Welcome to where I am, where my kitchen's always messy, a pot's (or a poet) always about to boil over, a dog is always begging to be fed. Drafts of poems on the counter. Windows filled with leaves. Wind. Clouds moving over the mountains. If you like poetry, books, and music--especially dog howls when a siren unwinds down the hill-- you'll like it here.




Friday, January 30, 2009

OUR STATE Magazine: Why Do We Love NC?

Before the holidays, I was invited by OUR STATE, N.C.'s beautiful monthly magazine, to write a short piece on the topic "Why We Love North Carolina." I would be joining other North Carolinians in this feature, including Jan Karon, Bob Timberlake, Sharyn McCrumb, Fred Chappell, and David Holt. A pretty big topic! And wide open for schmaltz and cliched writing, if I weren't careful. Where to begin? I looked up and saw an old photo over my my desk, taken while I was working on poetry-writing with my daughter's second grade class. All those young faces bent over their sheets of paper! That's it, I thought. That's MY topic.

The February OUR STATE is now on the magazine shelves. So, here is how my little essay turned out.

Being North Carolina's Poet Laureate for the past three years has given me plenty to love. Our generous community of writers, for starters. The writers themselves who continue to amaze me with their talent and energy. Those folks who come up to me after a reading to say they didn’t think they liked poetry but now maybe they would give it a try! What I've come to love most, however, are the students I've met in our schools, especially the ones in K-8. This love affair began in 1986, when I visited my daughter’s kindergarten class at what was then Camp Lab School in Cullowhee. We talked about pets and I jotted down their stories. I asked one little girl if her hound-dog was spotted. No, she declared. “He’s all the way white.” I wanted to hug her.

In the years that followed I visited nearly every class in which my daughter sat. Little did I know that I was rehearsing for my laureate role! Imagine an auditorium at Iron Station Elementary School filled with k-2 students sitting cross-legged on the floor, chirping like birds, while I stood there, wondering how to begin! We talked about pets again (always a dependable subject), I read a poem or two, and as they filed out, they wanted to touch my cowboy boots and the laurel crown I had been given the day before at East Alexander Middle School. That’s where, after my reading in the gym, the students rushed me, wanting my autograph, as if I were a rock star! And how can I ever forget the students at N. Canton Elementary, again sitting at my feet, one of whom, a little girl wearing sequined shoes, asked if she could grow up to be poet laureate. (See photo above; she's in the middle!) Oh, and there were the enthusiastic 4th graders at Greenfield School and St. Therese’s in Wilson, eager to talk about haiku and Milky Way cake! What I love most about this state are these young faces looking back at me, ready to say who they are. May we all listen well to them.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Hey, I Won an Award from Coldfront

Now, isn't that nice of them? To give me an award! I found out about it from a poet-acquaintance who had seen it on their site. I haven't gotten my plaque yet, though. I am not so sure Coldfront is American's favorite poetry review Journal, especially among those of us who've had our books dissed, but so what? I'll take whatever award they are handing out.

Best Response to Coldfront
(Award for greatness in reacting to America's favorite poetry review journal)

No competition this year:

“Bad Reviews: An Antidote”, Kathryn Stripling Byer

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

INAUGRATION DAY POEMS from North Carolina Poets

Just a reminder to cross the blog-aisle into Laureate territory (see sidebar) and read more poems I'm getting ready to post by NC poets, written for the Inauguration of our new President. I invite you to post your own poems or links to them on the comments page.

Monday, January 26, 2009



(after the songs of our country’s first Americans)

The sky
on Inauguration Day
on the millions
of faces
the sky stayed
and stayed
the sky had
not one word to say
the sky settled
down for the long
haul, the sky
hauling day over
and over
and over and
the sky on
Inauguration Day
up for as long
as it took
to make millions
of faces turn
up now and
then to sing
ay! such a clear
day, the sky
there it is
where it’s always
been, but
so much more
sky than
we ever thought


(On Inauguration Day my friend Penelope S. Schott and I began writing poems back and forth, beginning with the images that had caught our imaginations during the Inauguration Day's ceremonies.)

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Why not begin with Emmylou? This is the Appalachian State arts/entertainment flyer from the fall semester 06 when I was their Writer-in-Residence. I'd wanted to go to her performance, but it was sold out by the time I got around to calling. Emmylou was at UNCG just a little while after I was there and was baby-sitter for some of the English faculty, according to stories I heard. She sang in some of the local coffee houses, before she set out to become Emmylou Harris. I love this dress and wish I could wear one like it! I recently bought a cd of "Pieces of the Sky," the first record of hers I heard so many years ago. I still like it.

Here's a photo of me and my dear friend Isabel Zuber at the first Smoky Mt. Book Festival in Sylva. You can see copies of her novel SALT on the table. If you haven't read this book yet, you must.

I won't apologize for being a proud mother. This is my daughter Corinna's poem "A Start of Snow" that she wrote as a college freshman. NOW AND THEN magazine published it.

I like this photo of my brother and Janisse Ray, author of ECOLOGY OF A CRACKER CHILDHOOD and WILDCARD QUILT, among others. I snapped this at a Landowner's Day at the Jones Ecological Center in Baker County, Ga., just about 4 miles from our farm. Janisse, who is from SE Georgia, is a terrific writer and a committed environmentalist and I'd encourage anybody to read her work.

And finally, for this post, an ancient clipping from THE CAMILLA ENTERPRISE showing me with my Grand Champion Hampshire hog when I was in the 8th grade. That was some pig! The judge told my father that it was one of the finest he'd seen. The FFA boys were not happy. I was a mere 4-H'er. And---a girl!!

Thursday, January 22, 2009

MY OFFICE: Creative Chaos?

Or simply chaos? On a snowy day I walked into my office (so-called) and thought CHAOS! I soothed myself by remembering that creative people are supposed to be slobs, papers everywhere, books scattered over the floor, old cups of coffee growing mold on the surface.

I looked up and saw my flying pig. When pigs fly---well, there he was, so maybe there was hope after all.

And there was an old photo of my friend, novelist Lee Smith, with a yellowing poem clipped from some magazine or other so many years I can't remember what it was.

Over my desk, a water-stained photograph of Meryl Streep in a tree, when she was in THE FRENCH LIEUTENANT'S WOMAN. Remember that movie and the novel that spawned it?
You will not see what lies beneath!

And over the center of my desk, a framed Georgia O'Keeffe, giving me a scolding look. Clean up this mess!

To my left, over my bulletin board, I saw Mother Earth, holding the animals in her hands, eyes closed as if in prayer.
I found this at a flea market in Georgia and immediately knew I had to have it. Just looking at it inspires me to me hope that someday soon I will have an office I can easily walk across and in which I can find whatever I need.

Tomorrow, my bulletin board! I know you will be waiting breathlessly to see what's been thumbtacked there for years!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

FOR the Inauguration of Barack Obama: David Hopes

(David Hopes, UNC-A)

Here is the poem I needed to hear yesterday. One of our best NC poets wrote it for the Inaugural Celebration in Asheville last night. It is large-spirited, its perspective broad, its language soaring. David is also a fabulous prose writer. I heartily recommend his BIRDSONGS OF THE MEZAZOIC. What is the place of the poet in our country today, beginning with the Inaugural platform yesterday? I believe we have some clues in the poems and comments we have heard, as well as in Obama's speech. What are your thoughts on this?


I see you, Waldo Emerson, looking down from the white steps
of the white church in the green town square, your shadow
longer than the steeple’s. I see you with your calipers out
to measure the progress of the Republic.
I see you dragging your stepladder to the center
where all the political speeches are made. I see you
climb to the top step, arms outspread like wings,
waiting for somebody to take you up, waiting for somebody
who, with words like a flight of new stairs, with hand
beckoning at open door, will take us out and over.

I see you Abraham Lincoln, stirring on your great stone seat
in the nation’s capital. I see you stare through the Potomac fogs
and the smog of automobiles wondering if the flags that fell
into the dust when you fell will be lifted up by anybody, ever.
People who stand before you day after day
have seen the great head tilt, the eyes turn the slightest turn
to the north and west. You are listening.
Thunder rolled once from the plains of Illinois, and I think
you hear it again, the first report, the gathering of voices
under a troubled cloud fringed with glancing brightness.

I see you, Walt Whitman, eyeing the men in their white shirts
coming out of offices, wondering when, if ever, to announce
the long-awaited wedding between politics and poetry,
the white knot to unite the tenderness and the will of nations.
I know who would lift his beard to the rising moon
to sing the prothalamium. I know who would dance naked
where the real Potomac meets the Potomac of the mind,
with its clear stream watering all the nations. Souls you saw
for sale and sweating in the noon sun have taken the harp
and the scepter in their hands. I hear you dancing on the bent grass.

So I say to you now, you old solemnities with your gray eyes
and your worries and the bit of deafness from the continual bombardment,
you martyrs from the sad gone past, warriors
and nurses and mostly-ignored, poor-dying poets,
breathe deep. Put grandma’s casserole under the checkered cloth.
Take the cider and the moonshine from their alcoves under stone.
Tie the ribbon on you haven’t worn these twenty years.
Come down to the water to drink.
The tables are spread and the fiddlers are tuned,
Come down to the dancing place to dance.

Barack Obama is President now. I’m saying this in a quaint old way
so my grandmother gliding from the ghost of the Shannon
to the ghost of the French Broad, seamless and mystical, will understand.
I’m saying this all down-home and elementary so Sherry from the third grade
and Jesse who fished the ponds with me and red John from the Projects,
who were children when I knew them, and may be children still,
come running unafraid. It is a new day. Have you seen such
gold on the flowers of the riverbank? Come down to the water to drink.
Justice is spreading white cloths on the tables,
and Generosity is heaping them high, and finding room for more.

And I am invoking allegorical characters so that Locke and Paine
and Rousseau and Aristotle under their crowns of laurel
may feel at home, wandering in from their Elysiums, the invitations in their
hands written in bold American, come home, come home.
The President of a Land Made New in an Age Made Just invites you.
Your names were mentioned but you never sat down at the table.
Sit now, Walt gossiping at your side and Abraham with his long arms
passing the platter. Come down to the water to drink.
The feast is prepared and no one has been turned away.
I bell thee, I summon thee, I sing thee home.

David Hopes

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

INAUGURATION Celebration with Albany State University Students

(Poet and Professor Doris Davenport in the center, flanked by performance artist Seed and celebratory students!)

Today I'm sending you over to my ncpoetlaureate blog to read the poems by Albany State University students, written during the workshop I led with my friend, sister poet doris davenport back in November. You can also go back to a former post-ALBANY STATE ROCKS!--http://kathrynstriplingbyer.blogspot.com/2008/11/albany-state-university-rocks.html, to refresh your memory about that experience.

So, let's celebrate with these students and with our friends and family today. We are witnessing an historic event, one that I hope will change the course of our nation's history.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Snow, Snow, Snow

Sunday Morning. So quiet when I woke up. I looked out the window and there it was, the predicted snow, big flakes falling down like communion wafers to the earth. I used to think as a child that they were what snow tasted like, a taste I had to imagine, since we never had snow in SW Georgia, or not enough to, as my grandmother would say, shake a stick at.

I walked out to the front porch. Yes, snow. I hadn't been dreaming it while snuggling under the down comforter.

I looked up.

I looked down. Our Samoyed (mostly) Bro was standing at the door. The Magic Door. Why wasn't it opening?

I thought about the big snows we used to have here years ago in the valley and how once after a large one, I let Alma speak her isolation and vulnerability in a small cabin, left alone there in a winter storm.


Now the snow has stopped. Time to go wash dishes and put the soup pot on for lunch. Yes, Alma spoke a poem to me about that, too. But I'll let that one wait till tomorrow. Or the next day.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Cold, cold, cold

The winter light through our bedroom window woke me. Eight degrees outside. I didn't want to get out of bed.

But I did, started the coffee, and went to the back door to let in the clamoring dogs, who'd been let out an hour before. There was the moon, like an ice crystal, far above the trees, unmelting in a frozen blue sky.

I remembered a short poem I'd jotted into a notebook years ago when we were camping in the Cumberland Mountains area.

what’s underneath thrusts
out in bluffs or overhangs

or huddles in caves where
the first hunters took shelter,

waking at dawn to the curve
of light under the stone lid.

Tonight the low is supposed to be six degrees!

Monday, January 12, 2009


Spring House

If anyone asked me what faith is,
I’d say it’s an empty cup
waiting for water that flows down
the mountain in hollow logs velvet
with lichen of many years’
clinging and into this trough
carved from hickory.
Milk never clabbers here.
Sweet nubbins never rot.
Blackberry wine keeps the first autumn chill
when I lift it out,
suddenly thirsty for something beyond
a slow trickle of water
that slackens in drought-time
to nothing. The hours I’ve sat in this corner
and scarcely breathed, keeping so still
I could hear what the earth
hears, the deepest roots
trembling. Sometimes I trembled myself,
all of one terrible day
I spent bathing my daughter’s limbs
burning with fever. For God had gone
elsewhere, the two of us left
to our last night together, the longest
of any dark. If I should bury my hands
in this water-trough, they would turn cold
as her fingers I held until morning came.
Cold as the stone they laid over her.
I made the men chisel into it,
"What the lord Taketh,
He must give back again."
Nobody understood.
Dust unto dust,
they rebuked me.
But how could I live not believing
the dust I see lifted from fields is what’s left
of her shaking her petticoat after she’d dug
the potatoes. It’s dust I’ve been told
makes the gloaming sky even now
crimson with sun so that I see this water
turn wine for the instant
I hold out my empty cup.

from Lost Soul, forthcoming

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Birthed from Scorched Hearts

Today Malaprop's bookstore offers readings by some of the writers included in the anthology below. I was unable to attend because of what around here we call "the Cullowhee crud."

Binding Information: Paperback
ISBN: 978-1-55591-665-7
Pages: 376
Size: 6" X 9" X .875"
In stock
www.fulcrum-books.com/productdetails.cfm?PC=6007 - 26k

(MariJo Moore)

Several months ago MariJo emailed me about an anthology she was putting together, a gathering of women's voices about war. She asked if I had anything to send her. I thought and thought. I had a sequence of sonnets spun off from the still-ongoing battle over displaying the Confederate flag in the deep South and some of my childhood memories of the Civil Rights battles that took place just miles from my home. But that had already been published in "Callaloo." Then I remembered a sequence I had begun in response to Ron Rash's "Shelton Laurel" in a recent ASHEVILLE POETRY REVIEW. In it the speaker addresses his sister about the atrocities he has seen and of which he has been a part during the Civil War massacres in the mountains. I woke up next morning with the sister responding. I sent the sequence to Marijo. She wanted it!

Now I find that it shares company with work by writers Eavan Boland, Linda Hogan, Glenis Redmond, Emöke B’Rácz, Paula Gunn Allen, and an impressive chorus of other women's voices. In addition to Redmond and B’Rácz, North Carolina is also respresented by Laura Hope-Gill, H. Byron Ballard, Ellenburg, Paula Popow Oliver, Margaret Abruzzi, Marjorie Hudson, and Cheryl Dietrich.

And the miraculous comes so close
to the ruined, dirty houses-
something not known to anyone at all,
but wild in our breast for centuries.
-Anna Akhmatova, 1921

And now, here is the poem I woke up to after reading Ron Rash's "Shelton Laurel."

Shelton Laurel Diary

“A branch runs through this cavern, in it trout
whose eyes are blind from years of too much dark.
I envy them for all they haven’t seen,
and maybe with enough time I might too
cease to see these things I tell you of...”

Ron Rash, Shelton Laurel

I dreamed you wrote a letter
to me, grimy-fingered in
the glow of some dream cave, holed
up like wolf or bear. Your nib
scratched over wrinkled paper,
blood-stained, was it? Yes, I saw
it clearly for a moment,
fading though it was, as fading
you were in the light. How did
we come to this? Against each
other. Other side of creek.
Or ridge. Against, against. It tries
my fortitude, this war. Recall
that pair of overalls you
gave me, unbeknownst to our
strict father, saying, now you too
can crawl the laurel hells and
climb the rockface with the rest
of us? I did. I keep them near
to feel the earth they crawled,
the thorns they bore, worn down
to flesh itself through trailing
you. I almost drew them on
to track you into battle,
joining boys out in the front
lines, fight as hard as they. You know
I could. Where are you, Brother?
And why hide from me? I fear
you’ve crawled into some hell
more hellish than our laurel
can be for a stranger who
has lost his way in these parts.
Yes, I dreamed the letter you left
on my pillow, yet I do not
dream I wake. I know I have
awakened. And I know you
wait in darkness, as I see now
dawn begin to creep above
the fog in Shelton Laurel.

Kathryn Stripling Byer

Saturday, January 10, 2009

PIPPSISSEWA, or Love-in-Winter

(Winter Moon)


because it stays green
through the hard times
not caring that we love to sing
about ashes and out of the ashes
one red inexplicable rose
thrown aside in the snow


Friday, January 9, 2009

Longing for Green

I walked out to the garden plot this afternoon, around 5:00. So gray. No color at all.

One skeletal sunflower left.

On the ridge, one tree holding the last of the sunlight in its uppermost branches.

On the other side of the garden, I looked up and saw, as if in a dream, what was waiting. Green. Verde. And light breaking through.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009



Well, according to the New York Times, it's on the wane. As Amanda ("Binky") Urban, agent for such mega-stars as Cormac McCarthy points out, some of the more lavish practices in the book world cannot be sustained by a slow-growth, low-margin industry that can’t charge luxury prices. “Books can only support a certain retail price,” she said. “It’s not like you have books that can be Manolo Blahniks and books that can be Cole Haan. Books are books. A book by James Patterson costs the same as a book by some poet.”

My response to this comment by "Binky"? "Who the heck is James Patterson?" My novelist friend Vicki Lane gave me a hint--"think quantity, not quality."

If you are "some poet," then you are, metaphorically speaking, a Cole Haan. What the heck's a Cole Haan? So I googled. Here are a couple.

Now, this baby runs around 600 bucks. I love boots, but I don't think these are worth that much, despite their glam leopard-skin, and I don't think Cullowhee is ready for them yet, either, not to mention myself.

Here's another Cole Haan--Sweet Little Mary Jane. Her price tag? Four hundred bucks.

Ok, we all know what Manolos are if we've watched SEX AND THE CITY. Carrie would risk her life and any friendship for a pair.

Like these, that would set you back 900 bucks.

Or these. A mere $600.

So, my dear Ms. Urban, what does your shoe metaphor mean? That being "some poet," my book would be worth only a couple hundred dollars less than a Manolo, though still ridiculously over-priced, while James Patterson's is metaphorically worth 900 dollar strappy Manolo sandals?

I grew up among folks who always thought people from NYC lived on another planet. After my schooling, I considered that a pretty provincial attitude. Now, I've got to wonder. Maybe they were right all along, especially about the NYC literati.

By the way, here's "Binky,"

As Cormac McCarthy's agent, she's due some homage, I suppose, since McCarthy is one of our greatest living writers. I'm just glad I don't have to sit down with her over a desk to discuss a book contract. She might spear me with a Manolo spike heel if I questioned anything.

I'll take Aerosoles anyday--my shoe of choice. I'm wearing a pair now, Ms. Urban, and they feel really, really good on my second-rate poet's feet. The price? You won't believe it. I called a store in New Jersey and got two pair for thirty bucks! And the woman I talked with was actually nice to me. Though she did definitely sound like she wasn't from south Georgia.

Yours from the hills and hollers, woodpiles and clotheslines!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Rain, Rain, and More Rain, or Dogs, Dogs, and more Dogs

The days have been gloomy here. We need the rain we've been getting, but our poor old Arjun, nearly 17 years old, wanders around in it and then we must wrap him up and bring him inside to dry off and stay warm.

Our big Samoyed mix Bro has more sense. He stays on the porch and scratches the door to come in.

My daughter hiding behind our Foxy Dog--Ace. We think he looks very plush much of the time. He does not like to get his feet wet.

Byron, on the sofa, face to face, with Bro. A fur collage? Byron will not be moved. Bro will back away and begin to wallow on the rug.

And so the days go by, one dog, or all five, at a time. Sometimes wet, sometimes dry, always shedding, always drooling, cold noses in private places. The New Year has begun well. Dog is Love! And lots more besides.