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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

 . . . it is nothing but a song – the long journey home:

Homecoming – what sort of images does that word evoke?

Marching band lined up, the girls with their blue and gold pom poms, boys becoming men bursting through crepe paper onto the field.

All the old families filing into Salem Fork Baptist for preaching, and in the afternoon pot luck under the willow oaks.

A long absence, a holiday, sitting down to share the meal with family, wondering where you really belong and beginning to get an inkling.

The prodigal returning to discover the grace of unconditional love.

.   .   .

How about this one: men and women who have known each other for fifty years, or one year, or just today, gathered in a single great room to listen and be silent, to laugh and to cry, to start out wondering whether they belong and discover themselves bound together by the soul of words into one family.

Sam Ragan Poetry Festival at Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities and the tenth anniversary celebration of the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Series – friends, it was one hell of a homecoming! Oh yes, the readings, Fred Chappell bringing new poems, fables and morals to slap you upside the head; Gilbert-Chappell mentors Cathy Smith Bowers, Joseph Bathanti, Lenard D. Moore, Tony Abbott each with their prized student protege from the program; from basketball to angels; from love lost to love well shet of; from growing up to growing old to refusing in any fashion to grow old. And the greetings – more hugs and handclasps per unit time than any baby shower or wake or political convention on record.

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And then there was Shelby Stephenson. Our “newest” NC Poet Laureate? How about our oldest and truest friend and guide? Has anyone in our state done more to encourage poets? To teach and encourage? To just plain get the poetry joy juice flowing in the crowd’s veins?

When I read the announcement that Shelby had been selected as Poet Laureate I immediately dug out my file – all the rejection slips he sent me while he was editor at Pembroke magazine. Friends, you would have to knock me down to get me to part with these sixteen little 2 x 3 inch slips of yellow paper (some actually just a post-it note with the Pembroke rubber stamp). Almost every one has a personal scribble: “good luck placing these” . . . “keep writing” . . . ” liked [poem] best” . . . “send more any time.” My God, how I harassed him with submissions until glory be one was good enough to keep.

Shelby Stephenson, thanks for the poetry homecoming. I am still discovering where I belong.

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from fiddledee
(read by Shelby at the 2015 Sam Ragan Poetry Festival)

Saying I need an image to make the world
I went back home and held my eyes on the hill
and it said You need a word deeper than I

so I took the old fencerails the lizards ran
and my family’s tongue came out of the Mouth
of Buzzard’s Branch, the sound of that one story,

everywhere, in the marshes, in the fields,
and lowgrounds, and I said Where is the word
that holds All I am trying to say? –

and the cows lowed through their cuds over
and over it is nothing but a song – the long journey home:

*    *    *    *    *

.  .  .  let go the body: the cardinal

flowers stretch across the landscape, handsome
in their high keys: there goes a plankhouse into
a hedge: we come from a desert of innumerable

dances made in pain and pleasure arriving
forever, America’s promise, Huckleberry
laid back every spring when the little green

corn is sided, what broken clods to bounce
in the dirt: the literature of the world
is the people: Whitman, where are you? Our

faculties run out into the unknown:
results are beginning, continuously
extending the plain chance to hold a seat,

here, hardy as a foot soldier: an articulate
voice lowers to let the mind down so the
undergarments might hear humanity

in the bosom stumbling back to breathe independently:
transitory, we bequeath to thee, O Death,
this victorious song thou breaks, the word

of the singer, his parentage and home,
the wood in the flames a quiet crackle
of no hurry going up and out, moving

the dust that settles the ashes, a tune,
a farway injury of happiness,
a bliss that is hard to empty: time and space

affirm the rhythm, the dimensions of
across and around: wrap a tent around
the music and steal away: images edge

the feelings like heels grinding lightly on
a board of closest imaginative
stances delighting the reapers in the

wheat, the keepers in the creek: the word is
another form of dancing: the body
moves on the surface just over truth: we

live amid the skin: the true art of
experience is practiced by the skipper
bugs: they skate so well: I clap my hands and

the water scoots a wake beating with a
new beauty: and the line which begins behind
is brought forward: I look back one more time

to draw a radiance in language, a
radical system formless and grammatically
mountainous and divine, mortal as the

fertilizing rain, a lingering space
that gives the celebration a morning, noon
and night swallowed up by the dallying and playing

world holding the ancient beard in an avenging
dance, a cosmos for jollity: high in
the pocket of a farmhouse I am alone,

a laughing moon brightening like an orange on ice.

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fiddledeedee
© 2014 by Shelby Stephenson, Press 53, Winston-Salem, NC

More information about Shelby at http://www.shelbystephenson.com/home.htm

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Over the next couple of weeks I will share more vignettes, poetry and photos from the 2015 Sam Ragan Poetry Festival & tenth anniversary celebration of the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poetry Series

Also check back for a link to the full photo gallery, forthcoming

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Doughton Park Tree #3

Waiting for you is full of everything except you.

It didn’t start out to be Valentine’s Day. You and I prefer Hatteras and Pea Island in the off season. I wanted to see the winter migrant visitors again and you don’t mind long walks in freezing spray. How amazing you are. You began telling our friends, “He wants to see the snow geese,” in a tone that sounded like you looked forward to them, too. Amazing.

When we pulled into the First Colony Inn there were big pink and red plywood hearts under the pine trees. Who knew! Godiva on the pillows and champagne in the mini-fridge. Each afternoon we explored another iced-over marsh, the entirely vacant Elizabethan Gardens, narrow lines of threatened dunes; each night we made a small supper in our room, wore caps & jackets while the wind discovered new cracks around the windows. Not really roughing it, not so self-sufficient – but sufficient as two selves. Us. Being each other’s present. Chocolate optional.

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Chen caerulescens, Pea Island Wildlife Refuge

 

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I’ve read most of Mark Smith-Soto’s previous books and I always pause and savor when I discover him again in The Sun. I carefully packed his newest, Time Pieces, for the February trip to the Outer banks. Waited for the stillness of sunset across Roanoke Sound, drew another blanket around my shoulders. How does he do it? How capture the small moment that stretches wide the reader’s heart? Not because the poem has cast searchlights into the grand gnostic meaningfulness of the universe, but because the poem is just itself, the poet is himself, the moment is this moment. And we always have been and are still becoming ourselves.

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Present

Waiting for you at our favorite table by
the window decorated with a rough decal
of a giant coffee cup, I stare at the long,
gray, rain-washed, car-clotted street, the tip

of my tongue fretting against a cracked
tooth. You’re half an your late. You wouldn’t wait.
The coffee is so dark and smooth it lingers like
a song. There are clouds and telephone poles

and two tattooed youngsters smoking outside
the window; inside, all is chatter and clatter,
French pastries in the toaster oven, giggly laughter.
Waiting for you is full of everything except you.

And for this gift, at least, I must thank you:
this moment so completely mine.

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Present first appeared in Sounds of Poets Cooking, Jacar Press

Time Pieces is available from Main Street Rag Publishing

Read more selections of Mark’s poetry from The Sun.  In fact, subscribe.  Now!

Mark Smith-Soto’s bio is available at the Poetry Foundation.

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Red-tipped maples along the ridgeline and pumpkins lined up at Hawks Produce (as well as Brushy Mtn. Stayman Winesaps almost the size of pumpkins) – you know what that means: Halloween is coming! When Linda was growing up Halloween wasn’t one single evening, it was an entire month, sort of the Olympics of holidays. Linda’s Mom Donna French was really into costumes and stories and pageantry in her job as an elementary school librarian, and her seven kids became the flock to her Bo Peep, the Hansel and Gretels to her Wicked Witch, the entire cast of characters to her Mother Goose. In fact, the first time I met Linda (November 1, 1966, eighth grade and first day at my new school), she was wearing the unexpectedly indelible vestiges of the previous night’s costume.

So October 1 Linda mentioned to Saul two books that we’ve inherited from Grandma French’s large collection, and when he came home from school with us the next afternoon he was ready for me to read them to him: Kat Kong . . . and Dogzilla. Saul calls them the “Double Feature.” He has set up an entire audience of Lego men, Blue Rat, Mousie, and various other little critters to view the performance. He does the sound effects, monsters growling and crashing into things, and I do the narration and dialogue. Roll ‘em! Action! Halloween is only four weeks away!

Whoa, I’d better start thinking about MY costume. Hmmm . . . how about Rat-cula? And if you’ve got a kid or grandkid that thrives on silly, you need to track down copies of Kat Kong and Dogzilla, written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey with the help of his pet mice, cat, and corgi. At the time he created these in the 1990’s he was living in Kent, Ohio and was a friend of Grandma French’s.

KatKong

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Now for a poem to get you into the Halloween spirit. Who’s your favorite poet? If “favorite” means you seek out all their books and keep coming back to them year after year, I guess Fred Chappell is mine. His latest book, Familiars, is filled with the personalities, imaginings, and eccentric doings of cats. And if you shudder at the approach of ghouls and spirits, if you dread the thought that you might be haunted by former lives, perhaps you really don’t want to be a cat . . .

.     .     .     .    .

Ghost Story

What does Alexander see,
Staring with taut fixity
Into the dusty corner there
And its eerily vacant air?

Perhaps invisible Somethings flock
That barren angle of the room
And speak to him at twelve o’clock
Of an unalterable doom.

It would not be a single ghost
But several who gaze and wait
Until the Halloween veils with frost
The leaf-strewn lawn, the gray roof-slate,

To whisper to him in unison
The dreaded sentence that constrains
Him to a destiny fordone:
“Us eight you squandered. One remains.”

Fred Chappell, from Familiars, LSU Press, 2014

.     .     .     .     .

 Mousie&punkins

Mousie will be ready for a snack at the next Double Feature.

Kat Kong and Dogzilla © Dav Pilkey, Harcourt and Brace

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