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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.

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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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Every workday I’m out the door with a travel mug just as the sun pokes through the pines on Johnson Ridge across the valley. One solace – I leave by the back door, through the screened porch, embraced by the centenary beech before I get in my car. If there’s a little light it’s a herald of goldfinches; if full dark a doe might spook. The ‘possum might still be rooting in the compost. All just outside my porch.

This morning March snow is sifting through the screen and puddling on the planks. Office closed (at least until noon). While coffee perks I shove the screened door open against a drift of heavy white and toss a couple of handfuls of seed to the ground feeders. I huddle against the house until the birds return (they’d only flown twenty feet into the hickory branches). Hello, my friends. On the porch I’m only ten feet from the phone, the bills, the desk-high tasks undone, and three miles away I can hear traffic on I-77 unslowed by a little precipitation, but here is sanctuary.

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How many porches have acquired personality in your memory? Grandmother’s in Hamlet: the swing hanging from heavy chains, for Bob and me a pirate ship, a jet plane. Nana’s in Morehead: the smell of Bogue Sound, the chaise lounge one of us would sleep on when the July nights were too hot; our own first porch, the red rental house in Durham on Green Street, a family portrait with toddler Josh and Margaret just beginning to smile, all of us smiling.

With such an archetype it must have been easy for Maureen Sherbondy to elicit the poems, essays, short fiction that she has compiled into Voices from the Porch (Favorite Gathering Places). It is an anthology broad as a coastline or a rural avenue, but also deep in the secret heart of people gathered and torn. It’s a tangled story of memories and feelings that won’t allow themselves to be laid aside. It is voices that have whispered and will continue to whisper to each of us.

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Judith Behar’s poem Evening opens the collection. Like opening a door onto a space of sanctuary, and revelation.

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Evening

Dusk rises from the pond,
misty and green, then gray;
a bullfrog croaks his song
up to the darkening porch
where three women drink wine by candlelight,
the humid air like saris on their skin.
They idly talk of gardening and plans
for summer travel. Work falls away,
lines soften, then disappear
in shadow. A slivered moon
hangs in a cloudless sky.
They clear the dishes, carry their glasses in –
their day ended, the guests depart.
Creatures of the night
swarm in the grass.

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Judith Behar lives in Greensboro and is the volunteer publicity director for Writers Group of the Triad. She has taught English at Guilford College and practiced law in Greensboro for 30 years. Her poems and short stories appear in a number of publications, including contest winners in Pinesong, published by the NC Poetry Society.

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One more reason to consider sitting down in the porch swing and reading this anthology: my short story Overflowing about Jimmy, Nella, and Monty in Surry County and the danger of love.

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The gardens at Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities in Southern Pines, NC are a site to restore your soul.  Huge weeping cherry trees, perennial gardens, poet’s garden, frog pond, the adjacent old-growth longleaf pine savannah of Weymouth Woods . . . I first absorbed their restorative atmosphere about twelve years ago.  It was at the close of the last century, and  I was enjoying the approach of evening beside the water lilies, preparing to attend my first NC Poetry Society board meeting as treasurer.  In the diminishing light a vision appeared before me.  An elegant couple approached across the manicured grounds, he a dapper gentleman with a graying beard, she a slender beautiful woman with an astonishing floral hat.  I said to myself, I am in the right place.

No, it wasn’t Zelda and F. Scott (although doubtless they were frequent visitors when the Boyds resided at Weymouth).  Guy and Carolyn York became my friends in that garden that evening and have been ever since.  For two decades they have served the NC Poetry Society with warmth, creativity, and tireless enthusiasm.  During the fourteen years they shared as Vice Presidents for Membership they assured that every new member could say, “I am in the right place.” They greeted every person who walked into the Garden Room to attend an NCPS meeting or workshop at Weymouth.  They kept straight the status and address of some 400 members to make sure we’d receive our Pine Whispers newsletters and notices about contests and gatherings. Every new member for almost a decade and a half has received a welcoming packet of readings, poems, notices and tidbits that bear Carolyn’s distinctive touch.

One perquisite of serving on the NCPS Board is the social time on Friday night after the two- or three-hour long Board meeting – and no such gathering could ever be complete without Guy’s bottomless well of recitation: Tennyson, Kipling, Shakespeare, and a few limericks it would be illegal to post.  Now Carolyn and Guy have taken a hiatus from the Board for a year or two, but in 2013 Carolyn has agreed to serve as President and Guy will assume an At Large position.  Meanwhile they attend every meeting, volunteer in the book room, and continue to share their humor and style – folks, if you are in a room with Carolyn and Guy, you are in the right place.

The vote was unanimous.  The North Carolina Poetry Society Board of Directors has dedicated the 2012 edition of our annual anthology, Pinesong, to Carolyn and Guy York.  Congratulations, friends and companions!  Here’s to a few more decades together of celebration and poetry.

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Sugar Dust

Over time
the round pale moon
crumbles
like the
sugar cookie
of our childhood days
that we saved
and ate clandestine
in the closet
of the nursery
secretly – a bit at a time
a bite at a time –
until nothing was left
except the
sparkling
crumbs
which clung to our fingers.

In the sky of mooncrumble
nothing remains
in the velvet darkness
but sweet crystals of star dust.

© Carolyn Pleasants York, from Dream Within a Dream, 2011, Green Jade Publishers (Old Mountain Press)

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Dream Within a Dream is Carolyn’s Southern gothic mystery novel which incorporates Carolyn’s poetry to enhance the atmosphere of magnolia blossoms and dark secrets.

Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities

North Carolina Poetry Society

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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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July, Knife Lake, half a mile from the Canadian border.  The vireos begin to sing at 4 a.m. and dawn follows right on their tails.  I crawl out of my tent before the boys awaken.  We’re camped on a bluff high enough above the water that the mosquitoes don’t find me for a while, so I just sit among the red spruce, wait for water to boil, and watch the dance of colors on the water.

We paddled to this remote spot yesterday at dusk.  In the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, northern Minnesota, you’re only permitted to camp at specified sites, perhap just one in the smaller lakes, half a dozen in large lakes.  Of course there are hundreds of lakes, interconnected by creeks and sloughs and overland portage trails.  This will be our fourth day on the water out of ten.  Yesterday afternoon every campsite we passed had a couple of canoes pulled up the bank; we were afraid we’d be portaging ourselves and our gear to the next lake in the dark before we’d find an unoccupied spot.  Then we glided through a straight, passed a promontory, and the lake opened before us.  No tent, no campfire smoke for miles.  The designated campsites, like the portage trails, are indicated “approximately” on the map — a red dot, no signs anywhere in the wilderness.  On a hunch a boy in the lead canoe tied up to a sapling, rock-hopped to shore, climbed the abrupt bank, and fifty feet above the water there it was.  A fire grate.  Here we were allowed to spend the night.

Now the sun promises to return, a coy suggestion through the conifers on the far shore.  A loon cries, its liquid call mimicked in pastel ripples.  Every minute the lake is different from the minute before.  A phantom of mist here, a reflection of pale sky there; color rising, flowing . . .breathing.

I snapped a photo.  For several years it hung in my office.  I could name the landmarks: that curve of shoreline, sharp flint mouthing the shallows, trees reaching down to the distant notch where our next portage hid.  But where was the dance of sky in water?  Where the ephemeral colors that have no name?  The print on my wall was like words on a page, a dead thing.  It couldn’t breathe, it couldn’t speak . . . except in the fire it lit within my mind.

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Can a poem breathe?  Can it live?  Can it set you down on some elevated vantage you’ve never visited and reveal a place you’ve never dreamed?

I’m looking for that poem.  I want to stare across its rippled surface and discover in its reflections something that words can’t name.

Bud Caywood’s poems have taken me at times to that unnamed place.  He is an artist, a canoer, a fellow birder, and his verse often endeavors to capture that singular moment of inchoate atmosphere.  You want to enter the words he’s placed on the page.  You want to return there.

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GoodMorning

Morning in the World of Fog

See the fisherman crossing the stippled lake,
cutting a swath through the layered

fog of morning.  See how his image
darkens the falling light, brushed out

like a blurred black and white photo,
until thicker fog washes over him.

Now watch the boat docks quiver
in their eerie caress of the wake,

or the skeleton-like crepe myrtles
light-speared through their branches,

or the boathouse holding its stillness
against the thick gray-orange blanket,

while its squeaking hinge strums
one-chord songs again and again and again.

See the gulls appear like angles,
disappear like apparitions,

unwinding the velvet, circle after circle,
as if the sky’s whole element is one in them.

Now hold open your palm;
even the air around you has weight.

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I first met Bud years ago at a reading in Hickory.  He invited me to join the “e-Poets,” and for several years we shared poems with each other every month or so.  We’ve continued our friendship and mutual admiration through the NC Poetry Society and now Poetry Hickory, a monthly reading organized by Scott Owens.  Last month Bud invited me to read, along with Adrian Rice and Tyree Maddox, at an annual poetry night at the Bethlehem Branch Library near Hickory.  Bud arranges art, sometimes accompanied by poetry, every month at the library; he is one of the stalwart perennials who are keeping verse alive in our modern culture.

And I admire his poetry.  Images that breathe.  I will hold onto and return frequently to that closing couplet: “Now hold open your palm; / even the air around you has weight.”

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Additional poetry by Bud Caywood

Wild Goose Poetry Review

Dead Mule School of Southern Literature

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Fort Macon Beach.  I’m twelve.  Is this dream or memory?  Either way it’s true.  My little sister snatches from the foam’s edge a clump of stringy green seaweed.  Shakes off coquinas and mole crabs.  Drapes it on top of her head and down around her shoulders.  “I’m a mermaid!”

Of course I believe her.  Because what is a mermaid?  A creature that rises from a strange and exotic world to challenge all our comfortable assumptions.  One who challenges and enthralls only to slip from our grasp.  Who breathes a cold hot enfolding incandescent oxygen like no air we’ve been able to imagine.

Any six-year old who will pull ickiness from the surf and adorn herself with it must surely be a mermaid.  It explains a lot.  My sister who cycled the Eastern Seaboard when she was barely a teenager.  My sister more at home in a kayak than a staff meeting (but who can dominate a staff meeting).  Who for her forty-first birthday backpacked a hundred miles of the AT with me. Who works her healing power over mind and spirit with Jung and the Buddha at her shoulder.  I”ve always suspected it — she does breathe from some atmosphere I’m still trying to discover.

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Meet the mermaids of Diana Pinckney’s Green Daughers.  Dream or memory, the poems are true.  The voice of the watery mother whose daughter is struggling, torn — isn’t it the voice of all mothers?  The voice of her daughter tempted by a world out of reach, agonizing for her unknown future — isn’t it the voice of all children?  And poems for each one of us — for which of us does not long for deep roots, for a fundament to which we may always return, for sustaining love?  Yet don’t we gaze at night into the “sky full / of all her gods and animals” and believe that there is mystery beckoning just beyond our perception?

In the way the next receding wavelet parts the shards to reveal a lettered olive, whole, smooth, its cryptic glyphs revealing a message for my eyes alone, in this way I am still discovering the layers of meaning in Diana’s poems.

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What the Mermaid Wishes for her Daughter

I turn to the land and imagine
your long, strong legs kiking a road
I can’t follow, climbing from lavender valleys
to the highest peaks, the whole blue earth
at your feet.  And those strange
creatures — men who slipped
like minnows from my grasp —

may you unlock the mysteryof at least one
who listens when you laugh
in your sleep, who cares to chart
a woman’s pleasures and pains.  Sailors
have told me love is what
brings the boats home.  From where
I sit, nature decides our days
and turns the wheels at night.

I knew you were borrowed, but
you nourished me the way the shore
feeds the sea each day, a glossy
bond unbroken.  What you
carry from this place is not
lent, but given.

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Diana Pinckney lives in Charlotte, only a few hours drive to the coast when the wind and the traffic are at your back.  She teaches poetry at the Cornwall Center.  Green Daughters is her fourth collection and is available from Lorimer Press.  Get to know Diana and read more of her work at dianapinckney.com.

Diana will be the featured poet at the Sam Ragan Poetry Festival of the NC Poetry Society, March 24, 2012, Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanities, Southern Pines NC.

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I’m fourteen and I need a new pair of pants (the Aurora High dress code states “no blue jeans”). My dad drives me to Solon to the men’s store. I am not feeling at all like a man when I consider walking up to the clerk in his jacket and tie and asking for help finding what I need. I don’t even know how to describe what I need, much less do I have the intestinal fortitude to ask for it. My mouth is dry. Everyone in the place (all two of them) is staring at me. What a dork! Then my dad walks in and says three words to the clerk who points to a rack. Dad pulls down a couple of pairs, holds them up to my scrawny frame, sends me into the fitting room. They’re OK. He pays and we drive home. DAMN, my Dad can do anything!
When I was thirty-eight and shopping with my fourteen-year old son, I walked up to the clerk and asked how to find the pants. And I was convinced everyone in the place thought I was a dork. But then I suddenly realized my son couldn’t tell I felt like a dork. He must have thought I knew what I was doing. And then I thought maybe my Dad always felt like a dork and was never really filled with the confidence I always sensed exuding from him. And now I’m fifty-eight and still feel like a dork, but I’ve at least reached the point where I don’t always care whether people think I’m one or not. [OK, OK, until later, when the retrospectoscope clicks on and I think, “Why the hell did I say that? What a dork!”]
Which doesn’t have a thing to do with this poem by Annalee Kwochka. Or maybe it does. In her premier book, Seventeen, Annalee includes endnotes that explain the moment in 8th grade when she suddenly realized her parents didn’t have themselves figured out any better than she did. When your idols are suddenly discovered to be human and fallible, do you hate them for it? Or is that the moment when you really first begin to love them?
And now I’m recalling Annalee reading from her book at Weymouth Center for the Arts & Humanities last month. Poised, beautiful, expressive, honest. Her piercing skill with words, her entangling extended metaphors, how she reveals a depth to the teenage psyche I didn’t know we former-teenagers ever possessed. Totally non-dorky. But still I wonder – did she go home that night and think, “Why the hell did I say that?!” I hope not. I hope there’s one person on the planet that feels completely at home in who they are and who they’re becoming.
Oh, and postscript to my son: does it help to know that your old man who carries a stethoscope and writes poems and knows the Latin names of things is really still, at heart, a dork?

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 Storms
for my mother
You, with your
Mouth drawn tight and your fingers
Fast on the keyboard, you seem
So lost in your own private storm.
You can’t feel the winds that rip
From your mouth, scarcely notice the
Words they carry.

Do you dance
In your own rain?
Once while spinning
On the warm summer sidewalk, I
Watched the chalk-pictures drain their rainbow
Through my pink-painted toes,
And thought I might have glimpsed
A little happiness.

Do you sing louder
Than your own thunder?
When I was swinging in a spring
Thunderstorm, I let my voice seek the
Bluebirds and their bright feathers, the ground
Falling from under my mud-stained feet as song
Lifted me through that crack in the storm
Where the sun seeps through.
And I found
A silver lining
In the angry, tight-pulled words
That brought me out into a summer storm,
Wishing you were here with me.

from SEVENTEEN by Annalee Kwochka, (c) 2010
For information, contact Running Poet Press
RunningPoet17@gmail.com

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Annalee Kwochka won first prize in the 2005 NC Poetry Society student contest for lyrical poety (grades 3-8) for her poem Window Seat at the City Bakery, and she has been accumulating kudos ever since.  This fall she’ll matriculate in Davidson College’s creative writing program.

SEVENTEEN reviewed by Scott Owens 

Mona Lisa Muse by Annalee Kwochka, won first prize in the 2008 NCPS student contest

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