Tuesday, February 3, 2009

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.

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