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Posts Tagged ‘Debra Kaufman’

[with two poems by Debra Kaufman]

Deep shade, red spruce, heavy moss – the trail switches up, cuts back, winds steadily higher. We can smell the transition, conifer tang, slow decomposition. We can feel it on our faces, in our pores, sweat cooling, wraith of mist blown up the ridge to envelope us. And we feel it somewhere deeper.

Something changes, so gradual we sense it before we know it. Daylight creeps through, one tree with toothed sun-colored leaves, then two; smell of spring and sweet flowering even at the end of autumn; witch hobble and pale mountain asters give way to dwarf goldenrod. Look, here are beech drops, flowers faded, seeds set, never green, their skinny bodies and appendages like effigies set among the trees they parasitize. We stop and breathe. Again, deeper. This is beech gap.

Leave a patch of ground alone long enough and it will grow into what it is meant to be. Its personality is in its community. Why does this beech gap persist? Its elders, Fagus grandifolia, stunted and twisted in communion with mountain maple, wood ferns, sedges – why not fir and spruce intruding? Elevation, precipitation, mountain aspect, soil pH? Centuries-old seed repository in the duff? Visitation by warblers, jays, and small mast-seeking mammals? Protection by allelopathic residues? Protection by mountain spirits?

All of these may define but don’t explain. It is the community that becomes itself: shallow spreading roots and pervasive mycelia, leaf and frond, sporangium and ovule, every one essential to the personality of place.

And you and I? We may choose how tall we stand. We choose which way we face, whether we learn from our elders, teach our children. We rest here for a few minutes and commune with this other. The silence of a ridge-crest glade: fragile or resilient? Retreat or restoration? Will we descend from the mountain and bring this peace, this purpose, into our own communities?

Beech drops, Epifagus virginiana, Orobanchaceae (Broomrape family)

 

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These two poems by Debra Kaufman speak to me of reverence and restlessness, of longing for community and the fear of isolation. Are we welcome on this earth and will we welcome others? Will we create more than we destroy?

As described on the cover of her book, God Shattered, Kaufman discovers how personal disillusionment can be a guide to finding the godly within ourselves. These poems lead us to contemplate and understand our place in this fragile world.

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Great White
An angel is nothing but a shark well-governed.
– Herman Melville, Moby Dick

Everyone carries a shadow.
The less it is embodied in the conscious self,
the blacker and denser it is.

Does a savage self always lurk
just below the surface,
on the hunt, no matter

our good intentions? Is our higher
nature ready to do battle against the dark,
harpoon at the ready?

If, as the Buddha says, there is no I,
does awareness reside
between empty spaces?

I understand so little.
But I can see Aleppo is rubble,
its people scattered;

anyone who listens can hear the cries
of girls being shuttled into brothels,
can imagine comforting someone suffering

here or half the world away.
How do we stop what is sacred
from being ravaged,

witness life out of balance yet not despair?
There must be ways
toward doing what is right.

Why else, as Job asked, would
light be given to a man
whose way is hidden?

The great white shark
is nearly extinct. It can sense
a beating heart over a mile a way.

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Welcome

You, one of seven billion born
helpless, nearly hairless,

one more chimp-cousin
in our midst:

Will you be swaddled,
neglected, anointed,

will you breathe air
that smells like rain?

Which foods will sustain you,
upon what ground

will you walk? What storm,
fires, floods will sweep

over you, what languages
will you learn, what

dances, what prayers?
Here is my hope for you,

little stranger: may you feel
beholden to this wondrous planet,

may you take your hungry,
humble place in it,

may you dedicate your life
to making it a world worth

revering, holding, passing on.

poems by Debra Kaufman from God Shattered, Jacar Press, © 2019

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Debra Kaufman grew up in the Midwest but has lived in North Carolina for thirty years. She has published three poetry chapbooks and four full length poetry collections: God Shattered, Delicate Thefts, The Next Moment, and A Certain Light.

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The Beech Gap is a rare subtype of Northern Hardwood Forest, found scattered in small patches surrounded by Fraser Fir and Red Spruce in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and elsewhere at the highest elevations of the Southern Appalachians. The Beech, mixed with small numbers of Buckeye, Birch, and Maple species, are stunted by the cold climate and high winds, with an open understory but relatively rich herb layer. Some patches in the Smokies are fenced to prevent destruction by invasive non-native wild pigs. Why this seemingly stable climax plant community remains stable and is not overtaken by Spruce-Fir remains a mystery.

 

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All photos by Bill Griffin from Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program on Southern Appalachian Ecology, September 2020, Great Smokies Institute at Tremont; instructors Jeremy Lloyd and Elizabeth Davis.

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My middle name, just like my father and his father, is Wilson.  The county just east of Wake and just south of Nash is Wilson.  Its county seat and the home of Barton College is Wilson.  Is that why, when I drive past the magnolias and stately homes onto the pastoral campus and walk beneath the loblollies and grand willow oaks to the Sam and Marjorie Ragan Writing Center, is that why I feel so connected?

This second Saturday in April is the tenth annual (OK, Marty Silverthorne says it’s the ninth) celebration of National Poetry Month by Walking into April, a collaboration of the NC Poetry Society, Barton College, and the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Series.

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Wild Geranium

Let Us Walk Into April

It was a pear tree in bloom
That lit up your eyes.
You came at blossom time –
Dogwoods and lilacs,
The camellia and azalea,
And the glow of the redbud tree –
Thousands of wildflowers run before your feet,
And a faint green hovers in the woods.
Here we are just before the coming of April,
When the whole world is new
And each day is a beginning,
A time of sunlight and splendor –
Come, let us walk into April.

Sam Ragan, NC Poet Laureate 1982-1996

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In the morning: readings by two featured poets (this year Debra Kaufman and me), a round-table discussion.  In the afternoon: readings by each of the Eastern region’s Gilbert-Chappell students, a reading by their Distinguished Poet mentor (this year Michael White from UNC Wilmington), and of course open mic.

My impression, after attending Walking last year and again this year, is that this is a time and a place to become connected.  The young Gilbert-Chappell poets (Elizabeth is still in Middle School) connect to their mentor for months via prompts, suggestions, critiques — literary bonding.  This day of reading is the culmination, the pinnacle of all the poetry they’ve worked on together.  A few faces are present at the meeting year after year: Becky Godwin, our Barton College sponsor; Marty Silverthorne, without whom no open mic could be complete; Bill Blackley, to remind us of the legacy of Marie Gilbert and Fred Chappell in creating this program. And of course Sam Ragan is ever present.  His vision and creative spirit, keeping bright the connections between the literature of our past and the hottest verse of today, are a major reason North Carolina has become such a state of poetry.

Well, I just had a wonderful day and once again I feel connected to a big encouraging family, all of us blood kin because of the poetry in our genes.

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Elizabeth: Spring “. . . eventually something will grow from the ashes of a fire!”

Rachel: I Am Spring “I am the recovered youth in all life.”

Nancy: Spring Poem “I felt perfect . . . like the butterfly poised on the coral azaleas.”

Lauren: To Be Celebrated “speechless . . . grasping for verbs of uninvented languages.”

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During the morning reading, Debra Kaufman shared poems from several of her earlier book and then focused on her new collection, The Next Moment (2010 Jacar Press).  The poems cover an entire life’s span with sensitive maturity and a light touch that brings me, the reader, into the poem’s very moment.  The petals of star magnolia and tulip are falling; the breeze already hints of July; I will re-read these poems and traverse the seasons and the years.

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Shimmer

After the rain, heat
rises in mirage-like waves
on their hike to the river –
father, son, pregnant mom.
They sit midstream on boulders
and dip their feet in.

Above the river’s burble,
a high-pitched, ear-tickling thrill –
language of the infinitesimal –
and a horde of tiny angels
fills the hazy sky,
translucent wings glinting.

They’re going on into infinity,
the boy says, proud
to use the new word he learned,
along with optical illusion,
from a traveling magic show.
They watch, not talking,

until the cloud thins, disappears.
The woman wants
to say miraculous, but know
her husband would scoff.
the boy spies the first
split husk on a twig.

They find hundreds of shells
of the creatures
that ascended in a holy cloud,
then dispersed to light in trees,
beings that will sing lullabyes –
a choir of breathing – all summer long.

© Debra Kaufman, 2010

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I don’t know anything.  I’ve got a lot of people fooled into thinking I do, but no, I don’t know anything.

Sometimes Linda accuses me of thinking I know everything.  Well, OK, maybe I do tend to blurt out answers.  I hope I’m not as obnoxious as Bill Murray watching Jeopardy in Groundhog Day, but I do suffer from a mild case of expository blatheromania.  “What is a stereoisomer?”  “How about a four letter word for ‘wing-like’?”  Linda won’t let me within fifteen feet of her when she’s working a crossword. But all this fact stuff is just trivial.  I has nothing to do with knowing.  I say things out loud to test myself, to see if I finally do know anything.

Nope, still don’t.

All of which is making me very nervous about being the featured reader (along with Debra Kaufman) at Walking into April this Saturday. [April 14, Barton College, 9:00 a.m., Sam and Marjorie Ragan Writing Center – be there and place your bets as to whether I know anything.] It’s not the reading part.  I love to read and recite – my poetry, classic poems, a Sam Ragan or two – I’m a big ham.  No, it’s the little entry on the day’s schedule at 11:00 that says “Roundtable Discussion with Griffin and Kaufman, who will present their tips on writing and reading poetry.”

Right now the anything I don’t know the most about is poetry.  As in a total mistrust of whatever I possess that passes for taste, opinion, judgement, skill.  I worry that at the very moment I begin to like a certain poem that proves that it’s inferior.  “Man, you don’t know anything about GOOD poetry.”  And those poems that appear to me as if they were compiled by a random phrase generator?  “What is the matter with you, man?  Where’s your head?”  Maybe it’s just lack of self-confidence.  Maybe it would help to beg an audience with the Wizard of Oz, who would tell me, “Nonsense, lad!  You imagine you have no poetic soul, but all you need is this . . . [fill in the blank:  MFA; Fellowship; Pushcart; One thousandth ‘like’ on WordPress].”

There’s only one cure.  Read some more poems.  Let myself get caught up in images that seem to float effortlessly from line to line like dragonflies laying eggs on the mirror of a pond.  Words never before juxtaposed that now seem as if they were meant to be married since the genesis of language.  A narrative so exotic and at once so universal that I suddenly realize it’s my own story this strophe has captured.

Maybe I’ll discover I don’t need to know anything.

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Now Debra Kaufman knows something.  I have sat in her presence.  As she shares, the lines wind and flow like silk ribbon that seems so casual but soon binds you with no escape.  Her poems may hint at a personal history at the same time they are invoking an entirely new and fantastic landscape.  I walk into that landscape, look around, and find myself at home.

I am counting on you, Debra.  Knowing you’ll be there on Saturday, I will stand up straight, put off all this sidling nonsense, and walk upright into April.

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Autumnal Equinox

Sugar maples blaze at sunset;
leaves swoop and skirt
the chilling wind like chimney swifts.

A boy leaps into leaves,
calls to a neighbor’s Irish red,
as light falls, a cat’s white shadow,

on his grandmother’s lap.
Her hands rest there,
her grandmother’s hands,

the same boniness of wrist and knuckle,
dry fingers nearly flammable in the smoky air.
She smells ripe pears

and feels her body drawn
toward the darkness that rolls in
earlier each day.

Heat and light retreat,
and evening covers everything
except the boy, whose hair shines

silky silver light
as he tosses armfuls of color
upward, like sparks.

from The Next Moment (Jacar Press)

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Debra Kaufman is a North Carolina poet, playwright, and educator.  The Next Moment is her most recent poetry collection.  Her short and full-length plays have been performed throughout North Carolina and elsewhere. Debra is the recipient of a North Carolina Arts Council playwriting scholarship and of a grant from the Central Piedmont Regional Artists Hub Program.

Sample her work at:

Debra Kaufman homepage

Kathryn Stripling Byer — Here Where I Am (blog)

Scott Owen’s Musings

Moon-Mirror-Whiskey-Wind

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