A Brief History of Sundog

This brief history of the origins of Sundog Poetry Center explains how founder and former president, Tamra Higgins, conceived our poetry organization.

The inception of Sundog Poetry Center in early 2013 grew out of two converging factors. The first one was that Tamra had just earned an MFA in creative writing with an emphasis in poetry from the University of Maine’s Stonecoast program, and she was determined not to be another student who did nothing with their writing degree. A second factor was that, as a teacher of almost 20 years in the elementary and middle school classrooms, Tamra had become increasingly frustrated with the shift occurring in education which was pushing poetry (and other creative and artistic subjects) out of the curriculum due to the STEM movement. Tamra wasn’t and still is not out to argue against the importance of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics). There’s perhaps never been a time in our country when the rigors of science and its truths have been needed more. But she knew, still knows, that poetry and other creative arts are also vital to the lives of millions of individuals, vital to understanding, interpreting, and expressing the worlds in and around us, vital to creative problem-solving, vital to living in a holistic culture, vital to thinking.
Thus, Tamra quit her teaching job and started a new business, Sundog Poetry Retreat, LLC, with the intention to hold events and retreats where people of any age or experience could come and immerse themselves in poetry. In the autumn of 2013 she held the first Sundog event, Poetry, Music, and Delectable Delights at Visions of Vermont art gallery in Jeffersonville. As luck would have it, someone had told her about the Vermont poet Neil Shepard – now a leader on the current Sundog Board of Directors – and he agreed to be the first poet to kick off the very first Sundog event.
Soon, very soon, it became evident that a for-profit business in poetry was not going to work. Tamra wanted to offer workshops, retreats, and a slew of other poetry related events, but how was could she manage it?
The following winter, Tamra had more good fortune in that an acquaintance told her about a free workshop being held at the Jericho library. She took it. The workshop leader was Mary Jane Dickerson. She remembers sitting at the table at her workshop for the first time and realizing that what she was doing was exactly what Tamra hoped to do with Sundog. Mary Jane’s style and approach to teaching showed that poetry can be simultaneously accessible and stimulating, both democratic and deep. After just one workshop session, Tamra asked if I could meet with her. She shared her Sundog vision and without a second’s hesitation, Mary Jane agreed to develop a nonprofit together. They were on their way to creating what we have today.
Tamra writes, “A little bit about the word “sundog.” As I am sure many of you know, a sundog is a natural phenomenon that appears in the sky. It appears when ice crystals refract and scatter light creating a halo around the sun causing two additional “suns” on either side. It is uncertain why they are referred to as sundogs (the scientific name for them are parhelia and yes, I almost named the organization that!). One possible explanation for the origin of the word is that the two “suns” in the refraction follow the real sun the way a dog follows its master. Another explanation is that the word dog is actually a perversion of old English dag meaning dew or mist. Regardless of the word’s origins, sundogs reflect and increase the light, and that, after all, is what poetry does.”
And, finally, Tamra shares her vision for the organization, “And a note regarding the word “center.” Many times, the center in Sundog Poetry Center is thought of as an actual location, a physical place where you can go. Perhaps – and I hope – someday, it will be. But the word center also means a point, pivot, axis, etc., around which anything rotates or revolves. That is what I always hoped our center to be.”