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.

HERE, WHERE I AM HAS BEEN NAMED ONE OF THE 30 BEST POETRY BLOGS.

How a Poem Happens: http://www.howapoemhappens.blogspot.com/

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."

Saturday, October 31, 2009

POET OF THE WEEK: PETER BLAIR

While judging the Nazim Hikment Festival poetry contest last spring, I kept coming back to a set of poem that moved me with their perspective and their language. They turned out to be by Peter Blair, a widely published poet who is now teaching at UNC-Charlotte. Peter did not make the final list of winners, but his poems stayed with me. They deserve a wide readership.


(See review at end of post)



Peter Blair’s first full-length book Last Heat, won the 1999 Washington Prize and was published by Word Works Press. Born in Pittsburgh, he has worked in a psychiatric ward and a steel mill, and served three years in the Peace Corps in Thailand.
Peter Blair has a Ph.D. in American Literature from the University of Iowa. He has worked in a steel mill, a psychiatric ward, and served three years in the Peace Corps in Thailand. He has published three chapbooks, INSIDE THE TRACKHOE, A ROUND, FAIR DISTANCE FROM THE FURNACE, and FURNACE GREENS all of which won national contests. His first full-length collection, LAST HEAT, won the 1999 Washington Prize and is forthcoming in February from Word Works Press. About his work, Alicia Ostriker has written:

"Peter Blair's poetry takes me right inside a place I've never been, the working life of a steel mill. God is in the details, and they are good and strong here."

His poems have appeared in CRAZYHORSE, RIVER CITY, POETRY EAST, and WEST BRANCH. He has received two Pennsylvania Council On the Arts Grants for poetry.

Peter lives in Charlotte, NC, with his wife and son.

Walking the Crosses with Jim Villano,

St. Vincent College Reunion



The newly cut grass over the graves

of the Benedictine monks says what

it always says: I’m green. I grow. I die.



The metal crosses marking each plot

line up over the hill, contoured

to the dips and knolls of the land.



They proclaim their names and dates,

like an inevitable iron grass that says what iron

always says: I was hot. I cooled. I rust.



Jim and I walk to the end of the line,

the most recent crosses, Father Ronald,

Father Alexander. We talk about all-nighters



studying for Father Alex’s economics finals,

Macro and Micro. Ronald, the Academic

Dean, knew all the favorite student haunts



off campus, told my father what he wanted

to hear: that I should be a Bio. major to get in

to Med. School. Heads down, eyes on the graves



where the crosses enter the earth, we can’t

say what we’re thinking. So we let the wind

whisper and lisp, what the wind always



says, I rush. I sigh. I’m nothing.



____________________________________________________________________



Discussing the Dream of Culture with Professor Kwaam

At the corner of Somprasong and Petchaburi

we sit at a rickety metal table. Our soup steams

in sidewalk sunlight. Cars crawl on the street

like the streams of ants up and down the shop wall.

His shiny head fuzzed with new hair,

eyebrows shaved clean, Kwaam smiles, ethereal,

kind: Thai and American cultures, two dreams

of one world, the Dharma. A few months ago

he taught me Thai and how to read palms:

A good way to hold hands with a girl. He winked.

Now, he's one day out of a monastery and saffron

robes. Noodles slip off my novice chopsticks.

My soup darkened by soy sauce, peanuts,

sugar, the strands disappear in my bowl.

Kwaam's noodles twine in clear broth.



At the plywood counter, I buy another soup.

The cook dunks a strainer of beef chunks

in boiling water. The red meat turns gray

and rubbery in bubbling froth. He dumps them

into a bowl with cilantro, sprouts, broth

and a fleshy lump of noodles. So, what is Dharma?

I set the dish on the table. Dharma is the empty

bowl. Joking, again. The sky's blue, like a bowl

overturned on market stalls and bleached

white buildings. The abbot took us to an autopsy.

They cut open a woman, removed the heart,

liver, intestines. He tells me about shriveled skin,

hollow rib cages arching over tables,

pails of limp, gray organs. Dharma.



My soup steams. My abdomen's distended.

The market gurgles ageless sounds around us.

I can't look at Kwaam's sad, triumphant smile,

or the emptiness deepening in his sunlit bowl.



Previously published in Visions International






The following were orginally published in Poetry magazine.




Bangkok, First day
1

100 off the plane.
Humid jet-fuel fumes
mingle with the jasmine lei
the Education Ministry staffer
eases around my neck.
In the distance
a mountain rises:
sapphire smog.

2

We drink quart beers at noon
in the outdoor market. Bright
blue tabletops. Tarps block
the white hot sun among whiffs
of charcoal and sweet coconut curry.
In the cool shadows of an overpass,
Pepsi crates totter on ice chunks
hidden under rags and sawdust.
Flames leap from a nearby wok.
The cook smiles: "Pak Fay, green
vegetables of fire. Eat them and cry."

3

On a blanket by the sidewalk,
people passing, a man's calloused toes
grip bamboo strands, thread them
through a round frame. His arm stumps
twitch above his lifting
calves and flexing knees. Beside him,
a stack of baskets grows on the cement.

4

At the temple, pineapple wedges
stacked crosswise gleam
on the vendor's cart, sliced
sunshine, brilliant
as the gold leaf peeling
from Buddha's face.

5

The exhaust-filled surges
of taxis, busses, trucks
thunder by the child
islanded in the intersection.
The twilight sun thickens
the air around him. He sells
jasmine flowers, holds them
dangling high over his head
as if saving them from a flood.

6

In a restaurant we order "soup."
Knotty viscera, tough gray rings,
and burgundy blood cubes
gleam in steamy broth.
"Come on," Ed laughs.
"Eat your entrails."

7

In the Mississippi
Queen on Patpong Road, her hands
rub my back, silky snakes
up and down my spine.
Swaying on platforms, girls
dance in bikinis, hypnotic
in swirls of incense and bar smoke.
I watch her oval sienna face
in the mirror's steamboat glitter,
eclipsed by naked legs. She whispers,
in my ear, "I do anything
for you. Try me."

8

"No one sleeps till dawn,"
we all say, walking, 4 am.
In a market gearing up
for morning, bloody eyes.
A just-slaughtered
buffalo's skull watches us
from behind the red mound
of its butchered flesh.

9

A sucking "woof," like a snuffed
candle flame against
my ear, the stone
clatters into metal
shop gates. "Farang! Foreigner!"
floats in from wherever
my fear is. We turn,
and six trishaw drivers lounge,
feet up on handlebars,
across the street.

Bangkok Roundabout

Movie billboards blot out a six-story building.
"This Week": a bare-chested man kung-fu kicks
on a flaming yellow background, leaps over
tiny scampering armies while cities burn.
"Coming Soon": a prisoner, handcuffed in blue rags,
towers sadly over the sidewalk. In painted insets,
a judge ponders scales, a woman fingers a gun.

Below, where the scaffold-poles rise from grass,
families live. A mother shifts a steaming pot
on a charcoal brazier. Her boy chases chickens.
Their laundry hangs under the burning cities
and the huge feet of the prisoner.

(originally appeared in PIGEON CREEK)

Friday For the River

After work, you bring a yellow envelope
stuffed with tips from The Wheel Cafe.
My check from St. Francis Hospital
bears the saint's image, arms raised in prayer.
This week we had two on suicide watch,
and a schizophrenic wrote his name in shit
on the quiet room wall. We stroll into the cold,
windless evening. It's Friday, an illusion
of completeness upon us. Walking twilit streets
to the river, we pass people jostling home
or cramming into happy hours. Lights switch on
along the wharf, and the sky's muted blue
corona fades behind Coal Hill.

The river gives back everything
the sky sends down. The bridge arcs into
its reflection, a perfect ellipse of girders.
The hill carries its dark complement, houses
clinging to its underbelly. Along West End,
the lamps set down spikes of light
that shiver in the gloom of the river bend,
the water surface invisible. You lean
against me, your eyes luminous
as the blue water. We look over the levee,
down into a stillness that contains us,
a stillness where a red full moon rises
into the depths of the Allegheny.

© All Copyright, 2000, Peter Blair.
All Rights Reserved. Printed By Permission.






THE DIVINE SALT
by Peter Blair
Autumn House Press (2003) 64 pages
ISBN 0969941977, Poetry

One of the qualities I admire most in a poet is good judgment, and Peter Blair has it in ample supply. In The Divine Salt, Blair tackles a tough subject gracefully with poems about his experiences as an aide in the psychiatric ward of St. Francis Hospital in Pennsylvania.

His good judgment shows up first in the all-important choice of the opening poem, “Driving to Work,” which perfectly sets the tone of the collection. St. Francis Hospital/ looms above Bloomfield,/ two wings of burnt brick, its medieval/ spire a dark candle flame./ I’ve seared my mind in its heat:/ belted men to a steel bed/ . . . walked them/out of electroshock. . . With this passage, Blair establishes himself as both a participant and a witness to the inescapable emotional brutality of life—if you can call it that—in a psychiatric ward populated with characters who suffer from acute mental illness, are often tormented and sometimes violent.

As a witness, the author is always present in the poems, though he wisely keeps the focus on the subject—usually a patient—rather than himself. In doing so, he tells a ripping good narrative in language that is plain but compelling, while managing to keep enough emotional distance from his subjects to avoid melodrama. In “Donna Lee Polito,” the speaker is a psychiatric aide (the author, based on his bio), who escorts a female patient from one floor of the hospital to another. We learn that the patient has been improving, or so it appears: this is her first time off the locked floor/ in months. . ./ She’s tried suicide five times in three years. . ./ She’s been fine for weeks: helpful, bright, written on her chart. Confident of her cooperation, the aide is stunned when Donna Lee makes a break for it. He chases her down the street, but she gets away. From the eighth floor window, nurses watched/ her run, a tiny wavering figure, escaping/ all of us. . . She jumped this time,/ vaulting over the red railing from the high cement/ of the Bloomfield Bridge down/ to railroad tracks and scrubby trees.

The action and drama of the events depicted in Donna Lee’s rush to suicide are quite enough for the reader to handle without having the author report on his feelings. Assuming this is either a true story or based on real events, the author/narrator must have been devastated. Again, Blair has the good judgment to report the events objectively. It is only later, in “Lunch Break Between Wings,” that he chooses to let us see his remorse, and even here, he writes with commendable restraint: A cyclone of leaves and dust whirls/ . . . like the blinding/ restless grief// she must have felt on the bridge, high/ above the ragged treetops, Donna Lee,/ lost in the air// above the tracks. The rustling wind dusts my eyes. The passage ends with his too-late lament, Donna Lee, don’t leave.

In “St. Francis Night Shift,” Blair speaks directly to the irony of trying to help people who don’t want to be helped. I’m an aide, but who do I aid,/ holding a patient down,/ as the nurse peels off jeans and underwear/ to expose the white flank of buttock/ to the needle? In “Doctor Strong,” a code phrase for “patient is violent, we need help!” we learn that Blair is sometimes the one helped and at other times, the helper. Sometimes I am Dr. Strong: my hands pin elbows and forearms, or pry a patient’s hand from an aide’s neck.

I looked up the web site for St. Francis hospitals (there are many, all associated with the Catholic Order of St. Francis). One of their guiding principles is that they “never make inappropriate or negative remarks” about their patients. Though many of the characters in this collection behave quite badly—punching out the medical staff, screaming, soiling their sheets—Blair holds true to this Franciscan ideal throughout the book. Not once does he stoop to disparage those who are afflicted with mental illness.

The title poem bears an epigraph in which the author reminds us that St. Francis himself was sometimes “laughed at as a lunatic and driven away with many insults and stones.” In contrast, The Divine Salt regards the mentally ill with compassion and respect. St. Francis would have been pleased.

Richard Allen Taylor


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

THE SOUL TREE: POEMS AND PHOTOGRAPHS OF THE SOUTHERN APPALACHIANS



Published and printed in Asheville, North Carolina by Grateful Steps Publishing.

The poet and photographer will be at the Great Smoky Mountains Book fair. The Soul Tree would make a perfect Christmas Gift. Or several.

To say that Laura Hope-Gill and John Fletcher, Jr. have put together one of the most beautiful books I've ever seen would be an understatement. Here is a collaboration that expands the definition of that word. It's a seamlessly interwoven collection of words and images that invite and inspire, in the the original meaning of that over-used term. Laura's poems show the depths of her poetic "inseeing, " Rilke calls it, and Fletcher's photographs open up the landscape that Laura sings into being with her words. The Soul Tree speaks to the landscapes of internal and exterior reality. In this collection those two landscapes have found harmony through two artists working together in celebration of what they love.


Laura Hope-Gill is in the process of being certified as a Certified Applied Poetry Facilitator by the National Federation for Poetry Therapy, working under the mentorship of poet and psychotherapist Perie Longo. The Director of Asheville Wordfest, a free poetry festival which presents poetry as Citizen Journalism, she consciously pursues ways of revealing poetry’s relevance to every-day life and not merely an “art form” whose only use is to beautiful. The Soul Tree: Poems and Photographs of the Southern Appalachians (Grateful Steps, Asheville) is a collaboration with local photographer John Fletcher, Jr. and is an application of her vision of poetry as a conversation between inner and outer worlds.



Renowned photographer John Fletcher has this to say about the beginnings of their collaboration.

"After visiting my landscapes website in the spring of 2008, Laura replied with an email containing an attachment titled, 'The Soul Tree.' I was stunned after reading the poem, then I noticed that there were 35 more pages to the document. My jaw dropped a little lower each time I scrolled to the next poem…36 in all. I was speechless.Not only was her writing beautiful and poignant, but her poetry brought new life to the photographs. I was also quite overwhelmed by her choice of photos…not the pretty sunset pictures that most people like. She was inspired by the photos that were my favorites…the mysterious and more abstract images that I feel personify my experience and observations.



Today I continue this pursuit by working as a staff
photographer for the Asheville Citizen-Times, shooting
weddings, and freelancing for regional and national
clients including, USA Today, The Associated Press,
MSNBC, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and
the Asheville Chamber of Commerce."

Images and poems from The Soul Tree may be found at http://www.thsoultree.org/, along with ordering information and more about the two artists who have brought this lovely book into existence.

Here are two pages from the book.



Sunday, October 25, 2009

COLLOQUY IN BLACK AND WHITE by NANCY DILLINGHAM




Nancy Dillingham has a new book of poetry out from Catawba Publishers (www.catawbapublishing.com) titled Colloquy in Black and White. The poems are sometimes stark, always accessible. Nancy is a 6th generation Dillinghamm from Big Ivy in western North Carolina. She has published several books of poetry, as well as essays and articles. She lives in Asheville with her cat named Serendipity.


Nancy has been growing by leaps and bounds as a poet, and this new collection shows ample evidence of her growth. She is becoming a fearless poet, taking on subjects that might daunt others. She's a mountain woman who knows her landscape and its dark places well.

She can confront them, all the while singing the light and the love of place. She reads widely, she listens, she challenges herself, without losing the moorings that keep her steady as a poet and an inhabitant of these mountains. She will be at the Great Smoky Mountains Book Fair, and I hope that other festivals and reading series across the state will begin to take notice of her work.




Suite on Love

Sitting here
fifty years later
as you whisper me
happy birthday
and our younguns
sing around us
grown
with children of their own

I want to say
it is you
not the candles
on the cake
that takes my breath away

Too late coming to love
I made the usual blunders

A blush away from a baby
it was a tom-fool thing
for me to do
bringing you
country ham
cured sweet as honey
biscuits and gravy
stack cake

How could
I lie
with you
after you left me
for a roll
in the hay
with the first hussy
that gave you the eye?


Spitfire
you called me later
bleeding
like a stuck pig
where I struck
you with a piece
of stove wood
and you slapped me

Sitting here
as I think of all the pain
yours is the only music I hear
and I want to tell you
everything still seems the same
like the first time
clear as a bell

right as rain





Legacy

My aunt sat on her front porch
in a chair bottomed with strips of tires
slinging her crossed leg, dipping snuff

Your great-grandmother ruled
with an iron hand
and Grandpa was a rounder, she said

Double Dillinghams they were
cousins marrying cousins
Elbert and Mary

Owned land as far as the eye could see
all the way up to the Coleman Boundary

They say he courted her by bringing armfuls of flowers
picked by the roadside or out of other people's yards
traded his mule for a chestnut mare

Carried her around in a hand basket after they married
all the while making time with the hired help

The house stood right over there on the hill
where the graveyard is today--they gave the land

A smile threatened the corners of my aunt's wrinkled mouth
and a small rivulet of snuff ran down one side

After he died
Grandma didn't take to widow's weeds
said they didn't become her

She'd sit on the porch cooling Sunday afternoons in the summer
after cooking cut-off corn and baking soft butter biscuits
She'd throw back her head and cackle

I ought to have taken me a young lover
just to bedevil Elbert, she'd say

But he'd have dragged chains up and down the stairs at night
and, after my laying out, danced on my grave for spite

My aunt's face softened
A long time passed before she spoke again

We grandchildren would play on the porch
run the length of it back and forth
like fighting fire

or stand under the arbor eating pink grapes
clear as glass and sweet as honey
bees buzzing a halo over our heads

Sometimes when I look really hard
I can just see Grandma
coming over the ridge

her bright apron glowing
waving like a flag
calling me home


Signs

Whenever you go looking for what’s lost, everything is a sign.”
Eudora Welty


I have not bled
this month, Mother
and I am afraid

Just yesterday
a bird flew into the living room
losing its way

I didn’t sleep a wink last night
A dog howled outside my window
and the clock didn’t strike

Must have been midnight
I saw Will’s first wife plain as day
standing over my bed

glistening with sweat
crying with no sound
holding her dead baby

all the while
Will sleeping quietly
beside me

I felt the same fear
I saw in her face
this time last year

You remember, don’t you, Mother?
You asked me to help with the birthing
It was my first time

You cut cotton strips
and bound her wrists
to the bedposts

I placed the small, round stick
you handed me
into her mouth

bathed her face
as you commanded her
to bear down

I remember most the silence
as I watched you wrap the baby—stillborn
in the same soft cloth

And I can never forget the look
in Will’s eyes at the funeral
when he finally raised them

and gazed at me
as if seeing me
for the first time

Tiny shivers
ran up and down my spine
and my whole body shook

as he took a sprig of white lilac
from his wife’s casket
and handed it to me

He’s out there now
on the front porch
drinking his coffee

staring over the valley
looking at rows and rows
of newly-planted fields

seeing the cattle
grazing on the hill
below the graveyard

the headstone visible still
in its rising up
and shining in the light



Daddy’s Girl


With a wink and a leer
her daddy holds
the cold open can of beer
tantalizingly near

tickling her nose
Through bow-like lips
eager as a baby bird
she sates her thirst

with a single sip
laughs a giggly
hiccupping laugh
then burps

Putting up one perfect hand
she catches a trickle of froth
as it bursts like broth
from her soft pink mouth










Thursday, October 22, 2009

FIRST LIGHT: NCETA HIGH SCHOOL LAUREATE AWARD WINNING POETS








HIGH SCHOOL DIVISION



First Place (tie)
Sarah Brady

Holly Springs High School (now attending UNC-CH)

Vocabulary Words


The oak tree outside my window is changing colors
in a kind of passive acquiescence it seems, the green fading and
shocks of crimson and burgundy cropping up each afternoon,
effervescent in the dappled sunlight.

Last year my eager classroom learned
chlorophyll, pigment, carotenoid.
These words we committed to memory meant no more to us
than the faded shots of far-off guns in far-off lands
or the true meaning of the white flower in Frankenstein
or the piece of paper encased in glass, guaranteeing life liberty
and the pursuit of happiness.

Sometimes I wonder if we’re maybe learning
all the wrong things in our cubes of classrooms.
Present tenses and past participles, the War of 1812,
the quadratic formula crowd around my ears and sure
I can recite the Pledge of Allegiance in two languages
but it doesn’t mean that I understand the meaning.
Patriotism. Warfare. Peace. Loyalty.

It’s all as distant to me as the struggle for color in a single autumn leaf.
War is that something in the headlines, peace the brass ring forever
reached for. Honor has been recycled into respect, love deemed too idealistic,
ethics murdered in the second-floor stairwell.
And in the end, I am lost,
stuck between textbook precision and real-life passion,
a choice that I will not make.






(Sarah Brady)



Erin Walklet



Cardinal Gibbons High School, Raleigh



A??π? (agape)





It echoes in my mind.
Eternally, slowly.
Resounding with nothing
Our ears could perceive.
It reverberates in my heart.
Aching. Clenching. Rugged.
I can’t forget as I
Dream.
Just dream.
Wisplike strands catch between my lips.
The whisper of fingers brushing,
And the concentration of your gaze is
Enveloping like the
Clouds rotating in heavenly
Traffic,
Hesitant as they paint the sky
Columns of sour orange and lingering pink,
Pausing as they turn towards the sun.
As I wait here,
Wait for the time to turn round,
Please remember even
When the night is a deep vacuum,
Locking your hands into empty shells
And the stars are shattered and blank,
Remember it crashes within me
As well.
It’s your choice I hold onto,
Your voice in the darkness that
I wait for. To the quiet I tell:
Stay when only the silence remains,
And company is the space between your thoughts.
Hold onto the hope that someday
From the hole something eternal will form.
Think instead of the way
Sea melts into sky and
The blueness begins to burn
Onto your eyelids.
The way that skin and sand and salt could
Comfort in an ironic way.
Two palms back to back,
Fitting
And sideways smiles
Reflected.
We made up our own words,
Counting the waves of spiraling light that surged and fell,
Dispersing on faces upturned, exuberant, and
It was enough.





(Erin Walklet)

Second Place: (3-way tie)




Courtney Duckworth




R. L. Patton High School
(Morganton, NC)



ode to karen dalton





pucker for me, babe:
break loose twelve bars fluttering solo
thru bent notes and fish-lip
pentatonics. i want glissando,
the electric meow of sirens, a junkyard
angel's catcall singular as gospel truth.
lay your banjo screeching pizzicato
into my palm, soften twelve-string ballads
with your teeth, malleable like gold leaf.
you could make chocolate melt
with that syntax, could erect
a bonfire seance for your cherokee
ancestors. belt trying again. sing it like
sculpting a dove out of butter,
like throwing a corn husk doll into
the wide open prairie, searching for it
barefoot, skirts hitched. i know
you're from oklahoma, babe, but
i don't think you're a hillbilly. you can
borrow my clothes, i promise;
you can sing love notes on the porch
when our feet are lying together (wife
& wife), folded upwards like casual
prayer to the sky. i'll tell you who
loves you the best, but i won't tell you
it's me.





(Karen Dalton, folk and blues singer/musician)




Chelsea Hansen





Penn-Griffin School for the Arts
High Point



Met Death






Met death on the street today
shook his hand
felt like my own



Met death on the street today
No scythe or black robe
just a brown cap and a briefcase
Hair was falling out like autumn trees


Met death on the street today
gravity pulls him down further than most
He slugs around like he’s running through water


Met death on the street today
His mouth was a chimney
smelled like a house set afire


Met death on the street today
I tasted his breath
He’s had a pack or two


Met death on the street today
Met his gaze
looking in the reflection on the water
eyes
like shards of glass





Maria Evans
Leesville Road High School, Raleigh (Now at UNC-CH)



A Breath
The smell of gasoline wafts past
in the wake of a faded blue Toyota.
Choking on fume-filled air,
a middle-aged man glances up
from his novel, his inhalation of
words having been interrupted.
In the wind are
precious pages of another world,
the scent of knowledge.
Another seat down, a woman glares,
popping echoes in her head—
this evening’s meal.
Chopping carrots, mashing
potatoes
requires consideration
as well, but first
here is the bus.
Sliding along metal rails
guiding hands more coarse
than sandpaper, more gentle
than a fawn. Catching the
sun, a gold watch
glitters from the delicate wrist
of an elegant woman running
from life.



Maria Evans



Honorable Mentions:

Allison Kupatt

Enloe High School, Raleigh


Cult Classics

Once Upon a Time, I walked with a zombie
And the spirits thought to leave me alone.
Ah, dreams and nightmares, they scare me equally:
All the secret meanings I want to avoid, lead up to
What I remember in the early morning.
I wish I could avoid the dead-fish stares
Of plastic stars and bleached smiles,
While the ghosts of the celluloid past glare through
The iron fences. I’m left with all those nightmares,
Flitting like memories while I stroll down boulevards.
Walking in the waking world is like
A bit part in a cult classic, only for me, the
Zombies and voodoo ceremonies are real—
They just take place at the subway platforms and coffee shops,
This has always been true, I just didn’t open my eyes.
Oh, I miss the Good Old Days, when
Zombies didn’t make house calls, and
I could relax amidst my toy box and cartoon reels.
There’s something to say for Ignorance and Bliss,
But still, those memories are all bittersweet.
I walked with a zombie one morning,
And it changed my ways, my knowledge for the world.
The spirits left me alone with the black-and-white ghosts.
I mediate the battle between dreams and nightmares,
And learn to be less afraid.




People dressed as Zombies for Halloween (Wikipedia)


Amanda Honey
Carrboro High School



Runners

Hot air rises from the concrete
in swift, promising ringlets.
The noon sun bearing down on
unsuspecting townsmen.
Runners take their ritual jog,
stealing through each trail in all their
paled, sweated, short-shorted glory.
Soft claps of conversation left in their wake,
only spoken between soles and dry Carolina clay.
Moistened breaths quickened and whispered,
living to quiet the air.
Slight ups-and-downs of chests
oxidizes blood cells and
gives the Earth reason to revolve once again.
Maybe if there was one skipped step
the world would cease to move.
And we would be sent tumbling
into the blazing sun,
bones incinerated into the body's
last action of that day.
Maybe.
But the jaunt is not slowed,
the step not skipped,
and these runners never still.

Rachel Thompson




Penn-Griffin School for the Arts, High Point


Aqua, Terra, and Zephyr



When a mothers’ child is abused by another, would the mother want revenge?



Aqua: I smiled when they sailed across me
Splashing their faces with the sea water
Gladly providing them with the molecule for life; the universal solvent.
But they dumped their trash in me
Leaving a scar twice the size of Texas in the center of my back.
Then blamed me when tsunamis crushed their factories
And when hurricanes plumaged their cities.

Terra: Initially, I didn’t mind when they cut off my limbs.
I was happy to give them firewood.
But they wouldn’t give be a break;
Kept on chopping off my arms and legs
Wired their own electric system through me.
Then blamed me when my blood boiled over
Destroying their precious wooden houses.
And when infertile soil wouldn’t grow the trees that they’d just cut down.


Zephyr: I gently moved their bonfire smoke
And brought the rains to dampen their factory smoke
But I started coughing after a while.
I got sick, and bringing the winds took longer.
Their cars and planes didn’t help either;
They started to tear a hole in my cloak, my armor, their armor.
Then blamed me when I rained their pollutants back at them
And when tornadoes tore their material things away from them.




Earth Seen from Apollo 17


Megan Przybyla
Leesville Road High School, Raleigh




Summertime

Late July:
Sunshine grates
On parched skin,
Scraping until red faces
Cower in the shade.
Humid air winds
Around languid limbs,
As sticky
And smothering
As plastic wrap
Around a squashed
Peanut butter
And grape jelly
Sandwich.
Flies zip by
With the buzz
Of an electric razor
At 6 AM
As angels
Crack their knuckles
With resonating
Booms!
From behind stone-gray
Fortresses.
The world smells like hope.






Song of the Angels by Bouguereau, 1825–1905.

About Our Poets



(All poets were invited to send biographical information.)
This year our Middle School poets were outstanding. Christopher J. Murphy (CJ) is fifteen years old. He was born and raised in Lincoln County. He has attended Lincoln County Schools since kindergarten. His hobbies include riding four-wheelers, hunting, fishing, and hiking with his friends. A member of the class of 2013, he says he is very proud that his poem won this award. He plans to go into construction upon graduation: anything but roofing! Falecia Metcalf lives in Weaverville, where she is an 8th grader at North Buncombe Middle School. She says, “I love to read and write. As for writing poems I really got kicked off this year when we started our poetry unit. Then from there I have kept on writing and actually couldn't stop! The poems come to me quicker than I can write them down sometimes. Mrs. Young, my 7th grade Language Arts Teacher at North Buncombe Middle School and sponsor for the NC Student Poet Laureate Contest, really encouraged me to write, along with my family.” Allie Sekulich has been devoted to writing over the years, and in 2007 & 2008, with the help of a great teacher, she entered numerous writing contests. In addition to winning second in a NC State Fair Essay contest, she entered and won The Raleigh News and Observer’s Character Education Essay Contest, receiving a pair of tickets to see a basketball game for that greatest of Universities, North Carolina State! Besides reading and writing, Allie plays piano and has a passion for figure skating. She is starting her 7th grade year at Neuse Charter Middle School in Smithfield.





Several of our high school winners recently entered college. Sarah Brady, a freshman at UNC-Chapel Hill, is considering majoring in Journalism or English. She was a semifinalist for the Morehead-Cain Scholarship and the Thomas Wolfe Scholarship. She was named the News and Observer female scholar athlete of the year. At UNC, she hopes to write for The Daily Tarheel. Some of her favorite activities are reading, writing in her journal, backpacking, and running. Maria Evans, having graduated from Leesville Road High school, also is a freshman at UNC, where she attends as a Teaching Fellow. Writing will no doubt be an important part of her life as a teacher. Allison Kupatt writes poetry, short stories, and comics. She too is currently attending UNC-CH.



Rachel Thompson and Chelsea Hansen are musicians as well as writers. Both attend Penn-Griffin School for the arts in High Poet. Chelsea, the daughter of Scott and Tazmen Hansen, is a junior and a guitar student at Penn-Griffin. In ninth grade, she fell in love with writing. She has received an honorable mention in the haiku contest sponsored by the North Carolina Poetry Society. Rachel, the daughter of Gary and Lynda Thompson, is a junior and an orchestra student, a violinist,. She wants to write a novel one day. Her poetry has won honorable mentions in contests sponsored by the Phoenix Festival and N. C. Poetry Society, as well as a second prize from Muse on Greensboro, a contest sponsored by the Greensboro Public Library. . Amanda Honey, from Chapel Hill, attends Carrboro High School. Courtney Duckworth lives at the edge of the Blue Ridge mountains. She is 16 years old and a senior at Patten High School in Morganton. Her English teacher is Mr. John Zimmerman. This summer she attended Governor's School East in Raleigh, studying Poetry with instructor Chuck Sullivan. Megan Przybyla is a junior at Leesville Road High School. She is a voracious reader and loves the sticky sweetness of summertime. She is excited to be included in this booklet, which is her first publication. Erin Walklet is a junior at Cardinal Gibbons High School, a member of the Lancer Club and National Honors Society. She plays club soccer with CRSC in Raleigh. She would like to keep writing and is considering a degree in that field.



NCETA Student Laureate Poetry Contest
The contest is open to all North Carolina Students in Grades 6-8 and 9-12.
Awards
Each winner (Middle and High School) will receive $250.00 and a framed copy of his or her winning poem printed on a broadside. Each Second Place winner (Middle and High School) will receive $50.00. All winners will be recognized by North Carolina’s poet laureate at NCETA’s annual conference and have their winning poems published on the NCETA and the NC Arts Council Websites. If no poems qualify for the title of NC Student Poet Laureate, no award will be given and the reigning student laureate will maintain the title for another year.

Requirements
Updated requirements for the 2010 contest will be posted on the NCETA site (www.ncenglishteacher.org) and made available through other sources of information. The deadline is April 15.

Namesake and History
In 2007, Kathryn Stripliing Byer, North Carolina's Poet Laureate, and her family established the North Carolina Student Poet Laureate Awards in memory of her father, C.M. Stripling. Kathryn Byer has lived in western North Carolina since 1968, when she received her MFA degree from UNC-G. Her father, a farmer, became one of Georgia’s most respected spokesmen for agriculture and conservation. The love of language, literature, and teaching runs in the family. Her grandmother and great-grandmother were teachers, and her husband, James Byer, served as Head of the English Department at WCU. Their daughter Corinna was a 1996 Amy Charles and NCETA Writing Award winner.



FIRST LIGHT: MIDDLE SCHOOL WINNING POEMS




MIDDLE SCHOOL DIVISION


First Place


C. J. Murphy
West Lincoln Middle School




Where I Come From



I come from the smell of
Fresh cut grass on an old dirt road, off
a two-lane black top.
Old lawn mowers shade the yard.
A squirrel dashes up an oak tree
in a stream of smoke and lead.
Grandma with a basket full of eggs,
Grandpa and Dad working,
Sharing a spit cup, working
In the old tin building,
Uncle Mike tuning his Camero,
Cousin Hannah, drinking a Nehi,
watching the chickens picking the ground.

My cousin Johnnie and me in the tree stand
in the old pasture by the creek,
watching the field like a hawk
through the scope of an ought-two-seventy.
(But when Mom yells “Supper’s ready!” we
Hop in the pickup with chicken and
blackberry pies on our minds.)
I walk in with mud on my boots
And Mom says, “What? Were you raised in a barn?”
(But after lunch, dressed up and armed
With Bibles, we hop in the truck
And head for evening service.)






Second Place


Falecia Metcalf
North Buncombe Middle School




The Rain


It starts out quietly,
slow and steady
each beat round and perfect.
Then ever so quickly
it becomes harsh and cold,
hitting faster and harder each time.
In the midst of it all
a shrill cry can be heard.
Where did it come from?
No one knows.
It haunts the night
and threatens to disappear,
although it never does.
I love the rain.
It brings out a dark side in me.
It makes me love scary stories
and ghosts.
It brings me peace, though,
in the worst of my nights.
It slowly sings me to sleep
with its majestic lullaby.
It doesn’t bring me anger or fear—
it soothes me.
There is something about it,
I would never guess,
That draws me to it
without ever uttering a word.
It carries me off to ride in the dark,
A person without a care,
yet it haunts me;
it loves me still.


Honorable Mention


Allie Sekulich
Neuse Charter Middle School


On the Ice

Deep lungfuls of the icy cold air
Step on to glowing white ice
On gleaming metal blades
Gliding like a swan
Cold wind brushes my face
Like soft satin feathers
Lilting to the music
I spin like a top
Never wanting to stop
Watching the world whirl
Jumping like a dolphin
Into the air for joy
Floating, as if I could stay up forever
Hit the ice, steady my blades
Dancing from one end to another
Turning, twisting, prancing
Power and Grace
My energy is endless, endless in joy and love
Never wanting to leave
This is my true passion
Fiercer, more alive than anything
It burns like a blazing fire
My second home is the rink
On two metal blades and the beautiful ice
Here I will be
Forevermore skating
I am a Figure Skater.




(Sasha Cohen's skates. Sasha is Allie's favorite figure skater.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

FIRST LIGHT: INTRODUCTION



FIRST LIGHT: An Introduction (Excerpts from the book will appear over the next 2 days)

This second year of NCETA’s Student Laureate Awards, we received three times as many poems as last year, from schools ranging the length of North Carolina. We found poems as good as any student work I’ve ever seen, some of it better than what I see in current literary magazines.

None of the poems in this booklet could have happened without teachers who encouraged their authors. Nor could they have happened without the engagement of parents in their children’s education. The love of language, and the light that language brings, begins early, nurtured by reading and storytelling. Strong enough, it can withstand Facebook, Twitter, and text-messaging. I’d be willing to bet that the authors of these poems don’t spend much time staring at a computer screen for social networking. I’d guess they find the world around them more interesting than cyberspace. I hope so.

As you will see, I liked so many of the poems that I couldn’t choose just one for the winning slots in the High School Division. Sarah Brady’s Vocabulary Words and Erin Walklet’s Agape were equally well-made, with a maturity of voice and perspective that couldn’t be denied. Nor could I deny the rhythmic pleasure I felt reading Courtney Duckworth’s ode to karen dalton, nor the seductive imagery of Maria Evans’ A Breath. Chelsea Hansen’s encounter in Met Death sounded like a whip cracking in my head. All five of these poems echoed in my mind for days.

So did the four Honorable Mentions. It’s easy to shrug off Honorable Mentions, I know. I often did it when I received the results from contests I’d entered. But I don’t shrug off these poems. Not Allison Kupatt’s perfectly paced Cult Classics. This poem shows a mastery of tone that a more experienced writer might envy. Rachel Thompson’s Aqua, Terra, Zephyr gives the Earth itself her voice, and Amamda Honey’s Runners makes the lines as energetic as the subjects they bring to life. And whoever thought of angels in summer cracking their knuckles with big “booms”? I couldn’t get Megan Przybyla’s angels out of my mind. Her Summertime gave me a new perspective on the season.

Thank goodness I didn’t have to brood as long over the Middle School Winners. Right away C.J. Murphy’s Where I Come From stood out for all the reasons good poetry sticks in the mind: imagery that opens up the world in which it’s set, a voice that knows how to journey through that place with knowledge and humor. Falecia Metcalf’s The Rain, by contrast, creates a private world of imagination as she listens to the rain. Finally, Allie Sekulich takes to the ice with all her senses alert and alive in On the Ice. These three Middle Schoolers are sure to be heard from again as they move through their remaining school years.

Enjoy this year’s winning poems, to be posted here over the next week. They deserve to be celebrated. They give the first light of new voices, using language to illuminate, move us, and, above all, delight us. Their work is introduced by our “warm up band,” John York, Nancy Posey, and me. John is one of our state’s finest poets. Nancy is beginning to publish her poems in various journals. And I am coming to the end of my Poet Laureate term, feeling optimistic about the future of North Carolina poetry.


Kathryn Stripling Byer NC Poet Laureate, 2005-2009

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Great Smoky Mountains Book Fair: Aspiring Writers


Aspiring writers can find advice at November’s benefit book fair
(from The Sylva Herald)

Writers who are as yet unpublished can obtain some expert advice next month, and they won’t have to leave the area to do so.

As part of the Great Smoky Mountains Book Fair, which will be in Sylva on Saturday, Nov. 14, Edmund Schubert will offer a free writers’ workshop devoted to how to get published in any genre.

The program will be held at Sylva First United Methodist Church from 9:30 to 10:30 a.m. While there is no charge to attend, pre-registration is required. Please call City Lights Bookstore at 586-9499 by Tuesday, Nov. 10, to reserve a place at the workshop.

The book fair appearance will mark Schubert’s return to Sylva to offer this program for a second time. He came to City Lights in February and had a full-capacity crowd for the workshop, which covers everything from the difference between a query letter and a cover letter to selling novels, non-fiction books and articles, and short stories.

Schubert is the author of a novel, titled “Dreaming Creek,” and is also the fiction editor of Orson Scott Card’s (author of “Ender’s Game”) online science-fiction magazine, Orson Scott Card’s InterGalactic Medicine Show. An anthology from the magazine was recently published as a book, with Schubert as editor.

To register for Schubert’s free workshop, or for more information, call City Lights at 586-9499.

The Great Smoky Mountains Book Fair is a fund-raiser for the new Jackson County Library. In addition to Schubert’s writing workshop, it will include entertainment and book appraisal opportunities.

The all-day event draws some 50 regional authors to Sylva Methodist to sell and autograph their books, with 20 percent of sales going to the new library.

For complete book fair information, visit online at www.gsmbookfair.org

FIRST LIGHT: INTRODUCTION



FIRST LIGHT: An Introduction (Excerpts from the book will appear over the next 2 days)

This second year of NCETA’s Student Laureate Awards, we received three times as many poems as last year, from schools ranging the length of North Carolina. We found poems as good as any student work I’ve ever seen, some of it better than what I see in current literary magazines.

None of the poems in this booklet could have happened without teachers who encouraged their authors. Nor could they have happened without the engagement of parents in their children’s education. The love of language, and the light that language brings, begins early, nurtured by reading and storytelling. Strong enough, it can withstand Facebook, Twitter, and text-messaging. I’d be willing to bet that the authors of these poems don’t spend much time staring at a computer screen for social networking. I’d guess they find the world around them more interesting than cyberspace. I hope so.

As you will see, I liked so many of the poems that I couldn’t choose just one for the winning slots in the High School Division. Sarah Brady’s Vocabulary Words and Erin Walklet’s Agape were equally well-made, with a maturity of voice and perspective that couldn’t be denied. Nor could I deny the rhythmic pleasure I felt reading Courtney Duckworth’s ode to karen dalton, nor the seductive imagery of Maria Evans’ A Breath. Chelsea Hansen’s encounter in Met Death sounded like a whip cracking in my head. All five of these poems echoed in my mind for days.

So did the four Honorable Mentions. It’s easy to shrug off Honorable Mentions, I know. I often did it when I received the results from contests I’d entered. But I don’t shrug off these poems. Not Allison Kupatt’s perfectly paced Cult Classics. This poem shows a mastery of tone that a more experienced writer might envy. Rachel Thompson’s Aqua, Terra, Zephyr gives the Earth itself her voice, and Amamda Honey’s Runners makes the lines as energetic as the subjects they bring to life. And whoever thought of angels in summer cracking their knuckles with big “booms”? I couldn’t get Megan Przybyla’s angels out of my mind. Her Summertime gave me a new perspective on the season.

Thank goodness I didn’t have to brood as long over the Middle School Winners. Right away C.J. Murphy’s Where I Come From stood out for all the reasons good poetry sticks in the mind: imagery that opens up the world in which it’s set, a voice that knows how to journey through that place with knowledge and humor. Falecia Metcalf’s The Rain, by contrast, creates a private world of imagination as she listens to the rain. Finally, Allie Sekulich takes to the ice with all her senses alert and alive in On the Ice. These three Middle Schoolers are sure to be heard from again as they move through their remaining school years.

Enjoy this year’s winning poems, to be posted here over the next week. They deserve to be celebrated. They give the first light of new voices, using language to illuminate, move us, and, above all, delight us. Their work is introduced by our “warm up band,” John York, Nancy Posey, and me. John is one of our state’s finest poets. Nancy is beginning to publish her poems in various journals. And I am coming to the end of my Poet Laureate term, feeling optimistic about the future of North Carolina poetry.


Kathryn Stripling Byer NC Poet Laureate, 2005-2009

Monday, October 19, 2009

POET OF THE WEEK: PETER MAKUCK



Peter Makuck is, to quote his editor at BOA Editions, "the best." It's hard to argue with that when your read his poems. Peter is not only a splendid poet, he founded and edited Tar River Poetry for almost thirty years. He's also a sharp book reviewer. He's published four books with BOA: Where We live (1982), The Sunken Lightship (1990) Against Distance (1997), and Off Season in the Promised Land (2005). His book of short stories Costly Habits (U. of Missouri Press) was nominated for a Pen/Faulkner Award. His work has appeared in The Hudson Review, The Sewanee Review, Poetry, and North American Review. With his wife Phyllis, he lives on Bogue Banks, one of North Carolina's barrier Islands.



In April Peter sent me his new chapbook Back Roads, the first poem of which is titled "Drag Racing."

From the diner hangout
we'd simmer toward that long dark stretch
flanked by graveyards
where even the dead were divided,

kill our lights and let the dark come in.
We revved up.
Someone signaled with a match.
Tires screamed
and roared for that blind curve at the end.

Win or lose,
we'd be back and back for revenge.
Ten as now
we'd burn and squint into that flying dark.





---------------------------------------
Peter has a new book forthcoming from BOA Editions in the spring, a New and Selected, so be on the lookout for it. Here's the cover.


What follows is brief collection of Peter's poems, the first three from Off Season in the Promised Land. (Boa Editions)




DUSK WATCH

We were sitting on the roof deck,
four friends with a bottle,
maybe six months after he died,

low sun melting on an emptiness
of ocean, waves almost quiet,
when into view floated a line

of brown pelicans,
hedge-clippers with wings,
more than a dozen

in a slow motion glide
along a curving sickle of sand
suddenly veering,

wings motionless, fixed,
as if we were in somebody’s sights,
Gerda saying they were his favorites—

characters comic
and soulful at the same time. Then,
as if called, one bird

left the cortège and returned,
turned tightly over the roof
four or five times,

the last an eyelevel pass
before he angled off
to follow that long dark line.

We looked at each other
and finally laughed, Gerda too,
her eyes wide and wet.

We felt the wind
pick up, saw waves whiten,
but until the water went black

and the bottle was empty
we went on talking, nobody
saying a word.

In memoriam Bodo Nischan









OCEANIA FISHING PIER

We’re jigging for blues,
sunset doing its fiery fade, showy
as this tourist couple that ambles out,
all spiffed in summer whites,
glasses of zinfandel, hot for something to see.

And as if to please,
a guy gets a screamer strike on a live bait rig.
Now a twenty pound cobia slaps the planks,
and the woman in white wrinkles her nose
with a line you might have predicted:

"He's not going to keep that poor thing, is he?"

Then it gets worse.
There’s a trawler two hundred yards off the beach,
pulling nets through what’s left of the sunpath,
a blizzard of gulls at the stern.

“So pretty,” she says at my shoulder, “isn’t it?”

No, it's not pretty, I want to say.
When you see a squall of gulls
behind a trawler on a sunset sea,
don't think beauty,
think bycatch: small blues and menhayden,
spots and croaker, unsellable mullet
littering the surface for acres,
feeding the gulls.
Think trawl doors that plow the bottom,
kill coral, fill the crannies
and hiding holes for next year’s fry.
Think analogy:
harvesting corn with a bulldozer.

Pretty still echoes in the air,
and she is too.
Lips glistening with wine, she asks
if all this ain’t as pretty a postcard?

Looking down at the cobia opening
And closing its mouth, dying, slowly
dying, I tell her it is.




MINDING WHAT’S THERE

I’m browsing shell beds
and trying to work though
the one about who we are
when we forget to practice
who we are,

only half aware of the ocean
taking itself seriously,
a tall white tumble and hiss.
I should know the ebb
from flood by sound alone

but it’s a clump of seafoam,
stranded and iridescent,
like an enlightened mind,
that tells me
about the effort of arrival.

Shells crackle under foot,
bits of scallops and olives,
whelks and razors,
then a black isosceles
bigger than an arrowhead

stops my restless ramble
and has me stoop.
Two inches from base to tip,
shiny as obsidian, but sharp—
edges themselves tiny teeth,

a dark design, perfect
for ripping and sawing,
changed only in color
since fallen eons ago
from a jawful of others.

Its edge draws
a bead of blood on my arm,
those zigzag fins
beyond the surf zone at dusk,
sometimes an attack,

that girl we taunted
in high school ages ago
with “Sharkey,“
her sidelong glance
and crooked teeth.

I let it fall into the dark
of my pocket, testing
its edge with my thumb,
climb from the beach
and cross the road.

At the end of our drive
the neighbor’s black cat meows
and sprawls on its back for a scratch—
sign of forgiveness,
perhaps even luck,

our mailbox empty to prove it,
pinetops giving sound to the wind,
the cat now rubbing my bare legs,
that sharp black tooth—
nothing I ever expected.



The following poem appears in The Poets Guide to the Birds, from Anghinga Press, edited by Ted Kooser and Judith Kitchen.




Egret




Nature is a haunted house
—Emily Dickinson

Twilight was losing its color.
On either side of the high-rise bridge,
endless archipelagos of eelgrass spread below me,
far-spaced herons
and egrets like dazzling white flags,
mullet breaking parts of the marsh mirror,
birds in their final moves, feathering off
to a distant tree line of peaks and valleys,
a reminder of vital signs on a screen.

Up close, an egret's white
might be slightly stained
with mud from the thrash of a fish
and you might be upset
by the greedy gold of its eye
before the beak-stab
and the bullwhip snap of its neck.
But farther off,
these birds are something else,
that blinding white letter S
made by the same lethal neck
against a wall of tall grass—
it stands for what?
Salvation? Surrender?

In a depth of field,
still but for the slo-mo stride
or dip of beak,
they might be garden statues,
placed just so
at inlets or sandspits
in the rich tidal green
to urge inner movement,
these lone white icons
I saw once in number
at a sunset rookery on Goat Island,
making me think
there must be a law
that has them in heaven at night.
But during the day,
just when we need them,
they touch the eye
with the right kind of light.

Some days,
just in off the ocean,
under churning black clouds in our boat,
we cross the Beaufort Bar,
and out of the corner of sight,
that flash of white
is the substance of my mother's prayer
come from a distance beyond belief
to see me back safe.

As I stood looking down
from the five-story bridge,
an egret,
as if conjured, lifted from reflection,
dipped its long wings into heavy air
and rowed out of sight
to a rookery on the far side
of the bridge.

A sloop passed beneath,
a tear of burnished teak,
with flames at the stern
and two figures trying to douse them.
But that was a trick of distance,
for, a moment later,
as the sloop moved further off,
a scent reached up—
the black and red of grilled meat
that now turned me back
through the dark,
hungry for the colors of home.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

STUDENT POETS CELEBRATED AT N.C.E.T.A. CONFERENCE



(With Nancy Posey, Director of NCETA's Student Writing Awards)





Yesterday's drive over the mountains to Caldwell Community College was fraught with uncertainty. I didn't know how the weather was going to turn out, and I wasn't sure about the directions Mapquest had given me. Yes, I got lost. And I decided asking folks at service stations and Kentucky Fried works better than the internet if you're lost.

Sure enough, thanks to the cheerily helpful woman at KFC, I found Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute. Nancy Posey, past president of the NC English Teachers Association and this year's Director of Student Writing Awards, greeted me as I walked in with a big box of First Light booklets.





Lunch was just what we needed after a cold, windy morning: soup. White chili, red chili, chicken noodle, cabbage-sausage. Both the white chili and the cabbage soup were great, and to be honest, I was having a hard time paying attention to Elaine Cox announcing the Teacher of the Year because I was enjoying that soup so seriously! After Elaine's presentation, the Student Awards were presented, the first being the Wade Edwards Fiction Award, followed by the Watterson-Timberlake Essay presentations, the subject this year being "Memoir."

Then, it was time for POETRY. Because of weather and distance several of our student winners couldn't make it, but all of our Middle School winners did, even Allie Sekulich, all the way from Raleigh with her parents Mike and Kim and her siblings Summer and Nick. C.J. Murphy, his teacher Lydia Dunn, and his mother made it from Hickory, and Falecia Metcalf and family were in the audience, as well, having driven over from Buncombe County. Falecia's teacher at N. Buncombe Middle School, Julie Young, was there, too.

These young poets were understandably nervous about reading their poems to a large audience, so I offered to read their work for them, after presenting their awards. That was the best part of the day! Reading them aloud, I realized all over again how good these poems are.
Here we are after the program.




(From left, C.J. Murphy, Falecia Metcalf, me, and Allie Sekulich)


Only one high school awardee attended, our first place winner, Sarah Brady. She, too, traveled from Raleigh with her mother Rebecca. She read her splendid poem, Vocabulary Words, to nods of appreciation from the assembled teachers.






(Sarah Brady and her mother Rebecca)


The Ragan-Rubin Awardee this year was Sheila Kay Adams, an old friend. How old I won't reveal. We sat together at lunch, Sheila with her ibook, scrolling through a long piece of prose. John York was to my other side, enjoying his chili. Perfect lunch companions!




(Nancy Posey presenting Sheila Kay Adams with the Ragan-Rubin Award)


Sheila's presentation was a reading from her laptop, a new book she began a while back, "weird," she said, but I'd call it magical. Sheila is a born performer, right down to her gold shoes, which you'll see in this photo of Sheila signing books after the program.




After the book signings, Sheila Kay received yet another award--the Little Debbie Cupcake Award, which she gratefully accepted from John York.



Please visit the NCETA website at www.ncenglishteacher.org for more information about the association and the Student Award programs.

I will be presenting the winning poems this coming week on my blog. That's when you will see why I fell in love with them and why I couldn't decide among the High School submissions and ended up declaring so many ties.







Friday, October 16, 2009

FIRST LIGHT: 2009 Student Laureate Poetry Awards



Tomorrow is the big day, the day when the students who have won the second annual NC Student Laureate Poetry Awards will be recognized at the yearly conference of the North Carolina Engligh Teachers Association held at Caldwell Community College. These awards were established two years ago by my family as a way of bring poetry more into the student awards lineup at NCETA, thereby encouraging the reading and writing of poetry in our public schools.



The awards are given for the best poems by middle and high school students. John York is first readier and I am final judge, as each year's Poet Laureate will be. The student Laureates receive monetary awards, as well as books. This year they, their families, and assembled teachers will also be receiving a chapbook of the winning poems, First Light.



Here is the list of winners. You may find out more about NCETA's student writing contests by going to http://www.ncenglishteacher.org/. I will be posting the poems themselves, along with photos from the awards ceremony when I return on Saturday.



MIDDLE SCHOOL:
First Place:C.J. Murphy
“Where I Come From”
W. Lincoln Middle


Second Place:Falecia Metcalf
"The Rain"
N. Buncombe Middle


Honorable Mention:Allie Sekulich
“On the Ice”
Charter Neuse Middle


HIGH SCHOOL
First Place:Sarah Brady
“Vocabulary Words”
Holly Springs High, now at UNC


Erin Walklet
“Agape”
Cardinal Gibbons High


Second:Courtney Duckworth
“Ode to Karen Dalton”
R.L Patton High


Chelsea Hansen
“Met Death”
Penn-Griffin School


Maria Evans
“A Breath”
Leesville Rd. High, now at UNC-CH


Honorable Mention:Allison Kupatt
"Cult Classics"
Enloe High School


Rachel Thompson
“Aqua, Zephyr, Terra”
Penn-Griffin


Amanda Honey
“Runners”
Carrboro High


Megan Przybyla
"Summertime"
Leesville Road High School

Thursday, October 15, 2009

WILL INMAN, ONE OF NC'S OWN, HAS DIED




Jeffery Beam has written me of Will Inman's death. Beam and Inman had corresponded for years, and Jeffery had published Inman's work in Oyster Boy Review:



The Wilmington, NC born, Duke University educated (his papers are there), and Tucson, AZ beloved poet recently died after a long illness. Although it had been a long time since he lived in North Carolina, Carolinian's should acknowledge him as one of the most individual, socially conscious, and widely acknowldeged poets to have come from our state.

The Arizona Star published an obituary that gives readers a sense of who Inman was and what he accomplished as a poet and activist:

"Over six decades, Inman committed to paper words both tender and nurturing, as well as thought-provoking and spiritual. Yet it was pragmatism more so than poetry that infused his final prose — the obituary he penned for himself earlier this year. Inman died Saturday after a long struggle with Parkinson's disease. He was 86.

Inman, born William Archibald McGirt Jr. in Wilmington, N.C., began writing and publishing in the mid-1950s, using his mother's maiden name. In his autobiography, "Memoirs of an Activist Poet," Inman reflected on his diverse experiences: growing up in the South, seeing racism firsthand; his activities as a union organizer and a member of the Communist Party; working as a writer, editor, publisher and teacher; and candid reminiscences of his college experiences and his bisexuality.

Inman earned a bachelor's degree in English from Duke University. He taught at Montgomery College in Maryland and at American University in Washington, D.C., where he was poet in residence. "
To read the complete article, please go to http://www.azstarnet.com/allheadlines/311993


Inman's work is fascinating, well worth total immersion. Please take this opportunity to get to know more about Will Inman. To read some of Inman's work published in Oyster Boy Review, here are the links:


http://www.oysterboyreview.com/archived/11/inman.html
http://www.oysterboyreview.com/archived/14/InmanW-Eden.html

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Kakalak 2009




KAKALAK 2009, Anthology of Carolina poets, flaunts one of the most beautiful covers I've seen in a good while. Edited by Lisa Zerkle, Richard Allen Taylor, and Geth Cagle Burt, it has become a yearly tradition of Carolina poets gathered between handsome book covers. Yes, it awards yearly prizes for poetry and art, and it has special portfolios of poets' work. I've chosen some poems and images from the book that I myself like, a subjective gathering. I hope they will give you a taste of what the entire issue is like. Sharon Sharp's photographs of windows captured my attention right away. Sharon is, as most of you know, also a fine poet. KAKALAK may be further tracked and ordered from http://www.kakalak.net/. The anthology's poets have been giving readings around the Carolina's, so keep your eye out for any Kakalak folks scheduled to present their poetry in your area.



I begin with a poem by Susan Lefler, one that resonates strongly at this stage of my life as my husband and I worry over aging parents. Lefler lives in Brevard, NC and writes for Smoky Mountain Living. She has workshopped with Cathy Smith Bowers and is active in the WNC poetry scene.



Hanging My Father

Climbing an abandoned stair, plunging
into empty air—cerebellar atrophy they call it.
My father lives in a nursing home nearby.
I live in the midst of a whirlwind:
fall after fall and I am called to fix it.

Who hangs from rocks on ropes,
I ask myself, who dangles in mid-air,
lashes themselves to peaks, slices
into rock to access clouds? Who knows
the way to hold the weight of a man,
to break his fall and how to lower
him past canyon and crevasse to solid ground?

I head to the outfitters at the edge of town.
“I want to hang something,” I say,
entranced with ropes in every color, pulleys,
belts and carabiners glittering from hooks,
daisy loops of web guaranteed, I’m told,
to hold 4000 pounds. “What do you want
to hang?” the young man behind the desk
inquires. “My 91 year old father,” I say firmly.
“What do you want to hang him from?” he asks,
being a man who knows what it is to hang
from a cliff for no particular reason. “From
the bathroom ceiling,” I tell him.

We devise a plan: five carabiners (red)
two mountain daisies with a simple lock, a silky
piece of web, eye hooks in the ceiling…
it just might work. My father was a pilot
after all. He knows harnesses and parachutes
and easy landings. He knows wings.
He knows what it is
to find your way homeward in the dark.





Susan Lefler





Whenever I open a magazine and see Mark Smith Soto's name in the table of contents, I turn to his poem right away. You can click on this image to make it larger. I apologize for the quality of the page reproduction.


----------------------------------







("Early Autumn Icicles," by Sharon A. Sharp, Canon Powershot A570 image.)

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Kimberly Glanzman was second place winner in the Kakalak awards that this year were judged by Bob Hickok. She is a student in Charlotte's Queens University's MFA program.









("Gathered Light," by Sharon A. Sharp, Canon PowerShot A570 image.)

Coyla Barry lives in Chapel Hill. Her most recent chapbook, Swimming Woman, was recently published by Finishing Line Press.






POET OF THE WEEK: CATHY SMITH BOWERS


Photo credit: Jeff Davis. This photo of Cathy was snapped at the studios of WPVM when she appeared earlier this year on WordPlay, the station's program by, about, etc., "writers, their craft and ideas."



Anyone who has read Cathy Smith Bowers knows what I'm about to say, that she is one of the finest poets writing today, that her work fuses narrative with exquisite lyricism, as well as wit and vulnerability. Her new book, The Candle I Hold Up to See You, is just out from Iris Press.








ISBN-10: 1604542020ISBN-13: 9781604542028 Published: Iris Press, 05/01/2009 Pages: 96
Cathy will be reading at City Lights Bookstore, http://www.citylightsnc.com/, this Friday night (Oct. 16) at 7:00 p.m.

Cathy Smith Bowers is a native of South Carolina. She was a winner of the 1990 General Electric Award for Younger Writers and a South Carolina Poetry Fellowship. Her poems have appeared widely in publications such as The Altantic Monthly, The Georgia Review, Poetry, Shenandoah, The Southern Poetry Review, The Southern Review, Kenyon Review, and many others.
Cathy’s first book, The Love That Ended Yesterday in Texas, was published in 1992 as the first winner of the Texas Tech University Press First-book Competition in their Poetry Award Series, subsequently named for Walt McDonald. Iris Press republished The Love That Ended Yesterday in Texas in 1997. Iris Press published Cathy’s second book, Traveling in Time of Danger, in 1999. Iris Press published Cathy’s third book, A Book of Minutes, in 2004. Cathy teaches in the MFA program in Creative Writing at Queens University of Charlotte.


To view a portfolio of Cathy's work over her past several books, please go to http://www.irisbooks.com/bowers/bowers_port.htm.

Here are two poems from her new collection.




Cool Radio


When she calls and asks
f I will drive her to the mall,
our city’s newest labyrinth

of glittering stuff, I know my sister
has come back to me, back
from November’s shock of blood,

the exams, the x-rays, the surgeon’s
winnowing blade. She is one week
out of the hospital, chemo bag

draped casually across her shoulder,
spilling its slow promise
into her veins. Odd how stylish

in the mall’s fluorescent lights,
a Gucci or von Furstenburg,
its pale blue plastic shiny

as the toy shoes and purses
we used to play grownup in.
I loop my left arm through her

frail right, her tired gait lanky,
almost chic, steady her against
the teenage throng, tattooed

and pierced and spiked, past
racks of skirts and dresses, tier
upon tier of stiletto heels

like the ones our dead mother
in her younger years
suffered in so beautifully.

At the base of the escalator,
beyond The Limited and The Gap,
a girl too young for fashion’s

fleeting realm spies the apparatus
around my sister’s neck. “Cool
radio,” she whispers to no one

as we all step on together.


Solace




Each morning in my mailbox
or tucked into a quiet cove
of my front porch, another
burden of solace
reminding me again
my husband is dead.

Last week, an oval cardboard box
decoupaged in stars, inside, its nested
offering—a cache of still-warm eggs
gleaned from my neighbor’s henhouse.

Yesterday, a Peruvian prayer shawl,
the warp and weft of its holy weave
climbing, like girders of a bridge,
its sturdy warmth.

And today this handmade flute,
turned and hollowed and carved
by Laughing Crow, enigmatic
shaman of some distant plain.

See its little row of holes
lined up like perfect planets,
as if having not yet learned
the universe had collapsed.

See my lips pressed to the tiny
breathless gape of its own mouth.
As if my lungs could conjure anything.
As if it were the one needing to be saved.