An Elegant Homage to West Virginia’s Oldest Town

New Poetry Book From FLUENT Columnist and Poet Ed Zahniser

Four Seasons Books has published the 72-page book to commemorate the 250th Anniversary of Shepherdstown. The book also marks the June 3, 2014, 100th Anniversary of the death of Danske Dandridge, Shepherdstown’s most famous poet, early historian and prolific gardening writer. At Betty’s Restaurant Thomas Shepherd Loves Danske Dandridge and The Shepherdstown Sonnets is titled by its three poems.

“At Betty’s Restaurant” is a dramatic monologe set in that landmark eatery on a typical town morning. Sonja James writes in The Weekender that the poet “. . . decides to make the people who frequent Betty’s Restaurant the subject of the poem.” The poem captures the restaurant’s role as hub of daily community and a small town’s life. “Zahniser then lists local residents who might possibly be the next person to enter the restaurant: Bill Trail, Sarah Kezman, Bill Knode, Ben Miller, and Bob Moss.”

Writing in the West Virginia Observer, poet, editor and critic Dylan Kinnett observes that “In Samuel Beckett’s ‘Waiting for Godot,’ the two characters wait a long time for someone who never arrives. Ed Zahniser’s 4-page dramatic monologue “At Betty’s Restaurant” captures a related situation. . . . In a small town where everyone is connected, anyone at all could be the person you’ve been waiting to see. What will you say next?” Kinnett observes that “If you enjoy people-watching, you’ll enjoy ‘At Betty’s Restaurant’ in a similar way.”

“Thomas Shepherd Loves Danske Dandridge” pays homage to Dandridge, whose poetry was endorsed by the prominent contemporary poet John Greenleaf Whittier. Zahniser imagines Dandridge in a love affair “outside time” with town founder Thomas Shepherd. The poem includes actual town history with glimpses of Dandridge’s life and career.

“Danske Dandridge was a poet whose reviews overused the word ‘dainty’ in much the same way that Shepherdstown is a town whose reviews overuse the word ‘quaint,’” Kinnett writes. “Zahniser’s poem,” he says, “. . . reinvigorates the image of our local poet, describing her as ‘tortured, anguished, hot-tempered, bitterly unhappy,’ but also ambitious, considerate, intellectual and passionate.”

“The Shepherdstown Sonnets” pays homage to the late poet Ted Berrigan, author of The Sonnets. Chronologically, Kinnett observes, the sonnets “take place during March at various times: at 6:22am, at 6:25am, and at 6:15am. For Zahniser, it is a time to think of snow that has yet to melt on the shaded, southern side of Shepherdstown’s German Street. It is a time to think of water, which flows through the Town Run and powers the mill ‘of Thomas Shepherd’s founding industry.’”

Heather Watson of Pernot and Tatlin designed the book. Her cover art pays homage to the the first edition of Berrigan’s The Sonnets, designed by artist Joe Brainerd, who collaborated with many poets of his generation. Watson also designed and illustrated Zahniser’s earlier book Mall-hopping with the Great I AM and the anthology In Good Company: 27 Poets Celebrating the 250th Anniversary of Shepherdstown, co-edited by Shepherdstown Poet Laureate Georgia Lee McElhaney and Zahniser.