National Poetry month was as busy this year as ever. On April first, I traveled to Young Harris College, just over the North Carolina state line in Georgia, to meet with students and give a reading in the evening. I always enjoy traveling to the far westernmost part of North Carolina, because some of our state’s best poets live there--Nancy Simpson and Janice Townley Moore, who reside in Hayesville, to name only two. Nancy's work with Netwest can be found in my first blog post.
Other writers who sat in the audience for my reading at Young Harris were Steve Harvey, Bettie Sellers (past Poet Laureate of Georgia), Brenda Kay Ledford, and Mary Ricketson. Although it was April Fool’s day, none of us felt the least bit foolish about celebrating the beginning of National Poetry Month.
(Bettie Sellers delivering a lecture while serving as Georgia Poet Laureate)
The following week I squeezed in a reading at Mitchell Community College. in Statesville, and then headed back home to Cullowhee, where Western Carolina University celebrated its sixth annual literary festival (www.litfestival.org). While I was Poet-in Residence at WCU, our writers series consisted of a half-dozen writers giving presentations throughout the year. Now the university supports a full-fledged festival, bringing in authors with regional and national reputations. When Mary Oliver came to read fifteen years ago, she told me that WCU looked like Shangri-la, tucked away in its valley surrounded by mountains.
On opening night the standing-room only event featured Lee Smith and a performance of Lee's latest novel, ON AGATE HILL, a mesmerizing one-woman show presented by Barbara Bates Smith, with spine-tingling dulcimer music by Jeff Sebens.
(Barbara Bates Smith and Jeff Sebens)
Two days later I hosted a poetry reading, Laureate's Choice, by Carolyn Beard Whitlow, Joseph Bathanti, and Sarah Lindsay, all three of whom have been featured on the ncarts.org web site and whose work you can find in our archives. What a diverse trio of voices! And what a grand time we had visiting with each other at poet Carolyn Elkins' country cottage afterward! Yes, Carolyn, too, is in our ncarts.org archives. Here are the fabulous three who helped me advance the cause of N.C. poetry on the WCU campus!
(Carolyn Beard Whitlow)
Closing out the reading was Sara Tramper, first runner-up in this year’s Poetry Out Loud competition. A Cherokee High senior and valedictorian of her class, she arrived late, because she couldn’t find a parking place in the afternoon traffic on campus! She gave us a finale to remember, with the audience cheering after she completed Sherman Alexie’s "Powwow at the End of the World."
Three young writers from the region had their chance to shine the next day when Cathy Smith Bowers, Distinguished Poet for the western region, presented emerging poets Caleb Beissert, Haley Jones, and Tom Lambert as part of the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Series. This important program supports the mission of the North Carolina Poetry Society to foster the reading, writing, and enjoyment of poetry across the state. Three Distinguished Poets, one each from the east, central, and west of North Carolina, mentor a middle-school, a high-school, and a college or university student. For more information, see the North Carolina Poetry Society web site. Caleb's poetry, by the way, was featured shortly thereafter on our ncarts.org site.
( Cathy Smith Bowers}
Mary Adams, director of the festival, hopes to keep this event alive and well far into the future. Some of Mary’s new poetry can be found on kathrynstriplingbyer.blogspot.com. She will have a chapbook published soon.
(Mary Adams at the Poet Laureate's dinner table, discussing plans for next year's literary festival)
With only three days to catch my breath, I headed to Wilson for a reading sponsored by the Wilson County Public Library on April 16th. What a memorable day that was! I was squired around by Jane Wood, one of the county’s—and I daresay the state’s—most valuable cultural resources. I visited the dynamic space occupied by the Wilson Arts Council and stood in speechless admiration in front of the project Jane keeps going throughout the year--Art Park, featuring poetry by local students, whose classrooms Jane visits throughout the year, bringing poetry and her love for the written word to them on a regular basis. Then I visited fourth-grade classes at St. Therese’s school and Greenfield School, telling about my job as Laureate, reading some poems, and wishing I’d brought several Milky Way cakes to share with these energetic and enthusiastic students. You can find work by the Greenfield students in the North Carolina Writers & Books archive for June.
(Discussing poetry with the students!)
My next post will feature Jane Wood and Art Park in Wilson, North Carolina. I was enchanted by what Jane has done with this project. I left Wilson County feeling encouraged by the energy and creative vision I found there.
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