monadnock (n): A hill, mountain, or ridge of erosion-resistant rock rising above a peneplain.

[These notes are post-climb of Mt. Ascutney in Windsor, Vermont, reflective — some field note type things, some poetry-related musings toward the end… a little all over the place, but that’s what my mind is like… welcome!]

My parents now live in the mountains of New Hampshire, just across the border from VT. Any hill you can find will inevitably offer some spectacular views of Vermont’s Green Mountains. When I visited earlier this summer there was one day that was cooler than the others (yes, is it incredibly hot nearly everywhere this summer) so I drove the fifteen minutes across state borders to Mt. Ascutney (which rises roughly 3100 feet above sea level) for a hike. I’d been anxious for some New England trails for a while, so this was the day to do it.

Mt. Ascutney

When I checked in with the park ranger’s station at entrance to the park he gave me (for a mere $3) my pass to hang in my car and a quick nod. “You’re the only one to check in today.”  The thought that I’d have the mountain to myself for the day was both exciting and a little terrifying (if something should happen, thank god I checked in and didn’t go for any of the other routes that don’t require it!). I didn’t have all day so I drove two miles up the mountain road to start my ascent 2.5 miles from the summit. I was at once reminded of the beauty of New England forests and trails… granite rocks with bright green moss creeping upwards… sheets of birch bark shed from their trees, curled up and discarded like a failed draft or consumed by the landscape, taken in… and evergreens. Once you reach a certain elevation not much can grow except the stubborn short evergreen shrubs (I wish I knew the names of things)… I had forgotten this sense of summit from other New England peaks. All else is stripped away. The bouldering you have to do toward the end can be slick as the granite has been rubbed to near sheen by weathering and foot traffic.

I learned that day that Ascutney is what is called a “monadnock” – an elevated portion of land that exists due to the resilience of its rock foundation. The rest of the landmass (peneplain) around it has eroded away over time. As the Ascutney guide says:

I’ve since taken up a new obsession… all summer I’ve been reading and investigating geomorphology and the conditions under which mountains are created from resistance instead of plate tectonics or living volcano. There is no connection to the range. What is our attraction to the singular? Is it our independence, our own need to stand out against a crowd? To take the path of most resistance and prevail? My attraction to the idea of a monadnock literally and metaphorically is troublesome… in general I find comfort with poets who take issue with individual genius and respond instead with collage and quotation and collaboration. The singular is dissolved, the reader engaged, the “Poet” just an agent of the action, an architect for some future experience. But then I think the poet is temporal, the language is the granite. Is every great poem in some sense a monadnock? We can’t see to that point — it takes time for other work to erode. Ok, I feel a bit better now. Onward…

What about erasure? It has been offered as a poet’s highlighter of the ways in which they read (DBQ), as problematic when determined from other well-known literary sources (RS), as a product of the “demands of re-contextualization” (TMcD), as poem “world-making and unmaking” (BMcH)… McHale in his chapter on erasure in Theory Into Poetry poses the question “how does one go about building a world using materials under erasure?” Well, what if the process could be more like the process of an emerging Monadnock? That instead of being built, the erosion-resistant language (to the poet maker, the language that persists) is what persists? That the new poem is not a reduction, but a heightening?

I think I might have found my next project.

One thought on “monadnock (n): A hill, mountain, or ridge of erosion-resistant rock rising above a peneplain.

  1. Very cool, Moriah… I say b/c it’s close to my own thought process. Rock is the first law of everything, and it never stops moving.


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