Belle of Two Arbors by Paul Dimond and Poetry by Martha Buhr GrimesBelle of Two Arbors by Paul Dimond and Poetry by Martha Buhr Grimes

Thanks to Serena M. Agusto-Cox of Poetic Book Tours, I am giving away one print copy of Belle of Two Arbors by Paul Dimond and Poetry by Martha Buhr Grimes.

Description of Belle of Two Arbors by Paul Dimond and Poetry by Martha Buhr Grimes

Born at the turn of the twentieth century in Glen Arbor, near the dunes of Northern Michigan, young Belle is the first child of a gruff stove works boss and a crippled mother who weaned Belle on the verse of Emily Dickenson. When a natural disaster results in her mother’s death and nearly takes the life of her younger brother Pip, Belle creates a fierce, almost ecstatic farewell song. Thus begins her journey to compose a perfect Goodbye to Mama.

At 21, Belle ventures south to Ann Arbor for university, with teenaged Pip in tow. There, she befriends Robert Frost, Ted Roethke and Wystan Auden and finds that her poetry stands alongside theirs, and even with that of her hero, Dickinson. Her lyrics capture the sounds, sights, and rhythms of the changing seasons in the northern forests, amidst the rolling dunes by the shores of the Great Lake.

Despite the peace she finds, Belle also struggles in both homes. Up north, she battles her father who thinks a woman can’t run the family business; and clashes against developers who would scar the natural landscape. In Ann Arbor, she challenges the status quo of academic pedants and chauvinists.

Belle’s narrative brings these two places to life in their historic context: a growing Midwestern town driven by a public university, striving for greatness; and a rural peninsula seeking prosperity while preserving its natural heritage. Through the Roaring Twenties, the Great Depression, World War II, and the Post-War Boom, Belle’s story is hard to put down. Her voice and songs will be even harder to forget.

Praise for Belle of Two Arbors by Paul Dimond and Poetry by Martha Buhr Grimes

“The Belle of Two Arbors is a beguiling story about a talented woman from the back of beyond who dares to establish her own identity. Capturing the upper reaches of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, Dimond creates a new American fable that, like the great novels of Willa Cather, both lacerates and heals: An ingenious feat of fictional biography.” –Theodore Rosengarten, National Book Award All God’s Children: The Life of Nate Shaw and MacArthur Fellow

“Paul Dimond’s Belle of Two Arbors is historical fiction at its most informative and engaging. Belle is poet, protectress, matriarch and muse, whether advocating for a more inclusive University in Ann Arbor or promoting the preservation of America’s premier national lakeshore in Glen Arbor. Fans of the poets Frost, Roethke, Auden and Dickinson are in for a treat: Belle weaves their histories in Michigan and the legacies of Dickinson and Frost in Amherst expertly with the fictional characters. A treasure of a read!” –Barbara Stark-Nemon, author of award-winning historical novel, Even in Darkness

“Dimond imagines the intertwined lives of literary giants in a saga as evocative as Faulkner, with plot lines as cracking as Hemingway’s short stories in Michigan’s northern woods. Belle’s bravery and artistic consciousness are an inspiration.” –John Dempsey, Chair Michigan Historical Commission and co-author Michigan Notable Book Award Ink Trails: Michigan’s Famous and Forgotten Authors

“In the company of Paul Dimond’s extraordinary Belle, we witness the turbulence of a rapidly changing America in the first half of the 20th century. In her roles as poet, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and conservation leader, Belle interacts with a well-realized cast of characters, both imagined and real, most notably the poet Robert Frost. In this full and searching ‘portrait of a lady,’ Dimond renders the opportunities and obstacles that shape Belle’s story in such a way as to remind us that her world is also ours in the making.” –Donald Sheehy, Ed. The Letters of Robert Frost. Vols. 1–2

Guest Post by Paul Dimond

A Sample of Belle’s Letters (and poems) to Frost

          The historical novel The Belle of Two Arbors covers the years 1913 -1953 while the title character Belle ages from 13 to 53.  She learned to love Emily Dickinson’s posthumously published poetry at her invalid mother’s knee.  After her Mama dies in the opening scene in a tragic natural disaster, Belle continues to raise the 6-year-old brother she saved and to compose poems, often of her Lake Michigan and Sleeping Bear dunes, bay and shore.  As private as Emily Dickinson but tethered to two safe Arbors (Glen up north and Ann downstate), Belle fledges to the University of Michigan.  Over time, she meets and becomes a friend and colleague in composing poetry with three real-life poets, Frost, Roethke and Auden.  As Belle leaves her two Arbors only a handful of times, their friendships deepen more with their regular correspondence than the poets’ fewer visits to her two arbors.   As one example, consider a small sample of Belle’s letters to Frost.

  1. Spring 1927. When younger brother Pip’s wife Rachel dies giving birth to a girl, Belle drives non-stop to Amherst to help. Frost and his wife Elinor take all three into their home in town for the rest of the semester. After Pip’s graduation, the family drives back to Ann Arbor.  There, the 1927 Michigan Yearbook greets Belle. The cover is an embossed image of the 400-foot memorial tower Saarinen designed for Michigan’s late President Burton, who brought Frost to Michigan, became one of Frost’s closest friends, and for whom Frost gave the eulogy before 4000 mourners in 1925. Belle’s note:

Thanks to you and Mrs. Frost for taking Ruthie, Pip, and me in when we were most in need. I don’t know how we could ever express how much this meant to us. As a token of our gratitude, I hope the cover on the attached gift reminds you that Michigan will always welcome you. It may take quite a while before Burton’s proposed bell tower ever rings One-O to call you back. In the interim, please remember that Pip, Ruthie, and I will be at the front door of Cambridge House here and Belle Cottage up north to welcome you, Elinor and [your daughter] Marj into our two sheltering Arbors any time.         

  1. Spring 1931. Over the prior decade, Belle and Frost challenged each other to write proper elegies for their long-lost mothers.  A Frost letter to Belle suggests that including his unpublished first try, “The Lovely Shall Be Choosers,” in his Collected Poems has just won him a second Pulitzer Prize: “This should relieve me from any obligation to write another “Goodbye to Mama”—at least for as long as you don’t finish yours!”   Belle rises to his challenge and shares her third try in her reply:

I know you don’t really think the poem to your Mama Belle [his mother’s nickname was also Belle] made all the difference, but I do hear its sound better now. Your note mocking my style inspired me to sing my “Goodbye to Mama” at last. If it meets your challenge, I hope you’ll share any better goodbye to your mother you may hereafter compose.  As ever, your younger Belle,

Goodbye to Mama

water below ice

spilling from our fishing hole—

sly silence—and then—
one long lonely Crack!

our fishing shanty’s heaving sigh—

spinning silver shards—


brother ‘neath my arm—

her gloved hand waving toward shore:

Mama’s gray goodbye—


frozen arm flailing

reaching for life, pumping hard

through unforgiving gray shock—


now stroking steady

in peaceful rhythmic splendor:

lake lips caressing


the hills and valleys

of my cold suffering soul—

O! Blue Salvation…

Later that spring, at the first ceremony awarding Hopwood prizes for creative writers at Michigan, Frost concludes by honoring Belle for writing a better elegy for her mother.

  1. Spring 1934. Frost shares several letters with Belle describing the slow death and painful loss of his youngest daughter Marj from infection incurred in giving birth to a healthy baby. In the text of the novel, Belle describes her reply: “All those who accused my Robbie of being so driven to defend his reputation and to campaign for his poetry as to forget—or worse not to care for—his family and friends missed the measure of this man. Yes, the poet too often bristled with sharp hackles, but the man fought his darker side to help his family and friends in the worst of times, as he’d helped Pip, Ruthie, and me. Even when railing against the sickness, scatteration, and death visited on his family, and suffering the loss of his youngest child, I knew he and Mrs. Frost would make room to care for Marj’s baby, Robin. And I told him so in my letter, thanking him again for all he’d done over the years and wishing him well in nurturing his new grandchild.  I explained I enclosed a letter from Pip for [Frost’s son-in-law] sharing his experience as a widower raising a child. I closed:

I also enclose a poem I composed walking our dunes. Yes, I shed tears for your Marjorie and for you, but I also remembered your benediction at Rachel’s memorial service in Johnson Chapel. You reminded Pip he had to go on. A poet is who you are: you have promises to keep and miles to go before you sleep.  Please give Robin a hug and hold her close: May she comfort and bless you, too.


                 (for Marjorie)

she stands alone

on this weathered dune,

the great lake below

twin to the azure sky—


on the jagged horizon

she can barely see

two tiny islands bob and

weave in the churning waves—


a cobalt wind hurls

slate clouds from the west

to blot out the sun and

buffet the sandy shore

with blue tears.

  1. Fall 1937. Frost wrote Belle, “It’s been a rough fall. The doctors had to rip a vicious cancer from Elinor’s womanhood.” He closed his long letter by asking about a new poem he enclosed: “Although the critics will argue over its possible meanings as much as ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening,’ let your old friend know if at long last I met your challenge to sing an adequate goodbye to my Mama Belle.”  Belle replied:

My Dear Robbie,

I’m sorry about your Missus and pray for her recovery. I doubt you getting sick will help her rally: you must stay strong, for her and for your family.

Your “Silken Tent” sings beyond my challenge. Eons from now, the elegist will still say it as a memorial for a mother (or for a similarly selfless nurturing wife), but your critics will longer debate its many possible meanings. They miss the magic of your best poems: tied by the senses to daily experience on this earth, your voice soars by the pull of metaphor into a dream that sounds a different tune each time heard. I hear another in your perfect sonnet, a proposal to engage a lover that no woman could ever resist. In this regard your new poem tops the rush of “Blue Salvation” I included in my “Goodbye to Mama” at your urging. 

Auden changed the final stanzas to one of his Marx Brothers satire plays and created a searing “Funeral Blues” for a lost mate. Without changing a single word, your new poem offers more divergent readings. Oh my Scots minstrel bard, please take care with your magic powers as they tripped me up once again.

In thanks, I attach a song to let you know that our dear Burton’s Memorial Bell Tower at long last rings at Michigan. As ever, Your other Belle

                   For Frost

Up the tower stairs I slowly climb,

Careful to stare straight ahead—

Past the stony walls I go,

Ascending higher, vertigo at bay,

Until I reach the chamber.


Searching, I stand among them—

Fifty-five majestic bells of bronze—

Where is the one among the many

that rang those many years ago

when we walked this way at midnight?

Were we falling with the snow?


The carillonneur knows its place,

Secures me in a southwest corner,

Strikes this special bell for me

Whose timbre is so deep and low

You must listen closely for its groan.

I touch its base, feel its solid rumble:


Oh, yes! The Bourdon! One-O!      

About Paul DimondBelle of Two Arbors by Paul Dimond and Poetry by Martha Buhr Grimes

Since birth Paul Dimond has shared his time between Ann Arbor, home of the University of Michigan, and Glen Arbor amidst Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in northern Michigan.

Prior to researching and writing The Belle of Two Arbors, Paul Dimond served as the Director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, tried several major race case that divided the U.S. Supreme Court and served as the Special Assistant to President Clinton for Economic Policy. He has also practiced law, chaired a national real estate firm and continues to spend his time between the two Arbors. He is an alumni of Amherst College and the University of Michigan Law School. Visit his Website.

Giveaway of Belle of Two Arbors by Paul Dimond and Poetry by Martha Buhr Grimes

This giveaway is open to the U.S. only and ends on June 16, 2017 midnight pacific time.  Entries are accepted via Rafflecopter only.

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June 1: Jorie Loves A Story (Review)
June 2: Teddy Rose Book Reviews (Guest Post)
June 6: 100 Pages A Day Stephanie’s Book Reviews (Review)
June 8: Jorie Loves A Story (Interview)
June 13: A Literary Vacation (Book Spotlight)
June 19: Tea Leaves (Review)
June 21: Black Sheep Reader (Review)
June 22: Readaholic Zone (Review)
June 26: Diary of an Eccentric (Review)
June 30: Kritter’s Ramblings (Review)
July 11: Booklove (Review)
July 14: CelticLady’s Reviews (Review)

Belle of Two Arbors by Paul Dimond and Poetry by Martha Buhr Grimes