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Posts Tagged ‘Charlotte history’

[with poems by Augusta Wray]

1932, Charlotte, North Carolina – the Great Depression has all but silenced the constant rumble of railcars from Atlanta to D.C. through this hub of the South. Most of the cotton mills are shuttered but Ben Gossett, president of Chadwick-Hoskins, has an idea. He asks President Herbert Hoover for help. Mill workers will weave cloth from 50,000 bales of cotton sitting in idled factories and sew it into clothing for the needy. Slowly the Queen City will again stir to life.

That same year, 1932, The Charlotte Symphony Orchestra was founded. More songs were recorded in Charlotte than in Nashville (and just 4 years later Bill Monroe would make his first recording in a closed Charlotte warehouse). Seeking a different kind of music, six poets gathered that spring in the home of Edna Wilcox Talley to begin a venture dedicated to expanding the appreciation of poetry in their state. The North Carolina Poetry Society would begin to admit members whose skills “measured up.” Over the next few years they would hold monthly workshops and an annual banquet, with a prominent writer as speaker, begin publication of a regional literary journal, and slowly expand their reach from Charlotte to the entirety of the state and beyond.

One of these Charter Members was August Wray. She had lived in Charlotte since her marriage in 1902. She attended every meeting of the NCPS through the 1950’s. Her poems would appear in The North Carolina Poetry Review, Journal of American Poetry, and many other publications, especially the poetry column of The Charlotte Observer, edited by Andrew Hewitt. She won many poetry honors and prizes in the 1930’s and 1940’s. And in 1959 she would publish a full length collection, Engravings on Sand, edited by Dorothy Edwards Summerrow.

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Trees at Night

Ink spots upon a midnight sky – fantastic,
+++ sinister and dark –
At night, trees take on fearsome shapes
+++ with no detail of leaf or bark
To add to grace of swaying limb where
+++ branches curve and intertwine,
No carven foliage of jade – all monotone
+++ in black design,

Carbon pictures, weird and ghostly, of night
+++ Dragons crouched to spring,
Warily silent and foreboding, menacing,
+++ like a wounded thing –
Smoky masses, deeply shadowed, with outlines blurred
+++ that mystify –
Trees clutch the heart in night’s dark silence
+++ silhouetted against the sky.

Augusta Wray
+++ from Engravings on Sand, Poets Press, Charlotte NC, © 1959

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Last week I received Engravings on Sand in the mail. Bibliophile Carmela Dodd discovered it at a flea market and upon reading its inscription by Augusta Wray to “Mrs. Charles Evans,” Carmela felt that the book deserved a home with the North Carolina Poetry Society. Thank you, Carmela! What an amazing artifact and memorial during the Society’s 90th anniversary year.

Dorothy Edwards Summerrow, who edited the collection, writes this to begin her foreward: When, at Augusta Wray’s request, I was given the pleasure of compiling and editing “Engravings on Sand,” there was turned over to me a large suitcase literally bulging with poetry manuscript. Dorothy describes excitement but also dismay at selecting the best work of one of North Carolina’s finest poets . . . because I must of necessity select for public inspection, only a small fraction of the prodigious output of her private heart.

In 1959 Augusta Wray was 83 years old. She had been widowed four years earlier. She and her husband had no children nor other close family; she told Dorothy, “My poems are my children.” Dorothy describes the treasure before her: When I opened the suitcase entrusted to me, the sparkle of the poems made the dark, rainy afternoon brilliant with the fire of many gems.

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Release

In the dark and tranquil stillness of the night
When quietude has simulated peace,
When joy is born without the aid of light
And sorrows softly fade away and cease,
When weary eyes are drifting into sleep
That carries them afar from day’s dull care,
When dreams appear invitingly to seep
Through all perplexities and leave them bare –
Then does the spirit take command and things
Become unreal and float away like foam;
The soul is loosed and on unweary wings
takes leave of what was once its mortal home.
++ The soul and body separate, go free,
++ When sleep, or death, gives them their liberty.

Augusta Wray
+++ from Engravings on Sand

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Nocturne in Silver

Silver shadows in somber silence
Wrap folds around the tranquil night,
Silver rain from a silver moon
Pours its radiance through silver light.

Sleeping leaves from moon-drenched branches
Drip silver pendants edged with pearl,
Flowers with their petals closing
Gleam with silver as the furl.

Cobwebs, silver-strewn with dewdrops,
Chiming tone when brushed by moth wings,
Are silken harps, tht quivering, make
Plaintive music from silver strings.

Augusta Wray
+++ from Engravings on Sand

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The seasons . . . love . . . death . . . these are the themes of most of Augusta Wray’s collected poems. She is steeped in Carolina culture and climes. In this final poem I’ve chosen, though, I hear an understated voice of longing and regret. Perhaps she refers here to her childlessness, but perhaps she is opening herself, and her readers, to discovering beauty in the reality that is her life – who cares what it may have seemed to some to lack?

Flowering Plum

In loveliness she stands,
Blonde beauty rare,
With white and fragile hands
Folded in prayer.

Of bridal purity,
A perfumed veil
Hides with security
A body frail.

The season waits for her,
She blooms each year
When winds softly murmur:
“Spring is now here.”

Feathered choristers sing
Blithely and loud,
Sheltered beneath the wing
Of petaled cloud..

Lonely she stand apart,
No fruit she bears.
Such beauty serves the heart.
Barren? . . . Who cares?

Augusta Wray
+++ from Engravings on Sand

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Dorothy Edwards Summerrow was a renowned Carolina poet herself, winner in 1957 of the Roanoke-Chowan Award for Poetry. She also noted in the foreward: In Silver Echoes, the poetry anthology published in the spring of 1959 by the North Carolina Federation and edited and compiled by this editor, more of [Augusta Wray’s] poetry is included that that of any other writer in the state.

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History of the North Carolina Poetry Society

Charlotte / Mecklenburg historical timeline

Roanoke-Chowan Award for Poetry

2015-06-15Doughton Park Tree

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