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Posts Tagged ‘Southern writing’

Here’s a sobering thought: even when you receive that wondrous acceptance letter (or email) telling you that The Editor has decided to publish one of the poems you sent him or her, she or he is still rejecting the other two or three or four that were in the envelope (or .PDF). I hear the trombones going, “WAH Wah wah.” And equally sobering: if anyone is reading the poem once it does get published, they’re not calling you to tell you how much they like it. How not sexy is that?

But no, wait a minute, I take that back. I have a special friend who always tells me she likes my poems. (I won’t reveal her name, but her initials are “Caren Stuart.”) If she finds something I’ve written appearing in a regional journal or anthology she shoots me the kind of email that is 100% guaranteed to improve posture, dissolve scowl lines, and overcome even the most stubborn case of writer’s block. For several years she and I and Nancy King had a monthly email poetry critique session going. We’d share one poem apiece and comment. CS could find something wonderful in my lamest efforts, which inspired me to keep hacking away at them until they really were wonderful. Thanks, Kiddo – I write a lot better when you’re in the world.

Give it a try yourself. Lot’s of times I’ve discovered a poem by someone I know, picked out my favorite line, and sent them a little message about why I like it. Such an act never fails to reverse entropy and slow down global warming.

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Yellow Fringed Orchid, Patanthera ciliaris — Gorges State Park NC, 8/2015

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I confess that for a few years I’ve almost quit submitting poems for publication. Who needs the fame, right? But in 2015 the tide is turning. Maybe I’m beginning to see that my personal journey as poet is developing a more unifying theme or gestalt. Maybe I’m feeling more comfortable in the community of poets. And it certainly helps that so many journals accept online submissions – I’ve got a roll of 100 “second ounce” postage stamps I’ve hardly touched. I’m sending my little darlings out to the Mercy of Editors again.

AND . . . I’ve got a new system. Which I am going to share with you.

Ever get all fired up with a sheaf of poems, stuffing them into a .PDF only to discover the journal you’ve envisioned for them closed its annual submission period last week? Grieve no longer. Check out the creation below (which has been made possible by dozens of hours on the computer and a constant infusion of what CS calls my “Type A-ness”):

Submission Calendar Page 1_crop

This table shows the months when various journals accept submissions, plus how to research their submssions guidelines. Just look down the column of the current month to pick a journal that’s currently open to submissions!

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Click the link below for the entire .PDF. As of March, 2016 I have about 75+ journals and contests listed. I’d like to keep expanding– my email address is listed in the document so you can send me your suggestions and additions, plus any corrections. I’ll keep the updated document linked to this page.

Click  below for .PDF file with the FULL LIST:
[Last updated 3/6/2016]

. . . . . . . . . . . !!Submissions Calendar 2016-03 . . . . . . . . . .

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Luna Moth, Actias luna — Gorges State Park NC, 8/2015

After Shelby Stephenson published Orange Cap in Pembroke Magazine in 2005 I didn’t submit again for a few years, and now he has turned over the reins to the new Editor, Jessica Pitchford. Last year I had written a poem about my paternal grandmother that I thought my aunt and cousins might enjoy. Whenever we’re together we usually share a story or two about Grandmother (no lesser title could ever suffice), the stoic matriarch and proud link to the Weatherspoon side of the family, now to be captured for posterity in a sonnet. But before I sent the poem to the family I sent it to Pembroke. Thanks, Jessica! The family is indeed enjoying this. (And it explains why I bought four extra copies of Pembroke #47.)

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Sonnet for the Woman Who Fried 10,000 Chickens

And don’t forget about a bazillion quail,
each three bites for breakfast with biscuits and grits
and gravy über Alles thanks to red setters’ skill,
Granddaddy’s gun, and us willing to pick little nits
of birdshot out of our teeth, but save that fat pullet
for this Sunday’s dinner, piled crisp high and brown
as pecans shelled last night for green jello salad.
The triumphal platter Grandmother sets down,
we pray Come Lord Jesus, me and Brother grab
for the juiciest piece ‘til we backpeddle before
her Presbyterian eye – Boys, what will you have?
and Finish your greens before you ask for more.
.     No one says thigh or breast here: Grandmother will offer
.     only second joint, white meat, and everything proper.

[First appeared in Pembroke Magazine number forty-seven, 2015]

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Extremely hungry millipede, Narceus americanus, trying to untie my bear bag & steal the goodies. Gorges State Park NC, 8/2015

Post Script – One other reason to send out a poem: last year I wrote a poem about a friend and patient who had died at the age of 98. It placed in a contest and appeared in an anthology. This summer I took a copy of the book to his widow, herself 98, read her the poem and just reminisced for a while about the many great stories her husband had shared with me over the years. About a month later she mailed me a thank you note, said all her kids had enjoyed the poem about their daddy, and she had read my other poem that appeared in the same book and commented on it.

It doesn’t take a thousand readers to make the writing worth the effort. One will do.

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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.

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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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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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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.

.   .   .

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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Red-tipped maples along the ridgeline and pumpkins lined up at Hawks Produce (as well as Brushy Mtn. Stayman Winesaps almost the size of pumpkins) – you know what that means: Halloween is coming! When Linda was growing up Halloween wasn’t one single evening, it was an entire month, sort of the Olympics of holidays. Linda’s Mom Donna French was really into costumes and stories and pageantry in her job as an elementary school librarian, and her seven kids became the flock to her Bo Peep, the Hansel and Gretels to her Wicked Witch, the entire cast of characters to her Mother Goose. In fact, the first time I met Linda (November 1, 1966, eighth grade and first day at my new school), she was wearing the unexpectedly indelible vestiges of the previous night’s costume.

So October 1 Linda mentioned to Saul two books that we’ve inherited from Grandma French’s large collection, and when he came home from school with us the next afternoon he was ready for me to read them to him: Kat Kong . . . and Dogzilla. Saul calls them the “Double Feature.” He has set up an entire audience of Lego men, Blue Rat, Mousie, and various other little critters to view the performance. He does the sound effects, monsters growling and crashing into things, and I do the narration and dialogue. Roll ‘em! Action! Halloween is only four weeks away!

Whoa, I’d better start thinking about MY costume. Hmmm . . . how about Rat-cula? And if you’ve got a kid or grandkid that thrives on silly, you need to track down copies of Kat Kong and Dogzilla, written and illustrated by Dav Pilkey with the help of his pet mice, cat, and corgi. At the time he created these in the 1990’s he was living in Kent, Ohio and was a friend of Grandma French’s.

KatKong

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Now for a poem to get you into the Halloween spirit. Who’s your favorite poet? If “favorite” means you seek out all their books and keep coming back to them year after year, I guess Fred Chappell is mine. His latest book, Familiars, is filled with the personalities, imaginings, and eccentric doings of cats. And if you shudder at the approach of ghouls and spirits, if you dread the thought that you might be haunted by former lives, perhaps you really don’t want to be a cat . . .

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Ghost Story

What does Alexander see,
Staring with taut fixity
Into the dusty corner there
And its eerily vacant air?

Perhaps invisible Somethings flock
That barren angle of the room
And speak to him at twelve o’clock
Of an unalterable doom.

It would not be a single ghost
But several who gaze and wait
Until the Halloween veils with frost
The leaf-strewn lawn, the gray roof-slate,

To whisper to him in unison
The dreaded sentence that constrains
Him to a destiny fordone:
“Us eight you squandered. One remains.”

Fred Chappell, from Familiars, LSU Press, 2014

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 Mousie&punkins

Mousie will be ready for a snack at the next Double Feature.

Kat Kong and Dogzilla © Dav Pilkey, Harcourt and Brace

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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.

Voices Cover 01

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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