Friday, February 27, 2009

Aroma of Art and Ann Chandonnet's "Red Lady"

Musings for February 19, 2009
Aroma of Art and Ann Chandonnet's "Red Lady"

For the second week in a row, this installment of “Musings” features poetry and artwork from the Aroma of Art fundraiser auction going on this month at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse in downtown Hickory.
Aroma of Art is a month long silent auction whose proceeds benefit three nonprofits, ALFA (AIDS Leadership Foothills-area Association), Humane Society of Catawba County, and Women's Resource Center. Local artists have donated works which are on display in Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse and can be bid on there. Final bid winners will be announced at Aroma of Art’s Grand Finale, slated for February 28.
In conjunction with Aroma of Art, Poetry Hickory is sponsoring an Ekphrastic Poetry Event. Area writers have produced poems based on works in the Aroma of Art display. These poems have been judged by a panel of local poets, and selected poems have been framed and are on display next to the work of art they were inspired by. The selected poems will be read by their authors at the Aroma of Art Ekphrastic Poetry Event at Taste Full Beans on February 26 and then presented to the winning bidder at the Grand Finale.
The poem below was written by Ann Fox Chandonnet and inspired by Brian Legore’s untitled painting of a “red lady.” Chandonnet currently lives in Vale, NC, and is the author of 7 collections of poetry as well as various cookbooks, children’s books, and travel guides. She is a frequent participant in Poetry Hickory. Legore is a local writer and artist, an Associate Member of Full Circle Arts and also a frequent participant in Poetry Hickory.
For more information on Aroma of Art, visit the website at or call Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse at 828-325-0108. For information on the Ekphrastic Poetry Event or Poetry Hickory, contact Scott Owens at or 828-234-4266.

Red Lady

Lady’s red but got the blues,
got the blues.
Stares at her shoes,
cannot meet my gaze.
Red lady’s got the blues.
Her mouth opens, then shuts.
Opens, shuts.

Spit out sorrow’s poison, lady--
Lady, angry as a boil.
Spit out sorrow’s poison.
Your sad red eyes
shadow your blue cheeks;
A storm cloud
crowns your brow like blue thorns.

Red lady, blot your tears
with your red, red hair.
Spit out sorrow’s bitter poison.
There is a blue sky,
a blue sky singing
sweet--sweet as a red bird.
Can you hear it now?

Thursday, February 19, 2009


Musings for February 12, 2009


For the next several weeks, “Musings” will be dedicated to publishing poetry and artwork from the Aroma of Art fundraiser auction going on throughout February at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse in downtown Hickory.
Aroma of Art is a month long silent auction whose proceeds benefit three nonprofits, ALFA (AIDS Leadership Foothills-area Association), Humane Society of Catawba County, and Women's Resource Center. Local artists have donated works which are on display in Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse and can be bid on there. Final bid winners will be announced at Aroma of Art’s Grand Finale, slated for February 28.
In conjunction with Aroma of Art, Poetry Hickory is sponsoring an Ekphrastic Poetry Event. Area writers can produce a poem based on one of the works in the Aroma of Art display and submit it for inclusion in the exhibit. Selected poems will be framed, displayed next to the subject work of art and presented to the winning bidder at the Grand Finale. Poets whose works are selected will also be invited to read their poems at the Aroma of Art Ekphrastic Poetry Event at Taste Full Beans on February 26. Poems should include the author’s name and contact information as well as the title of the AOA piece it is based on and submitted by February 17 to Taste Full Beans or by email to
The poem below was inspired by Joe Young’s photograph, Brown Pelican. Young is the Photographic Technology Program Director at Catawba Valley Community College. He is a photography graduate of Appalachian State University and currently a graduate student at Savannah College of Art and Design. His photography has been published around the world, and he has won numerous awards in photojournalism and fine art photography. Young currently has an exhibit at Davidson County Community College in Lexington, NC. Young resides in Hickory with his wife and daughter.
For more information on Aroma of Art, visit the website at or call Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse at 828-325-0108. For information on the Ekphrastic Poetry Event or Poetry Hickory, contact Scott Owens at or 828-234-4266.


They were military before it was cool,
skimming sound and surf beneath the radar
in attack or surveillance formation, fanned-out
V’s leaving little below concealed,
non-coms mostly, grunts of the animal
world, gangly and ungraceful,
profiles like pterodactyl forebears,
anatomy prehistoric, obsolete,
having skipped the last evolutionary
paradigm shift, yet somehow still surviving,
not the fittest by far, nothing like tern,
gull, osprey. Who would think
something this big could dive
beneath the waves and still come out whole.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

To Feel What Might Otherwise Be Lost

To Feel What Might Otherwise Be Lost
Musings for February 5

Linda Annas Ferguson and I share a lot in common. We’re both poets; we’ve both lived in North and South Carolina; we both grew up in a mill village; and we were both scarred by the rites of passage such a childhood seems to entail. In fact, we have both written poems extensively from that experience of a mill village childhood, and we even occasionally discuss the pipe dream of a much larger collection of poems from that perspective by ourselves and other poets ranging from Molly Rice to Ron Rash. After all, if you grew up in the Carolinas prior to the 1970s, chances are your life was touched by the cotton mill industry. Now, the lifestyle created by those mill villages is disappearing, and perhaps some record of it ought to be saved.

One place that record is preserved is in the four books of poems by Ferguson: Bird Missing from One Shoulder (WordTech Editions, 2007); Stepping on Cracks in the Sidewalk (Finishing Line Press, 2006); Last Chance to Be Lost (Kentucky Writers’ Coalition, 2004); and It’s Hard to Hate a Broken Thing (Palanquin Press, University of S.C. Aiken, 2002). This is the important sort of work that Ferguson has done as one of our area’s most active poets, but mill village life is not the only subject she bends her pen to. Equally impressive among her work are the poems that deal with growing up as a girl in the South, with being a woman in the South, with suffering and loss and persistence, with, ultimately, being alive in the world today.

I wrote in a recent review of Ferguson’s latest book, that “Bird Missing from One Shoulder does what most poetry aspires to do, to save what might otherwise be lost, the world not simply as it happens but as it is felt.” Ferguson’s poetry is not just history, not just autobiography, not just perception, but all of that infused with the permanence of emotional impact, with the timeless revelations of how it feels to love, to struggle, to persist, to lose, to grieve, and to ultimately keep going.
On February 10, Ferguson will bring her work to Hickory, back to the county in which she was born. She will read as part of Poetry Hickory at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse, starting at 6:30. It will, undoubtedly, be a cathartic evening for all those who attend, an evening which helps us all better feel what might otherwise be lost.
The poem below is not part of Ferguson’s mill village work, but rather explores another vital subject, dealing with Alzheimer’s. It is taken from Bird Missing from One Shoulder and will soon be reprinted in the anthology Beyond Forgetting: Poetry and Prose about Alzheimer’s Disease

My Mother Doesn’t Know Me

To her, I’m the mild-mannered woman
who cooks her meals.
She is going to leave me a tip
when she finds her purse.

She sits for hours, eyebrow
cocked in a wrinkled study,
as if she can fathom
the distance between us,

saves pieces of thread
in a coffee can,
picked from her afghan all day
while both our lives unravel.

Thanksgiving, she put a hammer
in the oven at 400 degrees,
spent the rest of the day
on the back porch step,

wanting only to leave
this strange house,
silently wringing her hands
as if her body could not contain her.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Ekphrastic Poetry to Serve Larger Purpose


Ekphrasis is the graphic, and sometimes dramatic, description of a visual work of art. The word is derived from the Greek roots “ek,” meaning “out,” and “phrasis,” meaning “speak.” When combined, these roots originally referred to the calling of an inanimate object by name. Today, the term is most often used to refer to a work of art that is based on another work of art in a different media. For example, a poem about a painting would be called an ekphrastic poem. Similarly, a painting of a sculpture would be considered ekphrastic.

The practice of ekphrastic work is a common exercise in all arts today. Think of the number of films you’ve seen that are “based” on novels, or the number of paintings that refer to specific characters or scenes from literature. In the past year in Hickory, Lenoir Rhyne University, Full Circle Arts, and Poetry Hickory have all been involved in ekphrastic poetry projects, where poets have been invited to compose works based on painting and photography exhibits.

Now, for the second year, Aroma of Art (AOA) is including an ekphrastic poetry event as part of their 8th annual benefit art auction. Aroma of Art is an important annual fundraiser for AIDS Leadership Foothills area Alliance (ALFA), the Humane Society of Catawba County, and the Women’s Resource Center. Donated works of art will be displayed at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse during the month of February, and silent bids on the pieces will be accepted throughout the month. Winning bids will be announced at the AOA Grand Finale, February 28.

This year, poets are invited to view the works of art at Taste Full Beans, starting February 1, and write their own original pieces inspired by the work they see. Approximately 20-25 poems will be selected, framed, put on display with the work of art they were inspired by, read by the poet at a special pre-finale event on February 26, and finally, given to the person who places the highest bid on the subject work of art.

Poets interested in submitting their work can email their poems to me at or drop off their work at Taste Full Beans. Deadline for submission is noon, February 17. A panel of judges will determine the poems that will be included in the display and the reading. Submissions should include the poet’s name, the name of the work of art the poem is based on, and the name of the artist.

Printed below is one of the poems included in last year’s Poetry Hickory / Aroma of Art Ekphrastic Poetry Event. The poem has subsequently been published in the journal Pirene’s Fountain:

The Persistence of Field by Scott Owens

after Carl Moser’s photograph “Raking Hay”

This field goes on in time,
wrapping around mountain, years, generations.

What are two men against a mountain,
to plow it, sow it, lay it straight,
maintain fenceline and productivity?

He has worn this hat every summer
for thirty years, flattening fields
he claims as his own,
but even as he fights the horses
to keep them in line, knock down
a season’s worth of weeds,
even as he grips the reins
and guides the blade,
he can’t help but notice
white breath of queen-anne’s lace,
orange fire of asclepias tuberosa.
For more information on Aroma of Art please call Taste Full Beans staff at 325-0108.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Review of Glenis Redmond's "Under the Sun" (Wild Goose, Winter 2008)

Review of Glenis Redmond’s Under the Sun (Main Street Rag, 128 pages, $14.95)

I’ve heard Nikki Giovanni, Lucille Clifton, and Evie Shockley read their wonderful work, and I’ve read the extraordinary prose of Alice Walker, Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison, and now there is another name to add to the pantheon of powerful black women writers. That name is Glenis Redmond. I’ve not yet heard Redmond “perform” her poetry, although her credentials as a finalist in the National Poetry Slam and her reputation as a performer speak highly of her stature in that regard. I have, however, just finished reading her new collection of poetry, Under the Sun, and found it brilliant and enjoyable throughout.
When I teach expository writing, I explain to my students that a thesis statement is a contract with the reader, a promise of what the essay will provide. Few books of poetry offer such a contract; far fewer deliver. Redmond’s collection begins with just such a promise, and does indeed deliver upon that promise. The promise comes in the opening poem, reprinted in its entirety here, my favorite from the collection.

Scripted Hope

Name every nighttime shadow.
Call them out
from every corner,
every crevice of the past.
Fill yourself with the power
named survival.
Your voice will flower silver
into a circle blooming
of compassionate witnesses,
burning trembling lights.
In the brightness
my voice becomes your voice,
your voice becomes mine.
Together, our voices form
a tight constellation of hope,
a calligraphy written in stars.

This poem of imperative the writer speaks to herself describes writing as a ritual of resurrection, a séance of sorts in which the absent and the dead speak through the living poet, giving her poems the voice, depth, and resonance of historical context as she gives them the same through personal and confessional context. It is a powerful and timely message for poets throughout the world to attend to.
Of course, such an imperative would only seem insincere if the poet were not ready to follow her own directive. In fact, however, the poems of Under the Sun do exactly what “Scripted Hope” scripts. The book consists largely of a series of portraits, some celebratory, some mourning. The portraits range from the historical to the personal, indicating how the two interpenetrate in the formation of an individual, a family, and a people. There are historical portraits of Zora Neale Hurston, Fanie Lou Hamer, and a slave named Patience, literary portraits of Celie from The Color Purple, family portraits of sisters, daughters, grandmothers, uncles, brothers, and fathers, and self-portraits of the speaker in love, the speaker in mourning, the speaker as teacher and student, daughter and mother.
It is a diverse and vital family album that shows the importance of love, resistance, revolution, faith and courage in the progress of African-Americans throughout history and still today. The fundamental vitality of these qualities is made clearest in one of the more epic poems in the collection, “Sacrum,” which forms a sort of “Middle Passage” on the family level as it traces the trials and tribulations of the speaker’s father, beginning with the “Ivory Coast” and a “Virginia Plantation,” proceeding through a “Jim Crow history” and “a malnourished man-child at the Air Force recruitment office,” continuing “down dark alleys into the pool-shark dens . . . . leading to his favorite amber liquids of Jack Daniels and Jim Beam, “ and finally concluding with “Our familial bones breaking . . . . Our sergeant in charge leading the way, / a crooked man walking with wings.”
While the poems acknowledge the past lovingly, obligingly, and graciously, it is important to note that the final poem is written not in past tense, however, but in present. As the poem stirringly states:

Though we are raw to our bones
there is nothing an no one else left
to carry this fresh regret
so we hobble down life’s hollow corridor
and whisper with intent
we are not finished yet.
This chore takes more than triage
a simple labeling of things.
We must turn the sacred papers
of every holy book
touch each other like sacrament
give up apathy for Lent.
the vowels
I and u
‘til they become
u, me and we.
We do not get up from the table of our discontent
‘til all the bread is broken
and fish multiplied
every hungry mouth
fed and every heart, soul
Dearly beloved,
we are all gathered today,
amen has not been said because
we are not finished yet.

Review of Paul Nelson's "Sea Level" (Wild Goose, Winter 2008)

Review of Paul Nelson’s Sea Level (Main Street Rag, 71 pages, $14,

I remember Paul Nelson as a very even-handed teacher, treating the good poem and the bad one with the same respect, recognizing and valuing the student’s effort above the quality of the product, quietly and sincerely interested in everything that went into the work and even more in what had been, intentionally or otherwise, left out. That was 25 years ago, and I haven’t seen or spoken to him since. What great joy it is, then, to discover that his new collection of poems, Sea Level, is the perfect testimony to his education legacy.
These are meditative poems, achieving what my best focusing experiences have done for me, at once calming and provoking, familiar and deepening, ultimately helping the reader gain or regain a vital perspective. The last stanza of “Machias River Meditation” serves to illustrate my point:

My father carved a full-sized loon, shavings and dust
piling at his feet as the shape from poplar took
its place in air. It will never be a loon.
But if I carried it down to the marsh,
set it on one of the mounds, sooner or later
an eagle or osprey, perhaps ambitious marsh hawk
would stoop, helplessly, as some decoyed
hunter in the fall would be compelled by the sitting duck,
the fear of missing something,
to stud its painted feathers with steel shot
chilled by passing briefly through the universe.

Such perspective is repeated in the wonderfully balanced poem, “Fishing:”

Below the barber shop, perched on ledge
above a deep, rich pool, men stand on thumb-ish boulders,
or wade the strength of the eddy, casting
filaments as spiders do, toward nothing but hope,
that promontory. This is metaphysics.

Under the bridge, salmon
cleave shadows and rocks, roll up, leap,
thrilling hell out of anyone, as they steer
toward some ignoble backwater
to drop their eggs, squirt milt all over the gravel.
This is truth.

Between the cast and the fish floats the fly.
All winter long a grown man with fat fingers,
under a high-intensity lamp, hangs above a tiny vise,
slowly wrapping silk and hair and fluff around a hook’s shaft
devising an amulet, having failed all summer long
to raise a fish. He knows a man is lucky
if even inspiration hits once or twice a lifetime,
though some, infinitely patient, gifted with presentation,
do better. This is art.

These lines also illustrate the geographical underpinning of the manuscript. Living in North Carolina, where there is a town named Sea Level, I expected these poems to be bound to a particular location, and they do, indeed, have a strong sense of place, albeit not the one I anticipated. In this case, the place is Machias Bay, Maine, where the author grew up and has periodically lived and worked throughout his life. This sense of place is captured in the luscious imagery of each poem, as in “Eucharist:”

. . . I plane full throttle, roar
down the black belly of the lake, cottages,
one lamp each, streaking by, then downriver
through the gullet beneath the green, rib-cage bridge,
its port and starboard lights, then out, out,
into the iodinic air, sheering weed-rafts
and swells of tide, deaf to what I am saying,
my mouth a seven mile windsock.

The sea level of the title, however, is not simply a place, but also a frame of mind (think of the imperative homophone “see level”), a philosophy almost, existential and environmental, stoic and transcendental. This very human and humble frame of mind is hinted at in the title poem, where the speaker wonders “What won’t I remember, inexactly?” and further developed in poems like “Sea Smoke,” which ruminates on the temporality of human striving:

. . . Now I am content with
dragonfly breath on my corneas, thinking
I may have scratched the surface.
I am aware of the long gray body of fog
still well off-shore, beyond Cross Island.
I see in my mind my wife’s beautifully articulate
bare feet on the marsh, the fading
impression she makes on moss,
goose and eel grass.

The final word on this perspective comes in the book’s final poem, “Springfall:”

I’ve heard the various faiths
mock the breaking lakes, inland,
the march of trees at the pasture edge,
swelling, thickening toward the bloom
of dropsy fruit, huge, ancestral
roots of blowdowns, gaping in air.
Not one such word of man
has delivered more than hope.
I have decided not to live at all,
at least, not by my own hand.

I don’t often find it useful to compare poets, but as I read through Sea Level, I find myself thinking of Gary Snyder repeatedly as Nelson creates a remarkably compelling riprap of human existence, a living testimony of a man apparently content with but never fully happy about life on Earth.

Review of Janice Moore-Fuller's "Seance" (Wild Goose, Summer 2008)

Review of Séance by Janice Moore Fuller (Iris Press, 2007,
ISBN: 9780916078874

The speaker of Janice Moore Fuller’s poem “Angled. Mosaic. Companion.” from her collection Séance says,

Youth loves puzzles, séances with missing
voices. But you and I need the steady
fullness of a carpet rolled flat.

And that is what the poems in this collection do, rolling flat the fabric of memory and perception to help the reader see what we almost certainly would have missed otherwise, the secrets of love, mourning, forgiveness, things that live in the catacombs of the human heart, but through close contact take up residence in objects and places which become channels for communication between past and present, living and dead, here and elsewhere. In “Weeding Sylvia’s Grave, Heptonstall,” it is the headstone that contains Plath’s silent wish for room and time to write. Talking of both weeds and the flowers visitors have left, the speaker says

I’ve gathered them to fall
one by one into the rubbish bin
(as she must have done
dropping failed off-rhymes,
half-closed tulips,
thorny lines that wouldn’t sing)
even these roses that don’t bear
pressing--red, her favorite--
my gift snipped from Lumb Bank,
Ted’s temporary home.
The quotidian pulled away
from a clean new page.

Ironically, in other poems it is the quotidian which serves as repository and conveyance. In “Hydrangea,” for example, the speaker, while sitting in an old porch swing, comes to understand her grandmother’s acceptance of a limited experience of the world.

. . . she seesawed there
on the porch swing,
mesmerized by the hydrangeas
circumnavigating the yard--
hyacinth to fuchsia,
all the cosmos
she hoped for.

In poem after poem, the reader is transported to the time and place of the speaker’s experience and through the speaker to the time of the emotion, thought, spirit inscribed in material things. In “Midnight in the Convent, Spoleto,” for example, the speaker conveys the reader to a place of lonely, fearful visitation from the past:

I pretend I am one of them
waking to thin
light through the cell’s
lone slit . . .

. . . The stones
know I’m alone.
When the lights shut,
. . .

. . . The timer stutters,
“sorry,” under
its breath. My heart
thumps toward a dark

something big. It wants me to pause
before I press
the flashlight, wait
before I break

the terror with my tiny beam.

While these places are sometimes as exotic as the Galapagos or Lake Annaghmakerrig, they are just as often as common as parts of the body. Such is the case in perhaps the strongest, and certainly one of the tightest and most resonant, poems in the collection. In “The Grand Cartographer Recharts the Belly,” the speaker lays clear the impact of experience on the geography of one’s own body.

All those speed bumps, gutters, detours.
It was never flat terrain.
Chicken pox left pot holes, deeper
than gall bladder swerves the surgeon tore.
Twins left speed bumps, curves, and gutters. “Detour
here,” she tells new lovers, who restrain
but always speed. Bumps. Gutters. Detours.
It was never flat terrain.

The ultimate lesson in the poems of Séance seems to be to look deeper into the things of our lives, to recognize the value of things and to know that (in the book’s most memorable phrase) “nothing / gets killed for good” (No Pasarán). To not do so is to doom ourselves to live as the frigate birds in “Ornithology” who “clack/ against the life they’ll lead . . . / waddling toward the cliff’s runway . . . / wide-winged, / lonely . . . . “ To do so, helps us more readily “lurch forward / for a mother’s chant, a father’s words” (“Séance: On the Road from Stradone”). If restricted to a one line statement about this book it would be this: In memory resides revelation. In these poems too.

Review of Dannye Romine-Powell's "A Necklace of Bees" (Wild Goose, Winter 2008)

Review of Dannye Romine-Powell’s A Necklace of Bees (58 pages, University of Arkansas Press)

Do not go to Dannye Romine-Powell’s new book of poems, A Necklace of Bees, seeking comfort or solace. There is none. Frankly, reading this volume left me feeling jittery and disconsolate, nearly overwhelmed with all-too-familiar feelings of loss, guilt, failed attempts at compensation, stifling expectations of perfection, and the common misunderstanding of the motivations behind those expectations. In other words, the poems masterfully achieve what should be the ultimate goal of poetry, to help us experience our own lives a bit more deeply, a bit more consciously, and a bit more honestly.
Southern women, it seems, may be the greatest stoics of all. They routinely outlive, or perhaps more accurately, outlast their parents, husbands, all-too-often their own sons, as well as other, less familiar tormentors, all with a fortitude made apparent by keeping, despite everything else, “Forks / with forks. Spoons with spoons” (“Daddy Tosses Them Down”) and the dignity of “nails polished red // a row of lemons on the sill (“The Villa”). Both the mother in and the speaker of Powell’s poems remind me of my own mother who has survived an abusive parent, tightly confining expectations, abusive husbands, and masochistic children to finally retire to peace and the possibilities of unencumbered love.
We encounter the mother’s frustrated attempt to maintain dignity in her family in several poems in the book, including “The Avalanche,” where a headstrong and foolish father:

the old green Chevy
on the side
of a mountain
somewhere out West
and bet my mother
he could start an avalanche
by kicking
a single rock
into another. No,
she said, no, please
don’t, Dan, please.

We see it again in “Daddy Tosses Them Down,” where the father thrilled to have taught the baby to recite the rhyme, “I love little pussy, / her coat is so warm . . . / And if I don’t hurt her, / she’ll do me no harm,” while the mother “wears pearls / and tries to keep things smooth / and in order.” The presence of the daughter, whom one assumes to be the grown-up speaker of the poems, in each of these poems, foreshadows her own later suffering.
The speaker’s torment is not, however, initiated so much by her father as it is by her son and his alcoholism. We read in “The Gaudy Clothes of Tourists” that “My son’s death / is incomplete, only a fear, though/ as his drinking increases, a fear that daily grows.” In “Everyone Is Afraid of Something,” the speaker tells us:

I’m afraid
my son will die alone in his apartment.
I’m afraid when I break down the door,
I’ll find him among the empties -- bloated,
discolored, his face a stranger’s face . . . .
Another fear of mine: that it will fall to me
to tell this child her father is dead.

The speaker has a somewhat different approach to alcoholism among the men in her life than did her mother. Whereas the mother focused on maintaining a façade of normalcy, as in “My Mother’s Lips,” where she emphasizes, “Don’t dare embarrass me,” the speaker focuses on the painful necessity of preparing the next generation for the inevitability of loss. In “Everyone Is Afraid of Something,” she contemplates how to prepare her granddaughter for the loss of her father:

Perhaps I should begin today stringing
her a necklace of bees. When they sting
and welts quilt her face, when her lips
whiten and swell, I’ll take her
by the shoulders. Child, listen to me.
One day, you’ll see. These stings
are nothing. Nothing at all.

Perhaps the only sense of hope one can gain from these poems is that after prolonged, stoic tolerance and the inevitable tragic conclusion, there is the possibility of renewal. This is apparent in “How Her Words Entered Me When She Called to Say My Father Had Died at Last after Ten Months of Pain,” a poem whose sense of release is reminiscent of that found in Kate Chopin’s “Story of an Hour:”

entered me the way we entered the coral rock caves
at the edge of Venetian Pool, if we could muster the nerve
to brave the caves at all and, because we were girls,
did so only on a dare from some cowlicked
fifth- or sixth-grade boy because we had to duck
under and make our way blind through the black,
watery depths until we reached a ledge
at the back of the caves where we sat panting
while the fear drained off, and now, chattering,
another breath, one more plunge, and we crashed
to the far opening until, still swimming, we burst
into light, lifting our wet faces to an anthem
of blue and green--released into Eden.

Review of Suzanne Frischkorn's "Lit Windopane" (Wild Goose, Winter 2008)

Review of Suzanne Frischkorn’s Lit Windowpane (Main Street Rag, 47 pages, $14)

Spare, quiet, minimal in its approach, Suzanne Frischkorn’s new collection of poetry, Lit Windowpane, beautifully illustrates the power poetry has to say a great deal in only a few words. Most of the poems here are brief. “November’s Window,” the shortest, is not even as long as a haiku, 13 syllables in this case, and yet, those 13 syllables remind us of the power of the image to create deep, resonant meaning:

Street light’s orange glow--
a branding iron on the iris.

In these lines, the necessary glow of the street light metaphorically suggests the declining season of growth that now claims ownership of the iris. The title of the poem, as numerous titles in the collection, also reminds us of the importance of perspective, of the fact that, in the words of Paul Davies, “Nothing can be seen in isolation, for the very act of observation must involve a coupling of some sort.” It is this vital coupling, ultimately, that the speaker of these poems would have us meditate upon, a coupling that forbids us from taking things for granted and from letting the importance, the vitality, and the spirituality of the natural world vanish too easily.
One of the best poems of the collection, “Mermaid,” in fact, is very reminiscent of a now canonical poem with a similar message, namely William Wordsworth’s “The World Is Too Much With Us.” In Frischkorn’s mermaid who remembers times “Before those creatures with spliced tails freed me / to teach me to kneel,” we hear a complaint against what modern religion has done to our ability to recognize the sacred in nature that is similar to that heard in Wordsworth’s lines “Great God! I'd rather be / A Pagan suckled in a creed outworn.”
Similarly, we hear another thematic echo from a canonical Romantic poem in “Puccini at Dusk.” In this case, it is the contrast of temporal human creation with the immortal natural from Shelley’s “Ozymandias” that we hear again:

I excavate our yard with a garden trowel
and unearth shards of Delft, dull spoons,
a cup handle; remnants
of a dinner party. Is this all we leave
behind? The chain-link fence smothers
in trumpet vine, siren
song to hummingbirds.

Later in this same poem, the speaker explores a third Romantic theme, the pursuit of beauty, when she says:

. . . I’ll do anything
for beauty. I roam this city and count
its storefront churches,
soaped windows, burned factories--one
opera house, nexus to three pawnshops.
Dusk rubs its thumb
along the horizon. I hear the echo
of an aria; it follows each gold band
and a slide guitar.

This theme is wonderfully altered to include acknowledgment of the subjectivity of perception in the poem, “Storm:”

I rend a hole in the window screen and bid the rain in--
with the tip of my pencil--

a small hole, a few drops of rain
to wet my fingers.

Wait for the weeds in the culvert, wait for them
to finish sprouting between stones,
for the electric blue flowers to spread open.

I have given in to them.

Sometimes, beauty is the broken window, or the peeling
paint of the porch rail;

it’s overcast or it’s partly cloudy,
and sometimes it’s birdsong.

Amid such poems which acknowledge the subjectivity, temporality, and inevitable loss of such things as beauty, innocence, and our deeper connections with the natural world, Frischkorn offers as solution the fostering of vital habits: looking, refusing to take things for granted, remembering, sharing, and keeping what we can. These habits are stressed in poems like “Eve,” “Still Water,” “Afterwards,” and my favorite from the manuscript, “The View:”

A green pine cone, one of hundreds
you’ll pick up in late winter. Yes,
it’s June, but winter is coming, some
things you can bet on. Others
you take for granted--
asphodels push through wet earth,
songbirds sing, and your children
perennials of your own making; for
the rest of your life
the view of their backs
as they push away from you.

Review of Pris Campbell's "Hesitant Commitments" (Wild Goose, Winter, 2008)

Review of Pris Campbell’s Hesitant Commitments ($5, 36 pages, Lummox Press,

Good poems come in all shapes and sizes these days, but one trait most good poems share is that they have an impact on the reader. That impact may be emotional, cognitive, or, in rarer but often more enjoyable cases, visceral in nature. The poems in Pris Campbell’s new chapbook, Hesitant Commitments, from The Lummox Press, run the gamut of types of impacts, but many of the best poems in the manuscript feature that rarer visceral impact. In fact, poems like “Silk Blouse,” “Voyeur,” and “The Reading” might be described as, frankly, arousing.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking, however, that this is a collection of simple, erotic poetry. Many of the poems are also emotionally or philosophically stirring. The single best poem in the manuscript is the one that delivers the most resounding emotional blow, “about my sadness,” where the speaker asks herself:

how many times can
I lie on my back with a stranger,
legs spread, in hopes
this will be the orgasm that draws
my sadness out of the shadows,
evacuates that old man’s touch
from my childhood thighs?

Good collections of poetry also come in all shapes and sizes these days, and while I can’t say that there is a single trait they all share, many of them do share the characteristic of an over-arching narrative, an element found in Hesitant Commitments as well. This is the story of an emotional journey that begins in inexplicable sadness, leading to desperate, aimless sexual promiscuity, and on to, at first, hopeful and then frustrated love, before concluding with the realization that it is not love alone which can heal the past, but a surrendering of the past to love -- a surrendering that gives up control and creates vulnerability and trust. That’s a mouthful for one sentence; fortunately, the poems take their time in drawing out this narrative. In short, it is a story of self-discovery and the reclamation of fully human emotion lost through childhood sexual abuse. This is, obviously, a timely and important story, and like so many important stories, it is one better understood through the subtle workings of poetry, which make the experience seem our own, than it is through news reports of any form.
Campbell does a masterful job in dealing with a difficult theme, avoiding at all turns being preachy or sentimental, and creating at all turns imagery that resoundingly earns the emotional response it requests. She helps the reader understand what one would think could not be understood. Just as the speaker of these poems reclaims her humanity, she helps the reader expand his.

Review of Beverly Jackson's "Every Burning Thing" (Wild Goose, Summer 2008)


One of the greatest and most vital tricks of life is valuing the past without being imprisoned by it. Beverly Jackson’s new collection of poems, Every Burning Thing, (Pudding House, 2008) presents us with a speaker who achieves that trick.
When a writer uses an indefinite pronoun like “thing” in a title, they invite the reader to speculate on the possible referents of that pronoun. Jackson helps us along in that speculation in every poem, not the least in the title poem where images of grief and despair make clear the speaker’s understanding that there is no time in the subconscious, that what “burned” as loss decades before, captured in images of Pompeii, the Hindenburg, a B17 bomber named The Big Bitch, still smolders as daily grief, fear, resentment, motivation, “the yearning undead” (“Resurrection”) in the present.
While the speaker recognizes that the past is always present, she also discovers that there is acceptance, understanding, and moving on. Thus, the voice of these poems is most often that of Randall Jarrell’s “Woman at the Washington Zoo” after the transformation, a speaker who experiences the return of “terrifying angels” who “dip into the bowl of my brain / to wash their long white fingers” (“Resurrection”). Surviving the crucible of life as a woman, the speaker emerges transformed. Freed of the self- and societally-imposed chains of the past, she becomes water,

not in water--
not swimmer, whale or porpoise plunging
under surface glint, corralled by ocean--

but . . .
the slack-jawed, spooky renegade
of slosh and swell, tidal flood,
blind mammoth rolled in slumber,
sexed up, trailing sperm, seaweed
in ceaseless undulations,
(To Be Water)

Not surprisingly, given the unifying conflict of this volume, these are, in the Blakean sense of the phrase, songs of experience. Having survived the trials of failed relationships, parenting, and loss, the speaker returns to writing, to herself, to self-expression and discovers in the poem “A Cycle”

The piles of rocks
about my feet are high--
some even reach my heart.
For years their forces
pelted me, but red welts
wilt with time and pen.
Within my palm I kiss each stone
before I lift my chin--and throw.

These experiences and this reclamation of self lead the speaker to a new embracing of life and possibilities as in the poem “Seasoned:”

This year May coaxes a shadow
behind the fence, dark-eyed kisses in a tub
of hot rain, dyeing her mouth the color of blooms,
promising, promising.

. . .
It won’t be July before company comes.
The clairvoyant nestled between her thighs
is sending out signals, tracking the leashes
tied to the ribs of lumbering men, synapses
popping in time with a tune, words too soft to hear.

Escaping the prison of the past, refusing regret, and opening oneself to the possibility of transformation leads the speaker even to pleasures in unexpected places, as in “Feeding Frenzy,” where the speaker and a compatriot discover the carefree comfort of post-menopausal sensuousness, where they become “like neutered queens, / lording it, eating earth, sky / and wild romaine.” Ultimately, experience and the shedding of the past lead the speaker to an understanding and satisfaction that surpass the fear of mortality, as expressed in “I Am Not Afraid of the Dead:”

I sleep in her nightgown,
wear her socks on cold mornings,
and while I brush my teeth,
she stares back at me. I am
smiling into the face of death.

I have keened in anguish
as mourners do; let guilt
gnaw on my mind--morsels
of remembrance chewed
and swallowed, a dutiful meal.

In the darkness of night
we laugh, she and I, speaking
of flesh flab, bone rot, sour breath.
All that pain in preparation for
carefree repose, the fist falling open.

Beverly Jackson’s Every Burning Thing is a series of poems full of inhabiting spirits, and like any spirit that touches us, the poems leave us momentarily chilled and shaken, and permanently changed, renewed, ever-so-slightly stronger in our beliefs about the world, our ability to stand on our own, ever-so-slightly more in touch with who we are.

Beverly Jackson is a poet, fiction writer, and artist living in Asheville, NC. She is the founder and former editor of Lit Pot Press, the e-zine Literary Potpourri, and the print journal Ink Pot. Her poetry and fiction hav appeared in over sixty venues, including Rattle, The Melic Review, Dead Mule, and Tattoo Highway. Her blog is at

Review of Linda Ferguson's "Bird Missing from One Shoulder" (Wild Goose, Summer 2008)

Bird Missing from One Shoulder, by Linda Annas Ferguson, WordTech Editions 2007
A photo of the author’s mother adorns the front cover of Linda Annas Ferguson’s wonderful collection of poetry Bird Missing from One Shoulder. In a sort of poetic full circle, that image is clearly repeated on the back cover in the photo of Ferguson herself. Given the continuity of these two images, it should come as little surprise that the poems are, in part, dedicated to Virgie Nelson Annas, and that it is the spirit of an often underappreciated but strong woman, a self-sacrificing and persisting force of family that runs throughout the body of the work.
Through these poems the reader comes to appreciate the personal sacrifices made by the speaker’s mother as she “rises at five” (“Making Biscuits”), “hides money for a child’s needs” (Mama’s Closet”), hangs “wash outside on the line” (“Choices”) and “kneads with such ease it barely touches the heart of the palm” (“Making Biscuits”), all the while staying “at home / waiting for her own life” (“Lying in State”), listening “with her eyes shut,” (“Mama’s Apron”) and believing “she wasn’t anyone” (“Anonymous”). Even in the poems that focus on the speaker’s father it is the mother who leaves burning “a seashell lamp from a beach / we’ve never seen” (“Living Room”).
Do not think, however, that the poems can be reduced to a mere elegy for the speaker’s mother, for they are also the story of a girl growing up in a place that will be familiar to most readers from the small town South of the 20th century (and deserves to be familiar to those from elsewhere), a place of “fragments . . . parasites . . . bones thrown about” (“Cotton Mill Hill”), a place where “all streets lead to the cotton mill” (“Living Room”), “funerals cost too much to die” (“Graveyard Shift”) and “life comes in pieces” (“Almost Fourteen”). The greatest part of that growing up in this volume is the process of learning to accept grief maturely and of coming to understand the “austere and lonely offices,” as Robert Hayden calls them, of parenting and forgive the shortcomings accepting those offices often result in.
Ultimately, Bird Missing from One Shoulder does what most poetry aspires to do, to save what might otherwise be lost, the world not simply as it happens but as it is felt. The poems literally enact the final lines of “Mama’s Closet” where the speaker’s mother is seen “saving the girl she wants/ to remember, every small portion of paper / a folded page of herself.”

Review of Irene Honeycutt's "Before the Light Changes" (Wild Goose, Winter 2008)

Review of Irene Blair Honeycutt’s Before the Light Changes (Main Street Rag, 2008)

Irene Blair Honeycutt’s new collection of poems, Before the Light Changes, is a book you want to read in one sitting but can’t. Honeycutt’s over-arching narrative of working through an intensely personal loss makes you want to keep reading, but each poem carries its own catharsis, the cumulative effect of which would be overwhelming without the trip to the pantry, the distracting phone call, the night to sleep on it, or the weekend to recover your sense of equilibrium. These are, indeed, poems which knock you off your feet and leave you breathless. My own reactions as I read through them included at various moments a sympathetic sigh, a heart-rent “Oh, my,” and a sudden gasp of admiration at Honeycutt’s courage in telling this story and her frank but deft handling of such delicate matters as suffering loss and the necessary ambivalence of letting go.
The best poems in Before the Light Changes are the ones that deal most closely with the poet’s experience of losing her brother, some of which, according to the author, she cannot yet bear to read publicly. Poems such as “Where I’m Calling From,” “The Transfer,” and “When I Last Saw Him” are deeply personal, deeply moving, and deeply transformative, but what makes them work is that they are also hauntingly familiar. My first thought after reading “The Night Before He Died” was that nothing is strange here. The hospital gown, the rib cage rippling the skin, the memories of “checker games / we played on the floor, / using buttons and bottle caps . . .” are presented with such striking clarity that they seem to be my own memories and observations. This clarity makes the poems that much more harrowing, which keeps the reader from distancing himself, from thinking this is what happened to someone else.
In poem after poem the pattern repeats itself, the frankness and clarity making the experiences recorded here immediate, passing the understandable sense of urgency behind them on to reader. In the prose poem, “Fresh from Reading You, Merton,” the speaker asks frankly:

How can a Rescue Mission, after saving his life, evict him? Not a drug
addict, not an alcoholic Just bankrupt, cancer-ridden. What happens to
the homeless of his ilk? A company repossesses his car. A thief steals the
portable radio he’d bought at a garage sale.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
If my brother were of your Order, would my heart find release?
I’m rereading you, Merton. I’d like to know.
While it is raining. While it is dark.

Similarly, in the partially found poem, “Marie Curie Announces Her Discovery,” a poem whose connection to the overall thematic development of the manuscript becomes clearer in the reading of subsequent poems, revealing another characteristic of the work here, the reader is transported through frank imagery to an experience of Curie’s own urgency and its relationship to that of the poem’s speaker.

In a mountain sanatorium,
almost blind,
her hands bearing
the stigmata of her beloved radium,
Marie, who had preferred her lab
to a great social place
in the sun,
dies exhausted
from the cumulative effects
of the mysterious rays.

Even poems that at first glance seem unrelated to the narrative that binds the collection feature remarkably sharp and clear imagery. In “Woman at the Salvation Army Store,” for example, we see the speaker as she might be seen by a clerk at the store:

She enters this store for the first time,
glances around, amazed by the light,
the cleanliness--aisles arrayed, beckoning.
She gravitates to Furniture, drawn
to an oak vanity, stares at herself
in the large round mirror before
opening a drawer.
. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .
The woman says she’s just browsing,
her first time here.
But it will never be her first time.
She knows that. Surely, the clerk
knows that as well.
She’s always been here, searching,
just as others have.

We also see her from within her own mind, and it is through these revelations that we come to recognize how intimately connected she may be to the “discarded” objects she examines:
My mother sat at this vanity.
Patted her cheeks with rouge,
spread Avon lipstick
onto her parted lips.
Sometimes she gave me
tiny samplers from her sales
kit--carnation pinks,
ruby reds, deep purples.
I dotted the inside of my wrist,
blended colors into new
shades, thinking I’d sell
them when I grew up.

This juxtaposition of external and internal perception serves to weave this poem as well into the fabric of the text as a whole and to remind the reader of his or her own inescapable implication in the all-too-mortal realities conveyed here:

The woman wishes she could fill a basket
with Good Health. She pictures
someone delivering the basket to her brother
who lies in Baptist Hospital 350 miles away
awaiting colon surgery.
He believes
She reminds herself.
He told her so just yesterday.
He cannot lose.

Every poem hopes to have images that stay with the reader. The images in these poems not only resonate, but haunt, making us return to them again and again. Even as they record the author’s journey toward loss, the poems themselves, as soon as we put the book down, become for the reader, in the words of the opening poem, albeit less tragically, an “absence that we tend.” One might wrongly assume from these notes that Honeycutt’s collection is a sequence of morose poems. In fact, however, what this book masterfully does is remind us of the truly important things we have to do “before the light changes.” As the speaker’s dreams tell her in the wonderfully short poem, “Dreams,” while “you carry a corpse around, / . . . you are [also] part of the sun.

Why Doesn't Poetry Sell, January 22, 2008

Why Doesn’t Poetry Sell

I’ve taught writing for nearly 20 years, so I’m well aware of the fact that it is considered poor form to give your conclusion before making your argument. In this case, however, I’m making an exception. Why doesn’t poetry sell? I don’t know, or more precisely, I don’t understand, why poetry doesn’t sell.

I’ve had plenty of reasons offered to me. It’s too intellectual or too obtuse. It’s irrelevant or indecent. It’s too expensive or poorly marketed. And my favorite, there just isn’t a market, i.e. no one is interested in poetry. I could argue passionately against the veracity of any of these reasons, but today I’ll present a coldly logical case against only one, the last one.

First, a bit of perspective, to help you understand what I mean by “not selling.” I’ve had two collections of poetry printed. The first one sold about 1200 copies, and the second, just released last August, is nearing 1000 copies. That’s a smashing success in the minds of most poets and an abysmal failure in the minds of every other kind of writer. Even the best-selling collections of contemporary poetry, say Billy Collins’ The Trouble with Poetry, max out around 10,000 copies. Fiction best sellers, on the other hand, routinely reach 6 digits and occasionally exceed a million copies.

Those numbers make clear that, relative to other types of writing, poetry doesn’t sell, and I’ve already told you that I don’t know why. Now I’ll explain why I don’t believe the argument that poetry doesn’t sell because there is no market for it.

My reason for not believing this depends upon simple, albeit admittedly specious, math. Given the number of colleges and universities in NC, CVCC and Lenoir Rhyne can be seen as a correlative representation of the population of Catawba and Alexander counties. The creative writing classes I teach at CVCC average 20 students per year, half of whom are consistently interested in writing poetry. The numbers are similar at Lenoir Rhyne. Given an average life expectancy of 70 years, that means at any one time there are approximately 1400 people in the two counties who are interested enough in writing poetry to take a class in it. It seems reasonable to expect that those 1400 people would buy a copy of the one or two new books of poetry that come out of their county each year. I buy about 30 books of poetry each year, myself.

Combined with the 500 or so people from outside the two counties that have bought a copy of my most recent book, if the 1400 poetry-lovers in Catawba and Alexander County had bought a copy, then I should have sold closer to 2000 copies so far. Similarly, if the ratio of poetry-class-takers to overall population holds true across the country, then the poetry best sellers should have no difficulty approaching the million copies mark as well. According to this figuring, then, poetry should sell.

I’ve read that only poets buy poetry these days. Unfortunately, however, even this appears not to be the case. Even if only those who express an interest in writing poetry bought poetry regularly, say once a month, then poetry would clearly have a solid market. I’ve heard the death of poetry pronounced more times than I can count, and obviously, it’s still here. But if poetry is not important enough to shake the money tree of even those who appear to care about poetry, then who can say to what depths of obscurity and penury the poets of tomorrow might sink?

Poetry Council of North Carolina, January 15, 2009

In 1949 the Poetry Council of North Carolina was established in Asheville, NC, by four friends from that part of the state. The Council was devoted to essentially three purposes listed in its mission statement. The primary mission was “to foster a deeper appreciation and love of poetry among the people of NC.” Supporting that were two other purposes: “to carry on Poetry Day activities” and “to establish a Poetry Shrine.”
The Poetry Shrine mentioned in that mission statement was begun with a donation of 150 volumes of poetry, and since 1997 has also included copies of all entries in the organization’s annual book competition and copies of the annual awards anthology, first published in 1952. That shrine has been housed since its inception at Catawba College in Salisbury.
Poetry Day was designated by Governor William Kerr Scott to be October 15 in 1950. Since that time, the Council has conducted an annual Poetry Day Celebration in early October on the campus of Catawba College.
The primary activity of the Council has been the coordination of a series of annual poetry competitions, and the entry period for those competitions has arrived yet again. Between January 15 and May 15, residents of NC are invited to submit their poetry to whichever of the seven PCNC competitions best suits their work. Competitions are offered for the best book of poems and for the best individual poem in the following categories: traditional form poetry, light verse, free verse, free verse on the theme of family heritage. Two additional competitions are for elementary and middle school students, and high school and undergraduate students.
Prizes for competition winners range from $25 to $100. All winning poets, including 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place finishers as well as up to three honorable mentions in each category, are published in the Council’s annual awards anthology called Bay Leaves. Winning poets are also invited to read their work at the Poetry Day Celebration, which this year will be October 10 at Catawba College.
Supporting the Poetry Council of North Carolina, attending the Poetry Day Celebration, and entering the PCNC poetry competitions are all wonderful ways to get involved in the world of poetry in NC. For more information on the Council or any of its activities, including complete guidelines for the competitions, visit the Council’s website at

Chuck Sullivan, January 8, 2009

Sullivan Follows an Uncommon Road

I played basketball throughout high school, so I know that the exhortations of basketball coaches can, on occasion, be considered poetic. However, none of my coaches exhibited the ability to maintain a rhyme scheme or extended metaphor for more than a couple of lines. Those abilities, among other things, make Chuck Sullivan, a former high school basketball coach, extraordinary.
At first glance, Sullivan comes across as very much an ordinary guy. Actually, at second glance, he still seems pretty ordinary, the kind of guy you can talk with right away, usually about sports, or have a beer with. In fact, the first time I met Sullivan we chatted loosely about a number of common topics for 4 or 5 minutes before I realized I was talking with the poet I had come to hear read. Back then, his poems seamlessly bound the two worlds of Catholicism and basketball into an image that seemed very familiar and very relevant even to one who was not Catholic, or, I suspect, to one who had never played basketball.
Born in New York City to a working class Irish-Catholic family, Sullivan came to North Carolina to play basketball for the legendary Al McGuire at Belmont Abbey College. From there, he became basketball coach at Bishop McGuinness High School in Winston-Salem. Then his road took an uncommon turn, as he attended UNCG to receive an Masters in Fine Arts in creative writing.
Since then, he has published 7 books of poetry, including his most recent, Zen Matchbox, from Main Street Rag. His previous collections have been recognized as South Carolina’s Best Poetry Book of the year and received the North Carolina Poetry Council’s Poetry Book of the Year Award. His poems have been widely published in journals and magazines, most notably in Esquire and Rolling Stone.
Now, Chuck Sullivan’s uncommon road brings him to Hickory, where he will read from his work as part of Poetry Hickory on January 13. The reading will be held at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse beginning at 6:30. For a taste of what those in attendance are in store for, here is a poem from Sullivan’s new collection, a collection which still seems relevant, accessible, and vital.

The flag is no stranger to differing opinions
about its proper handling.
NY Times, 23 June 2007

From my mother's wound I volunteered
Into the surprise
Of a dark firefight in the Holy
City of Najaf's larger than life
Cemetery and in a wicked feathered
Flash as if a terrible angel had arrived
Bright with the blinding shadow
Of the wanton Almighty and my bloom
Was cut like the quick of the rose
I once on her day gifted to my mother
And I was lost in finding
My petals folded within the flames
Of my Boy Scout's body all lit up
By the mercy of an Allah Akbar RPG
Blowing me out of harm's way
And into the grace of a black sun's
Spangled pieces of STARS & STRIPES
FOREVER buried in the weave of Fate's
Blood-needled threads of the same old
Same Old Glory stripped from my casket
By the fingers of the gold bars
Mined from Honor's Central Casting
And when he made a present of it
He mumbled something to my mother
That sounded like, "A grave
Full nation thanks you…"
But he really meant something else
As Mom did too sitting there like a still
Life a study in perfect black cradling
The sharply folded red white and blue
To the grief-struck match of her heart
And in the behold of this fire
As was his duty the gold bars snapped
To attention and shot her point blank
With the crisp execution of his spit
And polish straight arrow salute.

Dannye Romine-Powell, January 1, 2009

In a recent review of Dannye Romine Powell’s new book of poems A Necklace of Bees, I wrote that “the poems masterfully achieve what should be the ultimate goal of poetry, to help us experience our own lives a bit more deeply, a bit more consciously, and a bit more honestly.” In a previous “Musings,” I implied that the best reasons to attend a poetry reading were to experience catharsis and to remember a more clearly what it is to be human.
My review of Romine Powell’s work makes it clear that I think she is one of those poets who help us remember our humanity, and now, she is coming to Hickory to read from her new book, an experience which promises to be cathartic for all those who attend.
I have been a fan of Dannye Romine Powell’s work for nearly two decades. I first met her at the home of the greatest teacher I’ve ever had, Ann Carver, in Charlotte. I knew she was the Book Page Editor for the Charlotte Observer. I had seen her on television several times. I had read a number of her poems already. And I knew she had just published a very successful book of interviews with Southern writers, Parting the Curtains. What I didn’t know was how kind, humble, gracious, and easy to talk to she was.
We hit it off right away. As a young poet, I was, of course, eager to hear anything she had to say about writing, poetry, and the world of writers. What amazed me was that she also seemed anxious to know what I had to say.
I’ve never forgotten her kindness, and I’ve never stopped being impressed with her work. I reviewed A Necklace of Bees because I think it is one of the best books of the past year, and the poem I’m reprinting below, the one from which the collection draws its title, is one of the best poems of the year.

Everyone Is Afraid of Something

Once I was afraid of ghosts, of the dark,
of climbing down from the highest
limb of the backyard oak. Now I’m afraid

my son will die alone in his apartment.
I’m afraid when I break down the door,
I’ll find him among the empties--bloated,
discolored, his face a stranger’s face.

My granddaughter is afraid of blood
and spider webs and of messing up.
Also bees. Especially bees. Everyone,
she says, is afraid of something.

Another fear of mine: that it will fall to me
to tell this child her father is dead.

Perhaps I should begin today stringing
her a necklace of bees. When they sting
and welts quilt her face, when her lips
whiten and swell, I’ll take her
by the shoulders. child, listen to me.
One day, you’ll see. These stings
are nothing. Nothing at all.

(first published in Tar River Poetry Review)

Dannye Romine Powell is the author of three collections of poetry, each from the University of Arkansas Press. She has won fellowships in poetry from the NEA and the NC Arts Council. She will appear at Poetry Hickory with Chuck Sullivan at 6:30 on January, 13, at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse.

Main Street Rag, December 25, 2008

The word “small” in the phrase “small press” is probably intended to refer to the overall monetary value of the press and its publications. It is not, however, a reflection of the press’s importance, quality, or number of publications. If that were the case, then Main Street Rag Publishing Company in Charlotte would long ago have outgrown the designation “small press.”
Main Street Rag (MSR) Publishing Company was founded in 1996, the brainchild of owner, publisher, editor, writer, bookbinder, and otherwise mostly amazing one-man-machine, M. Scott Douglass. Since that time, Douglass and MSR have produced nearly 1000 individual titles.
Not all of those have been Main Street Rag titles. Main Street Rag is both a publishing company and a book bindery. About a third of the company’s entire production history has been its own titles, books of poetry and fiction, issues of the literary magazine Main Street Rag, etc. The others have been books produced for other publishers, other journals, and individuals who have sought to self-publish.
No matter which way you look at the numbers, the production rate is staggering, especially when you consider that, with the exception of one part-time employee, a handful of readers who aid in selection, and other seasonal employees, Douglass does this by himself.
Equally impressive is the quality of the work MSR publishes. In the last 10 years, few published poets in NC have not had their work printed either in the journal or in book form by MSR. Irene Honeycutt, Glenis Redmond, Alex Grant, Ruth Moose, Gail Peck, Thomas Rain Crow, and Hickory’s own Tim Peeler are just a handful of the regional poets Douglass has published. And the books are beautiful. And inexpensive, averaging around $12 each. Locally, MSR titles are available at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse in downtown Hickory. All titles are available at MSR’s website (
The role MSR plays in the writing world is not just limited to publication, either. MSR sponsors readings across the state, including Poetry Hickory, and provides a monthly electronic newsletter listing readings, classes and other writing events, deadlines for writing competitions, and submission information for other journals. The company’s website also features links to numerous other helpful writer-friendly sites. And, of course, the journal features poetry, short fiction, photography, essays, interviews, commentary, and, reviews of newly published collections of poetry.
All in all, Main Street Rag is an invaluable resource to anyone interested in finding quality contemporary literature or in pursuing publication of their own work. Douglass and MSR have become such a hub of the writing world in NC that I find it hard to imagine that world without them.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Blog Talk Radio, December 18, 2008


In previous columns, I've highlighted poetry readings and poetry journals (both online and printed) as sources for those interested in poetry to hear and read good contemporary work. Another recently-developed source of good contemporary poetry is blog talk radio.

Until recently, recordings of great poets reading their own work as young men and women were virtually nonexistent, making it difficult to trace the development of the poet's ideas, sources, and techniques across their career. This dearth of recordings was partially due to the simple fact that it is very difficult to predict which young poets will become great ones. It was also due, however, to the cost involved in making such a recording. Companies creating such recordings were necessarily quite selective.

The advent of the internet and online "talk shows" has changed that. Now blog talk radio features numerous poetry shows that record live readings of poetry by the poets themselves. Because these readings are inexpensive to produce, recordings are made on a weekly basis, greatly increasing the number of poets who can be recorded. Even better, the readings are archived on the shows' websites, meaning that most future "great" poets will have been recorded reading and talking about their own work in their youth. Imagine how useful this will be as a research tool for future students of poetry. Another advantage of this format is that the audience does not have to tune in at a particular time, but can listen to the recorded show anytime they like.

The Jane Crown Show and the Joe Milford Poetry Show are two of the best of these shows. Both are broadcast at, and their archived shows can be accessed there or on their own websites: and respectively. Crown will celebrate the first anniversary of her show in January while Milford has been doing his show for slightly less time. The two shows have already established, however, an impressive collection of recordings, including such national notables as C.D. Wright, Stephen Dunn, Ron Silliman, Tony Hoagland, and Bob Hicok.

I've been on the Joe Milford Poetry Show twice, and from the poet's perspective one of the greatest things about the show's format is that the readings are 90-minutes long. This gives the poet the opportunity to share a significant portion of a single collection, giving the listener an in-depth look at a single work, or to share several poems from multiple collections, revealing the writer's breadth of form and content.

Visitors to the shows' websites will find, in addition to nationally-known poets, numerous NC poets of note as well, including M. Scott Douglass, Alex Grant, and Dan Albergotti. Of particular interest to poetry lovers in the Catawba County area will be the reading by CVCC Instructor, Tim Peeler, slated for February 1 on the The Jane Crown Show.

Molly Rice, December 11, 2008

There are people who seem to do nothing and people who seem to do everything. As a lifelong educator I’ve noticed the ironic phenomenon that the students who seem to do the best on their schoolwork are the ones who are the busiest. One might expect that those doing less would have more time to study and would therefore do a better job, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.
If one takes Molly Rice as an example, the same pattern seems to hold true in the adult world as well. Rice is a wonderful poet, but that is just the tip of the iceberg when describing her. She is also an award-winning theater instructor at St. Stephens High School in Hickory, award-winning director of the Tractor Shed Theater, Advisor for the “Corona” Yearbook, editor of St. Stephen’s literary magazine Indian Ink, freelance teacher of workshops in poetry and drama, and author of textbooks and children’s books.
Originally from Charlotte, Rice has held several residencies teaching poetry, theatre, and ESL in hundreds of schools, colleges, and organizations in NC, United Kingdom, Ireland, Russia, and Hungary. While living in Ireland for six years, she became a Pushkin Trust Artist for the Duchess of Abercorn. She has been published in various webzines and magazines including Fortnight Magazine and The Stinging Fly. Her first collection of poetry – Mill Hill – is forthcoming.
The poem below is a part of that manuscript and a part of the soon-to-be-released anthology Voices and Vision from the Hickory Women’s Resource Center (look for more information on that publication in a future “Musings”).

Home Front

My mother
Rips the glow
From the lightening bug
And paints our faces
With her florescent fingers.
We wait and watch
With round eyes,
E l e c t r i f i e d,
For our marks –
Cheeks puffed,
Breath bated.
Crickets’ cantos
Ricochet off trees.
Rough, yarn-worn fingers
Press my face.
One stripe
Down each cheek –
Warm gut glow.
All the mill hill houses
White and straight in a row
Within their walls
Wars are growing.
But tonight, with him not home,
We three little Indians
Escape a scalping
And dance in the dusk

Rand Brandes, November 27, 2008

The Culminating Event of a Drama

Dr. Rand Brandes, Writer-in-Residence, Director of the Visiting Writers Series, and Martin Luther Stevens Professor of English at Lenoir-Rhyne University, has carried the torch for poetry in the Hickory area for 20 years. As a scholar who has widely published work on Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney and an organizer who has brought writers like Alice Walker, Pat Conroy, John Updike, and Amiri Baraka to town, he has put and kept Hickory on the literary map.
I first met Rand in 1994 when, shortly after my first book of poems came out, he invited me up from Charlotte to read as part of the series. That reading was the highlight of my career in poetry at that time, and remains one of the highlights to this day. Not two weeks ago I bumped into someone who wanted me to sign my book, not my new one, but the one I read from and she purchased, that night. Rand is every bit as gracious now as he was then.
What sometimes gets lost in Rand’s selfless work to promote poetry and further the academic and cultural development of the Hickory area is the fact that Rand is, himself, a wonderful poet. He is the author of one collection of poems, Balefires, and individual poems of his have been published in a wide variety of journals and magazines. He has been a featured writer at Poetry Hickory once already, and will be so again when he reads with Jeff Davis on December 9.
Like most poets, Brandes, loves words, the heft of them, the history, the nuances of meaning and sound. About the following poem, he commented, “The technical definition of ‘Catastrophe’ is ‘the culminating event of a drama, especially a tragedy.’ From the Greek: ‘an overthrowing.’ It is the exact point in the play at which the catharsis occurs.” With that in mind, I am pleased to print Brandes’ poem, “Catastrophe.”


After the play
They divorced.


This, they say,
Is the power of art—
To bring us together
And tear us apart.

Poetry Readings, November 13, 2008

In this age of universal literacy, poetry readings might seem a strange concept. Why would one give up an evening of watching The Biggest Loser or Dancing with the Stars to listen to someone read to them what they could easily read, and perhaps more easily understand, on their own?
In the very old days, a poetry reading was either a history lesson (think bards, scops, and griots who composed their stories in verse to aid memory) or a sort of archaic concert (minstrels, troubadours, etc.). But today, despite the fact that most good poems possess both musical and intellectual content, few would mistake a poetry reading for a rock concert or a university lecture.
Nevertheless, poetry readings have sustained adequate popularity in virtually every city large enough to have a college or university for the past 70 years or so. The monthly Poetry Hickory events held at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse, for example, have routinely drawn 30 to 80 people for the past 14 months.
So, why do people come to poetry readings? In the spirit of David Letterman, I offer you the top 10 reasons people come to poetry readings:
10. Extra Credit. Okay, it’s true, part of the audience at every poetry reading consists of college and high school students who have been bribed by their teachers to attend in an effort to expose them to “high culture.”
9. Curiosity. Some attend just to see what it’s all about. Others because they know that poets, like most artists, not to mention those who attend poetry readings, tend to be a “curious” lot. Poets still retain a bit of celebrity, and many of them are not above making spectacles of themselves or the unfortunate subjects of their work.
8. Support of the Poet. A certain portion of any poetry reading audience will be family and friends of the poet because they know how broke and desperate for support the poet is.
7. Support of Poetry. Some attend because they honestly love poetry or believe that it is in some way important and they know that many poets will only continue to write as long as they think someone will listen.
6. Support of Art. Some attend because they sincerely appreciate and want to support art in all its forms, and others because they want to do whatever the “artsy” people are doing (these are often bigger spectacles than the poets themselves).
5. Inspiration. A good part of any poetry reading audience will be other poets or wannabe poets scouting out ideas and techniques, taking notes, and making comparisons.
4. Entertainment. They may not be rock concerts, but a lot of what one hears at a poetry reading is funny or dramatic. Traditional readings might be compared to a jazz performance in which the poet improvises upon the text as he or she moves through it. Performance poetry and poetry slams, on the other hand, include even more heightened elements of drama, comedy, and sometimes, music.
3. Intellectual Stimulation. No, they’re not lectures, but the thematic and formalistic components of poems do necessitate some intellectual engagement and cognitive processing to arrive at a “meaning,” and the verbal inflections and emphases of the poet often help make sense of the poem. It could be argued, in fact, that contemporary poetry is best understood when heard and read.
2. Catharsis. I write poetry because to me no art form comes as close to capturing the totality of human experience and perception as poetry. It is simultaneously emotional, intellectual, and spiritual, and the fragmentary, associative movement of poetry seems closest to my own experience of the world. When confronted with realistic representations of experiences we’ve known, we react emotionally. We experience catharsis. At each of the last 4 poetry readings I’ve given, someone has cried. That’s a good thing.
To Get the News. William Carlos Williams said, “It is difficult to get the news from poetry, yet men die miserably everyday for lack of what is found there.” I do believe that reading and writing poetry helps us remain true to the full meaning of the term “human being.” Poetry refuses to take things for granted and explores connections between things that aren’t obviously connected. Both of these habits are vital to making wise decisions regarding the world and the people around us.

Irene Honeycutt, November 6, 2008

Irene Honeycutt is one of the nicest people and one of the best poets I know. She is one of those people who seem to spontaneously generate superlatives like “best” and “nicest” among all those who meet her. Two of her former students, Steven Sherrill and Henrietta Goodman, both renowned writers in their own right today, told me she was the best teacher they ever had.
I’m not sure how long Honeycutt taught at Central Piedmont Community College in Charlotte, but I know that she founded and then coordinated the college’s Annual Spring Literary Festival for 14 years. I know that she was awarded Teacher of the Year by the school. And I know that because of the many superlatives she earned, the college established, upon her retirement in 2006, the Irene Blair Honeycutt Distinguished Lectureship. This award, no doubt, came as a result of her years of selfless dedication to the development of the talent she perceived in others. It echoes the sentiment of other arts community service awards she has received from Creative Loafing and the Charlotte Writers Club.
Irene’s gifts, however, consist not only of the assistance, instruction and support she has provided others, but also of the impressive and substantial poetry she has herself created. Her own creative work includes It Comes as a Dark Surprise, winner of Sandstone Press’s Southeastern Poetry Contest in 1992, Waiting for the Trout to Speak (Novello Press, 2002), and most recently Before the Light Changes (Main Street Rag), a book I liked well enough to write a review of for the next issue of Wild Goose Poetry Review.
Best of all, Irene Honeycutt is coming to Hickory to give a reading from her new book on November 11. She’ll participate in Poetry Hickory that evening with local writer Tammy Wilson. The reading will begin at 6:30, and I won’t be surprised afterwards to hear the comment, “That was the best reading I’ve ever been to.”
I’m very pleased to share with you the poem, “The Radio with the Green Eye,” from Honeycutt’s collection Before the Light Changes.

The Radio with the Green Eye

The radio with the green eye is playing
“I’m so lonesome I could cry.”
Dad turns the knob, and Gabriel Heater’s
voice blasts the living room. Dad folds
the Labor Union News, hunches towards
the radio’s mouth. It is covered
with brown cloth. When no one’s around,
I poke it, wondering what goes on inside.
Tonight the mouth thunders with bombs.
I get up from the sofa.
My fear is like the egg I drop
on the kitchen floor.
Mama keeps washing dishes,
pretends not to notice.
Ronnie’s in bed, wants me to play checkers.
Yesterday, he stepped on the iron rake,
sat screaming in the garage while Dad poured
kerosene over the hole in his foot.
His blood soaked the towel.
I’ve learned that if I turn a dial in my head,
it all goes away. Even the static
of machine guns becomes a blanket
of snow, covering the war.

Janice Moore Fuller & Wild Goose Poetry Journal, October 30, 2008

Once upon a time, if you wanted to experience good, contemporary poetry, you had to subscribe to a literary journal, typically published 3-4 times a year at a university or college. Those magazines still exist today and still publish the best contemporary poetry being written, and when I teach creative writing, I strongly encourage my students to subscribe to as many of them as they can afford to. Those subscriptions are what keep the journals publishing and the poets writing.
Nonetheless, thanks to the internet, poetry today is significantly more availabe, as new online journals have appeared and proliferated and as older, print journals have created online sites as well. I couldn’t possibly name even a small percentage of the online poetry journals and sites that exist today, all of which are free to visit. A search of “poetry journals” would, undoubtedly, result in thousands of relevant hits. In fact, a recent visit to one of the online poetry journal databases,, revealed about 1400 journals, the majority of which had websites of one sort or another.
My point is that if you’re interested in contemporary poetry there is no longer any excuse for not reading. It costs nothing but time to visit the online journals and websites. Two such sites of particular interest to me are the Dead Mule School of Southern Literature at, and Wild Goose Poetry Review at
Dead Mule is the online journal which published my chapbook, Deceptively Like a Sound, last April and will publish my next chapbook, The Book of Days, in January. More importantly, they have published a vast number of local and regional authors, including most of those who have read at Poetry Hickory.
Wild Goose is a journal which I help edit, selecting poems for inclusion and writing reviews of new collections of poetry. Both websites are wonderful places to encounter good contemporary poetry and to learn about other poets and their books. To highlight the quality of the work one can encounter at these sites, I’m very pleased to reprint, from the current issue of Wild Goose Poetry Review, Janice Moore-Fuller’s poem, “Cryogenics.” Fuller is the director of the creative writing program at Catawba College in Salisbury, NC. Her latest book, which is reviewed in the current issue of Wild Goose, is called Séance.

Midnight is the hour when old food
takes chances, thankful not to be eaten.
Eggs beaten into omelets shape themselves
into swans and palm trees.
Goat cheese sneaks off the saucer,
skates across the ice-box grid.
Sardines wish upon a star-shaped paté
no one remembers buying.
What is the color of decay?
Lavender? Gray? If things
don’t find peace in the Kelvinator,
how can I forget Mother’s limbs
underground near the railroad tracks
still crossing, uncrossing?
Planes circle the graves, trailing
boundless ribbons I’d like to loop
through her hair. I’d dress her
in a cowl-neck gown, loose enough
to let her breathe. On some other
planet, the oxygen is as dry
and unmarrowed as her cool, cool bones.

Kevin Keck, October 23, 2008

When I started Poetry Hickory 14 months ago, I had my friend Tim Peeler in mind. I thought, here is a great poet who is barely known in his own hometown. And I decided the easiest way to do something about that was to give local poets a venue through which local audiences could hear their work and get to know the poets. Fortunately, the owners of Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse already had a history of supporting local art and were willing to host the readings which followed.
It didn’t take me long to discover that Peeler wasn’t the only already successful local writer who was largely unknown by the people they encountered every day. One of the other noteworthy but underexposed writers I discovered was Kevin Keck, who at that time already had published three books.
Keck was born in Johnson City, TN, but raised in Denver, NC, where he still lives. His books include My Summer Vacation, Oedipus Wrecked, and Are You There, God? It’s Me, Kevin. He holds a BA from UNCC and a MA from Syracuse, and is currently a member of the faculty at CVCC. I want to thank Kevin for allowing me to print the poem below.

Sonnet from an Idea Stolen from an Unpublished Story Written by Randy Clayton in 1982

- for Kevin Rouse

After the girl who fell from the clouds
was carried aloft again, everything changed.
Reason, courage, love—all of it took
a back seat to waiting. The daily luster of life
slowly began to rust, as though the people
in charge of polishing up had disappeared
overnight, like her. And with everything
I know, all I want to learn is where
did she go? Who watches after her now?
If I knew the road that would get me
to her I'd take it, but as it is I'm just some
straw man alone in the pockmarked street,
looking skyward and dreaming of a strong wind.
If I only wasn't holding all these bricks.

Bud Caywood, October 16, 2008

It doesn’t pay to be a poet in the world today. I’m not sure that it ever did. There is still interest in poetry, but it seems the interest is more in writing poetry than in reading it, or, that even greater rarity, buying it. Faced with this reality, most of those who continue to pursue poetic expression after realizing the lack of financial reward for doing so, retreat to the halls of colleges and universities where they are at least encouraged and periodically rewarded, usually in the form of time, for publication.
There remains, however, a substantial number of impressive poets who somehow find the willpower and the means to continue developing their poetic talents outside the relative security of academia. Charles Bukowski comes to mind. And I recently discovered another such poet from my birth-town of Greenwood, SC: D.B. Cox. In Catawba County, the most recognized example of this sort of “grassroots” poet is Bud Caywood.
Caywood is the Staff Designer for La-Z-Boy Furniture and a freelance artist and writer. He has been creating art and poetry for more than thirty years and is preparing to publish his 12th collection of poetry: The Café Terrace at Night. Previous editions have included The Feather Collector, North Toward Noon, and Tomato.
Caywood has been an active fixture in the Catawba County arts and poetry community for years. In 2001, he began the original local poetry reading series called “The Writer’s Stage.” And in 2005, he founded an online writer’s group called e-Poets Society.
I am honored to print his poem, “The Rock,” which was originally published in his collection The River.

The Rock

That glimmer is not the moon rising from the river,
or fireflies tumbling out of the shadows,
but flickering mica slivers from a pyramid shapes spike

ripping through the river’s collar–a moving aqueduct
of silky sand splintered with billions of silvery specs;
its metallic current shimmering like a shattered mirror.

This three-mile cascade is an even flowing fallow of
nothing but water and rocks, an esophagus to heaven
with erratic currents tearing the ribs from each bank,

churning invisibly in a swirling spoke of cold drifts,
waiting for rain to rise up its belly around the rock
that shivers like mercury even in the dead of night.

It takes only several minutes, but you trace the flow,
the torrent trail of liquid sand, a tip slightly left, and then
right into the falls and out through a chute, then finally

down through the bruised gorge in long loping waves,
under each drooping tree whirring and swaying in a
hovering presence–the rock disappears quietly behind.

Sigrid Hice, October 9, 2008

A native of Germany, Sigrid Hice has been an active member of the arts community in the Hickory area for the last 20 years. She has played a vital role, in fact, in organizing local arts activities as well as in pursuing her own creative expression. In 1991 she helped found the Hickory Writers Group, and has also been judge, docent, and leader for various arts organizations in the area.

She serves as a visiting artist in schools throughout the Carolinas through organizations such as the Mountain Arts Program and the South Carolina Arts Commission. Her work has earned her grants from the Catawba County Council for the Arts and the South Carolina Alliance in Arts, and her prose, poetry, and photography have been published in numerous regional journals.

I am very pleased to reprint Hice’s poem “Lifelines,” which was originally published in Iodine Poetry Journal.


Guided by sight and vision
The lines of life intersect
Encountering chance and choice
Confronting stop and go
After passing lonely days and years
And luring fields of play
That seemed but were not

Strong lines drafted in happiness
Vague lines drawn with uncertainty
Fine lines sketched by discomfort
All stretched as a steely tightrope
Across colorful dead end angles
And landscapes of relationships
Tangled like a spider’s web.

Marked by a maze of moods and mass
Forced through daylight and darkness
Lines intertwine with the future
Exploring foreign microcosms
While traveling the route of suspense
On a road map of invisible wrinkles
Like a measurement of being

"Musings" is a weekly column featuring original poetry by Hickory-area writers or others giving readings of their work in the area. Submissions to "Musings" should be sent in the body of an email to Scott Owens at Please include a photo (jpeg) and a biography of 50 words or less with your submission. Previously published work is acceptable, but please include information about that publication with your submission. 2008 Visiting Writer at CVCC, Scott Owens is the author of four books of poetry, co-editor of Wild Goose Poetry Review, and coordinator of the Poetry Hickory reading series, held the second Tuesday of each month at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse. See more of his work at

Trisha Hart, October 2, 2008

From the beginning of “Musings,” I’ve wanted to include poetry by local students alongside work by major local poets. When the major local poet (who shall remain nameless) that was supposed to send me work for this segment of the series failed to do so, I saw it as an opportunity to print some student poetry and let everyone know that we are open to work from college and high school students in the area.

The most brilliant person I’ve ever met was a student at a community college. So, it came as no surprise to me when last year in a community college classroom, I encountered perhaps the most promising student poet I’ve ever come across. Trisha Hart’s work was different from the usual fare in a beginning creative writing class from day one. Her poems were spare and understated but full of vivid imagery that staved off the sentimental while hinting at the fountain of emotion residing just below the surface of her words.

Trisha is a native of these parts, and still takes classes at Catawba Valley Community College. When I teach creative writing in the spring, I hope she’ll be there again. I’m not in the least surprised that her work has already found numerous outlets, having been published in Dead Mule and Sanctuary, and read aloud at Poetry Hickory and on WHKY’s First Talk Show with Hal Row. The three poems reprinted here attest to her developing mastery of the techniques of contemporary poetry.

The Ocean Speaks
I am an ocean and I will come back to you
Again and again…
I embrace the land with breaking arms,
Falling forward to offer my songs into wind,
Drawing back into myself to begin again.
Time comes and goes in echoes.
My yearning crashes into landscapes all day,
And I am sentenced to continue on.
To change the shape of that face that meets me!
To come alive again and feel the breath of my existence;
To stumble into wind and extend myself into distance!
There are no words to uncover me- for I have swallowed them all,
Drowning daybreaks, teardrops, sunsets.
I have felt the face of the moon upon my heart when it aches.
I have caught the falling of the night in one long drink.
My waters shiver in their own immensity,
Tossing and turning in restless sleep.
My memory lies open.
I have searched for you within myself for years,
Lost beyond my fingers’ froth.
I have seen everything that happens.
Still I wait emptying myself over and over
Looking for the one treasure I lost and could not recover.
I stay anchored firmly in the past,
Unable to escape myself when you leave.
So, as you go your way into dry land, do not forget.
I will always be here echoing one song:
What once was will come again;
What once was will come again.
Inside the Glass
Unbroken walls
of sober silence surround us,
hazy clouds
of hanging sorrow.
Through the glass
no one touches us.
haunt our halls.
You, stumbling
on the stair, stranger,
we knew you once.
Who are you now
when the floor rushes up
to meet you? Love climbs
in a wave against you.
The tide pulls you away.
You direct our days
to a boundless hunger,
awaken hurt that slept
frozen in our bones,
silent hours
of tear-stained fears,
unfinished anger.
We live our pain in echoes,
blocking passage to your well.
This house is hollow
and our hearts
In October

Shadows crept
through my back door,
stole summer from my hand,
left pieces
scattered by wind,
caught a firefly and lost it,
swam into night
leaving only the dark.

"Musings" is a weekly column featuring original poetry by Hickory-area writers or others giving readings of their work in the area. Submissions to "Musings" should be sent in the body of an email to Scott Owens at Please include a photo (jpeg) and a biography of 50 words or less with your submission. Previously published work is acceptable, but please include information about that publication with your submission. 2008 Visiting Writer at CVCC, Scott Owens is the author of four books of poetry, co-editor of Wild Goose Poetry Review, and coordinator of the Poetry Hickory reading series, held the second Tuesday of each month at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse. See more of his work at

Ann Chandonnet, September 25, 2008

Unlike last week’s featured poet, Ann Fox Chandonnet is a newcomer to the Hickory area. Specifically, she lives now with her husband in Vale. But if you’re thinking Vale might seem somewhat remote to her, then you should know that her last home was in Alaska, although other recent events might make Alaska not seem as remote to the rest of us as it once did.

Chandonnet was born and raised in Massachusetts, and earned her master’s degree at the University of Wisconsin, but then lived for 34 years in Alaska. She has worked as an English teacher, an editor, a publicist, and a cops and courts reporter. She has also written cookbooks, children’s books and a travel guide to the Inside Passage. Her seven poetry collections include Canoeing in the Rain, At the Fruit Tree's Mossy Root, and Auras, Tendrils.

The poem that follows is reprinted with Chandonnet’s permission from her collection Ptarmigan Valley: Poems of Alaska. Anyone who has ever split wood can attest to the cathartic nature of the experience and will be able to easily identify with this poem.

Splitting Wood

Anger’s impossible
after splitting wood.
Bile flows out along the human trunk,
the arms, and axe handle
into the cleavages of birch and spruce,
into the neatly stacked cords
and the pleasing litter of chips
upon the snow.

The more lengths split,
the more I become whole:
joints cease their clatter;
rifts slide shut.

Lacking shoulders,
I turn scientific,
teasing the lengths
atop the block
until they become level.
Then my little force
runs straight down the grain.

The bore holes of twigs
are clean as laser burns.
Swelling branches spawn massive roils,
marbled end papers.
Force is balked by these conjunctions.
Wood splits just to them
and no further . . .
like roads deadending
at skewed headlands.

On the pile reclines a straight young arm;
beneath, a knotty fist of aged wood,
liver spots of decay staining its pale grain.
Some knotfree layers separate
clean as onion rings.

Few things concentrate and empty the body so,
both engage and free.
Blows echo from the trees around;
a scrap of inner bark
glows pink as a conch.