For a video of the installation ceremony, please go to


How a Poem Happens:

Go to, managed with finesse by Jayne Jaudon Ferrer, who says, "Our intent is to make visitors to Your Daily Poem aware of the joy and diversity of poetry."

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Making Thanksgiving Last: Priscilla Chappell

This Thanksgiving, while the turkey was in the oven, I was thinking about those literature-lovers who have made a difference in our lives and the lives of their students. I had already posted ArtPark, begun by my friend Jane Wood, in Wilson, NC, and supported by the county arts council and the 4th grade teachers in Wilson. My thoughts then turned to Priscilla Chappell, who teaches at Enloe High School in Raleigh, whose three students she nominated took top honors in the newly established Student Poet Laureate Awards given by the NC Teachers Association. (see

(At the annual NCETA convention in Winston-Salem with the three Student Poet Laureate Winners: from left Anuja Acharya, Katherine Indermaur, and Sarah Bruce.)

Here is what Ms. Chappell has to say about her role in encouraging these young poets and how she came to her love of literature and teaching.

"I am utterly in love with poetry, true, but one of the reasons that I am able to guide so many of my students in their writing and reading of poetry is that I have been privileged to teach a poetry elective (two creative writing electives, really--Short Story Honors and Honors Poetic Voices). Enloe has granted me this class my entire tenure, which now approaches its eighth year. In our English department, we are also very fortunate to have two other teachers who support the creative writing program, including my department head Joyce Nelson who has been teaching a Writer's Studio class for many many years beyond my eight. In fact, Joyce Nelson was Anuja's teacher last year, and she worked extensively with her; I was simply a previous elective teacher for Anuja, perhaps her first creative writing teacher at Enloe. And while I do incorporate poetry in my other classes--AP 11 and Honors 9 courses--I absolutely revel in poetry every Spring semester during that elective. I just wanted to make sure this was clear.

I grew up in Rocky Mount, North Carolina, and finished high school at the NC School of Science and Mathematics, where I received some of the best training for writing in my life. A whole new door opened for me in regards to the depth of my training and the joys of literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where I graduated with a B. A. in English and a Masters in Teaching. I immediately came to William G. Enloe High School and have stayed for almost eight years. During that time, I have marveled at the talent that has come into my classroom, advised the Enloe Literary Organization--which produces an award-winning student-run literary magazine entitled Stone Soup, and achieved my National Boards Certification. And my students have taught me far more than I could ever teach them. "

I will have more about Ms. Chappell, as well as her department head Joyce Nelson, in later posts, as well as good teachers across the state, from Cherokee to Supply--from the mountains to the coast, as we like to say when we talk about what's happening in our state.

We will, in other words, make Thanksgiving last, by expessing our gratitude to the teachers who give their energy, their time, and their own passion for literature to their students.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving Feast:THINGS WITH WINGS, second course

And who better to serve the second course of "Things With Wings" than Jane Wood herself. Jane's yard looks like the sort of place where things with wings would like to visit, though I'm not so sure she would be happy about dragons! Maybe little ones? That look like moths? But Cupid? Of course he would be welcome anytime.


Fluttering his wings of love

by Everett Hinnant



Hummingbirds flapping wings
At the speed of light
Humming their favorite song
Drinking their nectar

by Everett Hinnant


An owl is a night creature
It flies like a hawk
The noise you hear
Is nothing

by Natalie Craven

Flying fish with scales
Flying dragon with colors
Flying tooth-fairy with a gown

by Natalie Craven



Airplanes are so cool
They fought in World War 1 and 11
It’s been over a hundred years since
The Wrights made the first flight

by Elizabeth Daniels



Winged beauty
Plays as the sun goes up
A picture to see
For you and me
A butterfly flying gracefully

by Haley Beamon


(I just couldn't resist adding this photo I took in August. It's one of my favorites!)


I heard a buzzing in the sky
I watched it fly
I saw a bit of light
It flew away

by Catherine Potter



Dragons have wings as big as swings
That could crush kings.
Birds have wings really little.

by Perry Wheeler

Pink and fluffy
Feathery puff
A flamingo

by Haley Beamon

A dragon looks like a moth

by Jyquan Davis

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Thanksgiving Feast: ArtParK: THINGS WITH WINGS, first course

(Becky Long, Photo credits)

Wings and spots
My favorite insect
Some are the same
Some are different
Eats gnats
Make me smile

by Haley Beamon

My friend Jane Wood, over in Wilson, has been at it again. You may remember my summer's post on her project, but if not please take at look at it:

This time the students have written poems on the theme of "Things With Wings" and created an exhibition in the Wilson County Art Council's ArtPark Space. These poems and their exhibition were completed in September, but between my journey to Hungary in October and several travels for readings afterward, I decided to wait until I had the time I needed to enjoy working with these poems and images. The time now is just right-- making them my Thanksgiving feature, so that I can give thanks to Jane and the Wilson County Arts Council, not to mention the student poets and their teachers, for the remarkable job they are doing for the arts in North Carolina. A special thanks to photographer Becky Long for the photographs in this and the following post.

Jane began her emails to me about this current theme with an extraordinary poem by an extraordinary young student. She also explains the selection process for ArtPark.

"The student, Lindeman Edgar (even her name is unique!) is my Student Advisor for this school year. I select a student on the basis of their interest in poetry. They do the selecting of the poems that appear in my ArtPark column in The Courier and also choose the poems to be used in the ArtPark displays. I think my students like the idea of one of their peers doing the picking and choosing rather than me or their teachers.These student advisors are usually 5th or 6th graders. Since I present to 4th graders that eliminates them having to judge their classmates' work."

Here is the poem. Please click on it to make it larger, if you are having trouble reading it.

I will intersperse the visuals from the exhibition with poems written by fourth graders at St. Therese School. I wish they could meet the 5th graders at Sugar Loaf Elementary in Taylorsville. What a Thanksgiving poetry fest we could have then!


Angels flying in the sun
Halos sparkling like stars
Beautiful wings glowing in the moonlight…

by Preston Rhyne

(by Matthew Joyner)


Wings light up like a flashlight,
beautiful as butterflies…

by Catherine Potter



The power
Of the fierce gryphon
With its mighty roar
With great wings it soars
Its sharp claws are a powerful sword

by Sam Quinn


Pegasus flying through Greece
Butterflies escaping cocoons
Angels swimming through the air
Planes flying high in the sky
Turkeys flying for shelter
Dragons flying…

by Michael Glennon

End of November

Bring me all your courage,
Bring me all your bravery
So you can have it when you need it,
To climb a tree. -MC Sugar Loaf Elementary School

No doubt about it, cold weather is here! Anyone for climbing these trees in the Smoky Mountain National Park where we were driving a few days ago? Look at that snow on the ground!

It's time for us to begin giving thanks for the many things that make our lives full of hope and courage, among them our teachers, our authors, and the books we read, the books that may, we hope, change our lives and make us stronger, more imaginative people.

So, here at the end of November I will be begin featuring some of the teachers, authors, and books that make a difference in our lives. I'll begin tomorrow, Monday, with my Thanksgiving feature on ArtPark, in Wilson, NC. This will be a feast of several courses. But make room for dessert!

Saturday, November 22, 2008

COUNTRY MUSIC, for Debbie McGill

Bring me all your hopes,
you hopers.
Bring me all your heartbeats of hope.
That I may wrap them in a deep red cloth,
Away from the rejecting souls of the world. -CB -----Sugar Loaf Elementary School

(Jennifer Nettles, of Sugarland. Getty Images)


(a letter-poem written for Debbie McGill while traveling back home to North Carolina)

Dear Debbie, Last night I watched the Country Music Awards,
thinking all the way through it how seldom real melody
burst through that slick Nashville razzle-dazzle: The worst of it?
A black leather mini-dress hugging a backside that looked to be
bigger than mine. Or, those false sequined eyelashes
three inches long on the bland baby-blues of the mistress of ceremonies--
two dozen changes of wardrobe and two dozen layers
of lipstick! Why did I keep watching? Waiting for Sugarland,
the duo from Georgia whose singer wears nary a false eyelash
and does her own hair.* Who sings like a dove
or a diva, depending on whichever song she writes. Heck, why be pompous
about it? A good song’s a good poem. And Lordy, how I wanted one
to rise out of that racket and make me sit stock still and listen.
We both wanted that, you and me, and for almost four years we found
it. Well, most of the time. Yep, we made a good Search Party,

savvy and just enough serious, just enough silly to giggle through
e-mails and telephone calls, and you patient enough to put up with
my own diva tantrums. ( You know what I’m talking about!)
Now I feel like I’m losing my lodestar, my compass, my native scout
leading the way through the sagebrush. A real poet herself,
though she never would talk about that. Whose editor’s pen
could work magic. (Pero siempre con palabras muy dulce.)
I found my own Sugarland there at the Arts Council,
the two of us singing duets that we’ll never forget,
like a good country song, or the aria I’m listening to now
on the radio, praising the ongoing sweetness of art. Love you,


* Jennifer Nettles

Below, a new country music duo: The Sweet Heartbeats! Now that Debbie is no longer Literature Director, she can write her own poetry. Stay tuned to your favorite country blogspot for their songs!

Friday, November 21, 2008

Debbie McGill

Bring me your happy thoughts,
Bring me the fun times.
So that I may wrap them in cool feelings
and be in peace from the world. -PT Sugar Loaf Elementary School

Today is the last day that my friend Debbie McGill will serve as Literary Director on the NC Art Council's staff. I need all the happy thoughts I can muster. I will miss her, and the state will, too. Our literary community owes a great deal to her hard work and belief in the power of literature. Here is Council Director Mary Regan's "Recollection". (

For the past 20 years Debbie has been a leader and friend to writers and writing in North Carolina during her impressive tenure. When a wonderful staff person leaves for a new job I feel both happiness for her new opportunity and real sadness at losing an employee who contributed so much to her field and cared so much for her constituents.

Debbie was widely recognized as one of the leading literature directors at any state arts agency in the country. She extended the reach of the Arts Council's grant programs for individual artists to include not only writers of fiction, poetry, and plays but also writers of literary nonfiction, literary translation, original work in languages other than English, and work intended for children, as well as spoken-word artists and screenwriters. With the appointments first of Fred Chappell and later Kathryn Stripling Byer to the post of North Carolina Poet Laureate, she developed programs that have enhanced the capacity of the poet laureate to serve the people of the state directly and actively. Both as an ally and a grantmaker she encouraged organizers in their efforts to be ambitious and creative in the ways they use literature to improve quality of life in their communities.

Debbie will become the Senior Editor at Family Health International (FHI), based in Research Triangle Park. FHI is a nonprofit organization active in public health projects in 70 countries. Debbie will manage the editing and production of FHI's publications.

Debbie's last day at the Arts Council is November 21. We will miss her enthusiasm, energy, intelligence, and wit, which have created so much good will for the Arts Council in the writing community. We wish her all the best in her new job.

----Mary Regan, NC Arts Council

Thursday, November 20, 2008


The Laughkeeper
Bring me all of your warm laughhs,
You laughers.
Bring me all of your feelings,
So I may wrap them in a soft yellow cloth
Where only hearts who see happiness may see. -LW--Sugar Loaf Elementary School


I'm thinking right now of the new North Carolina Literary Review's humor issue (scroll down to find my post on it) and how much fun it was, and still is, to read. It's a real laughkeeper, and those of you who don't subscribe, think about doing so, and giving a gift subscription to friends and family.

Who are some other NC Laughkeepers--poets, story-tellers, and fiction writers? Let me know about your own favorite Laughkeepers!

And a soft yellow cloth? Here's a photo of our daughter's dog, Arjun, wrapped in just that. He'd just been given a bath and wasn't happy about it.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Green Cloth and Julianna Baggott

Bring me all your happiness,
you happy people.
All your happiness will come to me.
I will wrap it in a green cloth,
So I can keep it away from the hands of the sad. -LS -Sugar Loaf Elementary School

Here's an email from the always surprising, talented, energetic, off-the-wall (sometimes) Julianna Baggott, one our own UNCG's MFA graduates, now teaching at FSU. Teachers and students, listen up! This sounds like fun!
Baggott and Bode's Newest News!
well, Baggott and Bode, of course!

Inside this Newest News Newsletter:

National Writing Contest!
Julianna Baggott and N.E. Bode have teamed up to host a writing contest!
Teachers and Media Specialists! Sign up now! Details below and
more info available at: Prince of Fenway Park cover

AND ...
will there REALLY be
free copies of

(Yes, my friends. Oh, yes! Details below.)

A coupon: Verve and Zingy Creativity at 50% off!
(Look out for: Next Month's Sale on Anxiety and Sloth currently overstocked!)

And as always:

1) National Writing Contest

Teachers and Media Specialists, sign up for a NATIONAL WRITING CONTEST.

All who sign up will be given the SECRET WRITING PROMPT (one that will have to do with this year's theme -- Baseball and Magic!) on January 5th.

On March 1st, teachers and media specialists report back. If all of their students participated in the contest, they will receive special certification - plus a DVD Inside the Magical Brains of Baggott and Bode -- about reading, writing, baseball, magic, and the wild imagination.

Teachers can also email FAMOUS FIRST SENTENCES from their class to be posted on The Prince of Fenway Park web site for all the world to see!

We believe that writing isn't about winning and losing contests. It's about letting loose the imagination and jumping into the creative process. To that end, we aren't reading entries and picking winners. We are rewarding participation. Our hope is to get as many kids writing as possible. We will be listing ALL participating schools across the country on this web site!

For more INFO, go to

OR SIGN UP NOW: Write Julianna Baggott an email at
Give us the name of your school, city and state. That's it! You're in!

2) Free Copies of The Prince of Fenway Park?

We will be giving away 100 free copies of the hardcover of The Prince of Fenway Park to teachers, media specialists, and kids. Want to get one for yourself? Here's how to qualify.

Teachers and Media Specialists

To get a free copy of The Prince of Fenway Park for your classroom or library:prince of fenway park pooka

a. Write an email to Julianna Baggott, the author, explaining why your students might really love the book as a read aloud - whether you're drawn to the book because you have a school full of BASEBALL fans (Red Sox fans or not) or a school of readers who love MAGICAL stories or if you have a students who might really relate to a biracial narrator whose identity makes him the perfect person to break the curse.

b. Promise to write a review of the novel and post that review on and within one month of receiving the book.

c. Teachers who win a freebie can also qualify for a follow-up Q and A with the author via speaker phone or email AND will receive a DVD of Baggott and Bode talking to kids about reading, writing, and running with the wild imagination.

Please keep in mind that you can nominate a student for his or her own FREE COPY!

(The Prince of Fenway Park comes out on March 24th. Free copies will likely be available before the official pulication date!)


Prince of Fenway Park coverTo get a free copy of The Prince of Fenway Park of your very own, you need to have a teacher or media specialist sponsor you.

1. Your sponsor has to write an email saying why you're a smart pick for a freebie. (Only one student nomination per teacher/ media specialist.)

2. You and your sponsor have to promise to work together to write and post a review on and within one month of receiving the book.


This message brought to you by:
Julianna Baggott and N.E. Bode and their glittery-minded minions
Contacting You From Baggott and Bode Headquarters


This is the fine print where someone might warn you that getting excited about a NATIONAL WRITING CONTEST and FREE BOOKS might lead to delighted dilirium and periods of dizziness. If you experience shortness of breath while reading a Bode book, please contact your local librarian who might change your page-per-day dosage. If this is an emergency and you absolutely MUST contact Bode himself, who can sometimes offer a cure for prolonged bouts of such things, go to, and email him directly.
Save 50%
VERVE AND ZINGY CREATIVITY are now 50% off. (Vim and Vigor are completely FREE!) This coupon is valid within participating books -- namely on the pages of THE SLIPPERY MAP, THE AMAZING COMPENDIUM OF EDWARD MAGORIUM, and THE ANYBODIES, THE NOBODIES and THE SOMEBODIES. This coupon can be printed and presented to your teacher and/or your students in person or you can forward Bode's Monthly Bode-isms. This is a transferable coupon. Feel free to share the offer with friends and family. (Look for next month's discount on Anxiety and Sloth -- currently overstocked.)
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Good Morning, Moon

Moon keeper
Bring me all your craters.
Keep away all the cold memories.
So I can be free of nightmares,
That haunt me at midnight. -AB--Sugar Loaf Elementary School

One of our daughter's favorite books was GOODNIGHT, MOON. I can't begin to estimate the number of times I read it to her. I still love it. And the moon.
Two nights ago, my husband and I sat beside the woodstove and watched through our window the moon rise over the pines. By then it was a waning moon, looking like a big nibble had been taken out of it, but it was still bright and imagination-stirring. And it moved so quickly. Soon it had vanished from the window.

I like the poem above so much that I thought I'd write my own, as a way to connect with it and its author.

Moon Keeper,
my window
holding the rising moon,
till it escapes
floating over us
at midnight,
our bedroom alight
with its passing.
Moon Keeper,
the sky
where the Milky way
lives, rings
of Saturn
and the Andromeda
Galaxy, so much
out there I can't
begin to imagine
how much
the Sky Keeper

Here's a weird photo I took while we were in Budapest, Hungary last month. I wanted a shot of the full moon, but the bridge where I was standing was constantly shaking from all the traffic, so the moon looks like it's streaking across the sky, along with all the other lights from the bridge. I guess you could say this photo is not much of a Moon Keeper!

Monday, November 17, 2008

Christmas gift lists!

Thought keeper
Bring me all your thoughts,
you thinkers.
Bring me all your brain storms,
that I can put them in a safe.
Only for you to see. -SD (Sugar Loaf Elementary School)


If you could have seen how many gift catalogs we lugged home from the post office this morning, you'd know that each year Christmas shopping begins earlier and earlier. Well, I have some gift suggestions that I will be sharing with you over the next few weeks. How about books? How about poetry?
Speaking of which, how about some books by Carole Boston Weatherford? She has just published a new book, Becoming Billie Holiday, but she has many others suitable for all ages. Here are some of them arranged on my bed. I will be posting more about Carole's books and other books by NC writers just waiting for you to add them to your Christmas gift list.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sweet Words from Sugar Loaf Elementary School

Last week I received a cornucopia of poems from fifth graders at Sugar Loaf School. This is the time of year to use the word "cornucopia." Thanksgiving is nearly here, and just look at all those pumpkins, squash, and end of season vegetables and fruit brimming the grocery stalls and fruit stands! Now, poetry is brimming over my comment box! And I'm thankful for it. I promised the Sugar Loaf students a letter, and it will follow, but let me also say that each day from now till January 1, I will be using one of the 48 poems sent in my Nov. 12 comment box as the header to my post. I'll begin tomorrow, so even if you don't read anything else on the post, read the poem!

Dear 5th graders,
Thank you again for your fabulous poems. I feel like I've already had Thanksgiving Dinner! The photo above is of me and one of our 5 dogs, Byron. We call him Lord Byron because he acts like he's the lord of the family. I'm holdiing his head so he won't jump up and kiss me. I wasn't in the mood right then for a doggy kiss.

Your poems do what I always ask my writing students to do --to "bring it." And by that I mean to bring what matters to them to their poems. You have gone one step further by asking your readers to bring their joy, their sadness, their laughter, their hope, just to name a few, to you and you will make a poem of it and keep it safe. Or, in the case of Moonkeeper, you will keep the cold memories away so that you can be free of nightmares. Wow! I like that. And you know, right now we have a full moon, so this poem seems really appropriate. But then, each of these poems is approriate and on target because each has its own special voice, and I have taken a great deal of pleasure in reading them. As I mention above, each day I will post one at the top of my blogpost, and I will probably say a few words about the poem. By the time I've finished posting all of these--New Year's Day--maybe you will have another batch to send me!
I'll be sending you the surprise I promised. It may not arrive till after Thanksgiving, but it will definitely be there before Christmas vacation.
I hope the rest of your semester at Sugar Loaf goes well. You are my "Sugar Poets," and I congratulate you and your teacher(s) for the good work you've done.
Your friend, Kathryn Byer

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Fifth grade poems!

Please go to the comment section of The One Minute Writer! Aren't these fabulous? I will be featuring them soon on a real post, with some photos, I hope.

The One Minute Writer

Go to Give it a try! Teachers and students of all ages could make it a part of their day.
Thank you C. Beth. And thank you for your comments on earlier sites,partiularly on Marcia Long's poem.

Monday, November 10, 2008

North Carolina Literary Review

Cover art by Dwane Powell

This year's North Carolina Literary Review arrived during the summer and I must have spent hours reading through it. The subect this year is Humor, which I already knew, since I was interviewed by Prof. James Smith, a NC native who teaches at Armstrong State University in Savannah. I never really thought my poetry was humorous, but Jim was able to ferret some humor out of it, and I enjoyed working with him on the interview. Dr. Margaret Bauer, the editor, worked with both of us to get the interview just right, especially impressive, since we were coming in under the deadline. This Review is well worth a subscription. It's full of delights, both literary and graphic. The description on its homepage only hints at what lies in store for readers:

North Carolina Literary Review (NCLR) publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction by and interviews with North Carolina writers, and articles and essays about North Carolina writers, literature, and literary history and culture.

A cross between a scholarly journal and a literary magazine, NCLR has won numerous awards and citations, including three from the Council of Editors of Learned Journals: the Best New Journal award in 1994, the Best Journal Design award in 1999, and the Parnassus Award for Significant Editorial Achievement in 2007.

The 2008 issue includes an audio component to complement the issue's special feature section on North Carolina Humor: The Old Mirth State. The dual CD-set called Mirth Carolina Laugh Tracks includes music and readings by some of North Carolina's funniest favorites. We thank the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association for funding the production of these CDs.

NCLR is published annually by the English Department, the Thomas Harriot College of Arts and Sciences, and the Office of the Provost and Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs at East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.


Among the multitude of poetry and prose, I was particularly taken with a poem by my friend Catherine Carter. She has a fine wit about her and a train-load of poetic skill to go along with it.


“The word eggcorn was coined collectively by the linguists. . . someone had written egg corn instead of acorn. ..[T]he substitution involved[s] more than just ignorance: an acorn is shaped more or less like an egg; and it is a seed, just like grains of corn. . . . The crucial element is that the new form makes sense. . . more sense than the original form in many cases.” Chris Waigl,

Making perfect
sense, if different
sense, their young users wonder
hallways, nip problems in the butt,
get past me by a hare’s breath.
Eggcorns lighten the daze
of reading and grating: free-raging,
they are liminal, lycanthropic, changing
from the gecko. They are deep-seeded
language disseminating
itself; they are words on the move,
like water hurrying downhill to slack
some internal thirst, but not averse
to a pause on the way
for an eddy, a sudden swirl
to enjoy a mute point
or to party hardy.
And they are what I bring
home to you, who love them
too, who are yourself forever
knew and ongoing as live
language, live water,
try though I do
to take you for granite.

Raised by wolves on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Catherine Carter now directs the English education Western Carolina University (if you want to be an English teacher, she’s probably the one to call.) Her first book of poems, The Memory of Gill (LSU Press, 2006) won the Roanoke-Chowan award in 2007. Her work has also been nominated for a 2008 Pushcart Prize.

(Catherine Carter reading at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh)

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Pembroke Magazine #40: Rosas vivas en mi huerto

Anyone familiar with PEMBROKE MAGAZINE ( knows that it pushes the boundaries of the possible, giving us special issues devoted, for example, to African-American literature, American Indian literature, and now Hispanic/Latino(a) literature---all the while including many of our own North Carolina writers, along with reviews, commentaries, and scholarship. The wizard behind this magazine is none other than Shelby Stephenson, award-winning poet and down-home NC picker and singer. This new issue is yet another cause for celebration. How does Shelby and his staff pull this off? The magazine is one of the state's treasures.

So is Shelby. He recently won the Bellday Poetry Prize, for "Family Matters:
Homage to July, the Slave Girl," about which you will hear more in a forthcoming post as well as on our site.

The new issue of Pembroke Magazine features Hispanic/Latino(a) writers, with Lilianan Wendorff as Guest Editor. Included among the authors are James Applewhite; Reinhold Grimm; Veronica Grossi; Judy Hogan; Debra Kaufman; Kathryn Kirkpatrick; Jose Latour; Susan Lefler; Glenna Luschei; Julio Ortega; Marty Silverthorne; Mark Smith-Soto; Nancy Tilly; Alma Luz Villanueva. Interviews: Ted Kooser; Mel Waters.

(Liliana Wendorf)

INTRODUCTION by Liliana Wendorff (Excerpt)

We are delighted to introduce a special edition of Pembroke Magazine devoted to Hispanic/Latino(a) Literature. The prestigious, nationally known Pembroke Magazine historically has been at the forefront of innovation. It has concentrated on finding the overlooked topics and authors, and exposing them to a wider audience. It has dedicated issues to multiple kinds of literature as well as to national and international artists of different ages and backgrounds.

Pembroke Magazine has chosen to seize this singular moment to open the door on literature that may not have resonated with our audience, even in the recent past. This is an appropriate time in history for awareness of the commonality of human stories. Different ethnic groups are currently trying to penetrate the minds of each other. Our ideas become more comprehensible to what was the Other. And just as copper and zinc form a new metal, so do we form an alloy through the conversation of minds. Literature and criticism has always been at the forefront of this re-enlightenment. As nations become more global and interdependent, knowledge of other prisms on reality will feed the desire for understanding.

The authors included in this edition are representative of many different facets of the crystal of fresh reflections. Hispanic/Latino(a) literature is represented here by authors from different corners of the Hispanic/Latino(a) world: Argentina, Chile, Costa Rica, Mexico, Panama, Peru, Spain, and the United States. The themes are equally eclectic. They range from the anticipated themes of immigration, assimilation, exile, alienation, and fragmented identities to romance and metaphysics. We hope this exposure will tantalize readers to further explorations or, perhaps more importantly, self-reflection.

This is one of my favorite poems from the magazine, by Carlos Javier Morales, who has published 5 books of poetry and teaches in Madrid.


Aun quedan rosas vivas in mi huerto:
ven para verlas juntos.
Ya se que no te sobra ni un instante
en tu apretada agenda;
pero ven, que is la vida,
que ahora quiere ensenarnos su hermosura
y entonarnos su fragil melodia,
para que nunca olvides
que aqui tienes tu casa.


(Author's Translation)

There are yet living roses in my garden.
Come here. We will watch them together.
I know that no time remains in your timetable;
but come here today: it is the life,
that now wants to show us its whole great beauty
and to intone for us its fagile melody.
And so you will never forget
that here is your home.

(Shelby Stephenson, editor of PEMBROKE MAGAZINE)

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Barack Obama, the Poet?

Regardless of the way you voted last Tuesday, I think readers of this blog will find the article below pretty interesting. Turns out we have a President-elect who wrote poetry when he was in college and not bad poetry at that, I'd say, despite Harold Bloom's condescension. If he'd been a student of mine, I'd have thought, hmm, there are some things here we an work with. Who knows what might happen if he has the desire to continue? I shudder to think of what Bloom would have said about my 19 year old's poems turned in to my first writing class.

So former President Jimmy Carter is "the worst poet in the United States," according to gatekeeper Bloom? Well, he might open The New Yorker on any given week and find some poetry far worse ---or the American Poetry Review. This does not mean that I have not come upon poems in The New Yorker that I wish I had written. It simply means that I have also come across some stinkers. I recall William Matthews telling me many years ago that there wasn't as much good poetry out there as people (mostly poets) wanted to think. And the best, most meaningful, poetry is not always in the prestigious journals where Bloom no doubt expects to find it.

(Harold Bloom)

As for Bloom's closing advice, how many writers have stories of being told just that--don't go on with it? Maxine Kumin, a poet I deeply admire has a similar story about her first poems being insulted by a prof. when she was in college. Allen Tate told me nothing was happening in mine, when I was a student at UNCG. I was too polite to shrug, but I did so inwardly. The truth is, young (or middle-aged or elderly) writers who have the passion to write usually don't ask their teachers if they should go on with it. They know they have to.

(Maxine Kumin)

Obama as Poet

When President-elect Obama was a 19-year-old student at Occidental College, he published two poems in the spring 1982 issue of Feast, the school's literary magazine. The first poem, "Pop," appears to capture a moment between the young Obama and his maternal grandfather, Stanley Dunham. The bond between the two is reinforced at the end of the poem by the framing and reflective properties of Pop's glasses.


Sitting in his seat, a seat broad and broken
In, sprinkled with ashes,
Pop switches channels, takes another
Shot of Seagrams, neat, and asks
What to do with me, a green young man
Who fails to consider the
Flim and flam of the world, since
Things have been easy for me;
I stare hard at his face, a stare
That deflects off his brow;
I’m sure he’s unaware of his
Dark, watery eyes, that
Glance in different directions,
And his slow, unwelcome twitches,
Fail to pass.
I listen, nod,
Listen, open, till I cling to his pale,
Beige T-shirt, yelling,
Yelling in his ears, that hang
With heavy lobes, but he’s still telling
His joke, so I ask why
He’s so unhappy, to which he replies...
But I don’t care anymore, cause
He took too damn long, and from
Under my seat, I pull out the
Mirror I’ve been saving; I’m laughing,
Laughing loud, the blood rushing from his face
To mine, as he grows small,
A spot in my brain, something
That may be squeezed out, like a
Watermelon seed between
Two fingers.
Pop takes another shot, neat,
Points out the same amber
Stain on his shorts that I’ve got on mine, and
Makes me smell his smell, coming
From me; he switches channels, recites an old poem
He wrote before his mother died,
Stands, shouts, and asks
For a hug, as I shink, my
Arms barely reaching around
His thick, oily neck, and his broad back; ‘cause
I see my face, framed within
Pop’s black-framed glasses
And know he’s laughing too.

When asked to comment on the merit of "Pop," Harold Bloom, Sterling Professor of the Humanities and English at Yale University, described it as “not bad—a good enough folk poem with some pathos and humor and affection.... It is not wholly unlike Langston Hughes, who tended to imitate Carl Sandburg." [1] Obama's poetry, Bloom makes clear, is much superior to the poetry of former President Jimmy Carter (Bloom calls Carter "literally the worst poet in the United States").

President-elect Obama's second poem, "Underground," is more exotic and obscure:


Under water grottos, caverns
Filled with apes
That eat figs.
Stepping on the figs
That the apes
Eat, they crunch.
The apes howl, bare
Their fangs, dance,
Tumble in the
Rushing water,
Musty, wet pelts
Glistening in the blue.

Bloom feels that "Underground" is the better of Obama's two poems, reminiscent of some of D. H. Lawrence's poetry: “I think it is about some sense of chthonic forces, just as Lawrence frequently is—some sense, not wholly articulated, of something below, trying to break through.” [2]

While President-elect Obama's poetry displays some signs of talent, by choosing politics over poetry he made, like the other poetry-writing presidents before him, the right career choice. As Bloom notes: “If I had been shown these poems by one of my undergraduates and asked, Shall I go on with it?, I would have rubbed my forehead and said, On the whole, my dear, probably not. Your future is not as a person of letters.“


1. All quotations by Harold Bloom from Rebecca Mead's "Obama, Poet," (
070702ta_talk_mead, The New Yorker, July 2, 2007).

2. To read other assessments of Obama's poetry, many less positive than Harold Bloom's, see "Obama's Poetry Skills Draw Scrutiny" (
Obamas.Poetry.Skills.Draw.Scrutiny-2822022.shtml, The Occidental Weekly, April 4, 2007).

NC Woods

This comment came from Marcia Long in response to my post of John York's poem, "Naming the Constellations." The "simple, meager" poem that Marcia describes is not at all meager. Its simplicity is that of haiku, and I particularly love the simmering pines, remembering how the pines I grew up among smelled, especially on hot days. Walking in the woods was my favorite past-time, next to reading. Marcia could play with lineation to enhance the poem's mood and rhythm.


I am a high school English teacher and a fan or yours. I thoroughly enjoyed John's poem, especially the line "a way to walk in our ancestors’ boots." The woods here in NC inspire me like the constellations inspire John. I love to walk my dogs and just sit and stare at the sky and the towering pines and imagine how our ancestors walked among these same trees so many years ago.

The following is a simple, meager poem, written in praise of my "spot":

"NC Woods"

These woods embrace me with the warm, sweet smell of simmering pines, whose branches have an old, old story to tell.


Anyone have any suggestions for Marcia as to how to work in some line-breaks? It might be interesting to compare results! And I'm hoping that Marcia will begin to write some more about that old, old story the pines have to tell.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


I always look to see if I have any comments at the end of my posts! The one below appeared after my Autumn in Budapest post, in which I asked folks to send me some autumn poems. It's by Nicole, who has a sprightly blog called Coley's Life:

About herself, she says," My students say I don't seem like other adults who are pretty "boring." " If you visit her blog, you'll see why. The poem below gave me another take on "fall." Maybe I'll share my own "fall" poem about turning 50 some years back! But it's not as light-hearted as Nicole's. Even so, it always makes listeners laugh at my own take on "falling."

Here is Nicole, on left, with her sister Jaimie.

Ms. Byer, I am an English teacher at Green Hope High School in Cary, NC. My English Department chair sent me your blog link. I have plans to move to Hungary this summer for at least a year to teach English, so I was thrilled to find your postings (it's so beautiful!). Anyway, I wrote a fall poem that I thought appropriate:


this fall
I am not falling in love
Nor am I technically falling
I have no desire
to make imprints of leaves
copy their patterns
die like they do
I will
wear brown
wear orange
eat pumpkin, eat sweet potatoes
enjoy bonfires
apple bob
dress up for halloween (I was a tree)
listen to sufjan
embrace change
and feel the ache
in my stomach
for the turning
of winter
and warmer clothes
than I've ever worn.


I sit here with my laptop looking out through the fog at the the closest trees, their leaves burning through the mist. The last few days have been busy ones, with a long drive back from Davidson Tuesday night, radio on to NPR stations along the way, excitement building with each state's projections being called. I arrived home just before midnight and Obama's victory statement before the throngs at Grant Park. My husband and I shared a glass of wine, and I celebrated being back home safely, after four days of rejuvenation in Davidson and Charlotte. ( Creative rejuvenation---don't ask me about physical! I spent most of yesterday catching up on my sleep!)

Collaborations with kindred artistic spirits are always rejuvenating, awakening the dormant parts of ourselves that the daily grind has sent underground. This collaboration gathered together an old friend and WCU alumna, soprano Jacquelyn Culpepper (, pianist Phillip Bush (, me, and composer Kenneth Frazelle (, whose "Appalachian Songbook" we performed, along with piano selections from his "Wildflowers." Well, I didn't perform the music, I read poems in between the sets. We rehearsed all Saturday afternoon, and I came out of the recital hall marveling at how hard musicians work!

The performance itself was spine-tingling, if I do say so myself, but the real engagement with the poetry and music came in the preparations leading up to the program. Weaving poetry, song, and piano into a more or less seamless fabric, and just a day before the performance itself, was challenging and, yes, instructive for me as a poet who is used to walking up to the lectern and doing pretty much what I please with my poetry. This time I had to weave it into a musical structure, and I had to re-read the poems numerous times, so often that I came to realize that these old poems from "Wildwood Flower" and "Black Shawl" still live for me, and I hope for the audiences who came to hear us perform. Collaborations do that! It's good for writers to take part in them, to join creative forces with musicians, dancers, visual artists and create something new and exciting. Speaking of exciting, having the composer, Kenneth Frazelle on hand for the Davidson performance, was icing on the cake. The Q & A afterward brought out some fascinating information about the composition of these songs. WDAV radio interviewed Jacque, Ken, and Phillip the day before the performance. You can find that interview at this link:

(Jacque and me after the Davidson performance)

The Davidson campus was beautiful, the leaves brilliant, many of them spiraling down to the walkways. My room at the guest house had a beautiful quilt framed on the wall. (Vicki, what's the name of this pattern? I'm asking novelist Vicki Lane. She knows her quilts!) The staff at the guest house was gracious beyond words--thank you Kelly and Sisi. I met Jason Koo, the young poet teaching the poetry workshop at the college, and I re-connected with longtime friends Bob Cumming, Lou Green, and Tony Abbot. My friend and former English Dept. colleague Elizabeth Evans, recently moved from Cullowhee to The Pines, prepared an elegant supper for me, after which we had a good visit, something I've missed since her departure.

(Novelist Vicki Lane, who knows her quilts, says she thinks this pattern is Pineapple Cactus from the thirties.)

On Election Day we gathered in Charlotte to give two performances as part of Saint Peter's Episcopal Church's Chamber Music Series. If you go to you will learn about this series set in the beautiful sanctuary of St. Peter's. Ken Frazelle was again present at our evening performance, introducing his compositions before we performed. Talk about goose-bumps! This performance captivated me completely. I think all three of us were in top form that evening. I was swept away by the music. A recording of the event is being prepared for WDAV and as soon as it's available, I will provide the link to it.

(Pianist Phillip Bush)

(Composer Kenneth Frazelle)

An additional treat was meeting Elaine Spallone, the Executive Director of the Chamber Music Series. Jacque and I serendipitously met her at the Italian restaurant where we decided to have lunch between performances. She is also a potter, with a fabulous blog, I'll be adding her blog to my bloglist.

(Elaine Spallone, after lunch)

(Jacque Culpepper)

I'm slowly coming down from the high of my Davidson/Charlotte experience. I look out my window and see that by now the fog is lifting from the valley. Looks like another beautiful day shaping up here in Cullowhee.