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[with two poems by Lenard D. Moore]

Mockingbird knows both of Blue Jay’s songs: the astringent lament that flings the blue name of the blue Corvid into pathos; the softer plaintive wheedle of him who begs to be thought better of. What does all that conversation signify when it erupts from the beak of the Jay? What meaning has the Mocker usurped, if any meaning at all? Who can listen and understand, and who can answer?

We of different class order family genus species can only speculate why the Mockingbird repeats four times each song he knows, and each song he himself composes, as he hops from the tip of power to the mailbox to the thorn bush and back again and his notes spiral the neighborhood. We are probably safe to bet that Mocker doesn’t care two bits about impressing the Jays. Song as proclamation, song as beacon, song as telegraphy, song as bulwark – let’s just imagine that Mockingbird proclaims music is glory and improvisation is king.

Listen and understand.

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I have known Lenard Moore mainly from his haiku. He points the way to that parallel universe which is only a hairsbreadth from ours and then with observation and pointed brush he opens the door.

I also know Lenard as a teacher and mentor to Carolina writers in many, many different organizations and settings, and particularly I remember a meeting about 10 years ago at Weymouth Center in Southern Pines, NC. While Bill Blackley played blues harmonica, Lenard riffed and bopped with his jazz poetry. Now I’m holding a book that brings it back: The Geography of Jazz, issued in 2020 by Blair as a reprint of a publication by Mountains and Rivers Press in 2018.

Sultry, syncopated, steamy – if you can read this book without bobbing your head and tapping your foot you need a little more sax in your life.

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At the Train Stop

I imagine the quick hand:
Thelonious Monk waves
at red, orange, yellow leaves
from Raleigh to Rocky Mount.
Alone in this seat,
I peer out the half-window
at the rainbow of faces
bent toward this train
that runs to the irresistible Apple,
determine to imagine Monk
glows like Carolina sun
in cloudless blue sky.
I try so hard to picture him
until his specter hunkers
at the ghost piano, foxfire
on concrete platform.
Now I can hear the tune ‘Misterioso’
float on sunlit air.
If notes were visible,
perhaps they would drift crimson,
shimmer like autumn leaves.
A hunch shudders
into evening, a wordless flight.

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Ascension: John Coltrane

I didn’t pick up the tenor
and soprano saxophones
for legendhood.
I wanted only to explore chords
into progression, step into another world
I had to escape anything too strict,
take ‘Giant Steps’ all the way
from Hamlet, North Carolina.
The music shimmered like a lake
inside me and turned blue.
It was kind of spiritual.
I thought of extending the scales.
I wanted to play on and on,
sail as long as the horn could
and eventually come back again
as if I had never left.
It was maybe the only time
I left my body.

both selections from The Geography of Jazz, Lenard D. Moore, Blair Publishing 2020 reprint, © 2018 Lenard D. Moore

More about Lenard D. Moore, his poetry, and haiku.

 

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Afterword: Old Jay still has a few tricks of his own. He can mimic perfectly the three Buteos in his breeding range: Red-tailed, Red-shouldered, and Broad-winged Hawks. Nobody messes with Mr. Blue Jay.


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2020-09-08b Doughton Park Tree

 

 

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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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“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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II

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

VIII

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

IX

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

XIX

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

XXVI

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

XXVII

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

XLII

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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Less is more.      –       Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

My high school art teacher was more than eclectic. I can’t see a cityscape without thinking of Lyonel Feininger, and we did an entire unit on the Bauhaus. Gropius, Kandinsky, Klee, there is music in the names. Years later when I began writing poetry, though, I guess van der Rohe’s aphorism had failed to inform. My early stanzas were little bricks, four-square and chunky, nary a chink much less any breath. Did I imagine the proper density of “condensed language” was that of neutronium?

I trust that my current poems can sometimes walk through the woods without the need for supplemental oxygen, but I am still far from mastering that most ephemeral, jewel-like and perfect poetic form. I have yet to write a decent haiku. I get twitchy wanting to add more painted-on layers of complexity. I want the scarlet oak leaf to become a scarlet tanager. I can’t let the image be the image. How many haiku masters does it take to change a light bulb? None, for they are the light bulb.

I will have to be content to let that light shine into me by reading Night Weather. Stan Absher’s poems are airy, piercingly bright, yet willing to settle briefly on your palm. Never can they be pinched between thumb and forefinger like a dead specimen. Open to any page, touch your tongue to a line, inhale the pinprick drop of scent as from honeysuckle flower. In the book, the seasons of haiku are punctuated by longer poems, but even these retain the sense of being present in their one precise moment: low sun / raking the leaves / into long shadows.

On your neck, the soft breath of these images. And patiently between the pages, watercolors by Katie Nordt. Also deceptively simple in their color and form. Follow the quiet path that winds among verse and line and season and you discover a deep story unfolding. Complex in its simplicity. From less becomes . . . ever more.

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bamboo

the bamboo grove
glimpse of stray light
butterfly

old house

no one can sleep

the flooring relaxes
on its joists

the downspout
hisses like a snake

in his shorts, Daddy
leans in the open
doorway, smoking

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Night Weather

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Katie Nordt, art and illustrations

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