Art Beat: Walking the Allegan Forest
Known for nearly two dozen books about Michigan history, Larry Massie has also played “hooky.” That’s what he calls the moments between researching and writing history books that he took to write poems, usually capturing his own personal history. They read like miniature stories – about his time serving in Vietnam, about his many dogs, his walks in the forest, his vintage car, love stories to his wife Priscilla, and even how he discovered that he had a half-sister he’d never known about. His new poetry collection is called Leaves from the Allegan Forest (Priscilla Press, 2023).
“My job has been to write Michigan history, and usually I have a deadline and I’m right up against it, furiously writing,” Massie says. “But sometimes I play hooky from what I should be doing and write down a piece that may or may not be poetry, inspired by things I’ve lived through and things I see out here in the Allegan Forest.”
Some topics, Massie says, such as the time he served in the Vietnam War or spending last days with his parents before their passing, served as a kind of therapy or healing, as he reminisced about those experiences. His poems also celebrate the beauty of nature that surrounds him in the forests of Allegan County.
“There are so many beautiful things out here in the woods,” he says. “When Priscilla and I take a walk, we might encounter snapping turtles laying their eggs, or a flock of wild turkeys that whir up into the air—it’s the beauty of nature.”
In one of his poems, Massie recounts the moment he was introduced to his half-sister.
“One day the phone rang,” he says. “This real sweet voice came on and said, ‘I’m looking for information about Wallace Bruce Massie.’ And I said, ‘Well, that’s my father.’ She said, “That’s my father, too.’ I’d never known I had a half-sister living out there. As it turns out, my father had married her mother, but the mother’s family didn’t approve of him, so they got a divorce.”
Massie was named “Author of the Year” in 2021 by the Library of Michigan. He graduated from Western Michigan University with a BA Summa Cum Laude in 1972, an MA With Honors in 1974, and a Specialist Degree in 1977, all in history. Beginning in 1976, he honed his research and writing skills as assistant director of the WMU Archives & Regional History Collections. He left in 1983 to launch a career as an independent scholar specializing in Michigan history.
Leaves from the Allegan Forest is available locally at the Michigan News Agency in downtown Kalamazoo.