Monday, March 1, 2010
Meet NC's New Poet Laureate
Meet NC’s New Poet Laureate
A year ago I bemoaned in this column North Carolina’s budgetary decision to eliminate the position of state Poet Laureate. Now I celebrate the wisdom of not only reinstituting that post but also selecting poet and teacher Cathy Smith-Bowers of Tryon, NC, to fill it.
North Carolina is blessed to have a number of outstanding poets and scholars who could more than adequately fill the very big shoes left by previous Poet Laureates Kathryn Stripling Byer and Fred Chappell. Among those I considered nominating were Tony Abbott, Al Maginnes, Jaki Shelton Green, and David Rigsbee, just to name a few. As good as any of those would have been, however, I suspect none would have done a better job than Cathy Smith-Bowers will do.
I have met Smith-Bowers only once, some 15 years ago at a PB Newman and Henry Taylor reading at what was then Queen’s College in Charlotte, where Smith-Bowers taught then and continues to teach today. She was riding the wave of her very successful first book of poems, The Love That Ended Yesterday in Texas, but still took the time to be kind and gracious to a young poet looking for a clue on how to shape experience into successful poetry. Little could she have known that her book would be one of the texts that taught me how to write the poems that became my own first collection, The Persistence of Faith, published a couple of years later.
Since that time, Smith-Bowers has taught thousands of developing poets how to write, some through her books, some through her classes at Queens University and UNC-Asheville, and some through her workshops that are offered seemingly everywhere. I have no doubt that occupying the position of NC Poet Laureate will only further facilitate Smith-Bowers’ ability and passion to help developing poets find not only their voice but their audience as well. One way she intends to do that is by hosting an hour long show once a month on an Asheville radio station. Smith-Bowers’ predecessor is well-known for having expanded the online audience for NC poets. It now appears that Smith-Bowers will continue that expansion on the air.
Smith-Bowers’ own work covers a wide range of topics, themes, voices, and forms, but there is nearly always something distinctively Southern about her work, as is apparent in the following poem from her second collection, Traveling in Time of Danger. I hope this sample will encourage readers to find more of her work and to recognize how fortunate we are to have her serving as NC Poet Laureate.
You Can’t Drive the Same Truck Twice
by Cathy Smith-Bowers
When I heard the sudden
thunder of my husband’s truck
explode into the drive
and saw him, after ramming
the defective gear-stick
into neutral, emerge crazy-eyed
and fevered, fling up
the battered hood, go down
and disappear beneath its open wound
of primer, I knew how the evening
would go. How deep into the moonlight
he would hang like Jonah, half in,
half out, his full weight given
to the wrench, gripped to the stripped
bolts and nuts, capping and uncapping
the ancient battery, his body
lost to that odd carcass of scavenged parts.
I loved him for his love of broken things--
the handleless hoes and axes, the sprung
rumble seat bought years ago
at auction, the legless chairs
retrieved from garbage heaps,
that truck each day he reinvented.
Like the rivers of Heraclitus. Like Van Gogh’s
olive trees and irises that quiver,
still. Bristle. As if caught forever
in the antique instant of their opening.
It’s why we love Jesus, some philosopher
once said, instead of God. Why lovers
love the moon that’s always falling.