Friday, February 5, 2010

My Favorite Book of Poems in Years

My Favorite Book of Poems in Years

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about my favorite poem from the last few years. It was “Album” by Felicia Mitchell. Today I’m writing about the author of my favorite book of poems from the last few years. I read about 100 new books of poems every year. Half of those I don’t like enough to finish, but the other half all impress me, many of them enough to motivate me to write a review of the book. Reading that many poetry collections makes choosing one as a favorite quite difficult, but the one that I’m declaring to be my favorite is simply the one that has lingered in my mind the longest. The remarkable lyricism and compelling narrative of Joanna Catherine Scott’s Night Huntress made reading it an unforgettable event.

While I’m discussing favorites, I’ll mention that the most enjoyable poetry reading I’ve ever given took place last spring at Catawba College. What made it so enjoyable was not just the hospitality of the college or the 200 or so students in attendance, but the person I was reading with. This was my first time meeting Joanna Catherine Scott, and it was a meeting I’ll never forget.

That night I discovered that Scott was a beautiful speaker and an unequaled intellect, and when I subsequently read more of her work, I realized she was simply the most impressive writer I had encountered in many years. Her poetry and prose are both lyrical and accessible, familiar and exotic, concerned with both individual and international issues. In a review of Night Huntress, I recently wrote, “Scott possesses the true writer’s gift, the gift of empathy, the ability to see inside another’s pain, loss, hope without being blinded by it.”

Scott has applied that empathy to stories and poems about everything from Vietnam veterans, to a family’s loss of their daughter, to prisoners on death row, and on February 9, she will share those stories with the audience at Poetry Hickory, held at 6:30 in Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse in downtown Hickory. Scott says her intention at that reading will be to tell the story of how her novels The Road from Chapel Hill and Child of the South led her to Death Row and her current project, a collection of poems entitled An Innocent in the House of the Dead.

I anticipate that this will be one of my favorite Poetry Hickory events not only because Joanna Catherine Scott will be reading, but also because her co-reader will be Felicia Mitchell, and the Open Mic readers will be Poetry Hickory favorites and two of my favorite people, Jessie Carty and Tony Ricciardelli, and first-timer, Bill Blackley, former President of the NC Poetry Society.

Here is a poem from Scott’s Night Huntress (first published in Damazine) to whet your appetite.

In Which You Tell Me You Have Set Islam Aside

I used to dream, you say, that one day
I would take a pilgrimage to Mecca,

but I have given Islam up.
I have taken my name off all the lists.
I no longer go to pray,
although I pray to Allah in my heart.
I thank him for the Qur’an,
which I also have inside my heart.
Get knowledge and understanding,
it instructs me.
And so I read and read and think,
and argue with myself, and others too,
and have become a wiser person
on account of it,
which is why I have set Islam aside.
What point is there,
I came to understand,
in fighting with an enemy
who has the upper hand?
What point in setting myself up
for persecution by the guards and warden
because I wear the Muslim cap
and fast for Ramadan?
A man must act upon his wisdom.
So I have set aside the kufi.
I do not abase myself.
I have light within me, though.
They cannot take that away.

… And I Drive Home in the Rain
The fallen sky laying itself out
and laying itself out along the road
like grey-clad pilgrims
abasing themselves full-length
and rising,
and then the abasement,
and the rising up again,
end-to-ending themselves
like inchworms inching their way
across grey countryside
toward the holy city,
pelted on, and blown up
into a thousand falling fragments
by lumbering grey trucks.
Gathering themselves together.
Shaking off the insult.
Rising and abasing.
Rising and abasing.
And being blessed for it.
And blessed for it.
That glittering
spinning of the wheels.


  1. Great post Scott! Joanna is one of my favorites too and a remarkable person as well. Love the poem you chose.

  2. i love huntress as well and can't wait to hear her read and to be a part of the event! how on earth can i pick what to READ!!!