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.




Thursday, April 30, 2009


(Mangalica swine--Hungarian breed)

Swine are all over the news today. Poor pigs! Blamed now for a pandemic that may or may not occur. Swine are my favorite farm animals. I raised them as a girl and won Grand Champion blue ribbons for them. Here's a poem from my forthcoming (I hope) book, Descent, that takes on the now timely topic of swine. But take a look at that Hungarian swine above. Isn't he/she gorgeous? The next time I go to Hungary I must seek this breed out. I want to scratch a Mangalica's ears.


Too close by day, my grandfather’s hogs wallowed.
By night their stink hovered,
hanging over the furrows and salt licks.

Slathered in wallow-mud,
swine sauntered out to the water-trough
slurping it up, slime and all. I knew sows
could be mean, but to think of a pig eating
somebody, that seemed medieval. That pig
could be strung up for homicide once,
having stood trial. No counsel could save him.

Or her. Poor pigs, maligned for their sins.
Is there anything that can be loved
in a pig without risking derision? You look
like the sort of girl who eats the fat
on a pork chop, a frat boy once jeered
at a friend who’d been raised on a farm.
She’d told him she loved her pigs’ noses,

undulating like pink slimy flowers
you see underwater. I wondered,
as she wept with shame and from too much
spiked punch, did pigs think we stank,
the lot of us sniffing each other, the air rank
with animal, no matter the species?

by KSB
(First published The Raleigh News-Observer)

Sunday, April 26, 2009


Quite a few years back I began a short story from the viewpoint of a young mountain girl "taken advantage of," as we say, by one of the timber "cruisers" sent into the southern Appalachians to scout the best stand of forest to be clear-cut. As in Ron Rash's novel Serena, these timber companies brought ruthless exploitation to the mountains. The story never made its way to completion, but the situation was echoed in a later poem, as part of the sequence "Blood Mountain," from my book Black Shawl. This sequence has been set to music for soprano and piano by my friend Harold Schiffman and premiered a year ago in New York City. It will soon be released on cd.


Gently, as if swabbing
wounds, she scrubs
stains left from

where they lay down
in the grass. She remembers
her fingers plunged deep

into crushed green, the odor
of light rain, the moldering
leaves going up in a fever

of white flowers till she
can hear herself babbling
such words as forever,

forget-me-not, full
moon, her mouth
like a dovecote of syllables

forced open so she can
taste every sweet
nothing melting away

into silence as she lay
beneath him like trampled
earth already trying

to cover itself with a veil
of such snowy white
as what a bride calls (oh

why can't she hear
what she says?) Sheer

Friday, April 24, 2009


Yesterday I drove to Knoxville to pick up my husband, who had driven his dad back from Florida, where he spends the winter in Fort Myers. On the drive home through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, we stoped to walk up a short trail and view the phacelia, now in full display. No need to include commentary for these photographs.

Maybe I'll post my poem "Phacelia" next time.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

EARTH DAY: for my father


For my father

When Kelly flew over the farm
with your ashes,
the field you had chosen
as resting place waited
for you, October
light keen
as a ploughman’s blade
slicing through sod.

When we saw Kelly’s
plane rising
over the loblollies,
trailing its message-
smoke, we knew
you’d settled yourself
into alfalfa stubble,
eternally comfortable
inside the dirt
you had tilled.

What a helluva way
to come home,
Daddy. Oh
you knew all along
just what you wanted,
a cropduster’s yellow plane
diving so low
the weeds shimmied,
while you floated down,
in no hurry
at last, to the earth
you claimed
always knew you
better than
you knew yourself.

Some of you may remember when I posted this poem in an earlier version after I began "Here, Where I Am." I like this revision much better. It's the dedicatory poem in my new manuscript.

Monday, April 20, 2009

THE CLOTHES WE WEAR: A Call for Submissions

We are soliciting
Material from women writers in western North Carolina
For a second book project

Celia Miles and Nancy Dillingham want your stories, memoirs, essays/reflections, poems for an anthology about the garments we wear—metaphorically, symbolically, literally---from hair bow to bra to Birkenstocks, from christening gown to prom dress, from waitress uniform to nine-to-five stiletto heels.

We expect an October 2009 publication date, in time to market the book alongside the 2008 Christmas Presence.

General Guidelines

Submit no more than 2000 words
Previously published material is fine–as long as you provide acknowledgments
You retain all rights to your material
Send in an email attachment (or contact us)–in Ms Word or RFT
Formatting for submissions:

Double space with one-inch margins
Left justify only
Center or left justify title

Use 12-point font (Times New Roman preferred) for body and title

Editing is a “given,” but we will try to ask about changes
In return for your effort and creativity, you will receive

A complimentary copy of the book
An opportunity to buy additional copies at reduced cost
A publication party and potential readings/signings

Contact Information:
Celia Miles (277-6910)> celiamiles@fastmail.fm
Nancy Dillingham (254-3143)> nandilly@earthlink.net

We are excited about compiling an interesting and entertaining collection of theme-related work from women writers in this region. We know you’re out there! So, we invite you to look into your clothes closet (past or present), and if you have a story to tell, a memory to share, a point of view to espouse, send it along. We promise to treat it with care.

Sunday, April 19, 2009


Today the first annual celebration of Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet takes place in North Carolina. (www.nazimhikmetpoetryfestival.org) As part of this festival, a poetry contest was announced, with an invitation to me to be one of the judges. Of course I accepted, although I knew next to nothing about Hikmet's life or poetry. I've begun to learn more over the past few weeks, and I'd like to share two of his poems, as well as an article from The Guardian (UK).

Nâzım Hikmet Ran was a Turkish poet, playwright, and novelist. He was recognized as the first and foremost modern Turkish poet, and regarded throughout the world as one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century for the "lyrical flow of his statements.” Described as a "romantic revolutionary," his humanistic views are universal.

Hikmet was imprisoned for over a decade for his political views.

Today is Sunday.
For the first time they took me out into the sun today.
And for the first time in my life I was aghast
that the sky is so far away
and so blue
and so vast
I stood there without a motion.
Then I sat on the ground with respectful devotion
leaning against the white wall.
Who cares about the waves with which I yearn to roll
Or about strife or freedom or my wife right now.
The soil, the sun and me...
I feel joyful and how.


Translated by Talat Sait Halman.
(Literature East & West, March 1973)


I have no silver-saddled horse to ride,
no inheritance to live on,
neither riches no real-estate --
a pot of honey is all I own.
A pot of honey
red as fire!

My honey is my everything.
I guard
my riches and my real-estate
-- my honey pot, I mean --
from pests of every species,
Brother, just wait...
As long as I've got
honey in my pot,
bees will come to it
from Timbuktu...

Nazim Hikmet

Trans. by Mutlu Konuk and Randy Blasing (1993)

Turkish poet Nazim Hikmet regains citizenship
Alison Flood guardian.co.uk,
Wednesday 7 January 2009
Turkey is restoring the citizenship of its most famous 20th century poet Nazim Hikmet over 50 years after it branded him a traitor.

Hikmet, a communist who died in exile in Moscow in 1963, was imprisoned in Turkey for more than a decade. He was stripped of his Turkish nationality in 1951 because of his communist views, but despite a ban on his poetry which remained in place until 1965, has remained one of Turkey's best-loved poets. His work, much of which was written in prison, including his masterpiece Human Landscapes, has been translated into more than 50 languages.

"This is very good news," said Richard McKane, Hikmet's English translator. "The restoration of his Turkish citizenship is long overdue: the people of Turkey and his readers are owed that."

Immortalised by Pablo Neruda, with whom he shared the Soviet Union's International Peace Prize in 1950, with the lines "Thanks for what you were and for the fire / which your song left forever burning", Hikmet was also supported by Jean-Paul Sartre and Pablo Picasso. Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk, when given the editorship for a day of Turkish newspaper Radikal two years ago, used the example of Hikmet in his cover story to criticise the lack of freedom of expression in Turkey. In 2000, 500,000 Turks petitioned the government to restore Hikmet's citizenship rights and repatriate his remains.

Deputy prime minister Cemil Cicek told the Associated Press that it was time for the government to change its mind about Hikmet. "The crimes which forced the government to strip him of his citizenship at that time are no longer considered a crime," the BBC quoted him as saying.

Hikmet, whose remains are currently in Russia, had said that he wished to be buried in Turkey in his 1953 poem Testament, translated by Ruth Christie. "Friends if it's not my lot to see the day / of independence... / if I die before that day / - and it seems I will - / bury me in a village graveyard in Anatolia / and if it's fitting / and a plane tree grows at my head, / then there's no need for a gravestone or anything else."

Cicek said that Hikmet's family would now decide whether to ship his remains back to his homeland.

Hikmet introduced free verse to Turkey in the 1930s, with his themes ranging from war to love. Despite his imprisonment he retained a deep passion for Turkey. "I love my country", he wrote in one of his poems. "I swung in its lofty trees, I lay in its prisons. Nothing relieves my depression like the songs and tobacco of my country."

Thursday, April 16, 2009


Here are the first 2 poems from "Searcher," nominated by Asheville Poetry Review for a Pushcart Prize. To read the rest of the poem, go to the journal, which is full of reviews, interviews, and poems. Encourage your local bookstore to carry it or subcribe to it yourself. You may find its information online or by going to "My Laureate's Lasso" where I have a post featuring its current issue. the link is given on the sidebar.

I became fascinated by the role of such a "Searcher," after reading the entry below in the Forgotten English Daily Calendar that I give my husband every year. It seemed such a gruesome job, yet one that a woman might have needed in order to survive. What would her reaction have been to her numerous encounters with death? The poem began in my head a day or two after brooding over this entry. The subject is dark, and one I would probably not have taken on if I hadn't been haunted by the following description.


A woman employed to inspect the dress of a corpse, to ascertain whether the law for the protection of the woolen trade had been violated by robing the body in any other material.

--Anne Baker’s Glossary of Northhamptonshire Words and
Phrases, 1854


You might expect children to be what
I most dread, but I fear the women
whom age has already begun to lay waste,
loosening their neck skin like hosiery
falling undone round an old woman’s
ankles, the first thing I see
when I bend to examine their burial
garments. I know all too well
how the underneath fastenings begin
to give way, the breasts sagging
onto the belly, the belly gone slack
as a haversack emptied. So there they lie,
summer or winter, in good English wool.
I inspect the dress, sometimes
no more than a nightgown, other times
well stitched with simple embroidery
over the bodice, a few tiny shell buttons.
All that’s allowed, if there’s wool underneath
such embellishment. The grave’s cold
beyond our poor souls’ comprehension,
so they should be glad of a garment
that’s woven of earth’s warmest fiber--
what always I say to the grieving.
And yet the grave leaks! This I know well
from seeing my mother dislodged when
the creek flooded. Wet wool clings fast
to the flesh, but their dead flesh feels
naught anymore, so that I lose no sleep
brooding over how well or poorly
the dead sleep beneath us.
Just once did I hesitate,
over a newborn still wrapped
in the slightest batiste,
no doubt brought from the continent,
asking myself if I dared let this
baby go down to his rest in some French
cloth his mother had pieced into swaddling.
I needed this post. I had children myself
and a husband gone wandering.
But watching that woman unwrapping
those limbs yet again and beholding
the knotted fists, fingernails blue
as the first April violets...then wrapping
that flesh of her flesh with the rough wool
I carry to punish such lawlessness....
No, I did not wonder if, every night after,
she felt her skin chafe as she lay beside
her man, clutching the blanket I made her unwind.
I have learned how to make myself sleep
as the dead sleep,
beyond dreams,
beyond any need for forgetting.


Do I wake
when a flaws of wind
rouses the chimney,
asking myself if I too
can feel wool rubbing
over my breasts
or my thighs?

I do not wake
till either the first light
or birdsong
rouses me. Wind
never shakes
me now. I am not
shaken by earthly
gusts. God’s breath

I dare not consider,
the hot or
the cold of it. No need
to worry its path
till the time comes,
the wheat grass will
part where He wishes
it, stooking will blaze
up where he sets his

eye. At the last
trump the bodies
whose shrouds
I have sanctioned
will rise up and
stumble away through
the dust, dressed for

journeying over
a muddy world coming
undone, dressed
for God’s breath if
it be like ice, dressed for
wind that would blow their
poor bones to the ends
of the known world
if not for those dumb
creatures shorn when
the earth was still ours
and we labored all day
at our spinning wheels
or at our looms where
the shuttles flew back and
forth over the warping.

Monday, April 13, 2009

PUSHCART NOMINATION from Asheville Poetry Review

The Asheville Poetry Review has nominated my long poem sequence "Searcher" for a Pushcart Prize! You can find it in this year's issue, or maybe I will post it, or some sections from it, on this blog.

Sunday, April 12, 2009


This is an old poem, from WILDWOOD FLOWER. I began it as we drove past the Tuckaseegee River, dogwoods blooming on the ridges, the rapids in the river echoing their wind-blown blossoms. "The church bell rings Easter all morning," but so do the trees and the wildflowers. The redbud outside is blooming now. The landscape is waking us up, saying "Come out, look around, wake up."

Ivy, Sing Ivory

Like women, the dogwoods go nowhere
and wait for their season, the sun coming back
like a sea-roving laddie. By May Day

the ground will be white with their fare-thee-wells
no man will heed, his boots grinding
a path through the leaf mold. Such pretty things,
Mama said, touching the ivory lace
of my wedding clothes. What good are they
to me now? Every night I see stars falling,
white petals into the wilderness.

The church bell rings Easter
all morning like, clear-broken, ice
and beneath it the almost unmoving water.

White water charges the banks
after rain has been heavy.
I hear it wherever I go,
like the swirl of my dress
as I stand up suddenly,
kicking the chair from my path.

Leaves rasp underfoot half-a-day’s
climb to the summit. A possum sways
four branches heavenward.
Silver bells,
what sweeter music
than silence? The snail travels
slowly toward water that’s been gone
for centuries, rocked by the tidesong
of wind sweeping leaves back
and forth through the gap.

Down to the gristmill I follow the creek swollen
so loud by rain I can’t hear myself
sing ho-a-honey-ho. Lady Luck’s
left me a buckeye to warm
in my pocket all day like an earring
the old woman pulled from her dirty pack
whispering, “Filigree.”
“Gypsies,” my Mama said,
pointing me back to the crochet hook
stuck in a tangle of tiny white stitches.
“It’s too hard,” I cried, throwing down
all my fancywork. Fast as I could
I set out for the top of Bald Ridge,
asking] why can’t I keep walking out of this
endless blue sky into somebody else’s
life, fiddles and red skirt
that tickles the floorboards till
dawn. But I knew I could never go far
from the sound of this creek tumbling down
to the lilies of Cullowhee Valley
that bloom like a garland of lace
on my doorsill. Oh ivy, sing ivory,
rosebud and thorn! If only this afternoon
really were endless alongside the gay Tuckasegee
where now I ask, watching its broken light leaving
me, why can’t this water run smooth as stone?

Thursday, April 9, 2009


Easter has always been my least favorite holiday. Easter Sunday meant clothes more than anything else. New dress. Hat. Gloves. Shoes. Being eyed by everyone in the congregation. Or feeling that way. When I married, I spent Easter with my husband's parents, and going to church on Easter Sunday was de rigeur. The sermon was usually the same one I had heard a year or two before, and the preacher had to make the point that the empty tomb proved Christianity superior to every other religion. We could point to that tomb with pride. Sometimes he quoted Gandhi on the death of his wife, implying that the great man did not believe in the afterlife. Gotcha! Or he would pull out some other detail from another religion, usually distorted or misinterpreted, to show its inability to guarantee the resurrection of the body. Gotcha again! I sat through these sermons staring out the windows, watching the dogwoods sway in the breeze, waiting for the service to be over.

After the last Easter spent with my in-laws, we drove back home through the Smoky Mountains. The phacelia and trillium were blooming, the road spiraling through the awakening landscape like a journey into paradise, an earthly paradise. Here is the poem that grew out of that drive.

Easter Morning on the Hairpin Curve
Smoky Mountains

Is it water or
phacelia that tumbles
down the banks,
overflowing its rocky
creel, water
or trillium,
merging this morning
in one brim-
ful flagrant
resounding of
yes, She lives,
does the Earth,
our longsuffering
handmaiden raising
up dipper
by dipper the day
for us out of
her dark womb.

(first published in Kakalak)

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

GOOD REVIEWS: A Celebration

What is a "good" review? It's one that's intelligent, one that can read to the heart of a book and speak honestly about what that book is trying to do. It is not mean-spirited or shallow. It takes its task seriously. This is such a review, by a young poet named Luke Johnson. Several light years beyond the review in coldfront to which I brought some gypsy humor several months back, wouldn't you say?

Coming to Rest By Kathryn Stripling Byer. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2006. $16.95 (pa.)
By Luke Johnson

In her latest collection, Coming to Rest, North Carolina’s poet laureate Kathryn Stripling Byer creates a fluid landscape with her poems. The voice in these pieces travels from coast to coast as well as abroad, refusing to rest in a singular present moment. In doing so, the collection arrives at a more circular pursuit of history, “each now forever” as Byer writes in the poem “The Still Here and Now.” It is through creating a circle of family and feelings that these poems search for home, not merely as a place, but as an intangible sense: the slow familiarity of “late summer afternoon / and the dogs asleep under the oak tree.” Though the collection paints many pictures, it is the relationships that Byer presents rather than the landscapes that cultivate a ghostly, but very real sense of home.

In the title poem, Byer wrestles with the legacy of a namesake she never knew while openly questioning her choice of form in the first two sections, one of which is a ghazal and the other a villanelle: “Why cling / to another old form like this no-holds- / barred song for my aunt who died too young.” The revelation of these poetic choices establishes a trend in the collection, drawing the reader into the creative process. By being more closely aligned with the mind of the poet, the reader cannot help but also be in tune with the emotions of the poem. In the final section of the poem, entitled “Free,” Byer returns once again to the physical world, tying her relationship with her aunt to a “nameless creek / almost obscured by shade.” It is in the creek that Byer can reconcile her aunt’s “coming to rest” with Byer’s own continuing struggle with guilt, standing midstream in the water that “keeps rushing through [her].”

One of the finest poems in the collection appears in the final section, a tribute to Robert Watson entitled “Exotics.” Polished and well-crafted, the poem drives toward a relationship heretofore untouched, that of the student-mentor. While this relationship has little to do with the physical space of a house, to a writer it seems as though it is an instrumental step along the way to creating a feeling of home. It is in this environment that Byer recognizes the manner in which a person can take hold of one’s imagination, just as easily as a place: “I confess I have gone nowhere. / I’m still caught inside the same lines I’ve been trying / to write since we walked to Bob’s class.” Through remembering an old classroom with a brilliant professor, Byer creates in the poem a safe space, a peaceful enclave.

What results in Coming to Rest is a “hymn to the landscape,” a collection that digs beneath the dirt from the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina to the roadside of Interstate 65, and beyond. Byer’s poems scour the past and ultimately leave the reader at once vulnerable and whole, awake to one’s own fragility and aware of the landscape’s ability to be. Byer conveys that home is not merely a place, but a meditation on the moments of quiet that can be found amidst the uproar of everyday.

(silkscreen by my friend Gayle Woody)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

The Gift of a Poem!

I can't think of anything much better than getting a poem like this from a friend. Isabel Zuber, poet and novelist, and a friend I've had since 1977, emailed this today. She really liked the photo of me with one booted foot on the woodpile from an earlier post, I can't remember which. I didn't suspect it would inspire a poem! As for Byron, he has been a pest lately. And he bounds around on my husband's chair, disturbing the stacks of bills, etc., etc., that lie on the lamp table beside it, and he bounds around on the sofa, and on the bed. As for the barley soup, lately I've been making lentil soup, though I have nothing against barley.

Maybe we should all try writing poems to our friends. It's better than sending flowers. And more lasting. Don't we all want to be found beautiful by our friends? And don't we also find them beautiful?

I'll be writing a poem back to Isabel. What a lot we would miss without friends like Isabel in our lives.

For Kay

Our beautiful poet
is out behind her house
in her black boots, her big
red beads and a dress to match.

She has one foot on her woodpile.
Her blue clothes line waits
and inside on the stove
a big pot of barley soup bubbles.

And she has a kind, indulgent
smile for all those whose hands
have not felt the rough bark
on logs carried in to the fire,

who have never snapped a bean
or a clothes pin and who don't
have a small bushy black dog
named Byron to bound around

in the backyard. What
a lot they have missed!

Floodwater on the Farm

The horrible--and terrifying--bad weather of last week, and before, left so much rainwater behind that portions of the driveway and fields on our farm in SW Georgia were flooded. My brother took these photos. Better a deluge of rainwater than a tornado, I suppose, and although SW GA didn't have a flood crisis like the one in Minnesota, these photos still make my eyes pop.

The pasture in front of our house has become a pond! You can see the strip of Highway 37 that connects Mitchell and Baker Counties on the edge of the pasture-pond.

Our driveway has become a wading pool.

Anyone for a swim out to the top of the trough just barely visible? Georgia has been suffering through a drought for a long time. Not anymore! Another front is moving in. I hope it doesn't bring more tornado threats to my home county.

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Sunrise, Clear Sky

This morning dawns clear and cold. Not a cloud in the sky after a week of either rain or what I calle "mizzle." The world outside looks like it's just stepping out of a long bath. The trees I calll my "white ladies" are drying off, letting their long torsos shine in the sun.

Two days ago in a seminar the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching called "The Power of Words," I wrote a short poem about them.

My white ladies wait
this morning,

just risen from their baths,
shoulders dusted

with powder my mother
loved--White Linen--

drying themselves
in the sun rising over

the mountins draped in fog
like their negligees.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

National Poetry Month--no, Year--is Here!

I hereby declare that April 1 is the beginning of National Poetry Year. A month is not long enough. Let's have a whole year of poetry and study it, celebrate it, read it, and, yes, write it. I'm beginning the month with a poem by my friend and former NC resident doris davenport. She now lives in Albany, GA, teaching at Albany State University, just a few miles from the farm on which I grew up. Doris will be performing at the Asheville Wordfest in late May (more about that later), and she has just completed a memoir, Azalea Love.

(Endless Collaboration) Poem for National Poetry Month - April 2009

How is your POEM today?

Write a poem.
Create a poem.

Bailout a poem. Underwrite a poem. Manage a poem.
Send more troops to assist a poem. Legislate a bi-partisan poem.

Compose a poem. Play a poem. Dance a poem.
Sing a poem. Paint a poem. Dream in poetry.
Dream a poem. Hug a poem.

Have a poem today.
Remember a poem.
Be a poem today. and tomorrow.

Memorize a poem.

Pet a poem.
Eat a poem.
Feed a poem.
Rent a poem.
Buy a poem.
Thank a poet.

Hug a poet.

Make love to a poem. Propagate a poem. Marry it.
Cherish a poem. Love a poem. Love poetry. Now.

(doris davenport at Malaprop's Bookstore)