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Archive for April 29th, 2011

I’m opening the box my parents just sent me.  High-level divestiture (cleaning out their attic).  They’re moving to a condo and discovered this antediluvian stash circa 1970-72: my year as an exchange student in West Berlin and summer job at the XX Olympics in Munich (usher in the volleyball hall).  Here’s the German-Italian/Italian-German dictionary I bought for the trip my host brother and I took to Lugano and Como.  How do you say, “Noch ein Bier, Bitte,” auf Italienisch? *

Apropos, here’s a beer coaster from the REAL Hofbräuhaus in München.  Several volumes of Goethe and Brecht auf Deutsch.  Student passes, trinkets, maps, ticket stubs.  And a fat packet of letters looped with a ponytail holder — Linda and I kept up a transatlantic romance during the twelve months I was in Berlin and then the semester she spent in Hamburg.

But what’s this?  A slim blue cloth-bound volume I don’t recognize at all.  Slightly musty but in good repair. “Fifty Acres and other selected poems.”  By James Larkin Pearson.  I open to the title page, and Linda comes running into the room as I let out a whoop.  1937 . . .  signed by the author.

James Larkin Pearson was appointed by Governor William B. Umstead to a life term as North Carolina’s second Poet Laureate in 1953, the year I was born. I’d never even heard of him until a few years ago when I asked someone why the Poetry Council of NC has a contest named for him.  Where did this little book come from?  My grandfather Cooke grew up one county over from North Wilkesboro, where Pearson was a newspaperman.  Maybe he’d met him and purchased the book?  Or had my Mom bought it at yard sale somewhere while I was overseas and totally forgotten about it?

There’s no telling, but I received the box weeks ago, and I’ve been saving the story until now to share as National Poetry Month winds down.  Maybe it will spark a J. L. Pearson revival.

Pearson lived in Wilkes County from his birth in 1879 until his death at age 101 in 1981.  For most of those years he resided on the “Fifty Acres” in Boomer, NC. To read his poetry is to put down rural roots in another century.  Pearson fills his poems with his love of the land and of his family, and with spiritual longing to become one with God and with the earth.  The brook will take me to its singing heart / And bear me on triumphant to the sea, / Till every land shall claim a little part, / And naught can be identified as me. (Erosion) And always he identifies his work as making the song, as becoming the song.

The poems were published as widely as The New York Times and The Detroit Free Press.  Let me know and I might let you borrow my copy.

FIFTY ACRES

I’ve never been to London,
I’ve never been to Rome;
But on my Fifty Acres
I travel here at home.

The hill that looks upon me
Right here where I was born
Shall be my mighty Jungfrau,
My Alp, my Matterhorn.

A little land of Egypt
My meadow plot shall be,
With pyramids of hay stacks
Along its sheltered lee

My hundred yards of brooklet
Shall fancy’s faith beguile,
And be my Rhine, my Avon,
My Amazon, my Nile.

My humble bed of roses,
My honeysuckle hedge,
Will do for all the gardens
At all the far world’s edge.

In June I find the Tropics
Camped all about the place;
Then white December shows me
The Arctic’s frozen face.

My wood-lot grows an Arden,
My pond a Caspian Sea;
And so my Fifty Acres
Is all the world to me.

Here on my Fifty Acres
I safe at home remain,
And have my own Bermuda,
My Sicily, my Spain.

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IMG_1948

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James Larkin Pearson Library at Wilkes Community College

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*   ” “Another beer, please” in Italian “

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