. . . it is nothing but a song – the long journey home:
Homecoming – what sort of images does that word evoke?
Marching band lined up, the girls with their blue and gold pom poms, boys becoming men bursting through crepe paper onto the field.
All the old families filing into Salem Fork Baptist for preaching, and in the afternoon pot luck under the willow oaks.
A long absence, a holiday, sitting down to share the meal with family, wondering where you really belong and beginning to get an inkling.
The prodigal returning to discover the grace of unconditional love.
. . .
How about this one: men and women who have known each other for fifty years, or one year, or just today, gathered in a single great room to listen and be silent, to laugh and to cry, to start out wondering whether they belong and discover themselves bound together by the soul of words into one family.
Sam Ragan Poetry Festival at Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities and the tenth anniversary celebration of the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Series – friends, it was one hell of a homecoming! Oh yes, the readings, Fred Chappell bringing new poems, fables and morals to slap you upside the head; Gilbert-Chappell mentors Cathy Smith Bowers, Joseph Bathanti, Lenard D. Moore, Tony Abbott each with their prized student protege from the program; from basketball to angels; from love lost to love well shet of; from growing up to growing old to refusing in any fashion to grow old. And the greetings – more hugs and handclasps per unit time than any baby shower or wake or political convention on record.
And then there was Shelby Stephenson. Our “newest” NC Poet Laureate? How about our oldest and truest friend and guide? Has anyone in our state done more to encourage poets? To teach and encourage? To just plain get the poetry joy juice flowing in the crowd’s veins?
When I read the announcement that Shelby had been selected as Poet Laureate I immediately dug out my file – all the rejection slips he sent me while he was editor at Pembroke magazine. Friends, you would have to knock me down to get me to part with these sixteen little 2 x 3 inch slips of yellow paper (some actually just a post-it note with the Pembroke rubber stamp). Almost every one has a personal scribble: “good luck placing these” . . . “keep writing” . . . ” liked [poem] best” . . . “send more any time.” My God, how I harassed him with submissions until glory be one was good enough to keep.
Shelby Stephenson, thanks for the poetry homecoming. I am still discovering where I belong.
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(read by Shelby at the 2015 Sam Ragan Poetry Festival)
Saying I need an image to make the world
I went back home and held my eyes on the hill
and it said You need a word deeper than I
so I took the old fencerails the lizards ran
and my family’s tongue came out of the Mouth
of Buzzard’s Branch, the sound of that one story,
everywhere, in the marshes, in the fields,
and lowgrounds, and I said Where is the word
that holds All I am trying to say? –
and the cows lowed through their cuds over
and over it is nothing but a song – the long journey home:
* * * * *
. . . let go the body: the cardinal
flowers stretch across the landscape, handsome
in their high keys: there goes a plankhouse into
a hedge: we come from a desert of innumerable
dances made in pain and pleasure arriving
forever, America’s promise, Huckleberry
laid back every spring when the little green
corn is sided, what broken clods to bounce
in the dirt: the literature of the world
is the people: Whitman, where are you? Our
faculties run out into the unknown:
results are beginning, continuously
extending the plain chance to hold a seat,
here, hardy as a foot soldier: an articulate
voice lowers to let the mind down so the
undergarments might hear humanity
in the bosom stumbling back to breathe independently:
transitory, we bequeath to thee, O Death,
this victorious song thou breaks, the word
of the singer, his parentage and home,
the wood in the flames a quiet crackle
of no hurry going up and out, moving
the dust that settles the ashes, a tune,
a farway injury of happiness,
a bliss that is hard to empty: time and space
affirm the rhythm, the dimensions of
across and around: wrap a tent around
the music and steal away: images edge
the feelings like heels grinding lightly on
a board of closest imaginative
stances delighting the reapers in the
wheat, the keepers in the creek: the word is
another form of dancing: the body
moves on the surface just over truth: we
live amid the skin: the true art of
experience is practiced by the skipper
bugs: they skate so well: I clap my hands and
the water scoots a wake beating with a
new beauty: and the line which begins behind
is brought forward: I look back one more time
to draw a radiance in language, a
radical system formless and grammatically
mountainous and divine, mortal as the
fertilizing rain, a lingering space
that gives the celebration a morning, noon
and night swallowed up by the dallying and playing
world holding the ancient beard in an avenging
dance, a cosmos for jollity: high in
the pocket of a farmhouse I am alone,
a laughing moon brightening like an orange on ice.
* * * * *
© 2014 by Shelby Stephenson, Press 53, Winston-Salem, NC
More information about Shelby at http://www.shelbystephenson.com/home.htm
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Over the next couple of weeks I will share more vignettes, poetry and photos from the 2015 Sam Ragan Poetry Festival & tenth anniversary celebration of the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poetry Series
Also check back for a link to the full photo gallery, forthcoming
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