Where There is Light There is Water


From the top of a hill I looked down on a small bridge crossing a stream and over the forested hills under their mantle of rain clouds. A pile of logging debris and slash heaped on top of the bridge formed a barricade. It was raining gently. I stood and watched as a figure before the bridge was at work with a two-gallon jug of fuel and a butane lighter, attempting to set a fire….. …https://aboutplacejournal.org/issues/roots-and-resistance/regeneration/alexis-lathem/

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I am honored to be chosen as a fellow with the Black Earth Institute, a progressive think tank of artists and scholars dedicated to serving environmental and social justice through their art. The three-year fellowship will provide a stipend to support my work, as well as an opportunity to meet with the others fellows for an annual retreat in Black Earth, Wisconsin. Fellows also take turns editing the institute’s journal, About Place.



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Two Gorges

“When Francis met us at the train station in Labrador City, he had already been driving all night. The Trans-Labrador highway is a tire-shredding gravel track that cuts across the otherwise roadless province, connecting the iron ore mines of western Labrador to the Churchill Falls hydroelectric complex, and further east to Goose Bay on the Atlantic coast…” –Two Gorges: A River Journey, About Place, Political landscapes Issue.



Elizabeth and Francis Penashuae leading our expedition down the Lower Churchill River to Muskrat Falls, August, 1998.

In 1998, following the announcement of a proposal to build the second largest dam complex in the world on Innu land –Nitassinan–in Labrador, I joined a group of Innu leaders to paddle 200 miles of the river, from Churchill Falls to Muskrat Falls. After two decades of protests, the $11 billion dollar hydroelectric project at Muskrat Falls is under construction.


Muskrat Falls. Photo: Sara Sterling.

Elizabeth and Francis Penashuae lead trips down the river every summer until 2012, when construction began on the dam at Muskrat Falls.

Gull Island rapids.


Francis lining our canoes over Gull Island rapids.



Lunch break at Lake Winikapau.


The Grand Falls of Labrador. Photo: Andy Brown, National Geographic.

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My Multimedia Mother

Thais Lathem with her three daughters, left to right, Fre, Alexis (me), and Laurie, in Italy, circa 1970.

“Of the many concerts I attended as a child with my mother, a classically trained violinist, the first I recall was neither a symphony nor a string quartet, but a chess match between John Cage and a reporter for the Saturday Evening Post. The pieces were wired to produce electronic sounds. My brother Niles, who was fourteen, was the scorekeeper…”

–My Multimedia Mother: Recollections from a Counter-Cultural Childhood, Gettysburg Review, Winter 2017.

“…flawlessly written….” ––The Review Review

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Poetry & Jazz at Peace & Justice Center




Book of the Sixth, a Poetry and Jazz performance


PEACE & JUSTICE STORE, 60 LAKE STREET (next to the Skinny Pancake)

Poet Alexis Lathem, guitarist Art Herttua, and percussionist Ray Carroll will present The Book of the Sixth and other works on Sunday April 24, at 4 pm at the Peace and Justice Store in Burlington. This moving multimedia performance is part poetry reading, part jazz concert, part slideshow, and part requiem for species and cultures extinct and in danger of extinction.

The text for Book of the Sixth is selected poems from Lathem’s poetry collection, Alphabet of Bones (Wind Ridge 2015). The poems will be performed voice-over Art Herttua’s lyric guitar playing and Ray Carroll’s percussion with drum brushes, cymbals, chimes, bells, ringing bowls, and other instruments.

The title poem, Alphabet of Bones, a prolonged elegy for a landscape deranged by a massive hydroelectric project in Quebec, stems from the poet’s participation in the Peace and Justice Center’s Hydro Quebec campaigns of the 1990s.

Vermont Poet Laureate Sydney Lea wrote of Alphabet of Bones: “Ever conscious of extinction and threats of extinction, Lathem nonetheless gives us hope by way of her lyric clarity, her stunning eye for detail, and her moral persuasiveness. Even in her quietly apocalyptic central poem, ‘Book of the Sixth,’ to my mind the volume’s tour de force– even – or perhaps or especially there, we think, ‘This is what human sensibility remains capable of at its finest!’”

Alexis Lathem is an environmental journalist and writing instructor at the Community College of Vermont, and is the author of two poetry chapbooks. Recipient of the Chelsea Award for Poetry, a Vermont Arts Council grant, and a Bread Loaf scholarship, her poems and essays have appeared in AWP Chronicle, Beloit Poetry Journal, Chelsea Review, Saranac Review, Spoon River Review, and other journals. In her reporting on the struggles of indigenous peoples to defend their lands from development, she has paddled and trekked through taiga and rainforest.

The Herttua/Carroll jazz duo perform regularly at Radio Bean and Bagitos, and have performed at many other venues. A student of legendary jazz guitar teachers Harry Leahey and Bob Devoes, Herttua’s repertoire includes familiar jazz standards as well as original music, weaving melodies, rhythms and harmonies into an intimate lyrical voice. With Ray Carroll’s drum brush artistry, they present a colorful mosaic of sounds rooted in the classic jazz ballads and waltzes once perfected by past masters.


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Book Release


Alphabet of Bones is a collection of poems born out of the poet’s long engagement with the natural world—as gardener, shepherd, activist, and as a mortal human being whose bones will one day return to dust. Set in the context of unprecedented violence against nature—as living cultures are reduced to archeology—these poems take the long view, insisting on a deep ecological memory, and an awareness that our stories will be told through the landscapes we leave behind. From the pastoral landscape to the arctic tundra, these poems trace the discovery of the luminous in the shadows of loss. “We must leave a message,” the poet asks. “But in what language will we speak?”

Praise for Alphabet of Bones

Alexis Lathem’s Alphabet of Bones has been a long time coming. I know as much from following her work since its early and already striking examples. The wait was entirely worth it. Ever conscious of extinction and threats of extinction, human and natural, Lathem nonetheless gives us hope by way of her lyric clarity, her stunning eye for detail, and her moral persuasiveness. Even in her quietly apocalyptic central poem, “Book of the Sixth,” to my mind the volume’s tour de force– even– or perhaps or especially– there, we think, This is what human sensibility remains capable of at its finest!

–Sydney Lea, Poet Laureate of Vermont, author of I Was Thinking of Beauty, A North Country Life: Tales of Woodsmen, Waters and Wildlife, Pursuit of a Wound, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, and  To the Bone: New and Selected Poems, co-winner of the 1998 Poets’ Prize.

Alexis Lathem’s poems are steeped in patient observations and a deep comprehension of the grace and tragedy of human life, of the mysteries of the natural world, and our fragile place within it. Perhaps most of all these poems are shaped by an understanding of the power of language — its music as much as its meaning. Alphabet of Bones is a grave, beautiful accomplishment.
—Jane Brox, author of Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light, named one of the top ten nonfiction books of 2010 by Time magazine; Five Thousand Days Like This One, a 1999 finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in nonfiction; and Here and Nowhere Else, winner of the L.L. Winship/PEN New England Award.

Book Launch Gala

  • Saturday, September 26, 2015
  • 4:30pm 6:30pm

Wind Ridge Books & Voices of Vermonters invite you to a launch gala.

Saturday, September 26: 4:30-6:30 p.m. at Arts Riot, 400 Pine St. Burlington
Free admittance, refreshments, cash bar

Announcing The Vermeer Suite and Alphabet of Bones

Wind Ridge Books and Voices of Vermonters Publishing Group will launch two provocative new books of poetry during the upcoming Burlington Book Festival.

Pushcart Prize-winner Daniel Lusk will read from his new collection The Vermeer Suite, poems inspired by the beloved masterworks of 17th century Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer, and Alexis Lathem will read from Alphabet of Bones.


Coming to bookstores this fall.


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