Thursday, April 23, 2009

Support Your Local Poet


It’s National Poetry Month! Who knew? And even those who did probably wonder what that means.
In 1996, the Academy of American Poets established April as National Poetry Month as a means of highlighting the legacy and ongoing achievement of American poets, introducing more Americans to the pleasures of poetry, bringing poets and poetry to the public, making poetry a more significant part of school curricula, increasing attention paid to poetry by the media, encouraging publication and distribution of poetry, and increasing philanthropic support for poets and poetry.
One way to tell when a cause is “endangered” is when it is given its own month as a period for bringing more attention to it. Think about it, there is no National Baseball Month, National Hollywood Celebrity Month, National Automobile Month, or National American Idol Month. Those “causes” are so much in the forefront of the American mind that we don’t need a designated month to remind us to pay attention to them. Such designations are reserved for minorities, the disempowered, or causes to which too little attention is paid. Poetry, for example, shares its National Month designation with the causes of Community Service, Sexual Assault Awareness, Soy Foods, Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, and Financial Literacy (boy does that one need greater exposure these days).
How well these designations work depends entirely upon what is done as a result of them. In the case of poetry, schools, organizations, journals, and writers use the month as a “rallying point” for poetry. They send out mass mailings, arrange live and online programs, and schedule readings, signings, and special educational opportunities. The best source for ideas on how to participate is the Academy of American Poets website at There you’ll find lesson plans for teaching poetry, tip sheets for setting up displays and programs at libraries and bookstores, and a list of national and local events. Information is also available on the websites of state and local poetry support organizations like the North Carolina Writer’s Network ( and the North Carolina Poetry Society (
Here is a list of ways almost anyone can participate in National Poetry Month:
• Buy a book of poetry. Main Street Rag Publishers ( out of Charlotte publishes about 100 books of poems each year, many of them by local and state authors. Many MSR titles are available locally at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse in downtown Hickory.
• Subscribe to a poetry journal or read one online. NC journals publishing poetry include Main Street Rag, Dead Mule, Wild Goose Poetry Review, Asheville Poetry Review, Cave Wall, Carolina Quarterly, North Carolina Literary Quarterly, The Sun, Iodine, Cold Mountain Review, and Greensboro Review. Nearly all of them have websites that make ordering a subscription easy to do.
• Take a class. Creative writing classes are offered at CVCC and Lenoir Rhyne and occasionally at local libraries.
• Attend a reading. Poetry Hickory features two published poets and three Open Mic poets at 6:30 on the first Tuesday of each month at Taste Full Beans. A complete schedule is available at
• Support an organization by making a donation or joining. Nearly all poetry journals and reading series are non-profits and can benefit from financial support. Organizations like NCWN, NCPS, and the Poetry Council of NC are also non-profits that attempt to help writers and audiences connect.
• Finally, develop a greater interest in poetry by reading, writing, and talking about poetry.
According to one often-quoted poem, “April is the cruelest.” Hopefully, participating in
National Poetry Month, increasing your own appreciation of poetry, and helping others develop their taste for poetry as well can help lessen the negative effects T. S. Eliot wrote of.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Everybody Loves Ted

Musings for April 9, 2009

Everybody Loves Ted

Ted Pope is nuts, and everybody loves him. Ted Pope is legendary, and everybody loves him. Ted Pope is a remarkable poet, and everybody loves him. Ted Pope is an unforgettable performer, and everybody loves him. Ted Pope can be maddening (especially for those who need him to submit to the demands of time and space), and still everybody loves him.
I’ve told my students on more than one occasion that my favorite poet to see live is Ted Pope. Ted Pope has stood me up for the Poetry Hickory Open Mic three times, but I still scheduled him as a featured writer at Poetry Hickory for April 14. I’m no more resistant to his charm and talent than all the others who love him. I’ve told my students, “If you only make to one Poetry Hickory all year, make it the one where Ted Pope is reading.”
Ted Pope’s readings are entertaining, enigmatic, titillating, and cathartic. They are, in the truest sense of the word, an “event.” The best reaction I’ve heard to Ted Pope’s readings was simply, “That was brilliant!” The worst was, “What the *!#@ was that?” In both cases, however, they were still talking about the reading weeks later. Ted Pope is an electronic installation and multi-media performance poet from Morganton. He is the author of the collection rEdlipsticK, and a previous winner of the NC Performance Poetry Championships.
Pope has been described as a “one-of-a-kind energy vortex;” as a “hybrid combination of wise old sage and someone teetering on the edge;” and as “one of the first great apocalyptic poets.”
His work has been described as a “combination of Hunter S. Thompson and William S. Burroughs” and as a “surreal yet immensely relevant symbolic look at our culture and mythology.” All of that sounds like so much promotional hyperbole. In fact, however, I’m not sure it does Pope or his work justice. Nor does the poem I’m including here do justice to Pope’s genius. To appreciate it fully one would need to hear/see it performed by Pope himself.

Obituary for a Poetry Reading

The Poetry Reading is survived by:
the poet.
the poets family.
the poet's friends many of whom are also poets.
poets who aren't friends of the poet but who go to poetry readings with the unspoken expectation that the favor be returned.
young poets who pretend even to themselves that they saw sumthing inspiring so they don't have to face what a waste the evening was.
one of the poets in attendance claimed that the Poetry Reading could have been saved if they had moved it full speed ahead to the lobby of a Tire Store.
the poet took a seashell from inside his coat and placed it next to his ear.
he spread his fingers and stuck his thumb to the side of his head so that it looked like antlers or antennae.
stood like that for a moment and took his hand down and put the shell away.
then he continued to explain. people are tired of having their poetry interrupted by cappuccino machines. people want poetry that is interrupted by pneumatic drills. they want compression and rattling of chains. people waiting in Tire Store lobbies want poetry. Even if it just allows them the chance to tell people how much they hated it. even if they act embarrassed for the poet. or become angry and walk out. or throw you out. but they want it. if we had only taken the Poetry Reading immediately to a Tire Store the people in the lobby would have saved it. we wanted to save the Poetry Reading ourselves but we were just a bunch of poets and the best we could do was sit with it. hold its hand and watch it breathe its last.
ok? said the poet.

In Defense of Post Avant Poetry

“Musings” for April 2, 2009

Some poets spend their time writing poetry; others divide their time between poetry and poetic theory and quite often seem to construct theory mostly as a means of justifying what they are trying to do in their own work. Over the years, it has seemed to me that those who are good at theory are not that good at poetry, while those who are good at poetry aren’t interested in spending much time justifying what they’re doing in the form of theory. Perhaps the nature of the two activities makes this bit of division unavoidable. Poetic theory is analytical and supremely rational in nature. Poetry, on the other hand, often seems much more intuitive, requiring a mind that is free from the constraints of consistent and thorough analysis and reason. For this reason, Carter Monroe is the truly exceptional poet, who has built a career of remarkable poetry and insightful theory.
Carter Monroe is a poet, novelist, philosopher, musicologist, and critic. He is the author of at least 5 collections of poetry, including The New Lost Blues and Billy Putrid, and the novel Journey. His poetry has been widely published in such journals as Rusty Truck, Dead Mule, Wild Goose Poetry Review, and The Pudding House Gang Anthology. He was also founder and editor of Rank Stranger Press, through which he helped writers like M. Scott Douglass, Ron Androla, D.B. Cox, S.A. Griffin, Jim Chandler, Jim Clark, and Pris Campbell find audiences.
Carter Monroe is one of the most important writers in the American South today, not only because of his own outstanding poetry, but also because of the guidance he has offered other poets. Hickory poet, Tim Peeler, says of him, “Carter Monroe is one of the most dedicated students of literature and language that I know. Through his own work and that of Rank Stranger Press, he has been a force in the small press for many years.”
More than anything else, I think what has enabled Monroe to reside comfortably in the worlds of theory and poetry is that unlike most theorists, he plays the game for a sheer love of the game. The ideal sportsman, Monroe doesn’t care if he wins or loses. In fact, it could be said that he often changes sides simply to make the game more interesting. In a recent email, Monroe commented on an article in which the author seemed determined to push the aesthetics of what is often called avant-garde (or more recently post-avant) poetry at the expense of Nobel Prize winning poet, Seamus Heaney. Monroe remarks, “This article reminds me of political discussions in which the sins of one candidate are compared to the sins of another in an attempt to explain who is superior by default. The politics of poetry is so "obvious" as to appear juvenile. Sometimes it seems like a series of cults in which the only common denominator is a refusal to bathe.” I have seen and heard Monroe leap just as quickly to the defense of post-avant poetry as he leaps to Heaney’s defense here. Monroe is just as comfortable writing traditionally-grounded poetry as he is writing post-avant work, and because of that he has a unique appreciation of good poetry regardless of the “school” of poetry it comes out of.
Monroe will be in Hickory on April 14 to read his work at Poetry with Morganton poet, Ted Pope. Poetry Hickory is sponsored by Main Street Rag and held at 6:30 at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse on the second Tuesday of each month. The Carter Monroe poem below is reprinted from The Pudding House Gang Anthology.


What this premise holds within a recreational span
is more than a superfluous afterthought.
Too often the creamer has run dry
necessitating the use of envelopes of powder.
The residue of which, free associates without context
or placid considerations of decay.

It’s the bloodstream in all its glory.
The infrastructure of bodily highways
with charts, grafts, and some idea of gravity,
routing its way toward potential blocks,
in possession of the ability to regenerate,
and curving until the path has become arcane.

The conversationalists fall into the natural order of habit,
precluding accrued genius and the concept of money as tender.
Erstwhile, the cavities remain at varying levels
unmeasured in terms of cerebral analysis,
incapable of judging vegetables
or a digestive system that functions on its own.

The walls are temporarily combustible
shrinking and expanding in a crash-and-burn mode.
Ideas running into the blur of circles
become calmed by morning papers and sacrosanct news.
The blip of day solidifies itself (only briefly) at a standstill
waiting impatiently for the next phase of segmentation.

Hickory Native Featured in Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Series

Reading To Be Held at Patrick Beaver Library on March 29

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a column about the North Carolina Poetry Society. One of the more innovative programs NCPS sponsors is the Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet Series. The GCDPS was conceived in 2002 when Bill Blackley, then president of NCPS, asked then North Carolina Poet Laureate, Fred Chappell, how NCPS could best promote poetry in North Carolina. One of Chappell's recommendations was to create opportunities for student poets to read publicly. As part of the NCPS long range plan, Chappell's insight was embraced, and the late Marie Gilbert, former NCPS President and published poet, generously funded GCDPS. Gilbert's husband, Dick Gilbert, and daughter, Mrs. Terry Sanford, (Laurie Gilbert), of Chapel Hill, North Carolina, continue the funding.

The result is a series that provides an honorarium to three Distinguished Poets (one each in the east, middle and west of the state) to mentor middle school, high school, college and adult student poets (three or four student poets a year for each Distinguished Poet) on a dozen pages of poetry over three to six months. To date, 56 student poets have participated in the series. The Distinguished Poet reads with his or her students at a regional college or university in April of each year.

The series also teams with Frannie Ashburn, Director of the North Carolina Center for the Book (NCCB). The NCCB funds up to nine readings annually by the Distinguished Poets with student poets in their hometown public libraries. These programs have created an opportunity for Hickory to experience the poetry of Tony Abbott (one of the Distinguished Poets for 2009-2010, along with Lenard Moore and Catherine Carter) and his student and Hickory native, Liz Monish. The two will read along with Jo Taylor of Raleigh at Patrick Beaver Library on March 29 at 3:00.

Tony Abbott, Professor Emeritus at Davidson College, is the author of 8 books, including 4 collections of poetry, 2 novels, and 2 books on theater. He received the Novello Prize for his first novel, Leaving Maggie Hope. He is past president of the North Carolina Writers Network. For the reading in Hickory, he intends to read from a soon-to-be-completed new collection of poetry.

Liz (Megan Elizabeth) Monish graduated in 2006 from St. Stephens High School. There, she participated in the band, Future Business Leaders of America, and competed in equestrian events. She is currently attending Saint Andrews Presbyterian College with a major in Biology and a minor in Creative Writing. In 2007, she participated in a study-abroad program in Italy for her fall semester where she stayed at Brunnenburg Castle and studied at the Ezra Pound Center for Literature. She is the current host of the Fortner Writers’ Forum and, last year, the poem I am fortunate enough to reprint below won first place in a statewide poetry contest sponsored by the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Monish states, “This poem is about my time in Italy. We had to work in the vineyard every week, and harvesting the grapes was one of our biggest chores.”

Dionysian Bees

The grape harvest,
busiest week of the fall.
We walk down to the waiting vineyard
rubbing our eyes and making small talk.
The grapes hang in rows,
a pergola of sweetness.
Sticky clusters wait for fermenting.
Crawling underneath them,
we notice many drunk bees
feeding on grapes that have been pried open
drinking the sugar inside.
Ecstasy slows their movements,
and they fly in a rhythm,
performing an intricate dance,
a hymn to Dionysus.
One bee taps his sneaker
as he lifts a grape to his lips
thinking that the bee across the row looks nice,
and it’s that time of year
when she can make a few mistakes
and wrap her lacy wings around him.
Yet another bee flies in an intricate pattern
letting her body move in an instinctual way
dancing to the rhythm of wings
praising her god in the way she knows best.
Me, an outsider,
I could pick out a bee
lift him from his grape
in between forefinger and thumb
and ask him why he prays to the wine god
but my western ways
will never understand bee culture
so I pick up my clippers
and begin the harvest.