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."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009


The Work of Winter (from

By Kathryn Stripling Byer

This time of year poet Adrienne Rich’s words bubble up into my

consciousness: “The work of winter starts fermenting in my head / how with

the hands of a lover or a midwife / to hold back till the time is right.” She

urges to “trust roots” and “learn what an underground journey / has been,

might have to be; speak in a winter code / let fog, sleet, translate; wind, carry


This time of year my imagination wants to trust roots. To go underground

where so much of our inner journey takes place. In other words, it wants

time to think about the origins of memory and language. It’s a time when I

pull out my Oxford English Dictionary, hold up the magnifying glass and

look up the sources of words I use everyday. Where did they come from?

How have they changed? Inevitably, this always leads me back to the

question, “How have I changed?”

Because I recently turned sixty-five, a truth that women of a certain age are

not supposed to own up to, I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “old.” I

don’t feel old, I just feel as if I’ve been around for a long time, learned a lot

(though not enough) and that I’m in my prime.

When I turned to the origins of the word “old,” I found that it’s a very old

word indeed, and that its root many centuries ago meant “to nourish.”

Tracking it into Old English, I discovered that it becomes “oeld,” meaning

mature and lasting, something to be valued. The word appears numerous

times in medieval writings, and nearly always in a positive context.

Knowing this, I now no longer mind thinking of myself being described as


When we begin to think about how our language began, we are drawn back

to a speech that sounded earthy, no trace of Latin in it. A language of

survivors in a cold, rough landscape. Over the years that language changed

by absorbing words from all over the planet, but mostly words from French

and Latin. Just about any word one picks out of a dictionary contains a piece

of that history. The renowned English poet W. H. Auden once said that

every one of his poems is a hymn of praise to the English language. A poet

in any language feels the same way about what we call the mother tongue.

Our mother tongue nourishes us. Just as the word “eald” meant centuries


Each morning my husband reads a page from his “Calendar of Forgotten

English,” a ritual that began 5 years ago when I gave him the 2000 calendar

for Christmas. These calendars collect words no longer in use, or not often,

and they lie on our table, waiting to be read while my husband drinks his

coffee. Words like “flaws” (gust of wind) and “blague” (humbug). Old

words. And, finally, not forgotten. Here they lie beside the cereal box, the

jam and butter, another morning’s invitation to look back and realize what

the word “old” really means. Still here. Ready for another year. Pick a word.

Any word. And it will carry you back to the roots of our language, and

forward into a present made even richer for knowing how the past spoke


Tuesday, December 22, 2009


I wrote this column for my
Language Matters series during the winter of 2006. it seems as resonant now as it did then. I wish all my blog visitors a warm, safe, and restorative holiday.

Words Shining in the Night

By Kathryn Stripling Byer

Nothing brings our language into brighter focus than religious holidays. As we gather to
hear the words of this holiday season, we have lately become more aware of how those
words can both bind us together and push us apart. Just last Christmas, there was an
uproar over greeters at various stores using Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas,
as if the former somehow diminished the latter. Yet, many Americans do not celebrate a
traditional Christmas and many others do not celebrate it at all. Some, like certain Native
American tribes, never have, welcoming the solstice instead with their age-old earth-
based rituals.

So, what to do in our increasingly pluralistic society, where Latino, Arabic, Jewish, African, and
Asian voices are joining the chorus of celebrations? Can we agree at least on the meaning of this yearly
turning, that it pulls us back into the light, if we let it? And that the light can bring us
together, if we let it?

Perhaps learning some new words for light would be a good place to start. Tara, for
example. We English speakers think of Ireland and Scarlett O’Hara’s plantation. But the
word is also Urdu/Hindi for star, descended from the Sanskrit for “shining.” And this
time of year the star shining in the night carries special significance. In Spanish it is the
beautiful word estrella, and in French, etoile. The German star rings in the season as
stern, whose light cuts through the darkness and leads the way to revelation. In Arabic,
the haunting word shihab means flame. How can we deny this light shining in the
darkness, regardless of which word a culture uses to say it? We all light our candles this
time of year and watch the flames dance in the night.

I like the word shihab because it is the given name of a poet I admire, Naomi Shihab
Nye, American-born daughter of a Palestinian journalist and an American Montessori
teacher. For years she has worked to bridge cultural and religious differences, to heal the
divide that keeps us from being able to communicate with one another. Her voice shines
like a candle flame in this season’s dark night of suffering and war.

Her poem “Red Brocade,” begins: "The Arabs used to say,/When a stranger appears at
your door,/feed him for three days/before asking who he is,/where he’s come from,
/where he’s headed./That way he’ll have strength/enough to answer./Or, by then you’ll be
/such good friends/you don’t care. "

"Let’s go back to that," she pleads in the line that follows. No matter the language used, this
time of year we call out to light, not only to the flame of the sun returning to our
hemisphere, but also to the light of understanding. This season challenges us to believe
that our words for that light matter. Call it luz, lumiere, shihab, tara, it means the same
thing: the realization that we are called by the light to live together in peace.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


It's holiday book-buying time, so here are some additional suggestions for gifts. For more ideas, go to the side bar and take a look at the Books of the Week, as well as Poets of the Week. You'll find plenty to entice a reader there.

In part one of our garland, I've gathered three current books NC or former NC writers.

Here's a new book of stories by a long-time friend of mine, poet and Editor of Shenandoah, R.T Smith. I met Rod many years ago at the Critz Writers Workshop, where A. R. Ammons held forth to a motley crew of us aspiring writers in Virginia. Rod has published numerous books of poetry and has edited Shenandoah right up into the top ranks of the country's literary magazines.

This new collection, as Ann Pancake says, "is part bluegrass symphony, part speaking in tongues... it is the most beautifully sung story collection I have read in years."

George Singleton calls some of the characters "wonderfully warped, melodic, Appalachian" and others "flat-out idiomatic poetic," which ought to whet any one's appetite.

On the menu (consider them appetizers):
Cockers for Christ
Tastes Like Chicken
Fig Honey
Red Jar

Sound good? You can go to to order the boo


John Amen's new book, At the Threshold of Alchemy, holds the same intensity and surprising turns of language and perspective that have marked his earlier work. I find his poetry energizing, instructive, exhilarating, and for those long dark nights that follow Christmas, it would be ideal for keeping one's imagination pulsing. John will be coming to WCU in the spring to take part in our WCU Spring Literary Festival, so I will be posting more about him in March.

"Poems such as these, and there are plenty in this book—John Amen’s third—keep resounding in the mind the way great poetry does...."
—Ricardo Nirenberg, Offcourse Literary Journal

John is the author of three collections of poetry: Christening the Dancer (Uccelli Press 2003), More of Me Disappears (Cross-Cultural Communications 2005), and At the Threshold of Alchemy (Presa 2009), and has released two folk/folk rock CDs, All I’ll Never Need and Ridiculous Empire (Cool Midget). He is also an artist, working primarily with acrylics on canvas. Amen travels widely giving readings, doing musical performances, and conducting workshops. Further information is available on his website: http:///. Contact:


Linda Annas Ferguson now lives in Charleston, SC, but she is a native North Carolinian. Her latest book, Dirt Sandwich, is just out from Press 53 in Winston-Salem.

Linda is the author of five collections of poetry, including Bird Missing from One Shoulder (WordTech Editions, 2007); Stepping on Cracks in the Sidewalk (Finishing Line Press, 2006); Last Chance to Be Lost (Kentucky Writers’ Coalition, 2004); and It’s Hard to Hate a Broken Thing (Palanquin Press, University of S.C. Aiken, 2002). She was the 2005 Poetry Fellow for the South Carolina Arts Commission and served as the 2003-04 Poet-in-Residence for the Gibbes Museum of Art in Charleston, S.C. A recipient of the Poetry Fellowship of the South Carolina Academy of Authors, she is a member of the Academy’s Board of Governors. She was a featured poet for the Library of Congress Poetry at Noon Series. Her work is archived by Furman University Special Collections in the James B. Duke Library. A North Carolina native, she now resides in Charleston, SC. Visit her website at

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


Glenda Council Beall's new chapbook, Now Might As Well Be Then, from Finishing Line Press ( deserves many readers. I was honored to write a blurb for it. Glenda has worked wonders for NETWEST as Program Director and deserves our thanks for supporting the literary arts in Western North Carolina. Her new book would make a wonderful Christmas gift for family members. Several in my family will have this chapbook in their stockings!

Often those "supporters" are so busy making sure other writers find what they need to become better at the writer's craft that they don't have time for their own work. That's why I'm so pleased to honor Glenda as Poet of the Week. She's a great SW Georgia girl, and, naturally, I believe those girls have a leg up when it comes to writing poetry!

Here are a few of my favorite poems from her new chapbook.

Woman in the Mirror

What happened to seventeen,
when I rode my mare
free as the river flows,
jumped over downed trees
splashed through narrow streams?

What happened to twenty
when I danced in the moonlight,
my slender form dressed in a gown
white and shimmery as pearl?

What happened to thirty
when I rode my Yamaha
down fire roads, mountain trails,
long black hair flying free?

What happened to those days
I ask the woman in the mirror.
Gone, she says, all gone, unless
you remember it.

In The Dark

Lying in bed, my cheek against your shoulder,
I remember a night, long ago, on your boat.
I was afraid. I felt too much, too fast.
But love crept over us that summer
like silver fog, silent on the lake.
We were never again the same.

We stepped like children through that door that led
to long passages unknown, holding hands, wide-eyed, but brave.
Here I am years later, listening to your soft breath
and feeling your warm smooth skin.
In the dark, now might as well be then.

My Father's Horse

Stickers tear my legs, bare and tan
from South Georgia sun. Long black braids
fly behind me as I sprint like a Derby winner
down the path.

Harnessed with hames, bridle
and blinders, Charlie plods down
the farm road. Tired and wet from sweat,
he is perfume to my nostrils.

My father swings me up. I bury
my hands in tangled mane. My thighs
stick to leather and damp white hair
high above the ground.

I want to sing in glorious joy,
but only croon a child's nonsensical
words, grinning for a hundred yards
between field and barn.

My father's arms are strong.
His hands are gentle. The horse
is all we ever share. For he has sons
and I am just a daughter.

A Long Lost Year
Music making was his talent
taken for granted like water
gushing from our well until
the surgeon’s knife nicked a nerve.

The purple wreath of grief hung
over us until one day above the strum
of his guitar, his notes rang true ―
a lovely instrument restored.

We wept with joy.
His voice is who he is,
always been.

He sings to me again, that same
rich baritone that won me on that first
day we met. I listen with a new ear,
and like a Sinatra fan,
I mellow out.


This weekend offers two reading/signing events in the WNC area. Cecilia Woloch and Kathryn S. Byer will be featured in both. On Saturday evening at 7:00 p.m. at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva,Woloch and Byer will join Mary Adams as she launches her new chapbook Commandment, hot off the press from Spring Street Editions. Mary is a member of the WCU English Faculty; she has been awarded an NEA fellowship and saw her first collection, Epistles from the Planet Photosynthesis, published by the University of Florida Press.

On Sunday, December 6, 2009, Malaprop's Bookstore/Café (55 Haywood
Street in downtown Asheville, NC) will host poets Kathryn Stripling
Byer reading from ARETHA'S HAT: INAUGURATION DAY, 2009; Julia Nunnally
Duncan with AN ENDLESS TAPESTRY and new, unpublished poems; and
Cecilia Woloch, author of CARPATHIA.

Kathryn Stripling Byer, poet laureate of North Carolina from 2005
through June 30, 2009, was born in Southwest Georgia but moved to North
Carolina in 1968 and has lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains ever since.
She is the author of five poetry books, including COMING TO REST
(2006), and most recently (in collaboration with Penelope Scambly
Schott) of the chapbook ARETHA'S HAT: INAUGURATION DAY, 2009. Writing
on the topic "Why We Love North Carolina" for the February 2009 issue
of Our State magazine, Kathryn Stripling Byer noted these particular
highlights of her term as Poet Laureate: the "generous community of
[North Carolina] writers . . . who continue to amaze me with their
talent and energy" and most of all, "the students I've met in our
schools . . . these young faces looking back at me, ready to say who
they are. May we all listen well to them." As poet laureate, Kathryn
Stripling Byer's primary goal was to "help make poetry accessible in as
many ways as I could," through frequent visits to schools and with
writing groups; appearances at bookstores, literary events, and a
variety of public celebrations; a regularly updated poetry page on the
North Carolina Arts Council web site; and her own generous laureate
blog -- as well as by continuing to write and give public readings of her
own poetry. In the process, she has demonstrated the perseverance and
constant delicate balance of energies required to lead a very public
life as a dedicated writer. Asked why she writes poetry, she recently
replied, "It's the best way I know to sing with the world" (Writer's
Digest interview with Robert Lee Brewer, July 2009). We are very happy
to welcome Kathryn Stripling Byer back to "sing" her poetry at Malaprop's.

Julia Nunnally Duncan writes both poetry and fiction. She has
previously published two collections of stories and a novel, and her
second novel, WHEN DAY IS DONE, is just out from March Street Press.
Her Appalachian poems have appeared in scores of literary journals,
and her first published collection of poetry, AN ENDLESS TAPESTRY
(2007), was named a finalist for the 2008 Roanoke-Chowan Award for
Poetry. She recently completed the manuscript for a second collection
of poems, AT DUSK. Rob Neufeld, book columnist for The Asheville
Citizen-Times, wrote of Julia Nunnally Duncan that she is one of four
Western North Carolina "poets to watch." He remarked that her poems
"make the greatest possible use of line breaks, so that individual
phrases glow like haiku observations. Metaphors develop naturally and
emotionally." In a recent article in North Carolina Literary Review,
Jeffrey Franklin observed of AN ENDLESS TAPESTRY, "Duncan always makes
the place solid, the people real, the situation, in all its emotional
complexity and perilousness, rendered with a deceptive simplicity that
quietly resonates. . . .[Her] people are as recognizably human as any
in Shakespeare[.]" Like our other readers for December 6, Julia
Nunnally Duncan is at once a dedicated writer and an experienced
teacher; she has served as a full-time English instructor at McDowell
Community College for nearly two and a half decades. At Malaprop's,
she will read selections from AN ENDLESS TAPESTRY and from her
manuscript, AT DUSK.

CARPATHIA is Cecilia Woloch's fifth poetry collection. Published in
2009, it went into a second printing about two months after its
official publication date. Natasha Trethewey, Pulitzer Prize-winning
poet, has written of CARPATHIA, "The poems . . . are guided by an
exquisite lyricism and heartbreaking emotional honesty. . . . This is
a gorgeous book by a poet who is passionately alive in the world."
Cecilia Woloch has traveled widely and taught just as widely, offering
poetry workshops for children and adults across the United States and
in several locations abroad. She serves as a lecturer in creative
writing at the University of Southern California and is founding
director of the Paris Poetry Workshop. The recipient of numerous
awards for her writing, teaching and theatre work, in 2009 alone,
Cecilia Woloch has been recognized as a finalist in the California
Book Awards of The Commonwealth Club of California for her 2008
chapbook, NARCISSUS; as a finalist for the Pablo Neruda Prize in
Poetry at Nimrod; as the first prize winner of the New Ohio Review
Prize in Poetry; and as a Fellow at the Center for International
Theatre Development/US Artists Initiative in Poland.

Please join us in welcoming three distinguished poets on December 6,
and begin your holiday season with poetry!

Poetrio: Kathryn Stripling Byer, Julia Nunnally Duncan, Celia Woloch
Sunday, December 6, 2009, 3:00 p.m.
Malaprop's Bookstore/Café
55 Haywood Street
Asheville, NC 28801
(828) 254-6734