist Heart"