The eighteen essays in A Language Dark Enough chronicle Vermont poet Tony Whedon's travels on four continents in search of a language that describes "home." From Port-au-Prince to Shanghai, from Ecuador's Andes to the Green Mountains of Vermont, many of those he meets— -- his students, colleagues, and fellow travelers -- —are displaced people, exiles in a global community.
Whedon's approach to the travel essay is to live among a people before writing about them. "The people I meet are often unwilling castaways from their own cultures. I'm interested in how language and scenery, and the more evanescent effects of politics and culture, shape the stories people tell about their ordeals."
By 1985, Whedon had completed his poetry thesis for an M.F.A. from Vermont College, and was ready to travel again. During the fall of 1989, following the suppression of student demonstrations throughout China, he taught at Shanghai International Studies University. "I was strongly affected by my students' reaction to their tragedy," says Whedon. "Some of the essays in my collection reflect this experience. My time in the East spurred me on to visit Cuba, whose political situation is not unlike that of China. I also traveled in South America and the Caribbean."
Braided together by recurring cultural and political motifs, all of Whedon's essays move toward the ultimate destination of every traveler: himself. In the last essay of the collection -- "Was Homer Happy?" -- Whedon is at home in Vermont, reading The Odyssey during a drought, cut off from water as was Odysseus. Whedon writes, "If the word for the new month is acceptance, I've not come by it easily. I take these half-steps on my way to a final inevitability with bitter gratitude, one at a time."
In December 2011, Mid-List Press published Things to Pray to in Vermont, Whedon's first collection of poems, which reprises some themes he touched on in his highly acclaimed, award-winning collection of essays. There is travel in these poems, much of it inward, and narrative and technical innovation, too, in Whedon's blending of narration and lyricism. Harrowing autobiographical and peripatetic poems are collected into a book of contrasts -- metropolitan and rural, idealistic and cynical, sensual and spiritual.
Born in Torrington, Connecticut, Tony Whedon grew up on Long Island. Both of his parents were working artists, his father was a ceramicist and his mother a painter and printmaker. "My father played jazz guitar. I began listening to jazz and playing the trombone as a child," Whedon says. His mother, part Creole, spent her childhood in New Orleans. "I think my interest in Latin and Caribbean culture was inspired by her stories."
After high school Whedon attended Goddard College, then The New School for Social Research. During a short hiatus from his studies, he worked as a professional jazz trombonist. He returned to study English and creative writing at The University of Iowa and the Iowa Writers Workshop. "After Iowa, I taught art history at Morehouse in Atlanta from 1966 until 1969. The experience was a catalyst for me, further stimulating my interest in cultures other than my own."
From Atlanta, Whedon and his wife, Suzanne, traveled to Europe, living for a time on the island of Mallorca, in Madrid and Paris, and on Paros Island in Greece. In 1974, the Whedons came home "penniless and jobless" and settled in Vermont, taking odd jobs -- farm work, waiting tables in ski resorts -- and occasionally teaching at local colleges. "I continued writing but published nothing," Whedon says. "Suzanne and I drifted into a solitary, hermitic life. We lived for twelve years in a log cabin without running water or electricity."
Then Whedon worked for many years as a jazz trombonist and a professor of Creative Writing at Vermont's Johnson State College. His critical and creative essays and his poetry have been widely published. Whedon is the leader of the poetry-jazz ensemble PoJazz which released its double CD Last Days in 2008. He and Suzanne, also a writer, live on their homestead in northern Vermont.
Photo of Tony Whedon by Karine Theolis Photographe