Writing a poem is an act of discovery. The poem discovers itself. – - – Sam Ragan
Down East poetry fans celebrate every spring with a walk into April – an all day poetry event at the Sam and Marjorie Ragan Writing Center (Barton College, Wilson, NC). To open the festivities on Aril 9, I had the honor of reciting this poem by Sam:
I shall go out beyond the stars,
To windless spaces and unmarked time,
Turning nights to days and days to nights.
This is the place where I live.
I planted this tree.
I watched it grow.
The leaves fall and I scuff them with my feet.
This is the street on which I walk.
I have walked it many times.
Sometimes it seems there are echoes of my
In the mornings, in the nights,
In those long evenings of silence and stars
-the unmarked stars.
[Sam Ragan, from To the Water’s Edge, Moore Publishing Company, 1971]
In 1982 Governor Jim Hunt appointed Sam Ragan North Carolina Poet Laureate for Life. This small fact doesn’t begin to express Sam’s immense influence on NC arts and letters in the second half of the twentieth century. Read his bio for the accomplishments, publications, and “firsts,” but for those who new Sam Ragan as well as we hundreds and thousands who know of him, he embodies the love of poetry and the love our state – place, people, and persnickitiness. Oh yes, and the affirmation that bow ties are cool.
About now Sam might well be saying, “Enough! Back to the poetry.” Back to Barton College. For the morning session Peter Makuck and Sara Claytor read alternately; they took turns reading a poem or two trying to forge a thematic link to the poems that preceded. [My next few posts will include some of their poetry.] They then led a roundtable on the craft of poetry. Very energizing. The afternoon session each year is the Eastern Region readings by the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet (this year John Hoppenthaler) and the four students for whom he has served as mentor over the past several months. [More about that later, too].
I’d like to think that all the poetry events, celebrations, publications and edifices that carry the name “Sam Ragan” would be satisfactory to the man, the legendary. But why is the event called, “Walking into April?” Sam’s poems were sensual and often deeply colored by North Carolina native creatures, flora, seasons. The scent of lilac, a cool night breeze, whatever changes and never changes. His poems are often deceptively simple, like the one above, but as I labored to memorize those lines they began to live in me more and more deeply. From Sam Ragan’s 1986 collection comes this:
Let Us Walk into April
It was a pear tree in bloom
That lit up your eyes.
You came at blossom time –
Dogwoods and lilacs,
The camellia and azalea,
And the glow of the redbud tree –
Thousands of wildflowers run before your feet,
And a faint green hovers in the woods.
Here we are just before the coming of April,
When the whole world is new
And each day is a beginning,
A time of sunlight and spendor –
Come, let us walk into April.
[Sam Ragan, from A Walk into April. Laurinburg, N.C.: St. Andrews Press, 1986.]
Sam Ragan Biography
Gilbert-Chappell Distinguishe Poet Series of the NC Poetry Society