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photo by Saul Griffin

[with 3 poems by Becky Gould Gibson]

Amelia’s Papa Jimmy brought the bunnies to playschool yesterday. Four of them had fallen from a nest destroyed as he cleared a field two weeks ago. No mother in sight.

When we heard he’d bought bunny milk at Tractor Supply and was feeding them four drops every two hours we first thought, Is he raising them for the dogs? Not to eat, to teach. He trains young beagles to hunt; maybe they need to learn the smell of rabbits?

But no, not at all, it’s just that Jimmy can’t leave helpless young to die. Tractor Supply will mix up formula for any small critter you may have need of. He used a dropper until they learned to suck from a nipple. Two weeks later they’re hopping, eating tasty greens.

Yesterday each four- and five-year old got to hear the bunnies’ story, touch their soft ears and heads. Today Jimmy will release them at the edge of the woods, restored to bunny-ness, preserved for no other purpose than themselves.

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Stand of Birches

The woods are wet this morning – rain yesterday
or the day before, maybe – such a sense of quiet,
all the damp peace of it, mostly trees to be with,
birches especially, minimalists in chic black and white,
raw silk with horizontal markings like wounds
slashed across white paper, dashes, staples, lines
of ghostly scansion, every beat, every syllable
of wood and glade accented, no scales or hierarchies
scored in their bark, rather universal emphasis,
as if everything mattered – this tiny white-headed
flower, this ant on some errand, even the mosquito
buzzing my ankles, these low-growing grasses,
branch with its bark pulled back, underbelly softening,
chartreuse mosses – though brief, briefly important.

Becky Gould Gibson

photo by Saul Griffin

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These poems by Becky Gould Gibson are from her book Heading Home, the winner of the inaugural Lena Shull Book Contest in 2013. The poetry is strongly rooted in family and place but also richly steeped in literary tradition and history. I keep coming back to Stand of Birches for its eloquent, even spiritual expression of the deepest premise of Ecology: not utilitarian, not exploitative, not derivative or charismatic or anthropocentric – each living thing in all its interconnectedness is of value in and for itself.

Yes, yes, OK, OK, even mosquitoes.

In 2012 the Poetry Council of North Carolina elected to dissolve its organization and merge its residual funds with the North Carolina Poetry Society. Since 1949 PCNC had promoted the craft of poetry in the state with its annual contests; now in collaboration with NCPS it established an endowment to sponsor the annual Lena Shull Book Contest for an unpublished full length manuscript by a North Carolina writer, named for founder and first president of PCNC. Becky Gould Gibson was the first Lena Shull winner.

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Scuppernongs
+++ Immortal life will be given . . .
+++ The Lord of harvest gathers us, / Sheaves of the dead –
++++++++++++++++++++++ for Bill

When death lifts its edge a little,
as in the first movement of Mahler’s C minor symphony,
you wonder will you be ready.
We finish a bowl of scuppernongs from the market,
wild bronze from childhood,
delighting in the bite, thick skin between our teeth,
touch tongue-tip to tongue-tip.
You taught my tongue to talk back.
I recall all those summers,
you in another county, nearly a decade before we would meet.

Now, come with me.
We’re together, then. It’s a languid afternoon in late August.
I’m eight. You’re ten.
As for death, I still think I can talk my way out of it.
Follow me across the un-mowed yard,
weeds tickling our legs,
to the scuppernong bush at the edge of Mr. Marcus’s field.
For you, death is no fiction.
At six, made to duck under your desk at school,
wear a dog tag, so someone could identify your body.
No bucket. We stuff ourselves madly.
Know what happens if you swallow a seed? We laugh.

No, love. It is not my own death I worry about, but yours –
will I ever be ready for it?
To be alone as I was that distant August,
memory plucking the fruit of you, scuppernong ripe in my mouth.

Becky Gould Gibson

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Lines to Yeats on the Anniversary of His Death
++++ January 28, 1939
++++ for Alice

To a soul just fledged, still damp, in a nest
Of paper, flimsy bits of Plato, Paul,
Shelley, Wordsworth, Tennyson, all the rest
Who believed (or even half-believed) soul
Could soar above the earth (earth a mere cast
Of heaven), spirit somehow separable
From flesh, you came, William (my dear Willie)
With your poems of pure song, heart’s own music.

No wonder it entered my veins, my pulse
Learned to tick your rhythms. No matter you
Warned not to pleasure soul at the expense
Of body, who could even listen to
Such warning with such a beat, sound and sense
So perfectly married, as if to show
A manmade thing could become immortal,
Gold bird on a gold limb sing out its soul.

You made me more impatient than ever
To conceive such a poem of my own.
Your artless art merely fed the fever,
Yet every line fell stillborn from my pen.
Blood had become a colorless liquor
Nourished on symbols. Life had to happen,
And it did. Not a woman but a child,
Rather a child’s birth. It was a girl-child

Split me apart. No way to staunch the flood
(Nothing’s sole or whole that has not been rent)
Of blunt necessity. You had your Maud.
I had my Alice. She caught me up, lent
Me her knowledge. She, no man or bird-god,
Made loins shudder, roused me from those years spent
In abstraction, taught me bone, bowel, breath,
Body’s mortal work. She taught me my death.

Becky Gould Gibson

three poems from Heading Home, Winner of the 2013 Lena Shull Book Contest, Main Street Rag Publishing Company, © 2014 Becky Gould Gibson

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2016-05-08a Doughton Park Tree

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[poems by Joy Harjo, Wendell Berry, Mary Hennessy]

an offering from Debra Kaufman . . .

Remember
– Joy Harjo –

Remember the sky that you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of this universe.
Remember you are all people and all people
are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
Remember.

Remember”; Copyright ©1983 by Joy Harjo from She Had Some Horses by Joy Harjo

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There is something we want to hear that poetry speaks to us. We don’t know what it is until we feel its vibrations. How could we know? Do you only see what you know you want to see and never turn around and the redbud has burst into bloom? Do you only smell what you know you want to smell and baking shortbread never wafts you into Nana’s kitchen?

Poetry wants to say to us the thing we didn’t know we wanted to hear but deep within us we do know and do desire. Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you. / Remember language comes from this. (Joy Harjo).

Several friends have offered poems that speak to them about our Earth and which offer to gather us all in together to celebrate Earth Day! I’m posting their offerings April 21, 22, and 23. What do you see? What do you hear?

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Linda French Griffin

an offering from Catherine Carter . . .

A Purification
– Wendell Berry –

At start of spring I open a trench
in the ground. I put into it
the winter’s accumulation of paper,
pages I do not want to read
again, useless words, fragments,
errors. And I put into it
the contents of the outhouse:
light of the sun, growth of the ground,
finished with one of their journeys.
To the sky, to the wind, then,
and to the faithful trees, I confess
my sins: that I have not been happy
enough, considering my good luck;
have listened to too much noise;
have been inattentive to wonders;
have lusted after praise.
And then upon the gathered refuse
of mind and body, I close the trench,
folding shut again the dark,
the deathless earth. Beneath that seal
the old escapes into the new.

A Purification” by Wendell Berry from New Collected Poems. Counterpoint © 2012

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Plantainleaf Pussytoes; Antennaria plantaginifolia; Mountains-to-Sea Trail above Brinegar Cabin

an offering by Mary Hennessy, her poem . . .

Repeat After Me:

jettison the idea of shelter.
Say it’s like a camera,
one more thing to hold between

ourselves and the world.
In hand, an invitation by library card
to leave the room of a little life.

Move out unwashed and unredeemed.
Wear a raggedy-assed back pack
like a harness.

The smell of pressed meat
from the back of the bus,
The curve at the top of the world

visible. Something you could Braille-
the almost arc of it.
You tell me that the composer Ravel repeats

every line, I say, “so do the birds.”
Sometimes they go on repeating
until I lose count.

Without looking up you say, “the world
will be gone a long time before anyone notices.”
The world will be gone a long time.

“Repeat After Me” © Mary Hennessy, first appeared in Pinesong 2018, annual anthology of the North Carolina Poetry Society

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[original artwork by Linda French Griffin (c) 2021]

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[with 3 poems by Tony Abbott]

Mike and I met at a remote trailhead below Mt. Pisgah to hike up into Shining Rock Wilderness. We planned to spend one night at our favorite site after reaching it by this unfamiliar approach. End of September, gorgeous reds and golds, brittle blue sky, and we were prepared for cold above 5,000 feet.

No camp fires permitted in a Wilderness Area. We made tea over a little alcohol stove, sat on the ground, and talked until it grew too dark to see. The ultralight 2-person tent Mike had packed was cozy, which is to say it was more like a 1 ½-person tent. We’d be keeping each other warm.

I woke up after midnight in dense darkness and couldn’t breathe. Got out of the tent, pulled on my balaclava, walked away to pee, sat on a log – deep silence, no owl hoot, no chitter of flying squirrels, not one breath of wind. When my butt started to freeze I tried squeezing back into my mummy bag. No good. My chest tightened, the thick black pushed down on my face, I had to claw its hand away. Worst claustrophobia ever.

I finally dragged my sleeping pad and bag out to a level space in the pine needles, wrapped a jacket around my feet, and hunkered in just as the moon rose through the red spruce. Cold light expanded my lungs. At some point, hours creeping, moon in my eyes, I fell asleep. Mike woke me at first sun.

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What can bring light into darkness? What hand comforts the clench of fear? What consoling faith casts away doubt? What companion banishes loneliness?

The forward to Anthony S. Abbott’s book Dark Side of North, published posthumously by Press 53 this year, consists of a remembrance presented by Dr. Jacqueline Bussie at Tony’s memorial service on October 17, 2020. Here is an excerpt:

Suffering didn’t make Tony unique. What he did with it did. Tony was the first adult, and the first teacher, I’d ever met in life who was willing to talk about the hard stuff. He taught us that suffering sucks. That suffering denied is suffering unhealed. He taught us to never sugarcoat suffering, smack a pink bow on it, or shove it to the back of the drawer. In one of my favorite lines in Tony’s poetry, he urges us to get down to “the Humpty-Dumpty business of trying to make a jewel out of the cracked pieces of the heart.”

Dr. Jacqueline Bussie, page xiv, Dark Side of North

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The Boy from Somewhere Else

lived in the open mouth of the world.
He chewed on the dry branches of time.
He was handsome enough, to be sure,

but there was in his voice
the deep well of absence.
He was with them, but not of them.

His speech was familiar, but not theirs,
and when he told tales
of his drunken uncles and stage-struck

sisters, they nodded politely
and they spoke in their apple-round voices
of kith and kin, and told how their

grandfathers had founded the first
bank in Hitchcock County.
He would wait, this boy.

He would find one day the person
who could hear his music
as blood red leaves matched autumn.

He could not be mistaken about this.
When she came, he would recognize her
at once – as one knows the coming storm

by the first, distant clap of thunder.
Perhaps he could not keep her.
Perhaps one can never keep such a gift.

But, still, she would grace his years – the buds
of his growing up, the rattling trains of the
middle passage, the brittle bones of the slow

descent, the icy nights of the final coming down.

from Dark Side of North, Anthony S. Abbott, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2021 by the estate of Anthony S. Abbott

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The Light in the Window
In memory of Nancy Abbott Hieronymus (1926-2017)

How early I must have known that she was
my true mother, that when she packed her bag
I must go with her. She would keep me safe.

How early I must have known that she was
my true teacher, making the sounds of the words
with her mouth so I could learn them, too.

How early I must have known that she was
my true protector, throwing herself across me
slashing her knee on the broken windshield glass.

Later, when I was nearly grown, cocky sophomore
in prep school, riding the subway home at 2 a.m.,
she left a light in the window on that I

would turn out when I came in. I didn’t know
she stayed awake until she heard the door open
and close, heard the click of the light going off.

Now I sit by her bed and watch her sleep and wake,
sleep and wake, and tell me how she loves
her precious Dick, how she will hold his hand

all the way to heaven. Beyond the light in her window
the evening comes over the island, the deer prick up
their ears, the foxes peek from their dens. In the pines

the gold crowned kinglet waits. She is coming, they say,
our friend is coming, the one who loved us all these years.
Tonight I will go home, and the friends who loved her so

will arrive, one by one, to take her in their arms,
and the next night the angel will stand at the foot
of her bed. You are loved, he will say, and enfold her

with his bright wings. And she will go where that brightness
is and, like a light in the window, shine upon us all.

from Dark Side of North, Anthony S. Abbott, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2021 by the estate of Anthony S. Abbott

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The Long Afternoon

All through the long afternoon
the wind moved in the branches.
I had lived in the city and had seen
only the dust from the tires,
the diesel gas from the gray brown
buses with their leaden burdens.

Here it was different. Here on the grass
we had found by chance, walking
away, just away from everything
and then, a clearing and green
grass and the wind moving
like silver over the water
and in the branches, too. Yes,

all through the long afternoon
the wind moved and we were silent
in awe of the day and leaves
yellow and red and orange,
which floated slowly down
into our waiting hands.
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa Later
I found these leaves in a book
where you had put them for
safe keeping, a book you knew
I would take down and read
some distant starry night.

from Dark Side of North, Anthony S. Abbott, Press 53, Winston-Salem NC, © 2021 by the estate of Anthony S. Abbott

 

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Thank you, Tony. We will continue trying, and we will not stop trying, to make something beautiful from the brokenness that we are. Together. May it be and become so.

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The North Carolina Poetry Society has honored Anthony S. Abbott’s memory and shared Tony’s poetry at its January, 2021 literary meeting and with a commemoration in the Winter, 2021 edition of its quarterly publication, Pine Whispers.

The line “the Humpty-Dumpty business of trying to make a jewel out of the cracked pieces of the heart.” is from Tony’s poem Before Forty in his book The Girl in the Yellow Raincoat (St. Andrews Press, 1989) and collected in New & Selected Poems (Lorimer Press, 2009).

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2015-06-15Doughton Park Tree

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[with 3 poems by Patricia Hooper]

Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, February 05-07, 2021

the assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen . . .

Faint tracks – but when has life ever laid it out plain, an open book, page upon page with footnotes? Aren’t I still searching between the lines, faint traces, no clear prints? Lately I dream every night of making diagnoses, explaining treatments, buffing up my charts. Is Jung telling me that this was my only purpose in life and now it’s over?

Deer walk a diagonal gait – each hoof print is really two impressions, the forefoot overlaid with the rear. If the rear hoof strikes a little lateral within each fore print it means the pelvis is wider = you are following a female.

Don’t plan on seeing a bear in the Smokies in February. Mom is asleep in a hollow tree with her cubs and Dad is dozing under a bush somewhere (he snores), though he might rouse up to forage on a warm afternoon. So why are we studying mammals at Tremont in February? In the sere meadows, the leaf-littered groves, under the pale unforgiving sky the book of all their signs is open for us to read. Let’s hike up to that oak tree and see who’s been scratching for acorns, see who has left us some scat. Let’s follow that faint trail through dry brown stalks to check out predator and prey. Who clawed up this white pine? Who stepped in the mud?

Canids: dog paw prints show deep claw marks with claws of outer toes angled outward; coyote claw marks are less distinct but all aligned strait ahead; gray fox claw marks are the least distinct since they save the claws for climbing trees, and the rear pad looks scalloped like a chevron.

But clear prints are maybe 1% of tracking. We’re learning a new vocabulary of chewed nut and compressed grass. Tracking is patterns and connections, habitats and behaviors. Measure the size of the incisors that gnawed this antler. Measure the bits of skull and femur in this dropping.

And can I learn a new language? Maybe all these dreams are about knitting up the years, tying the last knot, laying it away to pull out when I need to reminisce. Or maybe I need to discover something missed. Life is not disjunctive – the end of every moment flows into the beginning of the next. The assurance of past creates future. Tracking in Cades Cove – a metaphor for opening oneself to an unseen message within, to the evidence of human purpose. Connections, convictions. We track a personal ecology that leaves signs for us to discover, to question, to wonder.

To follow.

Tracks have lead us to this place, maybe with a lesson or two that sunk in along the way. Some wisdom. And the tracks that still lead forward?

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Patricia Hooper’s bright clear poetry touches earth with a feather – to bring color and flight. Garden, feeder, wild crag, starry night, in all seasons she observes the particular and discovers its connection to the universal. Nature is her palette but human nature is the canvas she illuminates. The poems of her latest book, Wild Persistence, taken singly seem to open our eyes to brief moments or localities, but as a whole these poems weave a complex narrative of family, longing, grief, redemption. I find joy in her art.

Patricia moved to North Carolina in 2006 and lives in Gastonia. In 2020 she was awarded the Brockman-Campbell Award of the North Carolina Poetry Society for Wild Persistence, awarded for the year’s best book of poetry by a North Carolina author.

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Elegy for a Son-in-Law

1.

A distant figure on the mountainside
seems to be coming closer, then it turns,
a blue, retreating cap, a scarlet jacket.
Without another sign, I know you’re there,
climbing again the way you used to climb
before you were a ghost. I want to call
Don’t go! Come back! I have your two small sons
sleeping behind me in the car, their mother
watching the sky for falcons. But you move
farther away. Or we do. Now you’re gone,
back toward Mount Sterling where she took your ashes.
I hope it’s peaceful there. I hope you know
they’re doing well. I hope you didn’t see us.

2.
These are the mountains where you were a boy,
broad waves of mountains rolling like an ocean
into the distance, no horizon, only
these smoky contours where you knew each rise
and hemlock forest, plunging stream. Your friends
tell how you often left them for a while
after you’d reached the top, to be alone,
then met them at the camp, all tales and laughter.
Today, a red-tailed hawk riding the breeze,
gold leaves, cascading creeks, – your kind of joy:
cold rushing currents, then the ecstatic slide.

3.
This is the world you wanted: brisk fall air,
the valleys hung with haze, that long blue range
half-hidden by the clouds. It’s coming clear.
How far you must have seen from there! And here?
It’s hard to see around so many hills,
so many peaks and gorges, and the curves
are slippery on the parkway, miles of turns.
We’re heading home. The boys are waking now,
their mother’s passing crackers, pointing out
the overlook ahead: blue waterfall,
deep river valley, autumn leaves, the pines
along the ridge, the rising trail – and there,
the summit you’d have shown them. Mist and shine.

from Wild Persistence, Patricia Hooper, University of Tampa Press, 2019

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In Tennessee

The Blue Ridge at sunset – hardly a missed note
in the hemlocks where a mockingbird is singing
while to the west a falcon dips, then glides
over the valley, indistinct from here
except that the bird falls lower than the chair
I’m sitting in, and disappears. The sky
is the color of pomegranate, and the balcony
slips into shadow like the distant hills.
No wonder that the mockingbird is singing
a medley of every song he knows,
no matter whose. No wonder that he sits
in the glow of a single flood lamp high above
the roof, a pool he must mistake for sunlight,
enough to urge him on and on and through
his repertoire that bird by bird is ringing
over the day’s end, over the night’s coming.
Maybe he has to sing to know himself
as part of things – finch, cardinal, wren, and now
that long coarse call that sounded like the crow
or Steller’s jay – whatever voice he’s pulling
out of himself, some sound against the silence,
against the signs of brightness vanishing.
The railing of the porch dissolves in mist,
the sun has set, and now we’re weightless, drifting
as if suspended in the blackening air.
His sphere of light no longer seems as clear.
Maybe he knows the lamplight isn’t sunlight.
Maybe he feels he too is disappearing
into the darkness like this porch and chair.
he has to sing, he has to keep on singing,
to know he’s really there.

from Wild Persistence, Patricia Hooper, University of Tampa Press, 2019

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At the Rifle River

When the eagle unfurled, clearing
the green dome of the forest,
I almost missed it

till somebody cried, “Look up!”

and there it was
in the sky over the river

which I saw it must have owned
the way it spanned the rapids
with a single stroke,

and the sky parted.

I can’t say I believe
in messengers from the clouds,

but I didn’t believe
this was an accident either,

the way its light
tore through the drab morning
I barely lived in, and then

it rose over the steaming
forest, it disappeared.

*
At the time I was only watching
my own path by the river,

but afterward
I knew it must still be there
over the rim of maples

its white helmet, its fire,
and its gold eye turned toward me,

or something enough like it,
something powerful and amazing
which someone else sees.

Imagine my certainty
the moment before it rose
through the world, crossing the water,
that there was nothing anymore to surprise me.

Imagine my emptiness.

Imagine my surprise.

from Separate Flights, Patricia Hooper, University of Tampa Press, 2016

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GSMIT // SANCP

Special thanks to Jeremy Lloyd and John DiDiego directors and instructors at Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont, for the weekend Mammals course, which is part of the Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program, and to Wanda DeWaard, guest instructor for the day and master tracker and naturalist.

The Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certification Program at GSMIT comprises eight weekend courses designed to provide fundamental and specialty skills in Southern Appalachian ecology and interpretive techniques. Each weekend includes 15 hours and more of lecture and hands-on field study. Upon completion the student receives the non-credit Southern Appalachian Naturalist Certificate from the University of Tennessee.

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IMG_1827

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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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Poem in the Key of E

Some trees keep their color and shape
even beyond the time that we have ceased
to dream. They tease us into faith.

This one I approach from a distance.
Its leaves, like tiny flags of grace,
beckon to me. It is November, and the rain

has pelted us, sweeping masses
of yellow to the sodden earth.
But these leaves stay, and the tree,

bright orange against the now blue
sky, stands against the growing dark.
Some days I am afraid to come,

fearing that a mean and fickle God
will flip the table, leaving me nothing
but a tangle of dark and dirty branches.

The neighbors think I’m weird.
“For Christ sake,” the plumber says.
“It’s just a fucking tree.” Maybe.

I thought that once myself. But now
if I close my eyes hard in the night,
the color comes and the room

slides away. I float upward in this
orange, this strange treeness.
My body is inside, looking out.

 

Anthony S. Abbott, from The Angel Dialogues, Lorimer Press, 2014

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Poetry, on some level, is about saving things. . . . Things die; poetry retrieves them.

Tony Abbott graced my life during the few years I knew and worked with him. He was president of the NC Poetry Society while I served on the Board, he was mentor in the Gilbert-Chappell program for students, and he was an inspiring colleague and friend. I sat in awe: Davidson professor, poet and novelist, literary leader. But Tony didn’t want our awe. He was a seeker for meaning in this tangled, sometimes messy human journey and he simply invited fellow travelers.

Perhaps empathy and humility spring from the same root. If one has suffered deeply, one cares for and feels deeply the suffering of others; if one has experienced the frailties and missteps to which none of us are immune, one sets aside pride and judgement and stoops to lift the burden of one’s fellows. If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.

Tony, with his vast gifts and achievements, embodied empathy and humility. My life is richer for having shared it with him. Now his voice we carry within ourselves.

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Going Home:
a poem in memory of those North Carolina writers who have gone before us

– Weymouth Center, July, 2009

Late afternoon. I lie in the long grass and wait
for words. The still white clouds mock me. Then,
unexpectedly, the sound of music. I sit up. From
an open window upstairs, the clear sounds
of Dvorak. I know these notes like I
know the timbers of my own soul. Yes.

The English horn sings the theme, and sings it
yet again, with the bass clarinet. And then
the strings enter, like a prayer. Take me home,
Lord, take me home. Now the clarinets,
and the horns like faith answer. Then the strings
whisper softly, yes, and again, yes.

I see Graham Jackson, tears running down his black
cheeks, Graham Jackson, in full dress uniform, playing
“Goin’ Home” for his beloved Franklin Roosevelt, and then
the farmers, young and old, black and white, all
of them poor, who loved the only man they had
ever known as President of the United States, hundreds
standing on the hills of Georgia and the Carolinas
watching the train go by with the body of their lost
leader, watching the train take him home. “Goin’ home”
say the English horns again, and then the clarinet returns.

Here I am, listening, images surfacing – the trim brick walks
of my beloved town, the green hills to the west, rising
and falling like the strings, the waves on the outer
banks crashing like the cymbals, then sliding back
like the clarinets. I see the faces of my friends, I hear
the voices of the poets who have gone before, their words
rising again. Dark skinned and light, old and young, male
and female, children of the valleys and the mountains,
children of the coast and the Piedmont. I am here, they say,
I have made the path for you, and I am still here, my words
as true as the rock face of Cold Mountain.

The music soars and for a moment there is light. The whole
orchestra together in hope. then the English horn alone,
mournful, and the strings so soft, almost a whisper.
The strings carry our love over the hills to the sea,
the horns offer it to the sky, and the strings set it aloft.
It is done. They have gone home, and who and what
they are we carry within ourselves. The evening comes.
I rise from the grass and walk toward the open window.

 

Anthony S. Abbott, from If Words Could Save Us, Lorimer Press, 2011

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Poetry, on some level, is about saving things. Even a poem so simple as “Growing Up” in A Small Thing is about saving the wonder of the child in an adult world that conspires to destroy it. Maxine Kumin uses the term ‘Retrieval System’ in one of her great poems. Poetry is a retrieval system. Things die; poetry retrieves them.
from Anthony S. Abbott – In His Own Words

Tony Abbott’s publications at Lorimer Press

Biography and induction into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame

The scriptural quotation above is I Corinthians 12:26, New Revised Standard Version

Sam Ragan Poetry Festival of the North Carolina Poetry Society — March 22, 2015

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Wow, I really like your enjambment.

To the women who said this to me after a reading last Spring: Where are you? Who are you? I’d like to get to know you better. Let’s get together and talk . . .

. . . about my poetry. Oh, right, about yours, too. About all sorts of poetry. Just remember: the sexiest line in the English (Major) language is, I like your poem.

Because let’s face it, most of the people I run into every day don’t want to hear about my poetry. I’d most likely encounter a blank stare, or even a lynch mob, if I confided, “I’m writing a sestina using the argot of 1930’s gangster Chicago.”

But there must be someone out there who admires my enjambment. I guess I’ll have to place myself at the mercy of the Editors.

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Years ago when I first became afflicted with this obsession Poetry I was writing in a vacuum. Lines tumbling about in my head pressuring to be set down on paper – why does someone do that? For a Pulitzer? Not in a million years. Pushcart? Never heard of it. Fortune? Ha ha ha ha ha! Fame? Of course not . . . well, maybe a little would be nice.

No, I suppose I write for the same reason as all writers: the compulsion to get it onto the page, and to get it right. But how to know if it’s right? I was desperate to have someone read from the growing stack. Not to tell me it was good (OK, it wouldn’t hurt my feelings if they did) but just to confirm that what I was writing was poetry. That the lines communicated what they were meant to. That they connected with the reader.

Having no access to a writer’s group it occurred to me that I should submit to poetry journals. The Editors would let me know how I was doing! Editors are wonderful human beings, but of course they are far busier than I imagined. Most of the feedback they gave came from their Xerox machines. A few had distinctly negative things to say (without ever quite using the word “sucks”). But there was one Editor, one Golden Pen beyond the vale of the SASE, who never failed to encourage.

Perhaps you’ve guessed – I’m talking about Shelby Stephenson. Between 1999 and 2004 I sent him seventeen submissions, eighty plus poems. I must have exhausted him! But the tiny slips that returned along with the poems usually said, “Keep writing!” or “You’ll place these elsewhere.” Sometime during those years I met Shelby in person at an NC Poetry Society meeting and then I understood. The concept rejection does not reside in the man’s soul.

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And then on April 14, 2005, I received in the mail an 8½ x 11 page on the Pembroke Magazine stationery. An acceptance. I must have written a real poem at last.

Here are a few samples of the “non-rejection” slips – I saved every one. Here’s the acceptance letter, and here’s the poem Orange Cap which appeared in Pembroke Magazine Number 38 in 2006.

Shelby Rejections 01_0002

Pembroke 2005-04-12

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Orange Cap
for Grady at ninety

Common as dirt; cotton and nylon with a plastic snap band,
stiff front, forehead’s high profile that begs
for jaw ballast of a heavy chew; the kind a man wears
while he primes tobacco, hoes a row of beans,
seep of sweat darkening the brim, its shade
a cool welcome across the man’s red face
while the Piedmont sun sows his ears with slow cancer.
I can see one like it settled low on your narrow head

in many a long day’s field, beneath the nights’ revival tent,
at sixty still cutting timber with your boys,
your bony arms like axe handles, your hoarse chuckle
taming the chainsaw’s growl. You’ll never sit still,
almost ninety now and determined to ride that durned mower
across town, little wagon in tow to carry a brown paper sack –
bread, milk, a slab of streakéd meat
for the creases your daughter cut at the creek bank.

Never still and never capless, one clutched in silent hands
at the hospital that night we lingered with Opal,
last Yadkin County breath struggling from her lungs,
prayers that she’d open her eyes one more time
to your foolish teasing, the only one who could make her laugh –
prayers to be answered in the next life.
For today, always a cap and another to share:
I’ve kept the one you gave me, orange, Kennedy Auto Supply,

dusty then and more so now from its berth
beside these books that don’t tell a single story
that’s as worth hearing. See, I inked your gift’s date
here inside the hem: May 19, 1989. Remember
all the times I’ve rediscovered it, surprised you
at the door with the old blaze perched on my scalp?
Used it to make Opal cluck (but she couldn’t help grinning)?
Coaxed a phlegmy chuckle from your throat?

At each goodbye you ask, Still got that cap?
Like all the things we can’t take off –
the smell of woodsmoke in a canvas jacket,
black tobacco gum beneath cracked nails;
like all the things we’ll wear into glory –
grief, redemption, love for one companion,
shared laughter at an old fool’s tales . . .
yes, friend, I’ve still got it.

first appeared in Pembroke Magazine Number 38, 2006

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Spring Larkspur, Delphinium tricorne — Appalachian Trail north of Groundhog Creek Shelter, 5/2015

Post script

– I pulled out my copy of Number 38 this summer to leaf through it again and discovered there a host of poets I’ve since some to know and revere: Ronald H. Bayes, Ann Deagon, Janice Moore Fuller, Sharon Sharp, Heather Ross Miller, Nancy Tripp King, Isabel Zuber, Susan Meyers, Ruth Moose, and more. I just want to say, “Holy Cow, Shelby!”

And THANKS!

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Doughton Park Tree #3

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.   .   .   Think of the wren
and how little flesh is needed to make a song. 

from Why Regret?,  Galway Kinnell

Brown-Headed Nuthatch

Sitta pusilla

The Grandson and I are playing with Legos on the back porch. Above the constant chitter of the goldfinch kaffeeklatsch shines a sudden clear bright whistle. “Listen, Saul. That’s a Carolina Wren.”

After a few minutes of silent cogitation, a few more minutes of Lego cars brmmm-brmming across the planks, we hear the bird again. Saul remarks, “He’s saying Senner-pede, Senner-pede.”

“You mean centipede, the little crawly thing with a hundred legs?”

“No, Senner-pede.” Brmm, brmm. “I made that up.”

And the moral of the story: Encountering the logic of the philosopher, even if only six years old, it’s probably best to listen.

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The Carolina Wren is one of my favorites, feisty little troglodyte whose voice is 30 decibels too big for his 30 grams of fluff. Listen to enough wren song and you discover the birds can be quite individual. Scolds, chatters, and so many variations on that 2- or 3- or 4-note whistle: just when you think you know them all someone new moves into the neighborhood.

Fred Chappell is one of my other favorites. He’s one of the writers that inspired me about twenty years ago to rediscover the dark forest of Poetry. I carried a typescript copy of his poem Forever Mountain around in my wallet until it wore through and I’d about memorized it. As I sort through the piles on my shelves I think it’s safe to say I’ve bought every one of his books. The epigrams, the complex forms, the backsass, the cat poems . . .

. . . and just when you think you know his song someone new moves into the neighborhood. At this year’s Sam Ragan Poetry Festival Fred revealed to us that he’s now writing fables, poems that tell a story with a moral. His voice just keeps getting bigger and bigger. And you can bet that a Fred Chappell fable is going to stretch your intellect and then bite you on the ass.

Feisty, yes; troglodyte, no.

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Fox and Bust by Fred Chappell; read at Sam Ragan Poetry Festival,
Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities in Southern Pines, NC, on March 21, 2105

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Every year the North Carolina Poetry Society sponsors the Sam Ragan Poetry Festival, named for our state’s third and longest-serving Poet Laureate.  Sam was succeeded by Fred Chappell as our fourth Poet Laureate, illuminating that post from 1997-2002. In 2004 Fred collaborated with philanthropist and poet Marie Gilbert, assisted by William Jackson Blackley and a volunteer board, to create the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Series.  Each year since then three notable NC poets have been selected to serve as mentors, each to 3 or 4 students middle school to adult, to create and critique a body of poems, followed by public readings in libraries throughout the state.  Fred is still a guiding light for this endeavor, which celebrated its tenth anniversary at this year’s Sam Ragan Poetry Festival in Southern Pines on March 21, 2015.

The photos and poems from this and the five preceding GriffinPoetry posts commemorate that event.

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Weymouth Woods

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Doughton Park Tree #1

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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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