Sunday, January 31, 2010

Synaesthetic Joy

“Musings” for January 28, 2010

Synaesthetic Joy

Can you smell art? I don’t mean the smell of paint, wood, or graphite. That’s the smell of materials, but the materials are not exactly the art. Art is something else, something almost intangible, an image that inspires, that creates an experience in the viewer, that prompts catharsis. Surely that doesn’t have a scent. Unless, of course, you’re at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse in downtown Hickory during the month of February. Because it is then and there that the annual Aroma of Art benefit auction takes place, causing art to smell perhaps like kindness, or warmth, or at least really good coffee.

Aroma of Art is a month long auction of paintings, photography, jewelry, sculpture, etc. all created by over 100 local artists to benefit ALFA (AIDS Leadership Foothills Alliance) and the Catawba County Humane Society. Aroma of Art is also an opportunity for local poets to participate in an exercise known as Ekphrastic Poetry, which is simply the creation of a poem from the viewing of a work of art in a different discipline.

Writers are invited to submit poems based on the works on display in the Aroma of Art to me, Scott Owens, by noon on February 15. A jury of local poets will select as many as 20 poems to display with the pieces in the auction and to be presented to the winners of the corresponding art work during Aroma of Art’s Grand Finale on March 4 from 5:30 to 7:30 PM. Three poems will also be chosen to be read at the Grand Finale.

Poems should include the author’s name and the title and creator of the “inspiring” work of art. The phone number, and email address of the author should be on the back or on an attached sheet. Poems may be submitted at Taste Full Beans or by email to Selections will be made by the end of the day February 16.

More information on Aroma of Art can be found at or by calling 828-325-0108. Here is a poem based on Joe Young’s photograph “Time Goes By” (included in the auction) to serve as an example of ekphrastic poetry.


by Scott Owens
after Joe Young’s photograph Time Goes By

Time does go by
not to mention around,
through, in,
and eventually over.
Tortoise-like it plods on,
patiently waiting
for the moment we stop,
stand still too long.

Even masters of space,
speed, and distance
know of this inevitable
reclamation but remain
unprepared, unbelieving,
just the sort of thing
we think happens
only to other people.

Who, possessing
even a shred of such
power, could be anything
but incredulous,
each thing its own
Ozymandias, pride
half sunk, only
passion surviving.

Friday, January 22, 2010

My Favorite Poem of the Past 2 Years

For the past year and a half I have had the wonderful opportunity to write a column on poetry each week and have it published in the local newspaper "Outlook." I've used that space to highlight area poets as well as poets coming to the area to give a reading, to make statements on the practice of or world of poetry, and to bring a little extra attention to the many deserving efforts going on in poetry today, including journals like "Main Street Rag," "Shape of a Box," "Dead Mule," and "Wild Goose Poetry Review," blog talk radio shows like the Joe Milford Show and the Jane Crown Show, programs like the Aroma of Art, and organizations like the NC Writers' Network, the NC Poetry Society, and the Poetry Council of NC. I've also posted those columns on this blog to give those not from the Hickory area an opportunity to read and respond to them.

I was recently told that starting in February my column will be reduced to once every other week. The newspaper has added a couple of other columns and can't realistically give me the kind of space they have been without slighting other columnists. All of this is fine, but since I usually write these columns about a month ahead it does leave me in a bit of a lurch regarding the column about Felicia Mitchell that I was going to run before her reading in Hickory on February 9. Publishing the column after the reading would do little to inform the reader what they might expect by attending the reading. Nevertheless, I can still publish the column here, as I do below. I will also post it on the Poetry Hickory website (

One possible benefit to this alteration in schedule is that I will blog less formally more frequently. Because I've used the blog to post my column each week and my reviews from Wild Goose Poetry Review, I've always been hesitant to use the blog just for informal commentary. I felt doing so might unnecessarily crowd the blog and detract from the authors whose work I was featuring in the columns and reviews. Now, however, since I don't want the blog readers to have to wait 2 weeks between blogs, I'll be more inclined to include a wider range of comments.

I hope everyone who reads the blog finds this satisfactory. And now, here is what I wanted to say about Felicia Mitchell:

My column today will consist almost entirely of a poem. It is my favorite poem from the past two years and one of my favorite ever. It was written by Felicia Mitchell, a poet who teaches at Emory & Henry College in Virginia and will read at Poetry Hickory at 6:30 on February 9 at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse in downtown Hickory. Mitchell is the author of 3 chapbooks, including last year’s The Cleft of the Rock, which I reviewed in Wild Goose Poetry Review ( Both that collection and the poem below illustrate some of the features common to Mitchell’s outstanding work: evocative imagery, a strong sense of the dramatic, an awareness of the vitality of connections and all that we too often take for granted, and most importantly, a defiant embrace of life. Here is “Album,” first published in Blood Orange Review in 2008.

In the photograph I do not take,
my father’s feeding tube
feeds itself on his body:
the body that he has willed to outlast
every possible medical intervention.
And though he is not underground,
or lying in a wooden coffin,
there are flowers around his remains:
the Judas branch I snapped out front,
the hotel’s daffodils, azalea blooms
from my mother’s garden.
All of these fit in a Styrofoam cup.
All of my father fits in one bed.
In the photograph I do not take,
my father is not smiling
but his hand is waving,
its bandages white like flags of surrender.
He is waving at his grandson
whose yo-yo is a pendulum,
whose eyes are very sad,
whose note to his grandpa
written so precisely in a schoolboy’s hand
is answered with the truth
by a man who cannot hear himself speak it:
“Not so good, Guy, not so good.”
In the photograph I do not take,
my mother is out of the picture.
As much as she has seen, she has never seen this.
She has never seen quite this.
In the photograph I do not take,
nobody can see my cousin Walter
seated at the foot of the bed.
My father’s companion since his death,
Walter takes up so little room
not even the night nurse mentions him
to her supervisor, or turns him in to God
for being AWOL from the hereafter.
Walter the politician has no pull now,
but he lets my father in on little secrets
and pulls the blanket over his toes.
In the photograph I do not take,
all my father’s children are standing by
at the same time in the same room.
The black hair John pulled from our father’s head
to mantle his own bald head is long.
Of all of us, he knows the most.
He knows how veins burn out and needles hurt
and nights are long when your roommate sleeps.
He knows how handicapped the healthy are,
how hard it is for them to focus
when they pass through the door downstairs
to halls that smell of old urine.
Our father knows that John knows the most
and holds the hand whose last pulse he counted.
The rest of us fan out like angel wings
on either side, waiting for a sign.
In the photograph I do not take,
I am crying tears like baroque pearls
in different, scattered sizes,
and the miracle is that they fall
painlessly from my tear ducts.
The camera is not on a tripod.
My arm is long enough, my fingers deft.
I can capture myself in time.
Later, I will string the pearls with silk thread
that looks nothing like a feeding tube.
I will wear them to my father’s grave.
Another daughter might bury them.
I will wear them to my father’s funeral
every day I wear them
and I will wear them every day.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Twins, the Weasleys, and "The Wait of Atom" or What's the Difference Anyway?

Musings for January 14, 2010

Twins, the Weasleys, and “The Wait of Atom” or
What’s the Difference Anyway?

Twins are intriguing. They seem to be the living embodiment of the idea of comparison and contrast. We are astutely aware of each twin’s similarities to the other, but we know they are different, even if we struggle to put their differences into words.

My favorite twins are not the Olsens or the Weasleys or Castor and Pollux or anyone, living of myth for that matter, but rather the twin concepts of art and science. The two words have been linked in the phrase “arts and sciences” for as long as I can remember and I’m sure a great deal longer, but we use them separately as well, albeit not always with any clear distinction. There have been, for example, recent books called both The Art of Cooking and The Science of Cooking. My son is majoring in political science, but when he finishes his degree he’ll receive a Bachelor of Arts. There are countless books about the art of love, but just last year NBC ran a special called The Science of Love. And finally, while a recent Psychology Today article was titled “The Science of a Good Marriage,” Wilferd Peterson’s well-known poem on the topic is called “The Art of Marriage.”

And that’s where I begin today--at the intersection of poetry, art, science, and relationships. This intersection is where one finds the fascinating new book of poems called The Wait of Atom, by Charlotte poet and Poetry Hickory regular, Jessie Carty. The poems in this book explore the often contrasting, often complementary, and often surprisingly contrary-to-convention perspectives of a man and a woman in a relationship. Each of the poems is also couched in the terminology of the Periodic Table of Elements, creating a wonderful juxtaposition of what is usually considered art (poetry) and what is usually considered science (the table of elements), implying that even these seemingly disparate concepts are much more closely related than we typically imagine them to be. While we all too readily imagine that art is “from Venus” and science “from Mars,” this collection of poems blurs those lines, making it clear that sometimes art is “from Mars” and sometimes science “from Venus,” and illustrating that while, like all twins and all people in a relationship, art and science are distinct, taken together they also exist as a single complex and vibrant entity.

Not only are the poems in Carty’s collection works or art (or science), but so too is the book itself. Handcrafted, embossed, and bound by Folded Word Press, the book can be ordered for $9 at If you go to that site, you should also watch the informative and very entertaining video called “Constructing Atoms.” To give you a sense of what to expect from The Wait of Atom, here is the title poem, first published in Wild Goose Poetry Review:

The Wait of Atom

It wasn’t that he wouldn’t wait for her
or not even that he didn’t want
to wait for her, he just couldn’t
stand still. She couldn’t stand it,
the way his eyes became nearly crossed,
how he jangled the change in his pocket.
She’d complained before.

To keep his face from registering
annoyance, he began mentally listing
the noble gases by weight: lowest to highest,
using his hands in his pockets to count each one.
He could do this without moving his lips.
His face relaxed even though she was still
transferring her personal items
from a brown purse to a black one.

She had explained, on more than one occasion,
how her purse had to match her shoes. How
his belt should match his shoes and he’d learned
to keep his eyes focused on a point
just over her shoulder while he let his brain
scan the periodic table of elements.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Intertextuality, Effluctress, and Only the Only


“Musings” for January 7, 2010 (All “Musings” columns are originally published Outlook newspaper in Newton, NC)

“Intertextuality,” according that ubiquitous source, Wikipedia, “is the shaping of texts' meanings by other texts. It can refer to an author’s borrowing and transformation of a prior text or to a reader’s referencing of one text in reading another.”

There is nothing new about intertextuality. I mean Shakespeare did it . . . a lot. Today’s rap artists do it . . . a lot (sometimes they call it “sampling”). Even my favorite bumper sticker, “I Support the Right to Arm Bears” (instead of “Bear Arms”) does it. But recently it has popped up quite surprisingly and nicely in regards to a poem of my own. Since my new book, Paternity, (available at of poems about fatherhood, when it came time to solicit blurbs for the back of the book, I sought out poets I knew had already written about parenting. One of those was the renowned NC poet, Tony Abbott. I was very pleasantly surprised when he sent back not only a flattering blurb but a poem of his own that uses one of my poems as a taking off point.

So, I’m printing both poems here as illustration of intertextuality.

The Word for What Only 4-Year Olds Can See
by Scott Owens

Today my daughter made up a word,
effluctress, to explain why I couldn’t see
the rainbow bird outside the window.
Effluctress, she says, are things
that can only be seen by 4-year olds,
soda trees, people with wings,
trains that turn into trucks and drive away.

Not the first word she has made up,
for sure, but the first to contradict
what the world tells her can’t be,
dragons and dinosaurs, blueberry towns,
her grandma sitting beside her.

by Tony Abbott

Four-year-olds, darling, yes I agree,
completely—it’s only the only
I have a problem with. Poets,

sweetheart , and lovers, lovers
especially, can see all sorts of things.
So give us a break, my dear,

because we love what you can see
and you’d love what we can see,
too. The other day I was walking

home from church, and all of a
sudden, I said out loud.: “Even
the streets are holy.” That’s right,

out loud, and I looked down
and there in the cracks between
the sections of the sidewalk

I could see I was right. God was
there, in the pieces of the sidewalk.
He told me so. He did, my love,

not in so many words, but you
know how effluctress works.
things don’t just come in words.

and then, in the trees over the street
--there was Mary, the mother of God,
in her blue dress with gold embroidered

hem and sleeves. She had very dark
hair and smiled at me as if to say,
“It’s all right, don’t worry.” She stayed

with me for days, kind of floating
along in the trees all over town
just smiling and saying to me

“Don’t worry. Let it be.” I know,
that’s not original, but I couldn’t
resist it. And if she’s not

effluctress I don’t know what is.
I love your rainbow bird outside
the window very much, but this

--this is Mary, the mother of God,
in her blue dress and gold embroidered
hem and sleeves. I’m sure of that.

I know I’m not four anymore
but I sure want to be effluctress
and I just wanted to know—well

How am I doing?

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Now for a Little Self Promotion

Only two weeks remain for Advance Orders of "Paternity," my new book from Main Street Rag. Advance Orders qualify for a discounted price of just $9 plus $1 shipping. The regular price, effective after February 1, will be $14 (plus shipping where applicable). Orders can be placed online at

Thanks to all those who have already ordered a copy. The book is due for release on Feb. 15.

In case you need more information, I'm pasting in a few comments from my pre-publication readers. You can also see a couple of poems from the book by following the Main Street Rag link in the first paragraph.

I have about 2 dozen readings scheduled across NC, SC, and GA, this spring, including Catawba College, Mitchell Community College, Wayne Community College, Charleston County Public Library, Burke County Library, Alexander County Library, Gaston County Library, Wake Tech Community College, Durham Tech Community College, Wilkes Community College, Malaprops, Osondu Booksellers, Green Rice Gallery, Phillips and Lloyd, Caldwell County Library, and McIntyre's. Once I firm up a few dates, I'll post the complete list here. I hope you'll make it to one of the readings so I can thank you for your support in person. I still have a few dates open, so if you know of a place you'd like me to read, let me know.

Here are the comments I promised. I think all three of these readers got the book just right.

Poems of aching tenderness. PATERNITY explores with a discerning, clear-eyed sensitivity the daily small delights, frustrations, and purely unexpected miracles that, taken together, make up the building blocks of one father's personal salvation.

--Joanna Catherine Scott, author of Night Huntress and Fainting at the Uffizi

In Scott Owens' lovely book of poems, PATERNITY, we have a remarkable account of how his very special relationship with his young daughter, Sawyer, has saved him from the darkness of his own childhood. The poems are engaging in the deepest sense--funny, touching, and full of the kind of wisdom we all need as parents and family members to sustain the balance of daily life. How can anyone resist a girl who makes up the word, "effluctress," to describe what only a four-year old can see.

--Anthony S. Abbott, author of The Man Who.

I’ve never been this strong before/ can only hope I’ll hold this joy, writes Scott Owens in “Naming.” Poem by poem, Paternity builds a father’s world—its fears and joys, its vows, which are too often and too easily broken. Looming over the lives of his children is the childhood of the man who speaks these poems, memories which make the poet grateful for the days I am not my father. It is this ability to feel the weight of the past on his present life and the work of resisting that past even as he builds the present his children live in that makes Paternity a book that should be read not only by parents but by anyone interested in poems that can disturb and console in the same breath.

--Al Maginnes, author of Ghost Alphabet

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Jim Clark's One-Man Show Comes to Town

“Musings” for December 31


The word “miscellany” means “a mixed assortment of items.” Few writers can claim to have ever compiled such an assortment of their own work simply because few have the diversity of talent to produce work across a range of genres. Typically, poets write poetry; fiction writers write fiction; scholars write scholarship; and while writers might take an occasional dip into the neighbor’s pool, they tend to return to their own familiar waters pretty quickly.

Jim Clark, of Wilson, NC, is one of the few. Clark is a professor of Southern Literature at Barton College. He is also a musician, a poet, a short story writer, and a playwright. His 2007 book, Notions, includes poetry, fiction, memoir, criticism, history, a one-act play, and just for good measure, a cd of Clark’s music.

Not surprisingly given his range of interest and ability, Clark’s best work occurs when he blends genres. “Circles of Influence,” for example is both memoir and criticism as Clark traces his own development as a writer in a thoughtful revelation of the themes, personality and career of Byron Herbert Reece. Similarly, he updates the tradition of the folktale in “Moody,” a hilarious story of down home cleverness involving the disappointed aspirations of a would-be snake handler, preacher, and lover.

And he blends history, folktale, and verse in the poem “Black Dog Shadrack Mayhew,” reprinted below.

Clark will visit Hickory on January 12 to read from his work at Poetry Hickory, starting at 6:30 PM at Taste Full Beans Coffeehouse. The evening will begin with an Open Mic, followed by Clark and fellow featured writer, Linda Annas Ferguson.

Black Dog Shadrack Mayhew
by Jim Clark

I’m the one they won’t tell about,
barn burner, horse thief, cheat.
In the hills of Corbin County, near
the Kentucky line, in the curve
of Horseshoe Bend, I carried
fifty-pound bags of sugar and corn
to my daddy’s still when I was ten.

I stirred the mash and kept cold
the water that cooled the worm,
and clapped my hands at the first
clear drop that clung from copper,
then fell into the waiting jug.
Underneath the chestnut tree
my daddy snored, drunk on profit.

When I was seventeen I asked
Abigail Simpson to be my wife.
Yes, she said, but hadn’t reckoned
on her Pa’s tight-lipped No, sudden
and final as a shotgun blast. That night
I sloshed kerosene on stable floor hay
of his new barn, struck the match
and held it, eye level, till the flame
licked my fingers, then dropped it.

I lit out for Tompkinsville, and there
lived for five loose and lawless years,
vowing never to ask another man
permission of what I wanted.
And what I wanted I took and people
all along those Cumberland ridges
gave me wide berth, and a name--
Black Dog Shadrack Mayhew.

Then war came, and fire and death
and thievery marched the valleys,
a smoky cloak of pestilence hugging
the ridges I rode. Under cover
of a uniform, gray, with a little box
of a hat, I robbed and killed and burned
my way back to Corbin County.

When they slapped the horse’s rump,
and I felt the stiff hemp bite
into my neck, I danced above the earth
and watched the smoke plait and curl
from the ashes of Jess Simpson’s barn.