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Our habitual experience is a complex of failure
and success in the enterprise of interpretation.
If we desire a record of uninterpreted experience,
we must ask a stone to record its autobiography.
Alfred North Whitehead, Process and Reality

One day the world’s unhappiest man decided to just stuff it all. His business partner had cheated him out of a fortune. His wife had left him. For the business partner. His son was in Rehab. His best friend had gotten himself elected to Congress . . . Republican. Every day the post delivered another stack of rejection slips. “Screw it,” said the world’s unhappiest man.

The world’s unhappiest man had read that scientists had discovered the world’s happiest man living in a small monastery in Nepal, so he tossed an extra pair of socks into a backpack and got on a plane, a bus, a donkey cart, a yak, his own two feet. As he walked upward through the mountains he gave his last rupee to a beggar, but he wasn’t happy. He recalled the happy days with his wife and truly wished for her to be happy again, but he wasn’t happy. He finally figured out that his son was going to have to take responsibility for his own life, but he wasn’t happy. He totally forgot about politics and for a minute he was almost happy. It occurred to him that he would probably write a poem about all this and he thought, “I’ll be happy if it’s any damn good.”

Mouse Creek Falls, GSMNP, 5/2015

A funny thing happened. The clean mountain air, the music of singing birds and laughing brooks, the mighty Himalayas on the horizon – yeah, yeah, whatever. He wasn’t happy.

The world’s unhappiest man finally arrived at the monastery with holes in his shoes, holes in his socks, holes in his heart. He crept into the chilly closet where the world’s happiest man lived and waited while the monk finished his meditation. When the monk opened his eyes, he smiled and welcomed the world’s unhappiest man and said, “People have called me the world’s happiest man, but now that you are here with me my joy is complete.”

The world’s unhappiest man sat down next to the monk and began thinking about that.

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What does it mean to be happy? God knows.

But what does it take to be human? Sitting down next to another.

These poems by Richard Krawiec in his new book, Women Who Loved Me Despite, are not often happy, but there is joy in these lines. Not the easy joy of summer mornings and wrens singing, but the hard-won joy of darkness and pain shared with another.

And there is mercy here, dropping as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. Mercy for the writer who has walked the unforgiving mountain and now sits down to consider. Mercy for us, the readers, who share that walk and that considering and discover, not happiness, but the possibility that we might still be connected, each with the other.

Big Creek, Walnut Bottom, GSMNP, 5/2015

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by Richard Krawiec

Lux Aeterna

I stand on the corner of a downtown street
tapping my feet to a klezmer trio
frenzied strokes of bass and fiddle,
rolling runs from a concertina,
conjuring twirling scarves and gypsies.
In five minutes the bells will strike,
so I turn and race to my friend’s concert,

enter the Cathedral of All Souls
breathless and sweaty as the singers
begin to raise their voices in Lux Aeterna;
the hush builds until the sopranos
pierce the dark inner encavement,
arched steeple-space misted green
and blue from the stained glass robes
of Mary, Joseph, the infant looking down.

Seated to the side of the main aisle,
I watch an aged man’s breathing
start to slow; he slumps sideways,
caught by a woman’s surprised hands.
Two men dressed in choirboy robes,
rush to comfort; one presses the pules
the other encircles shrunken shoulder,
hugs close a gray-crowned head.

Come Holy Spirit the choir sings,
the mass continues, through cleanse . . .
heal . . . joy everlasting . . . broken loaves
of brown wheat. The singers repeat
the sermon litany . . . blessed are . . . blessed are . . .
while EMS, clad in black, rush in and
crimp the man sideways into a wheelchair.
I leave the wine for the darkened streets.

One girl, a mountain Dorothy,
ripped leggings and shiny shoes,
gutter-throats an Appalachian lament
to the faceless mannequin in a storefront
window. It’s wearing a party dress
woven from condoms, black skirt accented
with white. The girl turns away from the bills
I flutter, finger-picks a banjo run of escape
taps a rhythm on the brick sidewalk,
toe plates sparking. Above her, night-scattered
stars loom down. She closes her eyes to embrace
everything as light, and nothing as eternal.

Yellow Ladies' Slippers, Appalachian Trail, 5/2015

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Richard Krawiec – poet, novelist, playwright; editor, publisher, educator – lives in Raleigh, North Carolina. Women Who Loved Me Despite is published by Press 53 in Winston-Salem, which also published an earlier collection by Richard, She Hands Me the Razor.

Richard is the founder of Jacar Press in Raleigh.

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Doughton Park Tree #2

 

For your sakes, I wish I was Michael Beadle.

That’s what I told the crowd at Foothills Arts Council in Elkin last Saturday evening where we’d gathered for live music by Angie and Marc and LIVE POETRY by Michael. I’m talking LIVE! Every time I’ve experienced a poetic happening with Michael Beadle my creative metabolic rate has been kicked up at least three notches. Brainstorming the Zoo Poetry project we did together with Pat Riviere-Seel and Sue Farlow three years ago; joining a dozen other Jabberwockers to act out the poem at Michael’s direction; wandering through Weymouth Woods to collect haikuopons — energy is what Michael brings to poetry.

Alas, on Saturday Michael had a health issue at the last minute and couldn’t make the gig, but fortunately I have two of his books, so I pretended to be him for a few minutes (sort of like Danny DeVito pretending to be Arnold Schwarzenegger). And I had brought Plank Road and other books by Shelby Stephenson for show-and-tell before we launched the open mic. No crowds rolled in the guillotine clamoring for my head. No disappointed metaphorists vowed to forever give up the verbal art in their disappointment. No babies cried. McRitchies Winery did not run out of hard cider. We had a pretty good time together.

But we sure missed Michael.

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We also had music by singer-songwriter-acoustic guitarist Angie Caswell accompanied on baritone guitar by Marc Curtis. Angela says she’s been singing since she could speak and has studied music all her life. She enjoys writing acoustic jams that uplift and inspire. She loves to lead worship but also to recreate top 40 hits in artsy, indie fashion. Angela currently lives in Elkin, North Carolina and says, “I aspire to change things, one song at a time.”

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Poems by Michael Beadle . . .

from An Invented Hour, © 2004 Michael Beadle

there’s
more
of me
to go
around
these days

but

less
of me
comes
back
when
I’m done

–     –     –     –     –

even now
Truth is
curling up

her red
carpet
to go

on tour
with the
circus

–     –     –     –     –

from Friends We Haven’t Met, mavenpress © 2008 Michael Beadle

melting footprints
in the snow

seems like
something bigger
has been here

–     –     –     –     –

something
so small
and beautiful

wants

to give
its life

to break
your heart

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And here’s a little instant replay of open mic:

by Leighanne Wright

if you were the hawk I saw yesterday

flying up and crossing over
winging along side
so I could know her
for mere seconds
but years really
each feather forever etched
upon my memory
then she was off
higher than I could go

I may have lost sight of her
but never lost the vision
or the experience of being next to her
and although my presence
may have changed her velocity
could it be said
that I affected her too?

Leighanne Martin Wright is executive director of the Foothills Arts Council in Elkin, NC

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photo credit: Leighanne Wright

by Dominic Neumark

Vanitas

Whither does the skull in the old painting look
…an hourglass and a candle by its side?
Does it see the passing of time or of life?

How appropriate, a painting on brink of winter
Death treads through snow, among dead trees
Not a monarch…but a swindler.

For who could say that he comes at a good time?
Always too early, always too late.
At the gate of your home, boots dark with grime.

Then there’s the candle, a flickering light
Seemingly alive, like a dancing sprite
Then gone without a fight.

Ah, and the hourglass…what does it say?
The grains gone to the bottom long ago
Telling the victims of fate: “life too shall pass.”

…but what of undone deeds (and) unfulfilled desires?
What of countless “what ifs” and “could haves?”
“Silence!” says the skull. “No need is now dire.”

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photo credit: Leighanne Wright

by Kim Seipel-Parks

In my grandmother’s kitchen

She lets me make
the biscuits.

Standing on the stool’s woven seat
that creaks and moans, I wear
her apron,
black
with bright embroidered flowers.
(It’s long enough to hide my shoes.)
The flour puffs into a cloud
as she pours it in the bowl –

some settles on my nose and dusts
my eyelashes.
In an exploration, my tiny fingers
make trails,
push the flour to the sides, dig a hole
that she fills with buttermilk.

My fingers wade into the coldness,
search for the bottom and pull
the flour in.
Making a fist, the sloppy dough
squishes through.
Skin loose and wrinkled,
knuckles swollen,
her hands guide mine.

*     *     *     *     *

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photo credit: Leighanne Wright

by Mary Oliver, read by Jane Hazelman

Today

Today I’m flying low and I’m
not saying a word.
I’m letting all the voodoos of ambition sleep.

The world goes on as it must,
the bees in the garden rumbling a little,
the fish leaping, the gnats getting eaten.
And so forth.

But I’m taking the day off.
Quiet as a feather.
I hardly move though really I’m traveling

a terrific distance.

Stillness. One of the doors
into the temple.

*     *     *     *     *

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photo credit: Leighanne Wright

by Bill Griffin

Canada Goose, Country Road

Dressed like a bouncer in some pretentious restaurant
or Jesse Ventura with the cameras rolling
you and your lady friend disdain my car,
a diffident amble down the white line,
deliberate steps deliberately unperturbed.

Goose, I want you to be afraid
because I am afraid of feathers and blood
on the tarmac, on my bumper –
last spring I saw your ungainly progeny
one minute all down & punk & pursuing gape,
the next minute opened like a meat counter specialty.

I honk, but you say, “Well, that sounds like ‘Hello,’”
so I hop out, raise my arms. Look here, Anseriformes,
this is a mammal and a big one!
But you don’t care,
who’s backed down a fox and flattened a weasel,
who’s forsaken migration and become a million.

Another strategy – I rush your mate.
Now you’re paying attention! and I’m glad to retreat
from your hiss and spit; when you’re certain I’m humbled,
you follow her along into the field
with one more sibilance that sounds like, “Asshole”;
I drive off with a clear conscience and cosmic permission
to order fried chicken for lunch.

from Barb Quill Down, Pudding House Publications © 2004 Bill Griffin

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Let the beauty we love be what we do.
— Rumi

Visit Michael Beadle online at http://www.michaelbeadle.com/
And plan for some LIVE POETRY when the Foothills Arts Council invites Michael back sometime later this year.

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.   .   .   Think of the wren
and how little flesh is needed to make a song. 

from Why Regret?,  Galway Kinnell

Brown-Headed Nuthatch

Sitta pusilla

The Grandson and I are playing with Legos on the back porch. Above the constant chitter of the goldfinch kaffeeklatsch shines a sudden clear bright whistle. “Listen, Saul. That’s a Carolina Wren.”

After a few minutes of silent cogitation, a few more minutes of Lego cars brmmm-brmming across the planks, we hear the bird again. Saul remarks, “He’s saying Senner-pede, Senner-pede.”

“You mean centipede, the little crawly thing with a hundred legs?”

“No, Senner-pede.” Brmm, brmm. “I made that up.”

And the moral of the story: Encountering the logic of the philosopher, even if only six years old, it’s probably best to listen.

*      *      *      *      *

The Carolina Wren is one of my favorites, feisty little troglodyte whose voice is 30 decibels too big for his 30 grams of fluff. Listen to enough wren song and you discover the birds can be quite individual. Scolds, chatters, and so many variations on that 2- or 3- or 4-note whistle: just when you think you know them all someone new moves into the neighborhood.

Fred Chappell is one of my other favorites. He’s one of the writers that inspired me about twenty years ago to rediscover the dark forest of Poetry. I carried a typescript copy of his poem Forever Mountain around in my wallet until it wore through and I’d about memorized it. As I sort through the piles on my shelves I think it’s safe to say I’ve bought every one of his books. The epigrams, the complex forms, the backsass, the cat poems . . .

. . . and just when you think you know his song someone new moves into the neighborhood. At this year’s Sam Ragan Poetry Festival Fred revealed to us that he’s now writing fables, poems that tell a story with a moral. His voice just keeps getting bigger and bigger. And you can bet that a Fred Chappell fable is going to stretch your intellect and then bite you on the ass.

Feisty, yes; troglodyte, no.

*     *     *     *     *

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Fox and Bust by Fred Chappell; read at Sam Ragan Poetry Festival,
Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities in Southern Pines, NC, on March 21, 2105

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Every year the North Carolina Poetry Society sponsors the Sam Ragan Poetry Festival, named for our state’s third and longest-serving Poet Laureate.  Sam was succeeded by Fred Chappell as our fourth Poet Laureate, illuminating that post from 1997-2002. In 2004 Fred collaborated with philanthropist and poet Marie Gilbert, assisted by William Jackson Blackley and a volunteer board, to create the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Series.  Each year since then three notable NC poets have been selected to serve as mentors, each to 3 or 4 students middle school to adult, to create and critique a body of poems, followed by public readings in libraries throughout the state.  Fred is still a guiding light for this endeavor, which celebrated its tenth anniversary at this year’s Sam Ragan Poetry Festival in Southern Pines on March 21, 2015.

The photos and poems from this and the five preceding GriffinPoetry posts commemorate that event.

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Weymouth Woods

*      *      *       *      *

Doughton Park Tree #1

As an undergrad I majored in (geek alert!) Chemistry. So sophomore year that meant signing up for Physical Chemistry, alias P Chem, universally dreaded for its incomprehensible math and completely non-intuitive concepts. But that year the department had hired a new junior professor whose hair was almost as long as ours. Dr. Falletta was ambi – he could stand at the blackboard with his back to us and write equations with both hands. The chalk would be squeaking, he’d be explaining non-stop, our heads would be just about to explode, and then he would stop mid-sentence, spin around to face us, and exclaim, “I love this stuff!” Thanks, Dr. F, I think I started to love it, too.

Since I went to a liberal arts college even the (geek alert!) Chem Majors had to take English. So sophomore year that meant signing up for American Lit. Dr. Consolo was universally adored. If a student happened to let drop in casual conversation the word epiphany, everyone in the room immediately said, “Oh, you’re taking Consolo’s Lit class.” And even though we had to write a long thesis about a writer of our choice (I selected George Santayana. It was the 70’s; maybe my subconscious imagined I had heard him at Woodstock.), even though it took two all-nighters with Corrasable Bond and carbon paper in the Smith-Corona, I had my epiphany. Thanks, Dr. C, I think that’s when I started to love language.

*     *     *     *     *

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I don’t remember a lot about Santayana, even less about P Chem, but I remember the good teachers. The ones who make you want to learn the subject. The ones who convince you that you can learn. That’s what strikes me as I read this poem by Lenard D. Moore. That’s what struck me seeing him with his student, Morgan Whaley Lloyd, at the Sam Ragan Poetry Festival last month. Lenard was Morgan’s mentor in the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet program and he invited her to return and read with him at the 10th anniversary celebration. Lenard makes the lectern thump and hop when he reads; he throws lightning bolts with his poems. You can tell Morgan has been lit up by one of those bolts. You can tell she loves language.

*     *     *     *     *

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The Good Students          –           Lenard D. Moore

I cast metaphors
from front of the classroom,
an urgency of brine on the air.
Necks crane,
eyes target the ceiling,
as if a trope might drop,
sprawl across the tables.

Can they bring up
starfish, jellyfish or blowfish
in such salty spewing
in brilliant autumn sunlight
while hands flounder
across blank journal-pages
hot and desperate for words?

Now that an hour rings
their heads lower,
nets hook some blue crabs
clawing into the hearts of poems
in this moment of classroom lore,
dragging pens between lines,
white edges of shores.

The Good Students originally appeared in Solo Café 8 & 9: Teachers and Students (Solo Press, 2011).

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Joy in The Run           –          Morgan Whaley Lloyd

Knees crack like an ungreased lever
Short steps, pounding pavement.
The stiffness begins to wear off;
the first mile was the warm up
‘Miles to go before I sleep’
The future is uncertain, find joy in run, for fear is just a test.

Obstacles begin to appear dim and distant,
but before I know it, they catch up to me.
I have to reroute to stay the course.
Short, staggering breaths as I trek the puddled sidewalk
adorned with last night’s spring shower.
The future is uncertain, find joy in run, for fear is just a test.

A wash out causes me to stumble
my ankle has a meeting with death,
but the quickness of cat-like reactions
returns my stance to center
my balancing beam arms retract.
The future is uncertain, find joy in run, for fear is just a test.

This turn reveals turbulence.
My feet tap the concrete, and
I feel like a deer gliding through a wood.
My steps are gentle to lessen the impact.
Eyes, lasered on the clearing.
The future is uncertain, find joy in run, for fear is just a test.

The sun shines; I’m blinded by its glare.
Trusting my senses, I am lead by smells of honeysuckle and pine.
A cool breeze entices the nerves in my legs.
My insecurities are left behind.
Then, a dog barks from a nearby home, and my senses awaken.
The future is uncertain, find joy in run, for fear is just a test.

The sidewalk, sprinkled with challenges,
The crowded highway with distractions
just waiting to pull me away has formed a cross.
I decrease my speed, clueless as which road is the
‘less traveled by’ or which will make ‘all the difference’
The future is uncertain, find joy in run, for fear is just a test.

My skin is weathered by the trip
The scares are passport entries detailing my every move
My steps cannot be undone
My path cannot be retraced
The journey is the trophy
The future is uncertain, find joy in run, for the only fear you should have is the end.

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Geek Alert: I got an A in P Chem . . . and an A in American Lit.

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Morgan Whaley Lloyd is English Department Head at James Kenan High School in Duplin County, NC.

Lenard D. Moore is Executive Chairman of the North Carolina Haiku Society, among many other teaching and writing responsibilities; see additional bio at South Writ Large.

Lenard’s most recent book is A Temple Looming.

Other poems by Lenard at Connotations Press and Cordite Poetry Review

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She – or is it he? – steps up to the lectern, adjusts the mic, unfolds a sheet of paper. Tells a funny little story about arriving in this place, the hour’s drive, the decades’ journey. Mentions a connection with a character in the poem. An influence from another poet, a friend, family. Clears his – or is it her? – throat.

And then reads the poem.

And we who are listening to this person for the first time or who have known her and her work for years, we step into her world. The images unfold into our imaging, the story connects us to the person who was and has become this person, we add lines between the lines as they enlighten our own story. We step into our own world along a new path, familiar yet unfamiliar, and now populated by this person and her poem.

Is this how it’s supposed to be? Shouldn’t a poem walk in on its own legs, open its own mouth? Whose voice is speaking? Does it even matter who wrote these lines? Unlined face or gray at the temples? Scholar or laborer? Woman or man? Tell me, because I want to connect with the poetry. Tell me, because I’m connected to the person.

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The first thing former NC Poet Laureate Cathy Smith Bowers told us at the Sam Ragan Poetry Festival was how bad her early poems were. Oh right, Cathy, as if we believe you could write a bad line. The second thing was to credit Fred Chappell for teaching her that poetry can include humor, this after Fred had read us several re-imagined fables with wickely tart morals.

And the third thing Cathy told, after doubling us over with helping after helping of her own outrageous stories, was that she pines to be able, like Fred, to meld the humorous with the profound. Hmmm. She may have nailed that with this one:

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Syntax          –           Cathy Smith Bowers

Where haunts the ghost after the house
is gone? I once wrote. First line of my first
poem in my first creative writing class. I’d
been reading Byron, Keats, and Shelly, lots
of Poe, loved how the cadence of their words
fit the morass my life had fallen to. I had
stayed up all night, counting stressed
and unstressed syllables, my mother’s
weeping through the door of her shut room
echoing the metrics of my worried words.
It was the year our family blew apart,
my mother, brothers and sisters and I fleeing
in the push-button Rambler with no reverse
an uncle had taught me to drive. I loved that poem,
finally knew how words the broken and bereft
could alchemize, couldn’t wait to get to class,
could hear already in my mind that teacher’s
praise. When it came my turn to read, the paper
trembled in my hand, my soft voice cracked,
years passed before I reached the final word,
before she took the glasses from her nose
and cocked her head. You’ve skewed your syntax
up was all she said. I remember nothing else
about her class. That spring her house burned
down, she died inside. Where haunts the ghost
after the house is gone? I had several alibis.

From The Collected Poems of Cathy Smith Bowers, Press 53, 2013

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Cathy Smith Bowers and Caleb Beissert met as mentor and student through the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Series and we shared their reunion at Sam Ragan Poetry Festival, March 21, 2015.

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Light in an Upstairs Window           –          Caleb Beissert

Reptilian plants crouch in the corners climbing
curtain rods. Darkness sweeps over the house.

Four friends walk a mountain trail to a darkened
tower, stacked firewood not far from the old cabin.

Mystery grows deeper in the old growth forest,
in the clusters of stars, in the study in the house.

The yard surrounds, like a secret army poised and hushed
in the emptiness. Silent horses. The austere house.

The faithful dog has seen something invisible
and makes known he wishes to be let out of the house.

Among the vanilla of books, the lamp-lit pages
run with ink, producing distant lands beyond these walls.

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Cathy Smith Bowers bio

Books by Cathy

Caleb Breissert Bio

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“This is about how big Annalee Kwochka was when she became my student.”

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All that morning’s scenes recurred to his mind,
not with the precision of everyday reality nor with the sharp outline
of things seen, but with the peculiar intensity of things felt.

Georges Simenon, The Evidence of the Altar Boy

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I spent a sizable chunk of the Sam Ragan Poetry Festival peering through a camera lens. Mostly waiting. Angle, composition, exposure, they were all displayed right there in the viewfinder, but I was waiting for something else. That tilt of the head, the outstretched hand, the merest curl of the lip — expression. Something personal in the personality.

Has anyone ever asked you what some certain poem is about? Has your answer ever been anything other than inane? Not only is a poem more than the sum of its words, the true poem doesn’t really fully exist until it has been assimilated by the reader. The poem’s expression and the reader’s impression combine to create the poem’s meaning. What it’s about. In one reader that peculiar intensity may produce a slight tilt of the head, in another an outstretched hand, in the third a gradual curl of the lip.

Every photo records and preserves a moment, its expression. The matrix of pixels may be technically perfect, but is it interesting? Does it create an impression? A good photograph may have something in common with good poetry. The viewer doesn’t merely remark, “Oh, I was there.” Some novel synapses fire, some new cortical amalgam is forged — “I am here!” In fact I’m in a new place that wasn’t obvious until I connected with this image.

Does this photo connect? I can’t tell you what it’s about, but I will say Sammy Osmond is standing at the lectern and his mom is listening:

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Joseph Bathanti was Sammy Osmond’s mentor through the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Series. I was Joseph’s student in a workshop series lo these many years ago and my lasting impression of him as a teacher and a person is someone whose enthusiasm is contagious. Literally. You catch it, it incorporates itself into your genome, and you’re never cured. You just don’t get over being enthusiastic for words, verse, stories. (Sorry, Joseph, for the retrovirus analogy.) Maybe Sammy was becoming a poet before he met Joseph, but after listening to Sammy read his wonderful poems at Weymouth on March 21 and after watching the relaxed bond of friendship he and Joseph shared throughout the day, my diagnosis is that Sammy has caught a bad case of poetry, real bad.

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Anson County           –           Joseph Bathanti
(for Joan)

You come off the bed
as if expecting me,

take my hand, the morning
of your thirtieth birthday.

Not quite light, perfect
for the movie we’ve talked of making.

We bicycle the 8 ½ mile loop –
the dogs, one of them blind, lope

ecstatically – gravel
the first two miles,

the ruined church on Savannah Creek,
in a cottonwood swamp that floods

every spring; then a long tar road:
abandoned farmsteads. The last crop –

corn, give-out haggard, by late July,
left to hang into Advent – down

by the Pee Dee, the Ingram Plantation
where Andrew Jackson stopped

to have his hair cut by a slave girl.
The light is like Petrified Forest.

You’re Bette Davis. I’m Leslie Howard.
You read Francois Villon

and work in a diner in the middle of the desert.
I arrange my own murder

at the hands of Bogart, so you, Davis,
can cash in on my insurance policy.

Tragic beauty.
We avoid making a sad film,

Instead ride into the rising sun
among the regal bucks,

their unfathomable
algorithmic racks, gathered

in homage to you, roaming
McAllister land –

what I had wakened
you so early to witness.

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Vividity          –          Sammy Osmond

I want to paint vivid pictures,
You close your eyes to see,
Use your ears to smell,
Empty air to taste
And your mind to hear.

I want you to feel like you’re touching it.

A rainy day –
Just slightly cool
Caresses your face
And, even though you stand under shelter,
The breeze carries the rain to you
So your cheeks bear a watermark.

A rainy day –
Heavy drops landing from eaves around,
A bass drum beneath the light hiss of misty droplets.
A car rattles by.
People pass you, feet splashing into inch-deep puddles,
They chatter to their phones.

A day of rain-
Cold air,
A hint of sharp gasoline rides in the wake of a taxi.

A rainy day –
Light fog whirls and curls
Around grey figures.
Red and blue “Open” signs lay distorted in puddles,
Flashing a message up to you.
The ground glistens,
As if the black tar wants to be crystal.
And oil rainbows glide, like boats, across the street,
Then fall through rusty brown grates.

A day of rain-
You drink the air
As though it is fresh ground coffee
From the cafe you pass by,
Letting it rest on your tongue,
Before the cool condensation crowds it out.

Pictures,
To touch,
hear,
taste,
smell,
to see.

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Joseph Bathanti, recent bio

Books by Joseph at Press 53

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Doughton Park Tree #1

green vertebrae cradling all the wood-bone of your years

Poetry exalts. Yes, that’s right, it transports you up and out of dreary into ethereal. No it doesn’t. That’s all wrong. Poetry grounds you. It brings you right on down to where you can plunge fingers and toes into clay, grow roots. How else could you ever expect to leave? Still wrong. Think again. Poetry doesn’t change you at all. It catches you in the moment, this moment, right now, and shows you the you you really are.

So who’s right? How about this: Poetry = Salt. Here’s what the cookbook says – “salt makes food taste more like itself.” Poetry? Makes life taste more like itself. I’m sitting here eating a bowl of lentils. Onion, tomato, even the bay leaf can’t rescue it from bland. A fine sprinkle of poetry: an angel named Gracie; my sapped body a river that floods without regard; green mountains to lift me from the sinking sand. Now that’s tasty. More than tasty, that’s umami. More than base sustenance, that builds muscle. Wings, roots, soul – serve it up!

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Sam Ragan Poetry Festival, March 21, 2015 in Southern Pines – a tenth anniversary gathering of poet mentors and their students from the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Series. During its first ten years GCDPS (named for founders Marie Gilbert and former NC poet laureate Fred Chappell) has sponsored dozens of students of all ages to work with the finest poets from around North Carolina. A complete reunion of readings would take a full week but this one Saturday is more than filled with five mentors and four students.

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Tony Abbott is Professor Emeritus at Davidson College and still teaches courses in modern drama and creative writing, especially poetry. He has served two years as president of the NC Poetry Society and continues to guide our programs and encourage our members. When he stands at the lectern and pauses before reciting, do you feel it, too? He invokes in me a spirit not of confidence but of questing, not knowing but seeking. The titles of one of his books wonders if words could save us, but when I listen to Tony I believe they can.

When Tony was invited to be one of the Distinguished Poets at SRPF he knew he had to read with a student whom he had mentored before and after (but not during) GCDPS, and whose growth as a poet he still follows and nurtures. Annalee Kwochka will graduate from Davidson College this spring with a degree in Disability Studies and continue graduate studies in clinical psychology; she is currently completing a full-length book of poetry that will be her thesis. Before she entered Davidson she was a GCDPS scholar, and before that she won every youth contest the NC Poetry Society sponsors several years running.

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Tony and Annalee are reading from Tony’s book The Angel Dialogues, Tony the voice of the jaded poet seeking his muse, Annalee the voice of the angel sent to redeem him.

The Poet Names the Angel               —              Tony Abbott

Spring night. Azaleas shining, red and white,
in the pale gleam of the full moon. I step outside.
She is sitting on the hood of my car
across the street, painting her toenails.

“Lets walk,” I say, “I’ve got something
serious to ask you.”
Just a minute, she says, and blows on her toes.
I wait, and then I wait some more.
I don’t think this is my color, she says.
We walk. I watch her toes and think.

I take a deep breath. “Do you have a name?”
She blushes, and she says nothing.
“I want to call you by name. Do you have a name?”
No, she says. Not really.
“Why not? Doesn’t God name you?”
Oh no, our people name us. Each one
names us, she says, and she starts to cry.
“Why are you crying,” I ask.
The names, the names, the names–
Each name brings back the person. This angel
business is hard, sweetheart. I have all these
people. I love them all. I help them all. A little
girl in Venezuela named me Rosalita? Isn’t
that marvelous? The angel Rosalita.
A game strikes my fancy.

“France,” I say.
Antoinette, she says.
“Russia,” I say.
Masha, she says. It must be Masha.
“German,” I laugh.
Oh God, German. Ilkedoodle.
The angel Ilkedoodle.” We laugh together.

I’m standing under the angel tree. It is empty.
She sits at my feet, yoga style,
and looks up at me. Well, she says.
Any ideas?
“I don’t know. I don’t think I can do this.”
Yes, you can. Try. You’ll find it.
You always do, eventually.

I close my eyes. Then I know.
“Grace,” I say. “Gracie,” “Gracia.”
Indeed, she says, and floats upward
into the leaves.

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Renditions of self              —               Annalee Kwochka

1. Neither acute nor chronic fits the curve of your sapped body
these days; rather, constantly recurring, the river floods without
warning, without regard.

2. On the Sabbath, you anoint your own body with Vaseline.
You are snake-leather skin, bird-hollow bone, quickening, flung-
open mind.

3. After dinner; a single glass of cheap, sweet wine. You collapse
into bed. Room still fully-lit, fully-clothed. Without even the urge
to bury yourself.

4. Then—raw-skinned horizon, aching iris-of-eye—are you
not right, to live in fear? You are cortex, synapse, firing neurons—
heart bruised and writhing in the hot sun.

5. You are a failed secret agent, writing your identity over and over
on fortune-cookie papers, filling your pockets, passing them on
with each handshake, pulling them out of ears—

6. Despite your best intentions, home is full of sinkholes.
Classified lives brush against you; You would spring
yourself open, the un-cracked spine of a holy book.

7. Only the mountains comfort you
lift you from the sinking sand, green vertebrae
cradling all the wood-bone of your years.

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Tony Abbott

The Angel Dialogues

If Words Could Save Us

 

Annalee Kwochka

Opening the Doors to the Temple

 

umami, the fifth taste

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Doughton Park Tree #3

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