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Archive for April 20th, 2011

Last fall I precipitated a lengthy debate when I claimed that all poetry is about death. Well, Richard and Allison, I apologize, but I’ve changed my mind – all poetry is about sex.

Let me rephrase that: all poetry is sensuality. At least I’m convinced that’s true when I re-read Sara Claytor’s Howling on Red Dirt Roads.

Sara’s poems take delight in slipping off their silk blouse and pointing their rosebud nipples at the moon. In a buttery drawl the poems say, “Damn the saturated fat,” and spoon up a steaming platter of cornbread and collards. They are magnolia perfume on a muggy afternoon. Salt and beachsand and waves at night. The stanzas are tactile, gustatory, aromatic – oh hell, let’s just say they drench the senses. Presence and immediacy – the characters rise up from the page and breathe.  And oh my, we are there with them and we are red and we are howling.

You’ve experienced sensory memory – just a hint of the smell of your Grandmother’s talcum and there you are playing on the floor in her living room. [It’s synapses firing in the hippocampus and cingulate gyrus, but forget I said that.] Sara’s poetry is born in memory. Her memories become ours. The smell of July sun on pine needles, squeak of the porch swing, the sound of butter beans falling into a chipped enamel basin . . .

DSCN4899

Dog Hobble

Blue Rocking Chair

She lost her leg,
wanted to return to her tin-roofed cabin
with the blue rocking chair on the porch.
Working daily in a cotton mill, Claudine
spent nights with her. I was in Zimbabwe,
a Peace Corps teacher,
when I received Claudine’s letter
detailing the 2-month-old news of Julia’s death.

Perhaps Julia rolled her wheelchair to the kitchen,
boiling water for coffee, loose sleeves brushed
against a heated stove coil.
By the time the fire department arrived —
the old wooden structure eaten by flames,
tin roof buckled and flattened,
blue rocking chair reduced to blistered sticks.

During the next year, I recovered,
feeling more black than white,
my skin & hair darkened by fierce African sun,
my heart involved with 15 black children
who called me ‘Mama Blanche,’ who learned
to speak English with a Southern accent,
celebrated my 23rd birthday singing Dixie.

In each face, I saw myself on a day
when I sat in the blue porch rocking chair
beside a tin bucket of pink petunias,
helping Julie shell butter beans,
smiling in the sun while she hummed hymns,
dropped the empty hulls
into a brown paper bag.

Sara Claytor, from Howling on Red Dirt Roads, Main Street Rag Editor’s Select Poetry Series, 2008

Sara featured on Katherine Stripling Byer’s blog
http://ncpoetlaureate.blogspot.com/2009/09/poet-of-week-sara-claytor.html

Sample poems at Main Street Rag
http://www.mainstreetrag.com/SClaytor.html

Sara’s web site
http://www.saraclaytor.com/

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