"In those days, you didn't need to publish a book no one would read," Lea said. "But a couple of articles no one would read."
When he opened the document he had written to earn his Ph.D. in comparative literature at Yale, "it was like looking into an abyss," Lea said.
"I spoke aloud," Lea recalled last week. "I said, 'I don't want to do this when I grow up."
He was 34.
Instead, Lea wanted to write poetry. He had had written some verse years earlier - the standard "break-up with your girlfriend poetry that we all do, and hope will disappear into the great void."
Nonetheless, staring into the abyss of his past scholarship, Lea recognized he wanted to write.
"I decided to let the chips fall where they might, and where they would," Lea said.
Last month, the chips fell in a big and wholly unexpected way for Lea: Gov. Peter Shumlin named Lea poet laureate of Vermont.
Lea, 68, who lives in Newbury, will formally assume his position Nov. 4 at a ceremony at the Capitol Plaza in Montpelier. He succeeds Ruth Stone of Ripton and will become the seventh poet to hold the title that first belonged to Robert Frost.
"It never occurred to me that I'd be on the list," Lea said. "I could think of at least half a dozen people to which it could go," he said. "I have to say that if I had thought about it, I find it more gratifying than I would've thought.
"I really love Vermont. I love just about all the things about it. To get that kind of ratification, it feels right. I've been writing the right kinds of things for my locale, and to have it acknowledged is very gratifying."
Lea is the author of nine volumes of poetry, including the 2011 collection, "Young of the Year" (Four Way Books). He has four books in the works, including the planned 2013 publication of "I Was Thinking of Beauty." [...]