Archive for March 11th, 2012

“In case of nuclear attack, hide underneath the toilet.  No one’s ever hit it yet.”

On the wall above the commode, that’s the hand-lettered sign you get to read while you take aim and take a leak.  Assuming you’re standing – it’s a unisex bathroom.  To find it I had to ask directions of the forty-ish woman behind the register in the little convenience store: through the store room, take a right, last door.  I’m running ahead of schedule and have stopped for gas about a mile above the Catawba River (and I hate to arrive anywhere and have to ask first thing, “May I use your restroom?”).  Looked like it couldn’t be more than another mile or two from here to the Bethlehem Branch Library where I’d come to hear Adrian Rice read.

For the wanderer in search of literary respite, what a haven.  A simple well-lit temple to words.  Bethlehem Branch is across the county line from Hickory, so all those who cross this threshhold must do so intentionally and filled with expectation.

After we set up chairs, the head librarian showed me around: cozy spots for curling up with a book; windows, lots of natural light on winter afternoons; the current month’s art on display, evocative scenes by a local photographer; each photo accompanied by a poem written by a local poet inspired by that specific shot.  And now the library is officially closed but the door keeps swinging open.  Twenty or thirty souls arrive to share poetry, each of them intentional and filled with expectation.

In case of nuclear attack, head for the library.  Might as well pass through the pearly gates with a crowd you wouldn’t mind accompanying into eternity.

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I’d never heard Adrian Rice read his poetry before this night.  But who could resist that soft accent, as smooth and deep as kelly moss and inviting as a tall glass of dark amber?  The first thing he said was, “It’s a disaster to ask an Irishman to read for twenty minutes.  The introduction to the first poem will be twenty minutes!”

How can it be, then, that Adrian has written a book of haiku?  He shared with us several from his collection Hickory Haiku.  Oh sure, before each poem he gave us a build-up that was probably ten times seventeen syllables, but the secret to the Ulster lad’s three-line epics is to sit down and read the book through.  Fifty terse images from a man far from home and almost as far from boyhood.  Lines as quick and sharp as a turning latch.  Connections longed for, connections discovered.  The green hills left behind and the new hills that have become home.  The strangeness of nature, the nature of people, perhaps not so strange after all.  The deepwater anchor of porch, books, family.  Taken together, these are poems that link arms to tell a grand story with a wink and a prayer, worthy of an Irishman.

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We Irish aren’t wooed
by weather.  But, for folk here,
it’s a love affair


Night-winds lay the corn
rows low.  Morning, they rise –
foals finding their feet.


Olde Hickory Tap
Room – draught handles are beer-bows
that target the Thirst.


The sun’s done gone.  Dark
ink surges through sky water –
a storm’s a-comin’!


Two contrails cross in
the royal sky – the airy,
brave flag of Scotland.


Like found poems, the bare
necessities of home – Heinz
beans & Weetabix!


We whinny and neigh,
two rocking horses grazing
the pasture of porch

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Adrian Rice teaches English at Catawba Valley Comunity College.  Turning poetry into lyrics, he has also teamed up with Hickory-based and fellow Belfastman, musician/songwriter Alan Mearns, to form ‘The Belfast Boys’, a dynamic Irish Traditional Music duo.  Listen to him read at the book launch for Hickory Haiku.

Thanks to Bud Caywood for organizing the monthly art and the annual poetry readings at Bethlehem Branch Library, and thanks to all the staff and regulars.

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