THIS BLOG IS NO LONGER OPERATIONAL. PLEASE ENJOY WHAT IS HERE, AND DO LEAVE A COMMENT IF YOU WISH. NORTH CAROLINA'S NEW POET LAUREATE IS CATHY SMITH BOWERS. SHE WILL SOON HAVE HER OWN WEBSITE THROUGH THE NORTH CAROLINA ARTS COUNCIL SITE. I WILL BE SHIFTING MY ATTENTION TO HERE, WHERE I AM, (SEE SIDEBAR)USING IT TO DRAW ATTENTION TO WRITERS WHOSE WORK DESERVES ATTENTION. I INVITE YOU TO VISIT ME THERE. For a video of the installation ceremony, please go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xAk6fOzaNE.
Go to http://www.yourdailypoem.com/, 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, March 18, 2009
POET OF THE WEEK: KATHERINE RUSSELL BARNES
I can't think of a better poet to lead the way into April, National Poetry Month than Katherine Russell Barnes. I met her a year ago during my visit to Wilson; she and her daughter Rebecca, with friends, took me to a fabulous restaurant outside town. There we talked poetry and even wrote a collaborative renga before the meal was done. "Katie" Barnes knows well the profundity of her book’s title, Treading Water, which was publish this year by Old Mountain Press and is well worth celebrating. Barnes has been a poet all of her long life and she knows what writing a poem is like, what living a life means, and how the two intersect in ways that nobody, least of all the poet, can predict. She brings to her poetry wit, craft, pathos, and all the thousand and one pleasures that language can offer. “Lips bright as birthday balloons’"? Yes, they are here. Keen observations of youth and old age. Memories that never descend into bathos or cliche. The poet treads water, the water of language and what the German poet Rainer Maria Rilke called the “heaviness” of life. But in the distance she hears what the earth sings, as in “Rest Homes, where “machines the size of dinasaurs/dug into ant hills, snake holes,/rabbit burrows,/Indian mounds” to make these domiciles for the elderly. The spirit of place still sings, despite the degradation visited upon it, even if the song is a dirge. “Tonight,” she tells us...for the poet is always pulling us back to this moment to LISTEN--”tonight wind keens through the tall pines.
When Treading Water appeared, Katie Barnes was honored with a reading/signing in Wilson.
(Katherine Russell Barnes at the lectern with her daughter Rebecca Tighe, to whom her new book is dedicated.)
Here are some of my favorite poems from TREADING WATER.
He sleeps quietly beside me.
I want to go back to the garden, but it is past midnight and no light. Not even a snippet of moon.
I want to force up weeds settled beside jeweled flowers, finish the task begun in full sun.
Bleeding hearts must be saved from encroaching knotweed. Trailing phlox and verbena are already smothered by Oxalis.
Its delicate leaf and stem mask a tenacious root-knob that rebounds and thrives from merest fragment left behind.
Lying here in the dark, I picture his imposing face, unmarked by a tragedy he cannot know or name.
I imagine his brain, a bulb in soft earth. Its twining roots search, but cannot connect, cannot bring forth.
I lie knotted in distress, unwilling to abandon bright years to darkness.
When morning comes, I tell him I must go weed the garden. His answer affirms his failing mind,
but lights my blighted heart. “Weeds?“ he asks. “Weeds? I remember only flowers.”
(Katie signing books for friends and admirers in the Wilson community.)
HARD TIMES COME WHITE
White as the lightning that burned down the barn and charred his voice into a rasp.
White as the sun-glare that beats off the tin tub where Mama scrubs white clothes then dark, and wonders how she'll ever get them hung on the rickety line strung between the corner of the shed and one white board propped up with bricks and cinder blocks.
But that's not the worst of white. The baby lies still and white. No longer pink with fever. White against the dirty rag quilt. Mama's face is white when I yell, "The baby ain't breathin' no more. I think she's dead."
My mind runs white.
In the field near the woods where blackberry blooms hang white, his hoe rises, falls in sun-baked clay as he replants the early corn.
POEMS LEAVE HIM COLD
If I should keel over while sitting here straining for right words in this secluded place, this office space, no one on either side to hear or care,
If I should fall in what my husband calls my play-all-day-hide-away, lie stiff as a door peg, silent as the unplugged telephone, would I be found eventually?
He has a key and cruises by occasionally. I don't know why unless he needs to summon me because the food is down to molded cheese from last week’s poker game.
Would he try to explain when neighbors bring their finest casseroles and ask why his wife was dead for days before he found her? Would he stop chewing long enough to say,
"Wish she could answer that. Words were her bag.”
(Katie Barnes visits with her friend Julie at the reception in honor of her new book.)
They sit on their never-painted porch, four ladies, eighty years old, or more. Clouded eyes peer from gingham bonnets. Hands cup ears that no longer hear the wooden rockers' rhythm.
Long together, yet alone, they ramble, clamor, drone. compare patchwork memories and judge each visitor a prize to be won and held.
A car shoots by on the new-paved road. A jet streaks toward the lowering sun.
In the field across the road, they have built homes for the elderly.
Machines the size of dinosaurs dug into ant hills, snake holes, rabbit burrows, Indian mounds
Degrading the land where season after season plow had unearthed shards of pots and pipes, remains of roving native tribes.
In those days, flint-gleam of arrowheads rose and fell as soil turned, turned in the shadow of sapling pines.
Tonight, a waning moon rises, casts pale light on secure, squat houses that lodge today's restless people.
And wind keens through the tall pines.
“The poet has no authority,” he said, then repeated it. He shook his shaggy white mane and said it yet again, “He has no authority.”
A lady in a crooked hat, seated in the audience, raised her hand and looked aghast. “Sir, on whose authority do you say that?” she asked.
Katherine Russell Barnes lives in Wilson, North Carolina. She is a retired nurse, a wife, mother and grandmother, who had been writing poetry for three decades. Her poems have been published in Crucible, Pembroke, Dragonfly, The Lyric and many other literary magazines. Her poems are included in numerous anthologies--- Weymouth, Here’s to the Land by the NC Poetry Society, Poets for Peace, published by Chapel Hill Press and most recently many thematic anthologies by Old Mountain Press.
She is particularly proud that her poems appear in the anthology Earth and Soul. This was a joint literary venture with a Russian press in which poems were printed on facing pages in both Russian and English. The resulting books were distributed throughout Russia in schools and libraries.
She has been a member of many literary organizations in North Carolina such as the NC Poetry Society, the Poetry Council of NC, and the NC Writers' Network and is a charter member of the NC Haiku Society. Her involvement in these organizations includes holding offices, leading workshops, and judging contests in the hope of advancing poetry and its appreciation throughout the state.
I've lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina since 1968, though I'm a native of SW Georgia. My paternal grandmother was born in the Blue Ridge, and I grew up wanting to live here. Where I am.
I've published five collections of poetry, the most recent 4 being with LSU Press, and have published poetry in magazines ranging from The Atlantic Monthly to Appalachian Heritage. But I also hike, bang pots and pans around in my kitchen, and love several dogs who leave fur all over my carpets. I write poetry because it's my way of singing back to the world both within and without.