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."

Sunday, May 31, 2009

WILDING A TAME HEART: One Naturalist's Experiences

Mellifluous Messenger

Above all avian voices
Mockingbird mocks
the courting call of Cardinal
cheerful greeting of Wren
taunt of Jay

He conceals not his mime
but in the sunshine he sings
Defies the black of night
and the thunder
that causes trees to shudder
and bow to wind driven wash

Did Caesar blare so gallantly
to inspire victory
Scheherazade sing sweeter for her life
Could he dance
would he bewitch as Solome

Does he pierce the ear
to prove each generation
an imitation of an imitation of an imitation

My friend Jane Wood of Wilson, NC, has just published a book drawing together columns from the Wilson newspaper, where her essays on nature and her dances with it have graced the pages for a number of years. Jane is also a poet, and if you've been following My Laureate's Lasso, you know that she has done pioneer-woman work in bringing poetry to fourth graders in her county. She's been doing it for a coon's age. She's a state treasure, if ever there was one. Here's one of the essays from her WILDING A TAME HEART:0ne naturalist's experiences. You may order the book directly from Jane herself. She opted out of Amazon, preferring to have personal contact with her readers. Here's her address:
10717 Old Bailey Hwy., Wilson NC 27896 (252) 243-6708. The book is $14.95, plus tax ($1.05) and shipping ($2.75) total price $18.75.

Moonlight and Mockingbirds

by Jane Wood

We're all familiar with the "boss" of our backyard bird kingdom, the mockingbird. Don't we know people with the same obnoxious, gabby, demanding personality? Whew! How tiresome they are! And yet that bird, as those people, does have redeeming graces.

The mocker, like our friends or family members, is so alive, so alert, so attentive to everything and everyone in his world that he cannot be ignored. He is exuberant to the point of stealing the songs of other birds and performing them by imitation, a cappella. I've always heard that imitation is the finest form of flattery. Of course Mr. Mocker just might be trying, in desperation, to be accepted. He isn't alone in his habit of bogus song however; the brown thrasher is also a class act of vocal ersatz. Both birds are long legged, long tailed and long beaked. Both are keenly alive and active and visible during mating season.

The bird that deserves a "Bravo" for exceptional performance is Mr. Mocker. He rivals Pavarotti with his solo concerts. Oh, yes, and he does have a captive audience; what else are we doing in the middle of a moonlit summer night? What other competition, as far as worldly noise, is there? This bird mounts a fence post or low tree branch stage and belts out magnificent arias. Well, maybe they're not original since his repertoire is made up of stolen melodies, but we're living in a world where everything can be explained away as either politically or non-politically correct. So who am I to condemn plagiarism?

Moonlight. Why the appeal? Is it due to legend? Is there really a connection to the energy in the human mind? I think so. I am restless on full moon nights. I have this urge to get out of bed and go into the deep woods behind my house. Yes, I have done that, and it is exhilarating! Once I even coached my grandson to accompany me. At age five he was a bit awed by it all - the nocturnal choir, the shadows, the towering silhouettes… mosquitoes. But I felt a connection with the luminous moonlight all melted down on the forest floor. We stood perfectly still and took in the night sounds around us - awesome! It was a different world!

Remember, we learned in school that in Latin the word for moon is "luna." Picture the lovely pale green luna moth that comes out on summer nights to feed, then disappears at dawn. We also are aware that a derivative of luna is lunatic. Could that apply to those who are drawn into the moon light for a different kind of

Tuesday, May 26, 2009


Marty Mentzer's Basketball Poets over at Supply Elementary School is one of our state's most original, creative, and encouraging projects. I say encouraging, because some days I fear our students are growing up never learning about the sheer joy of language, especially poetry. Marty has made sure that doesn't happen at Supply Elementary.

About the latest activities of the Basketball Poets, Marty writes:
"The spring has been a whirlwind to say the least. I have been traveling (Fla. and Puerto Rico to surf ---and to Greenville NC to present on the Basketball Poet Program). I was able to teach about 60 middle school students about Basketball Poets through a program called AVID. It was awesome and I got some great writing from these kids (who are hard-working at-risk kids from poorer school districts).
Meanwhile my Basketball Poets had an AWESOME visit from Sharon Creech (I do have a video of this) and we performed at the Brunswick County Arts Alive!"

(Marty Mentzer introducing her Basketball Poets at their performance for the PTA)

Below, students meeting Sharon Creech.

Here's some background on the history of this fabulous group of students.


"Basketball Poets" is the brainchild of Mrs. Marty Mentzer, who teaches physical education at Supply Elementary School in Supply, NC. When she was asked to tutor students at the school five years ago, she introduced poetry to the children with the book Love That Dog, by Newberry Award-winner Sharon Creech. Since then, Basketball Poets has developed into a club in which membership is earned and highly prized. For admission students must write their own poems and give them to the teacher on the first day of school. The first 25 are accepted. The fourth- and fifth-grade sections of Basketball Poets meet separately, once a week for 40 minutes. The sections come together for performances, in which they present their own poems and work by others. In addition to the title poem of the book the club began with -- "Love That Dog" -- the current repertoire includes "Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening" and "The Pasture," by Robert Frost, "Love That Boy," by William Dean Myers, "The Red Wheelbarrow," by William Carlos Williams, and the two poems presented here. The students' favorite poem is "The Tyger." Mrs. Mentzer's is "El Dorado."
The Basketball Poets won a $5,000 Innovation Grant from the National Education Association in 2004 and a $1,000 Bright Ideas Grant in 2005. The national student magazine Weekly Reader featured the group last April 2006. According to Mrs. Mentzer, besides being wonderful poets and performers, the club members "are also awesome basketball players."

Basketball Poets perform and read their poetry:

"Poem for Basketball Poets"
By Kaleb Holley

Running down the court JUMP
Bam Bam make that Basket
Come on team JUMP come
on team JUMP come on team
let’s make it our winning shot
come on let’s do it JUMP
Bam around the rim go in
go in Bam Bam hits ground
let’s go like a team and
let’s congratulate the other
teams and say good game yeah!

"Bridge Between Us"
By Alayna Miller

Build the bridge between us
with anger, hate, and woe.
Not really there but makes us apart
That sorry song the meadowlark sings,
as he lands on the angry bricks and concrete
Tearing years of laughter into shreds
of smiling faces and cheer. Who knew that
one little argument could do
so much to me? But you!
I didn’t know you could hold this
long, even when I am brought to tears!
Ping! The “I’m sorry” bounces off you
like a little rubber ball.
Oh! I give up! Sorry, but this can’t
go on. We were best buds for 4 years!
Bang the friendship ending to my chest
like a bullet in the heart. Just for
a boy, one measly little male! So
what if his eyes make you melt?!
Just forget it! We’re not even
at the enemy line. You’re a mortal foe!

by Tristan Murphy

they can be mysterious

or a piece of art

some can

enter the heart

you can use pencils

or work

with paint, you can

work in taxies or

work on a plane. it does not

matter where you create it

even if you’re in Kentucky, it does

not matter where you do it.

By Kamillah Newton

The best teachers
The best teachers
You need a shiny apple
The best teachers
The best teachers
Look above the counter
Look, there’s your shiny apple!

"Who to Choose"
by J. Paul Smith

Who to choose mom or dad. they
both Love me they both hug me
feed me most of all they
Love me.

"The Fearful Suspension Bridge"
by Ian Niggles

There have been times in my life
when I have felt fear
like a suspension bridge
where the other side is not near

Going to school the first time
Being a shy boy
Would the teacher like me?
My mom’s words: Relax and Enjoy

Playing my first soccer game
at the age of four
Protesting in the car
Dad’s tender words: See what’s in store

Public speaking in my class
Sweat pours down for miles
Feeling like I should run
Friends’ encouragement through their smiles

Family and friends help me out
Cables on the bridge
give me security
help me reach the top of the ridge

My fears have been like a bridge
stretching on for miles
But family and friends
help me overcome with their smiles

(Tristan, Alyysa, and Ian)

"Thank you Jesus"
By Mitchell Barfield

I was lost
until I learned about the cross
Then I looked
in the book
Then I prayed
until I was saved

By Lee Tyan (pen name) a.k.a. Alyssa Miller

When I look at
the clouds I think of
heaven. When I look around me
I think of chaos and calamity.
When you go to heaven,
think how much better
it will be

(Alyssa Miller holding her Second Place Certificate from the Poetry Council of NC's Student contest.)

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

SHENANDOAH: The Washington and Lee University Review

(Billy Edd Wheeler / "Coon Creek Girls and Billy Edd"
(Rosie Foley and Lily Man Pennington; from a photograph by Warren Brunner)oil, 16" x 20", 2002)

SHENANDOAH is probably my favorite literary magazine. Its editor, R.T. Smith,is a friend from way, way back and one of the country's finest poets. He's also a fiction writer worth reading, too. The magazine always has his Editor's Note at the end, this issue's piece titled "Heart and Coal: An Appreciation." As Rod describes it, "It's about coal mining, songs about the people and specifically about Kathy Mattea's album Coal."

To read an interview with Rod Smith, go to


This Spring/Summer issue is a reader's dream. How could it be otherwise with the lead-off story being one by Lee Smith? Maxine Kumin gives us an essay, "Swift to Its Close," and the list of poets ranges from Richard Foerster to Hanes Eason, with David Wagoner, Elton Glaser, James Malone Smith, and Kathryn Kirkpatrick, among others, in between. Yes, there are book reviews, too, and an interview with Dominica Radulescu by Sarah Kennedy, herself an outstanding poet. To see the entire table of contents, as well as read excerpts from earlier issues, go to


Kathryn Kirkpatrick has long been a poet whose work I've admired; I'm happy to present her poem from this current issue, "After the Cave Paintings" below.

After the Cave Paintings

Why do I stand unmoved,
jaded as a tabloid, refusing
astonishment, not down on
my knees, but sober as stone—
surely 17th century spelunkers,
pranksters, or WWII resistance
fighters passing hours in the belly
of the mountain made these
bison, these bearded horses.

But carbon dating brings me
to my senses. Whatever I can’t take
in—1500 generations, 32,000 years—
here’s human memory on the horns
of an ibis, our ancestors making it up
from scratch.
Is it all too near
to where I’ve been? Birth & Death.
Back and forth across that stuttering
line, illness a long darkness with only
a lantern and my love’s strong
arm, the uneven, the unearthly

Stalactites make their own
sense of water and limestone
as I’m to make something wholly new
from the dripstone of another life.

Just as well we’re not as firmly
anchored as we think.
In the thinned air, the wavering light,
easier to find that other self, who knows
as the animal knows, as the bears
in these caves once knew, standing
upright on the old riverbed,
so daughters of Adam, sons of Eve,
took up what the bears laid down,
dark claw on limestone, and drew.

Kathryn teaches poetry, Irish Studies, and environmental literature at Appalachian State University. Her most recent book is Out of the Garden (Mayapple, 2007)

Sunday, May 10, 2009


(With Jane Jaudon Ferrer and Glenda Beall, two of Netwest's indispensable movers and shakers!)

For a video of the festival on youtube, go to

Yesterday was a great day for authors and readers in western North Carolina. The Blue Ridge Book and Author Showcase, after months of planning and preparations, happened! And what a happening it was. After heavy storms the days before, the morning arrived blessedly free of churning clouds, and by the time we arrived in Hendersonville, on the campus of Blue Ridge Community College, the day looked as if it might actually turn out to be a sunny one.

Inside the Technical Education and Development Center, Volunteers were ready to help participants and visitors at every turn. There were tee shirts for sale, lots of books on the display table, and the faces of writers I knew, like Vicki Lane, Gary Carden, Susan Reinhardt. And--- many more faces of those I didn't. Jeff Biggers, for example, whose presentation wowed listeners. I broke in line afterward to ask him how to get in touch with him in the future. Hey, just go to

I sat dutifully at my author's table, which I shared with my friend and sister poet Marita Garin, enjoying conversation with passing readers, teachers and other writers, but I did steal away to take a few photos.

(Photo by Glenda Beall)

The morning visitors were enthusiastic, none more so than Glenda Beall, NETWEST's program coordinator, who rode over with us for the event.

Almost directly across from my book table sat Laura Hope-Gill, whose new book, The Soul Tree, will be published in a few weeks.

Nearby I found my friends George and Elizabeth Ellison, with a new book on display, High Vistas: An Anthology of Nature Writing from Western North Carolina and the Great Smoky Mountains (Vol. 1). This book too features Elizabeth's illustrations. The cover is beautiful. George is speaking to me in the photo below.

Booksales were handled by none other than Malaprop's, with owner and manager Emoke B'racz in fine form for the day.

I visited Keith Flynn's poetry presentation briefly before heading to another concurrent session, Sheila Kay Adams' program on Mountain story-telling and ballads.

Shela Kay lays a good story on us!

Afterward, with admirers from the audience.

In the afternoon I gave my reading and answered questions, after which I said hello to old friend and former UNCG MFA classmate, Robert Morgan, who was honorary Chairman of the festival.

(Photo by Glenda Beall)

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Kwansaba: Poems by Lenard Moore's Students at Mt. Olive College

Lenard Moore has done more for the vitality of poetry both here in NC and elsewhere than just about anybody I can name. Not only is he a poet himself, he also is a master haiku writer, has written poetry in over thirty forms (this he told me during a telephone call two weeks ago), is a jazz aficionado, with a manuscript of jazz-inspired poems in the works, and he is a teacher who turns his students on to forms like the Kwansaba. The kwan-what? you may be wondering. What follows will explain the what and how of this new form. Lenard's students' work will give you the best introduction--the form itself as poems on the page.(Well, the computer screen!) Following The poems is the news release that appeared in THE TROJAN TIMES, after which you may read a description of the form by Janet Riehl, along with some other examples of the form.

(Lenard Moore)

Lenard teaches at Mount Olive College in Mt. Olive, NC. He notes that the students are seniors rather than juniors as written in their bios,except for Bailey J. Harrell. Bailey graduated from Mount Olive College in December of 2008. The students' poems were originally published in the special issue of Drumvoices Revue, Volume 16, Numbers 1 & 2,Spring-Summer-Fall 2008, celebrating the Richard Wright Centennial. He is justifiably proud of his students' accomplishments.

(Old photo from Mt. Olive College Archive)

Bailey J. Harrell

In Heaven and In Darkness

Bigger choices, Bigger regrets, Bigger is branded.
Unknown names, seasons change, but blame remains
The same. Rape, theft, guilty, nothing left;
“Tell the truth boy,” death’s your destiny.
Mary, Bessie, the Bloody Brick Breaks and
Binds. The mind deters from hate. How
Can a black man survive this fate?

Bio: My name is Bailey Harrell. I am currently a senior at Mount Olive College. I plan to graduate in August of 2008 with two degrees, one in English and another in English Communications. In the fall, I hope to enroll in law school or possibly continue my studies further in Paris, France. During the four years, I have been here at MOC, I have played softball for the Lady Trojans. I have been named 2nd Team All-Conference twice; and I have also been selected as an NFCA All-American Athlete. When I am not on the ball field, I take on the role of copy-editor for the Mount Olive College Trojan Voices, which is a student-created magazine that publishes works of literature submitted by students, faculty, and members of the community.

Alisa G. Jones

Innocent Guilt
BOY! I'm no Boy, I'm a Man
You got nothin' on me, no blood
on my hand. I didn't do it,
Wit, I did. I stole and killed
Then ran and hid. Lord, forgive me
for I've sin. I guess I have
to die for my life to begin!

My name is Alisa Jones. I am currently a junior at Mount Olive College. I am double majoring in Business Management and Human Resource Management with a minor in Sports Management. I also play varsity basketball for the college. After college, I plan to attend graduate school to earn my Masters in Business.

(On the Mt. Olive College Campus)

Brittney Robich

Didn’t Do It

A strong voice echoes the empty room.

“I know you did it boy!” BOOM!

Buckley slams his heavy hand on the

Table. Mary, Bessy, Aston. A rapist was

His label. Bigger is now sweatin’ bullets.

Given this life, didn’t choose it. Now

Yellin’ the words, “I DIDN’T DO IT!”

My name is Brittney Robich. I am a junior at Mount Olive College. I am majoring in Psychology. After graduation, I plan to go on to attend graduate school, and get a Masters in counseling. I play on the Women’s basketball team here at Mount Olive.


Carley Moore


Have you seen this black man-child
Who shot up from a tiny seed
To a man, with full grown hands,
Smoking paper, smoking pens, fiction and poetry?
Must say, “I’ve seen these Black hands.”
From the South arose this “Native Son,”
Of Ella and Nathan, a writer begot.

My name is Carley Moore. I am from Johnsonville, South Carolina. This is my third year at Mount Olive College and I am classified as a junior. I recently switched my major from music to sports management, but I am one class away from having my minor in music. I also plan to minor in English, exercise science, and physical education. Once done at Mount Olive, I plan to go to a school of theology to become a youth minister. Poetry is my way of removing myself from this world and going into a state of peace. Poetry relaxes my mind, body, spirit, and soul.

MOC Students Published
MOUNT OLIVE - Four Mount Olive College students have published poems in the special issue of Drumvoices Revue, Volume 16, Spring/Summer/Fall 2008 celebrating the Richard Wright Centennial. The students wrote Kwansabas, a poetry form that consists of 7 lines with 7 words each line and no more than 7 letters in each word, as part of their English 240 African American Literature Class taught by Assistant Professor of English Lenard Moore.

After reading and discussing Wright's novel, Native Son, students wrote their own poems. Bailey J. Harrell, of Kinston, a December MOC graduate, wrote "In Heaven And In Darkness; "Alisa G. Jones of Fayetteville a member of the MOC Women's Basketball Team, wrote "Innocent Guilt;” Brittany Robich of Rockingham also a member of MOC Women's Basketball Team, wrote "Didn't Do It;" and Carley Moore of Johnsonville, SC wrote “Writer's Hand." Copies of Drumvoices Revue can be ordered for $10.00 plus $2.00 for shipping and handling from

“It is important for our students to experience the publication of good writing,” Moore stated. “Hopefully, the publication of their poetry in such a well-respected literary journal will inspire them, too. If they choose to become career writers, then they will know the process from craft to publication.”

Mount Olive College is a private institution rooted in the liberal arts tradition with defining Christian values. The College, sponsored by the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, has locations in Mount Olive, New Bern, Wilmington, Goldsboro, Research Triangle Park and Washington. For more information, visit

Kwansaba: birth of a poetry form
Posted by Janet Grace Riehl on June 18th, 2008

The Kwansaba came into being as a praise song. Drumvoices Revue has used the Kwansaba form to praise Richard Wright (2008), Maya Angelou and Quincy Troupe (2007), Jayne Cortez (2006), Amiri Baraka and Sonia Sanchez (2005), Katherine Dunham (2004), Miles Davis (2003). Outside of haiku and the blues, the Kwansaba is one of the most portable forms. It distills content economically.

In 1995 the kwansaba—a new poetry form—was invented in East St. Louis. The Eugene B. Redmond Writers Club, organized and chartered in March 1986, brought together cultural workers and creative artists searching for “new tools, concepts, vehicles, and challenges within regional and global contexts.”

In the early 1990s Kwanzaa (based on a 7-day ritual) Celebration based around the Nguzo Saba (Seven Principles) was introduced to the United States by Dr. Maulana Karenga. Eugene Redmond says in a 2004 Drumvoices Revue that “Over several months I toyed with the Swahili words Kwanzaa (first fruits) and Saba (principles) until the term kwansaba hit me like fresh–or ancestral—love.”

The Kwansaba is a poem consisting of seven lines. Each line has no more than seven words. Each word has no more than seven letters. Thus, the form, revolving around the number 7, adding up to 49 words, is based on the seven principles of the Kwanzaa celebration.

Redmond continues to explain the importance of the number 7 in “astronomy, numerology, and mythology.” In 2004 Drumvoices Revue published a special series of Kwansabas for Katherine Dunham, who arrived in East St. Louis in 1967, “at the height of the Black Arts Movement and one year after the invention of the Kwansaba.”

Since then, special contests and themes featuring the Kwansaba have been featured in Drumvoices Revue. I attended a workshop Eugene Redmond led in which he shared Kwansabas inspired by Richard Wright’s “Black Boy.” Wright wanted his life to “count for something. Drumvoices #15 (2007) featured this example of a kwansaba for Quincy Troupe.

by Reginald Lockett

Lion roaming the vast Serengeti of verse
On the Great Plains he stalks words
Dogs the scents of verbs and nouns
King of musical lines tracks poetry’s song
In the forest there stands his prize,
A sleek gazelle of a poem desired
He makes a quick study and pounces.

Monday, May 4, 2009


On April 19, a fine Saturday, with redbuds abloom and gardens burgeoning, I drove over to Morganton for a special poetry event at the Burke County Public Library, one of the loveliest libraries I seen. Our libraries are the the heart of our communities, and being able to visit quite a few of them around our state has made my term as Laureate especially gratifying. This event pulled together four poets: Rand Brandes, Scott Owens, Ted Pope, and me. I'd not seen Rand nor Scott in years, and Ted was an unknown. I was looking forward to meeting him.

The event was spearheaded, in part, by Mindy Evans, whose work has appeared on this blog, as well as in the comments section. Mindy is hoping to further her development as a poet by enrolling in an MFA program. Which one remains a question mark. Any program would be lucky to have her.

Viranya Filipiak, the Adult Program Coordinator for the Burke County Public Library in Morganton,(828-437-5638 Ext.1208--just in case you want to give her a call to thank her for supporting NC poetry) organized the celebration and served as emcee. Here she is at the punch bowl afterward.

I was glad to see my old friends Rand and Scott and meet the kinetic Ted Pope, whose performance was riveting. The four of us made a pretty good team, if I do say so myself. Rand is Martin Luther Stevens Professor of English and Director of the LR Visiting Writers Series at Lenoir-Rhyne University in Hickory. Scott was my POET OF THE WEEK, two weeks ago. Ted has recorded two collections of his poetry performances and performs frequently in Hickory, where there seems to be a lively poetry scene in the making.

In the audience was a novelist with whom I'd communicated only through blogging--Joan Cannon, whose Hilltop Notes is well worth a visit. In the photo of Joan below, you can get a sense of the spaciousness this library offers its patrons. Joan has given me permission to quote in this post one of her brief essays from her blog.

Ted talks with a member of the audience after the reading.



How Little Light is Left

How little light

Is left

When all the bulbs

Burn out

One by one

First here

Then there

Like stars


In a clear sky

On a moonless


For no apparent


The Last Class

I want to leave them, them to leave me

Feeling the poems’ pulsing lines in their veins

Hammering at the forges of their hearts,

But it’s just “Intro. to Poetry” and they’ve already sold

Kinnell and Collins, Hughes and Heaney

For 50 cents each to the college bookstore.

The room has grown silent and sleepy in the late morning

Light. The papers are piled high on my desk,

Titles peeping out like “The Illuminated Blake,”

“Lawrence’s Ladies” or “What’s Eating Plath,”

Not wanting it to end like this I impulsively pull out

“Great Poems Read by the Great Poets Themselves”,

Slip the disc into the slot and hit play: Yeats chants,

Thomas rages, Williams chatters, and then

We come to Kinnell, the last poet, the last poem,

“The Last Gods”— a poem I do not know,

But should have. Suddenly the goddess is spreading

Her legs as the sea surges around the rock

Upon which she lingers, the god wades out to her

Sliding blueberries and blood between her wet lips.

Mortals that we are, we sit silent, embarrassed

By the gift we have been given in communion

In a classroom on a Tuesday in December.

This is what it’s all about, I say, the power

Of words to call forth a love so elemental, so powerful

And profoundly deep, that we must, like Stephen Dedalus

On the strand, exclaim “O’ Profane joy” as the bird girl

Wades forth lifting her dress over ivory thighs.

We have been blessed, I say again, blessed,

So now go study for your final and the real test.


Joan's post of April 9:


There are some times in your life when you can't keep track--of time, of tasks, of conversations even. There's a group of landscape maintenance workers buzzing and roaring around the house today. Each of them plods or rides along, heads down, eyes ahead like donkeys intent on getting one foot in front of the other. I wonder if their minds are as blank as their faces. Is there some unacknowledged collateral benefit in mindless activity? I'm reasonably sure the answer to that would be a qualified yes. However, surely it must depend on the mind that's unoccupied during the performance of these repetitive, uninspired and uninspiring jobs. The world is so full of them and the people who perform them, it astounds me to think about it.

Right now, I believe that in some circumstances, this half-unconscious trudging from one end of a day to the other might be a blessing. What I can't believe is that a lifetime spent like that can be anything but a curse.

Do you have an Oriental rug? A handmade basket? Even an Aran Island sweater? I knit (I used to knit a lot), but I can't do anything interesting without extreme concentration, and even then, I find mistakes that have to be corrected. How long does it take to get so skilled that you can stop paying attention? If you reach that stage, can the work become a kind of meditation? Try to imagine the hours and days, even years invested in producing beautiful crafts. Is the guy behind the walking mower making up poetry or a protest essay in the din of his machine?

That's the rub for me. I'm trying to make this little piece of disconnected verbiage fill that need for distance. Somehow, writing doesn't seem to fill that bill. A long time ago, there was a man who invented what he called "automatic writing." The name is self-explanatory. It was supposed to be helpful for the mentally ill. That is not what I want to do, not just out of the fear of embarrassment, but because it would be too self-serving and of no interest to a reader.

Maybe when enough time has passed after the loss of the person who was half me, not just mine, I'll find out how to use this craft of putting words on paper (or into the ether). If some day I think I can, maybe that's how I'll know I'm returning. Maybe what I should do is go and prune the pyracantha. It should take a long time.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

POET OF THE WEEK: Shelby Stephenson

(photo by Jan Hensley)

Anybody who knows anything at all about NC literature knows who Shelby Stephenson is. He's a force of nature. A one-of-a-kind character. A non-stop poet. A wide-ranging editor. A generous friend to other writers. A musician and singer. A man close to the land, living now on the farm where he was born. Here is his "official" biography on his website.

Shelby Stephenson grew up on a small farm near Benson, in the Coastal Plain of North Carolina. “Most of my poems come out of that background,” he says, “where memory and imagination play on one another. I have written many poems about the mules we worked until I was in the seventh grade and, after that–the tractor. My early teachers were the thirty-five foxhounds my father hunted. The trees and streams, fields, the world of my childhood–all that folklore–those are my subjects.”

After leaving the farm for college, he graduated from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill (B.A. 1960) where he also studied law, University of Pittsburgh (M.A. 1967), University of Wisconsin-Madison (Ph.D. 1974), and worked as a radio and television announcer, salesman, right-of-way agent, and farmer. He is now professor of English at the University of North Carolina-Pembroke where he has edited Pembroke Magazine since 1979. The state of North Carolina presented him with the 2001 North Carolina Award in Literature. And he has received the Zoe Kincaid Brockman Memorial Award and the Playwright's Fund of North Carolina Chapbook Prize.

In addition to a poetic documentary: Plankhouse (with photographs by Roger Manley), he has published Middle Creek Poems, Carolina Shout!, Finch’s Mash, The Persimmon Tree Carol, Poor People, Greatest Hits, and Fiddledeedee. With his wife Linda he has also made the CD and cassette: Hank Williams Tribute. They live on the farm where he was born.

I can vouch for all these books. They live on the bookshelf devoted to Shelby. I can vouch for the cd, too. My late father liked it a lot. He was a big Hank Williams fan. So am I. Shelby's latest books ia Family Matters:
Homage to July, the Slave Girl

Here is Allen Grossman's endorsement:

“An intense and heart-breaking poetic narrative which, in its exploration of historical and personal materials, holds affinities to the work of Susan Howe and to James Agee’s classic Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. Family Matters is a strenuous questioning — and exposure — of the fictions of ownership, whether of persons or places, graves or farms.”
--Allen Grossman, final judge, 2008 Bellday Prize competition

2008. Bellday Books. $14 plus $2 shipping & handling. Available from the publisher at

The Candy Man

Came with his punchboard.
I pushed out numbers for choice prizes.
Once a month the promise went out over the countryside.
The Watkins Products Man, too.
Had a chicken coop tied to his front bumper.
He’d take a chicken as payment, say, for horse lineament.

Did you work to satisfy your credit at Pap’s commissary,
tense up when you entered the store?
Did the farmers there court the drinkstand to give you room?
Did you ever punch a board or trade eggs for pretty things?

I did have a Candy Man.
I did not wish for hair to let down to dry his feet at footwashings.
Sometimes I gave him an eyeful and lost him.
In the fall when colors called my face shadowed his window.
At dusk, the table set with fatback and molasses−his skin twinged until a voice
sang for me alone until the tune went out of hearing.


Mr. Charlie Parrish’s Store loomed way up Paul’s Hill.
I would walk with eggs in my pockets to swap for merchandise,
lean against the colddrinkbox and listen:

Hallo! Heck, I garn-dam-tee
you this: no ragged-assed farmer’ll
get in no field today; tractors’ll
mar up over the mufflers, I tell you−
row a boat in the ditches down yonder by Paul Coats’s sloughs.

Tom’s Roasted Peanuts float in a Pepsi Heck guzzles.
He’s no holier-than-the-learned race of farmers who’ll tell you:
Workworkwork and what do you get?!
Bonier and bonier and sloppy-assed in debt!
Sleeves waving, he lowers himself down the sandy, shackly, wooden steps.

George William Stephenson

Greatgreatgrandpap George’s grandson−I called him Grandpa William−was born
of Martha Johnson and Manly Stephenson, on the farmof “badlybent”George,
off state road number 1517 in PleasantGrove, Johnston County,North Carolina.
As a boy William hired himself out to Deb Wood to cut wood;
helped his Uncle Naz, mauling and splitting rails
and hauling them home.
He picked cotton,
pulled corn, tended garden, raised goats, too,
hogs aplenty snuffling paths harder when he’d pass with slops for the trough,
slipping in his boots on the hill.
He moved across Middle Creek to Polenta, crossed the creek on a footlog, walked paths
through woods.
One dark night a goat jumped up,
scaring the daylights out of him:
“If the goat had not bleated, I think I would have died.”


July was born ninety-eight years before I was.
Grandpa William was sixtyseven that year−1938.
He split wood for thirty cents a cord.
Got tired of helping Naz maul and haul those gums.
Hunted wild turkeys, rabbits, and squirrels.
Set traps in the swamps, catching anything he could: otter, mink, raccoon−
one hide brought a dollar.
A yea and nay man.
Couldn’t read or write.
Joined the church and started preaching.

And Grandmuh read the Bible to Grandpa every night.
Grandpa would listen, for he couldn’t read or write.
He couldn’t read or write.

You know that families moved in with one another back yonder,
a kind of underpinning: Manly and Martha with William and Nancy.
Martha had a skip she learned in Polenta.
Nancy joined the church in 1910.

(Linda and Shelby Stephenson, photo by J. Hensley

Saturday, May 2, 2009


('I look on it as recognition of the great women poets we now have writing' ... Carol Ann Duffy. Photograph: Eamonn McCabe)

Yesterday as my husband and I wanderead the aisles of Ingles Supermarket, we happened upon a British transplant, a friend who taught at Western Carolina University while we did. "Ah, I hear the British have named their first woman poet laureate," he announced. "Oh, I heard that too on CNN," my husband answered while I rummaged amongst the cheeses. "Who?" I asked. " I can't remember; I never heard of her," Henry, our friend, replied, "but I'm sure you have."

My parting shot to our retreating friend: "Well, I'm glad to hear the Brits are catching up!"

He grinned. As for having heard of this mystery laureate, yes, indeed I have. Now that I know who she is. Carol Ann Duffy.

I know because years ago Eavan Boland recommended her work to me, while she was here at WCU for the writers series I then directed. I know because above my laptop, thumbtacked to my wall, is her "Poem," in broadside format from Vehicule Press in Montreal, which I found on the web and printed. A beautiful poem it is, too, for her only child, a daughter.

When you were small, your cupped palms
each held a candlesworth under the skin,
enough light to begin...

And its concluding lines, some of the most evocative in contemporary English poetry about the emotion a mother feels for her daughter:

         Light Gatherer. You fell from a star
into my lap, the soft lamp at the bedside
mirrored in you,

         and now you shine like a snowgirl,
a buttercup under a chin, the wide blue yonder
you squeal at and fly in,

         like a jeweled cave,
turquoise and diamond and gold, opening
at the end of a tunnel of years.

(Signal Editions)

I found the following article in THE GUARDIAN. After reading it, I like this woman already. What she says about giving back to the art of poetry resonates strongly with me. And the 600 bottles of sherry traditionally given to the Laureate? She's not going to let that go undelivered. She wants it "up front." Way to go, First Female Poet Laureate of the British Empire!
Note also, her comments about reading in the 70's with Britain's male poets. Sound familar? Ah yes....

So, congratulations to Ms. Duffy and to the British for choosing a worthy poet for their Laureate. And a woman, too. Imagine that!

Carol Ann Duffy becomes first female poet laureate

Duffy takes poetry's most prestigious job, succeeding Andrew Motion, as a standard-bearer for women poets
Alison Flood, Friday 1 May 2009 10.02 BST

Four hundred years of male domination came to an end today with the election of Carol Ann Duffy as poet laureate. Duffy, the widely-tipped favourite for the post, only agreed to accept the post ahead of poets Simon Armitage and Roger McGough because "they hadn't had a woman".

Speaking on Woman's Hour this morning on Radio 4, she revealed that she had thought "long and hard" about accepting the offer.

"The decision was purely because they hadn't had a woman," she said. "I look on it as recognition of the great women poets we now have writing, like Alice Oswald."

Duffy said she was ready to deal with the scrutiny which comes as part and parcel of the laureateship, suggesting that her experience of public appearances would stand her in good stead, but that she would vigorously defend her private life. "I'm a very private person and I will continue to fiercely protect my privacy and my daughter," she said.

She declared herself ready to tackle the official verse which the laureateship requires, but only if the occasion inspired her. "If not, then I'd ignore it," she said.

She plans to donate her yearly stipend of £5,750 to the Poetry Society to fund a new poetry prize for the best annual collection. "I didn't want to take on what basically is an honour on behalf of other poets and complicate it with money," she explained. "I thought it was better to give it back to poetry."

She has, however, asked that her "butt of sack" – the 600 bottles of sherry traditionally given to the laureate – should be delivered up front, after learning that Motion is yet to receive his allocation.

News of her appointment began to leak earlier this week, when bookmakers stopped taking bets following a rush of money backing Duffy. This year marked the first occasion on which the public was invited to make suggestions for the laureateship to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport – a move which is likely to have helped the bestselling Duffy to clinch the role. The DCMS also consulted with the poetry establishment to come up with a shortlist for the laureate, and passed this on to Number 10, with the Queen approving the final choice of Duffy.

Gordon Brown, the prime minister, congratulated her as both the first poet laureate of the 21st century and "as the first woman to hold the post". Calling her a "truly brilliant modern poet" he paid tribute to her ability to put "the whole range of human experiences into lines that capture the emotions perfectly" and wished her well for her ten-year term.

She takes over from current incumbent Andrew Motion, who wished her luck in an email exchange earlier this morning. Motion has completed a decade in the post, writing poems for events including the Queen's 80th birthday in 2006, the 100th birthday and death of the Queen Mother, and a rap for Prince William's 21st.

Duffy, 53, narrowly missed out on the laureateship to Motion in 1999 after the death of Ted Hughes, who had held the post since 1984. Despite being widely held as favourite at the time, she was reluctant to take up the prominent role given her status as a mother in a lesbian relationship (with the Scottish poet Jackie Kay; the relationship has since ended).

At the time, Duffy told the Guardian that she "didn't want to do the thing", but when "all these stories started appearing, I got scores of letters from women saying do it, do it, do it. But I was never really sure. I never really came out and said whether I wanted it or not." Quoted as saying that the role needed to be "much more democratic", more people's poet than monarch's bard, and that she would "not write a poem for Edward and Sophie - no self-respecting poet should have to", she'd actually backed the late UA Fanthorpe – whose death aged 79 was announced yesterday – for the post.

As one of the bestselling poets in the UK, Duffy has managed to combine critical acclaim with popularity: a rare feat in the poetry world. Her 1999 collection The World's Wife, which saw every poem told in the voice of a wife of a great historical figure, from Mrs Aesop to Queen Herod, was the first to gain her mass appeal. She went on to add a CBE in 2002 to her 1995 OBE, and won the TS Eliot prize in 2005 for her collection of linked love poems, Rapture. She has also won the Dylan Thomas award, the Whitbread poetry prize, the Somerset Maugham award and the Forward prize, and features regularly on school and university syllabuses. Furthermore, she is no stranger to the writing to deadline that the laureateship requires; last September saw her penning a swift poetic response to the news that one of her collections had been removed from the GCSE syllabus for supposedly glorifying knife crime.

In an interview with Jeanette Winterson, Duffy said that when she started on the poetry circuit in the 70s, she was called a "poetess". "Older male poets, the Larkin generation, were both incredibly patronising and incredibly randy. If they weren't patting you on the head, they were patting you on the bum," she said. She stressed to Winterson that she was "not a lesbian poet, whatever that is". "If I am a lesbian icon and a role model, that's great, but if it is a word that is used to reduce me, then you have to ask why someone would want to reduce me? I never think about it. I don't care about it. I define myself as a poet and as a mother – that's all."

As well as her seven collections for adults, marked by their accessibility, lightness of touch and emotional depth, Duffy also writes poetry and picture books for children, edits anthologies, and has written a number of well-received plays. She lives in Manchester, where she is creative director of the writing school at Manchester Metropolitan University.

The origins of the laureateship are somewhat hazy, but Ben Jonson is believed by many to have been the first to hold the position; the role (along with a pension of 100 marks a year) was conferred on him by James I. Previous laureates include Wordsworth, Tennyson, Cecil Day-Lewis and John Betjeman.

The first woman to be considered for the laureateship was Elizabeth Barrett Browning in 1850, when William Wordsworth died, but Tennyson was chosen in her stead. Forty-two years later, Christina Rossetti was overlooked on Tennyson's death, when rather than appoint a woman the position was left vacant until Alfred Austin – viewed today as one of the worst ever laureates – was appointed.

Motion, who is the first laureate to resign the office, has advised his successor to take "steps to preserve [their] privacy", saying last year that "no matter how well known you are as a writer, it's almost impossible to imagine what it is like being jerked out of one semi-private life into a more-or-less public life".

He has also warned about the havoc the laureateship can wreak on one's own writing. "I dried up completely about five years ago and can't write anything except to commission," he said last September.

Last week he read out his final piece of public verse, a series of limericks about the budget he composed while in the bath which concluded: "The duty of writing / Lines sharp and exciting / On this – it ain't mine, but my heir's as PL."
 © Guardian News and Media Limited 2009

Friday, May 1, 2009

GHOST ALPHABET, by Al Maginnes

For an interview with Al, go to How A Poem Happens.

Ghost Alphabet
Authors: Al Maginnes
Genre: Poetry
Series: White Pine Press Poetry Prize (
Volume: 13

Al Maginnes was born in Massachusetts and raised in a number of states, mostly in the southeast. In 1991, he published a chapbook, Outside A Tattoo Booth with Nightshade Press. His first full-length collection, Taking Up Our Daily Tools (St. Andrews College Press, 1997), was nominated for the National Book Award and winner of the Oscar Arnold Young Award for best collection of poetry by a North Carolina poet, and The Light In Our Houses (Pleaides Press, 2000), which was the winner of the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Award. His third full length collection, Film History, appeared in 2005 from Word Tech Editions. In 2007 Pudding House Publications published single long poem, Dry Glass Blues, as a chapbook. His poems have appeared in many journals, including Poetry, Shenandoah, The Georgia Review, and Tar River Poetry and have been reproduced on the websites Poetry Daily and Verse Daily. He is on the faculty of Wake Technical Community College in Raleigh NC, where he teaches a variety of composition literature and creative writing courses and runs a reading series. In 1999, he won an Individual Artist’s Grant from the North Carolina Arts Council. He lives in Raleigh with his wife Jamie and their daughter Isabel.

$16.00 96 pages (Original Trade Paperback) ISBN: 1-893996-21-2 2008

Ghost Alphabet

Enough letters have fallen from
the theater’s marquee to make
the feature’s title unreadable.
The patrons will be little help:
some are walked from a group home
for the handicapped or bused in
from the assisted living facility
or they are teenagers stoned on X.
They are there because tickets are cheap,
because light and sound occupy them,
not because anyone cares about
the story unraveling on the screen.
The white space shining between
the remaining letters is pages unwritten,
titles and plots of films never made.
Monk said the notes not played
matter as much as the ones that are.
So the invented or guessed at titles
write themselves in a ghost alphabet,
words structured over the frame
of whatever letters remain.
The couple on the aisle, sharing
a bag of rubbery popcorn, don’t
remember that they were not married
to one another. Content with dark,
they won’t notice if a reel repeats
or plays out of sequence
as sometimes happens. As long
as there is sound and motion, there is
a story to be made from it.
When letters were too plain a task,
the monks assigned to copy documents
began embellishing their script
with drawings, animals curved
in the shapes of letters, seraphim
blessing the wide margins until
decoration began to overwhelm
the precise geometries of text
just as improvisation might
swallow melody. However imperfect
their showings, the movies always
begin on time, relieving
any audience there is of having
to make stories from the wide blank
that echoes the space between letters
and all that finds itself written there.

Firefly Gospel

Because we have made them the intermediaries
   of the stars and, by extension, the planets,

we endow them with an existence larger
  : than the glimmer of one night

or one season, their summer bloom and flicker
   one constant of our time-fogged span.

We know or believe we know how brief
   a firefly’s span, since they die

so easily once captured, but the fire hovering
   green-gold and planetary

in the emptiness between trees might be
   the same glow that cast its lamps

over a back yard in Alabama forty years ago,
   glow I ran through the dark to capture.

Each morning the bodies were shriveled and smelled
   of dead copper, but the hot, burning dimes

of stars always surfaced and were echoed by
   the weaving ballet of fireflies, more light

than anyone could capture. Now I have learned
   those lights, like human voices, are signals,

go-betweens for bodies tired of being told
   they will die, a beckoning

to the oldest orbit bodies know, but I see them
   exactly as I have always wished to see them,

small, stark missionaries descended
   to deliver night’s gospel of fire.

For Phil Terman

You could have been one of the few present that afternoon
deep in some memory crafted to separate that hour
from the blue fog of every other espresso-tarred hour
you spent deep in the haze uttered from the poisonous
black cigarettes you loved then, huddled above the endless chess battle
you fought all that year with Carlos, the two of you matched too evenly
for either one to claim victory, the matches themselves pretext for
more vigorous jousting over being and existence, over books
and the deadly politics of the day, your endless presence permission
to lean in the seen-it-all-and-so-what slouch of a regular while you gave
less than half an ear to the endless flow of bad folk singers who had begun
to replace the bad trios and quartets that had spent seasons mangling
the jazz you loved. At least the bad renditions of “Wild Mountain Thyme”
and “Tom Dula” didn’t make you swear to catch the train to Chicago next time
Miles or Dizzy was appearing there. The power hindsight offers could
let you claim that you roused yourself from the mechanics of pawn-to-queen-four
the moment the boy blew an asthmatic wheeze on his harmonica and bumped
into “Gypsy Davey” or “Man of Constant Sorrow” in a barbed-wire gargle
too old for his soft face. By now you’ve told the story
so often you can’t recall if it’s invention or memory that something, a quick stroke
on the guitar, the voice bending to meet a chord, lifted your head a moment
to see who was singing because you’d heard something old, dark, some mystery
you’d thought confined to the dust-smoothed grooves of 78’s you bought
in pawn shops for pennies, like the Skip James record your ex-wife asked you
not to play when she was around, mystery still locked in the long sentences you read
and in rooms more shadow than wall, more the notion of a coffeehouse
than a coffeehouse, that mystery the single thing in your life you did not have
to share, perhaps could not share, a pleasure that did not become dust, powder,
something spit ruefully from a mouth no longer willing to taste, the way wine, coffee, cigarettes,
even flesh can sour. If you could recall which tune he played, it might
all return in the odor of the candle guttering on the table next to yours, in the drawl
of the waitress telling the man behind the counter of the endless troubles she had
with her lover, her prairie-flat accent, the bend of a brow across the room
as someone frowned over the cigarette he was lighting, the pattern of whorl and scar
in the wood of the table where you sat, pattern endless and embellished as memory,
all might return in the recollection of that song though it would vanish within
the changing of a chord, the noise of someone’s cough, in whatever happened to remind you.
it was late afternoon, when sun made its unwelcome entrance into the room,
flattening all it touched and you were a student in philosophy, sucking the marrow
from the bones of the G.I. Bill, your wife gone to get a quick divorce on her way
to becoming a dancer or marrying a lawyer, and page nineteen of your thesis had been
rolled in the carriage of your Underwood for two weeks, frozen in the time
you came here to find, time to read the armloads of books you bought during two years
of working turns in the steel mill, closer to an earthly vision of hell than
fourteen months in Korea or three months healing in a stateside hospital,
rooms of fever and infected flesh. The short hours of class, the sprawled-out
afternoons and evenings of talk, of large ideas you knew would land you somewhere
so far had only led here, to this slow-warming afternoon, the choreography of chess,
and now the kid was offstage and Carlos was picking up his bishop like he meant
to do real damage this time. You could claim to have seen all along
that the kid had it, but you weren’t there for his next performance or the next.
You were in your tiny apartment with your books and records, swimming
in the slow-moving waves of your thesis, the troubled accumulation of each paragraph
letting you trust language a little less, so when you found yourself at a party
a few weeks later, dazed from typing all day, trying to put into words
all that has for centuries resisted being said, a little wine stunned you, and you dropped
into a chair near a circle of singers playing pass-the-guitar, and the kid
you’d heard at the coffeehouse was there, cocky, out of place, and when you stood
to get more wine, someone told you his name was Bob Dylan,
and he’d been a rock and roll piano player or a rodeo clown before ending up here,
and watching him, you knew how, a few years later, the Nashville pickers would
left their eyebrows when he arrived, these players who could lay down
two-and-a-half of the smoothest minutes that ever rolled out of a car radio
and who could do it every week, hired now by this mumbling Yankee hippie
who arrived without charts or finished songs, just a Canadian guitar player
to flash them the chords before a take. You could have been there,
but of course you were not. You were two when Bob Dylan got onstage in Dinkytown,
nine when he recorded in Nashville, and by the time you got to the party,
he’d vanished, his sly exit still on everyone’s lips, and you were watching the stage
when he came back in the side door, still possessed of the conjurer’s trick
of making your eyes move over here, then back here in time to show you
exactly what he wanted you to see, hiding, then half-showing the newly-remembered mystery,
the swamps and foggy hollows that were his to summon because the greatest mystery,
the subject of all songs, is not what we don’t remember but what we do,
and in this life you imagine for yourself, the kid is leaving the stage,
and Carlos took the bishop, and your defense is crumbling, the entire game changed by a single move.

What Maps Will Not Show

In a strange town, maps become liars.
Landmarks get left out or lie more distant
than illustrations show. Roads sprout
and bend off the memorized route
and by the time you arrive, the courthouse
is dark and locked for the night.
A woman I know gives directions
in terms of what used to be there—Turn
right on the road where Jones had the store
that burned down—assuming no distance
between her history and our own,
the way those who survive an event
are bound by it and a bit incredulous
the same mold has not shaped us all.
The lawyer stacking papers, the bailiff
locking each door he walks through,
the judge, his robe removed, pouring
the single drink he permits himself,
all remember the man awaiting sentencing
who seized an officer’s gun and swung
the barrel in a wide arc before pushing it
under his chin and pulling the trigger.
Seventeen years since then, and they never
speak of it, but if their eyes meet
in court or they pass in the hall,
they nod the casual greeting of those
who have known each other too long
for rank or ceremony. Last week,
the judge saw a man who had paid
to have the image of each internal organ
tattooed across his torso—heart, lungs,
liver. A car accident shattered him
and he lost a lung, a kidney, several yards
of intestine. His chest, road-mapped
by a maze of stitches, healed
into a scarred map of what was there
no longer. His crime was entering
the homes of women he thought he loved
and stealing small, unnecessary items.
When his sentence was given, he said nothing,
only limped from court. A woman
whose coffeepot he’d stolen studied
his movements, his silence, hoping
for some map to explain his actions.
If she sat in the judge’s chamber
to share his single shot of bourbon
or if the judge had come with her for coffee
she paid for and could not drink,
they would agree the sentence meant nothing.
It did not touch him, so it would not touch them.
The judge wouldn’t tell her
that sometimes law and justice seem like towns
miles distant and sparsely populated,
invisible on most maps. That morning
he had hung up on a reporter who wanted
to write another story about the suicide
in the courtroom. The single time
she spoke to the man, he showed her
the inked outlines of his insides and smiled
with pride so bashful, she could not keep
her fingers from touching the broken skin
to feel what fluttered underneath, the muscle
of a heart working and untouched.