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Posts Tagged ‘Bill Griffin’

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

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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

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 . . . 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:

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.  .  .  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

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For one brief moment each place is its center. The sky parts, darkness rends, the sun touches that place then moves on, but the place retains the sureness of its center.

We are wakened at 2:00 a.m. by trumpets and tubas playing hymns. They have stopped outside our window on Marshall St., played two verse, then moved on. I peek through the blinds while downstairs my Mom goes out onto the front porch in her nightie to thank them. From other parts of the old town, faint and distant, Linda and I can hear the band’s counterparts. Our alarm is set for 4:30. We whisper in the darkness. For a moment we are the center.

By 5:30 we have gathered with hundreds of others in the darkness outside Home Moravian Church in Salem Square. Robins sing continuously. There’s a scolding chickadee in the fresh-leaved poplar, its silhouette barely discernible in the pre-dawn. The old church clock strikes the hour. The liturgy commences. The congregants respond: This we truly believe. A brass choir leads the hymns and we listen for the echo.

Now we have processed from the Square to God’s Acre, brass harmonies behind to encourage, bands at all corners of the broad fields to call us along. As we gather among the unadorned white gravestones, “the democracy of death,” each with fresh flowers, the players gradually converge into one orchestra at the center. Three hundred strong. The liturgy concludes with a sweeping final anthem. The sky parts. Darkness is rent. Here is the sun, and the center.

The Lord is risen indeed.

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It’s hard to count how many times Joseph Bathanti has visited Elkin, NC to bring us poems. He read at the library here in March to prepare us all for Poetry Month, and as he always begins when he stands up after the introduction, he said, “It’s great to be back here at the center of the universe.”

Thank you, Joseph. We always feel like you mean it. And after we’ve listened to your poetry we do discover ourselves at the center.

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Joseph’s poem EASTER is from his book Anson County. It was originally published in 1989 but has been re-released in 2013 by Press 53 in Winston-Salem. When we returned from this morning’s Easter sunrise service in Old Salem, and after a nap, I sat on the porch in the sun and leaned back with Anson County. “I know there’s an Easter poem in here.” I was not disappointed. I never am.

. . . . .

EASTER

They stand like shades
against the skyline:
in resurrection suits
and second-day dresses;
waiting to be gathered and burned
by the first fires of dawn
they have come to believe
will perfect their two-days-planted fruit.
Now like the rush of souls
it leaps across the sky
shredding fog with cerise flames
sudden as tongues.
And there can be no denial
of this white light
that carves fields rife
with wheat and corn,
sculpts holy men behind plows,
draws the harrow and martingale –
nor the flash and raiment of seeds
above the red river mouth.
Behold.

.     .     .     .     .

from Anson County, Joseph Bathanti, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, copyright 2103.

Originally published in 1989 by William & Simpson, and again in 2005 by Parkway Publishers.

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Southern Sentence Poem Revisited

Last week when I reminisced about my Granddaddy, Pee Wee Griffin, Seaboard Airline Engineer for some fifty years, among the many comments I received was Kathryn Stripling Byer’s: The song of a train passing has haunted many a Southern poet’s work.  Haunted, that is indeed what we are.

Yesterday I caught a snippet on public radio by a Civil War historian at Duke.  He describes Governor Graham dragging his heels about secession; as much as a third of North Carolinians opposed war.  The Duke Prof then tells about pulling into a barbecue restaurant in Kinston recently.  During the War, General Pickett encamped at Kinston on his return from a disastrous attempt to recapture New Bern from the Union.  In Kinston Pickett hanged twenty-two North Carolinians he considered deserters, though most of them had never sworn the oath to the Confederate Army.  Pickett was later accused of war crimes and fled to Canada – the historical point being that allegiances, honor, and motivations are a lot more complicated than South vs. North.  When the Professer parks at the restaurant and looks down the row of cars and pickups with Stars and Bars on their bumpers, he just shakes his head and says, “You don’t even know who you are.”

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Who are we, anyway?  That’s why there’s poetry – that we may discover who we are.  I’m pondering again the form an essentially Southern poem might take. Remember in August I suggested such a poem must include Place, Past, and Culture.  Our identity is complex, but a poem’s complexity lies in its brevity.  What sense most perfectly evokes a memory?  The sense of smell – impossible to describe, complex and heavy with nuance, a simple odor may transport you to a time and place you thought you’d departed forever.  I want a poem to do the same, to be vastly more than the sum of its words, to cause the reader to gasp and sigh at the same time.

Therefore, the SOUTHERN SENTENCE POEM MUST BE SEVEN LINES.

Why seven?  When I as a doddering old man kiss my great-grandchild, I will have held or been held by seven generations of my family.  There are seven Southern waters: spring from rock fissure, clear trout stream, green piedmont river, dam & lake, blackwater meandering, sound, shore.  Southerners more than many are subject to the seven deadly sins and seven heavenly virtues.  Don’t forget the seven bridges road in Montgomery, Alabama.  But most of all because I think seven lines is just the right length.

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So here’s another attempt:

When the train whistle blows
through the Yadkin Valley
we lay down our plastic toys,
lean across the porch rail
until the last beckoning
has trailed away, and I become
my grandson, wondering.

.     .     .     .     .

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Place – Yadkin Valley; Past – becoming my Grandson; Culture – porch rail and, of course, that lonesome, haunting train whistle.

Leave me your Southern Sentence Poems here or on our new Facebook Page.

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Each of us needs a friend who challenges us a little.  Someone who expects more from us than we expect from ourselves.  Who wiggles something interesting in our peripheral vision, something we may not have thought about in years, and just knows we will turn and reach for it.

I have a friend like that who wiggled poetry where I just couldn’t quite ignore it.  About twenty years ago Anne Gulley called: “Bill, the Friends of the Library is sponsoring a poetry series, and I think you should come.”  “The last poem I read was Walt Whitman in college.  Well, I think I did try to write Linda a poem for our twentieth anniversary.”  “There, you see.”

When I took German in high school our teacher, Herr Watt, spent as much time narrating all the Wagnerian operas for us as he did on pronunciation and declension.  He insisted, “This is important!  It’s part of your allgemeine Bildung*.”  Maybe it was curiosity, maybe I recognized the need to beef up my allgemeine Bildung, maybe it was a sheepish feeling of being undereducated, but I went to the series: six Sunday evenings reading contemporary poets I’d never heard of like A.R.Ammons and Sharon Olds.  Holy Zeitgeist, this was writing as fresh as today’s Washington Post and a couple of orders of magnitude more compelling.  My brain fizzed.  Thanks, Anne!  And the very best part was the instructor.

Joseph Bathanti drove down from the mountains for each of those Sunday sessions. So calm, so coaxing, another friend who just naturally expects more from you than you even expect from yourself, he held out a handful of seeds to the squirrels of our curiosity with confidence that we’d come.  When we read Ammons’s Hymn I shuddered to discover language that melds lyricism and physics, imagination and biology, the particular with the cosmic.  I had to discover more of this stuff.  I’m still discovering.  Thanks, Joseph!

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Last month Leighanne at the Foothills Arts Council called to see if I’d like read some poems at an event she was planning.  Music by “Not Your Usual . . . ,” wine by Grassy Creek, eight readers, she titled the evening BEAT!  If there are going to be beatniks, you can’t neglect Allen Ginsburg, so I decided to read America, but I also wanted to introduce folks who don’t know his work to our newest NC Poet Laureate – Joseph Bathanti.  I re-read Joseph’s newest collection, Restoring Sacred Art, and finally chose to read Your Leaving.

What grabs me about this poem (besides the razor sharp dead center descriptions) is the complexity of the characters, artfully revealed in just a few lines.  There’s the father laughing drunk the night before his daughter’s wedding, then next day standing stoic in his “mourning suit.”  Marie, giggling in a muumuu with her bridesmaids, is transformed, “perfect in all the ways a bride desires to be.”  Mother, one moment stern and organizing, the next moment lost “on the edge of her bed, still in her house dress.”  And of course there’s the little brother, angry at the cousins and the loss of his bed, but struggling with a greater loss as he begins his “apprenticeship as an only child.”  Ambivalence, conflict, longing, revelation – reading these lines is to walk into a new household and become part of the family.

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Your Leaving
for Marie

The night before you married,
Pap’s godsons from Detroit
got him drunk and I had to help
wrangle him upstairs, so mad

I threatened to punch them.
Married men, cement finishers
with mortar grey hands who spoke
broken English with Michigan accents,

they wore Bermuda shorts, undershirts,
black socks and tennis loafers.
My outrage made them laugh.
A father marrying off his only daughter,

his best girl, after all, is entitled
on the eve of the wedding
to drink as much as he wants.
Pap laughed too,

but he felt sorry for me.  Like them,
he figured I was still innocent.
We laid him in my bed.
Mother wouldn’t sleep with him,

“stupid drunk
the night before his daughter’s wedding.”
She blinked the porch light off and on
to signal you in from kissing

your fiancé in his red MG,
the first Protestant
to marry into the family.
No wonder Pap got drunk;

it was you last night home.
Your bridesmaids slept over,
cosmetic kits and high, spun hair,
spit-curls scotch-taped to their cheeks,

rustling aqua gowns lounging
from the mantel on cloth hangars.
the six of you stayed up all night in muumuus,
laughing and eating popcorn.

Downtown, the groom and his ushers cheered
the stripers at the Edison Hotel.
I had nowhere to sleep,
so I crawled into your empty bed, and began

my apprenticeship as an only child.
The next day, Pap got up
and donned his mourning suit.
The girls descended the porch steps

in single file, heads bowed
over nosegays as the photographer
stilled each for posterity.
And you, only twenty, behind them,

without hesitation, disguised
in wedding dress and veil, perfect
in all the ways a bride desires to be,
the repeated click of the camera

documenting those first irrevocable seconds
of your leaving once and for all,
while upstairs Mother san on the edge
of her bed, still in a house dress.

© 2010 by Joseph Bathanti, Star Cloud Press, Scottsdale AZ

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A couple of years after that Friends of the Library series Anne called again.  “We’ve arranged a Saturday morning poetry writing workshop at the Arts Council.  I really want you to meet Frank Levering.  And Bill is going to be there.”  A whole new story – estrangement, reconciliation, inspiration, new friendships.  Anne, you can’t quit challenging me!

While I was trying not to step in the bear scat on Albert Mountain two weeks ago, the Foothills Arts Council held opening night for Anne’s show Mythology–eyes, which will be up through most of November.  Her oils, from almost pocket-size to wall filling, are for me a little like that Ammons poem.  Rooted in closely observed and rendered beasts, landscapes, they branch and soar into surreal planes that challenge me to see, to think, to discover.  Thanks, Anne!  My allgemeine Bildung continues to accrue.

Here’s a photo of Anne cloistered in her Cabinet of Curiosity, and me reading Your Leaving at the FAC.

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*   Allgemeine Bildung = general culture, or education – Google the phrase for 17 megahits.

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