MY NEW AUTHOR'S SITE, KATHRYNSTRIPLINGBYER.COM, THAT I MYSELF SET UP THROUGH WEEBLY.COM, IS NOW UP. I HAD FUN CREATING THIS SITE AND WOULD RECOMMEND WEEBLY.COM TO ANYONE INTERESTED IN SETTING UP A WEBSITE. I INVITE YOU TO VISIT MY NEW SITE TO KEEP UP WITH EVENTS RELATED TO MY NEW BOOK.
MY NC POET LAUREATE BLOG, MY LAUREATE'S LASSO, WILL REMAIN UP AS AN ARCHIVE OF NC POETS, GRADES K-INFINITY! I INVITE YOU TO VISIT WHEN YOU FEEL THE NEED TO READ SOME GOOD POEMS.
Tuesday, June 30, 2009
(Dancing to the Music!)
My term as North Carolina's Poet Laureate officially ends at midnight tonight. The four years I've spent trying to represent our state's writers and readers have been full to overflowing. And no wonder. North Carolina is brimful with writers, as we all know, but even better, it is full of people who want to be a part of this literary community, people who work hard to keep it alive. I've tried to do my job as best as I could, but I leave frustrated by what remains to be done and how difficult these tasks become in the wake of our financial crisis. How long before we have another Laureate? Who knows. I hope it's not more than a year. In the meantime, I will continue to keep this blog going, and as always, I welcome your comments, suggestions, and your own poems and prose.
One of my good friends, Newt Smith, of the WCU English Department, spends his last day as a WCU employee today, too. I was asked to write a retirement poem for him, so I'm posting it today, one of my last "assignments," one that I enjoyed to the max! Newt and I worked together for a number of years in the English Department. The "cubicle" I mention in the poem does not refer to the laureateship! It refers to the tiny, tiny office I occupied for years as Poet-in-Residence at WCU. "Retard" is a play on how folks in the mountains pronounce certain words like stairs and retired. I have always thought "climbing the stars" sounded so much more poetic than climbing the stairs!
The doris in the poem is my friend doris davenport, whose work has been featured on both my blogs. Look her up.
As for Ghost Dogs, I didn't make that up. There are books about these manifestations, several of which have been published by Blair Publishers in Winston-Salem. Here is a brief description of Ghost Dogs of the South. (Blair)
Dog ghosts (dogs that have become ghosts), ghost dogs (humans who return as ghosts in the shape of dogs), dogs that see ghosts, dogs that are afraid of ghosts--all make an appearance in these twenty stories that illuminate the shadow side of man's best friend.
So, you can see this last occasional poem pulled in a lot of material. Why shouldn't a poem cast as wide a net as it wants? Spread its roots as deeply as it needs to spread them?
(Yellow Retro Roots, by Cindy Davis)
Once I heard a woman,
when asked in downtown Sylva
how her husband was doing,
say, “Why, honey, he’s
retard.” I knew what she meant
and your neighbor Mildred when she said,
“I’m going to climb up the stars.”
That’s called climbing the Retard Track,
not the Tenure Track. Just imagine,
Newt, now you too can
climb up the stars. Or
spend all day doing
The Dawg, as our friend doris
calls it. I saw her do it
at Wordfest, at the Smoky Mountains
Bookfair, after Obama
won. (She sent me a jpg.) If you had
to think every day about tenure,
you wouldn’t be caught dead
Doin’ the Dawg. But now, dearest
Newt, you can do it
till the proverbial cows come
home, if your back doesn’t
give up the Ghost Dog and bring
you down. Just do The Dawg long
enough to feel like you’re really
and truly Retard, and then sit yourself
down, have a beer, look at the sky.
Listen to birds. Did we ever believe
they were out there when we had to work
in our cubicles? Don’t get get me
started on clouds. How they keep moving
on to another place, sort of like being
Retard. The sky’s a big dance floor.
The clouds like it like that!
They said to tell you,
my friend, that you’ll like it too.
Sunday, June 28, 2009
The blueberries have been coming on strong, but we have to get out early to beat the birds. No cherries this year.
On the other hand, my friend doris davenport will be glad to know that the morning glories are doing just fine. They will be blooming soon.
And the golden chard, which I have in the garden and in pots, still makes me smile.
And the coneflower patch is crowded, blooms pushing their way to the top.
But I want my heirloom tomatoes back. This is the first year I've tried heirlooms and I so wanted them to work. Every time I look at them, I want to cry me a river.
Friday, June 26, 2009
I found James Dickey's poetry one Friday night in the Wesleyan College Library. Just about everybody was out on dates, so I had the place to myself, including the whole American poetry section. That's where I first read The Heaven of Animals, which remains one of my favorite Dickey poems. I thought of it again last night after reading Vicki Lane's post on her blog (see sidebar) about her "sweet Bear" having died under the willow where she liked to sleep. After the loss of our sweet Arjun, that news carried an especially sad weight. Dickey's poem moves into the predator/prey imagery as it closes, which isn't surprising, given Dickey's experience and literary persona as hunter (yes, of various and sundry prey, in the woods and on cocktail/reading circuits). I prefer the first three stanzas when I think of Arjun and Bear.
For Arj, I would have his favorite bush, the one we called his house because he furnished it with old flowerpots and pieces of fence, spreading endlessly over him, and a young girl's lap as capacious the universe, endlessly welcoming. I would have the hydrangea bush, where he also liked to sleep, always blooming.
For Bear, I imagine a willow tree spreading its ongoing canopy as if over a Queen, fields always brimful with scents to snuffle and rabbits to chase, and an unceasing creek to splash into during the heat of the eternal afternoon.
The Heaven of Animals
by James L. Dickey
Here they are. The soft eyes open.
If they have lived in a wood
It is a wood.
If they have lived on plains
It is grass rolling
Under their feet forever.
Having no souls, they have come,
Anyway, beyond their knowing.
Their instincts wholly bloom
And they rise.
The soft eyes open.
To match them, the landscape flowers,
Outdoing what is required:
The richest wood,
The deepest field.
For some of these,
It could not be the place
It is, without blood.
These hunt, as they have done,
But with claws and teeth grown perfect,
More deadly than they can believe.
They stalk more silently,
And crouch on the limbs of trees,
And their descent
Upon the bright backs of their prey
May take years
In a sovereign floating of joy.
And those that are hunted
Know this as their life,
Their reward: to walk
Under such trees in full knowledge
Of what is in glory above them,
And to feel no fear,
But acceptance, compliance.
Fulfilling themselves without pain
At the cycle’s center,
They tremble, they walk
Under the tree,
They fall, they are torn,
They rise, they walk again.
James Dickey, “The Heaven of Animals” from The Whole Motion: Collected Poems 1945-1992. Copyright © 1992 by James Dickey. Reprinted with the permission of Wesleyan University Press, www.wesleyan.edu/wespress.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Well, I've been a non-blogger for the past few days. I have a good reason, though. My husband went on a once-in-a lifetime trip to Peru to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, which he did, arriving before dawn so that he could see the sun rise over the Andes. I will have photos soon, I hope, since one of his trail mates, a muy simpatica woman from Argentina took many with her digital camera and has emailed all 200 to him!
When he returned on Friday, however, he already had a slight cough, and by Saturday morning was running a fever. His appetite was fine, though, and we even had pizza for supper. Still, the fever wouldn't break, and by Sunday morning, the cough was worse and the fever much higher. Nothing to do but take him to the ER, against his will. He resists the medical profession no matter what, but this time, I would brook no resistance. He took a long time putting on shoes and socks, clean shirt, and brushing teeth, but finally I was able to get him in the car and to the ER where they immediately "masked" him and began running all sorts of blood tests, doing chest x-ray, swabs and whatnot. As soon as they heard he'd been in Peru, they feared swine flu. (Hmmm, I could write some doggerel about this experience!) One of the tests did come back positive for flu, Type A, but we are still waiting to hear about the oinkish variety.
They started him on fluids at the get-go and put him in quarantine in the hospital, where he also got hooked up to antibiotics. I was told I had to wear a mask, too, as I'd been exposed. For a little while, it was rather exciting! The first case, maybe, of swine flu in Jackson County. Soon, however, it was not so much fun, especially when they brought in the tray of awful food that evening and next morning and next lunch and so on. By then he was feeling better and ready to get out of there.
He's home now. He was able to pick blueberries this morning, though it tired him out, much to his surprise but not mine. Flu of any variety really whomps you. I am on tamiflu, just in case. I'll keep you updated.
Meanwhile, here are a couple of brief glimpses of what he traveled to Peru to see.
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
I met Maureen through coldfront.com, the online review that dissed my last book. She had seen my "award" for the best response to a review and contacted me. Her latest book had also been dissed--by the same reviewer. She emailed me for some advice on dealing with bad reviews, or in her case, one bad review that overshadowed all the other good ones she had received. Why is life like that? One bad notice gnaws at us, no matter the other terrific things people have said about our writing, our teaching, our this and our that. Maureen lives in California and is poetry editor for the online poetry magazine Poemeleon.
I asked Maureen to send me some poems from her most recent book, Apparition Wren, published by Main Street Rag in Charlotte. This one seems suited to the sensuousness of early summer, when the earth opens herself to our trowels and our dreams.
The body is a house I lived in once; for a time
I spoke to the wind. Radiance and dust blew
through me. I wore my dead
husband’s bathrobe, but he was dead only
in dreams. We, the only lovers
born to the deep lanes of dark,
unmapped our palms. Our hands,
pressed together, led always
between my legs.
In my closed field,
if you come too far, if you come
too far, you’ll feel the earth swagger,
constellations disperse, my succulent
loam soften open.
Maureen is the author of two collections of poetry: The Diction of Moths, (forthcoming from Ghost Road Press) and Apparition Wren (Main Street Rag, 2007). Her poems have appeared or are forthcoming in various journals, including Tampa Review, New Delta Review, and Typo.
Saturday, June 13, 2009
And as I was walking out to the garden, I disturbed this little guy. He is giving me a not so friendly look. I hope he made it safely into the foliage and away from our dogs.
Here's a poem by Jeffery Beam, Poet of the Week on my Laureate Blog.
I hope you will visit it and read all of his poems posted there.
Now, when I talk
it is not just to say
But it is to say
what is between.
under the sycamore, runs
The blue eye
of southern spring.
swarm, thick with
To my own self
To say what is
Originally published in the Asheville Poetry Review 10th anniversary anthology issue, 2004.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Pardon my cribbing from hip-hop, but that's what I thought when I saw my big Bro under the tulip poplar barking at a squirrel. His pal, Ace of Dogs, also joined in, but I didn't catch him on my digital. He finally decided to heck with this, and walked back to the house.
Meanwhile, Lord Byron was recovering from having a nasty wart removed. Poor little shaved head. He looks awful, but of course, being Byron, he still considers himself Top of the Line.
In downloading these photos, I found several of Arjun lying by the clothesline. I had forgotten about them. These must have been taken three or four days before he died. It's still difficult to realize he isn't around anymore.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
(Last photograph of Arjun, taken the first morning I was back from Ga., after my flat tire experience! Having the dogs waiting for me helped calm me down.)
For nearly two years we have watched our daughter's beloved dog Arjun grow more decrepit, losing his hearing, his eyesight, his sense of who he was and where he was. What he was was a miracle. He had been one of the "Buchanan dogs," as they came to be known. I did not know this man's history, only that when he died suddenly of a heart attack 10 years ago, he left behind as many as 40 dogs in crates and cages. When his neighbors realized that they had not seen Mr. Buchanan around for a few days, they discovered him dead and called in the Health Department. Our good friend Mary Adams went over to check out the situation. She found many of these dogs unable to be saved. Only 4 or 5 were able to be put up for adoption. Our Arjun was one. She says that, remarkably, considering his living conditions for so many years, he put his nose through the cage and let her pet him. (The others were not socialized enough to make them adoptable.)
And so, three days after our daughter's cocker spaniel died suddenly one January night, we both went to ARF Adoption Day outside Ingle's in Sylva. (ARF is our local human society organization.) There sat a dog looking a lot like the gone spaniel, but larger, obviously with some Golden Retriever in him, as well. Same coloration. Large liquid eyes. Cory sat down and the dog climbed into her lap. He did not leave. We took him home with us, and here he has stayed ever since. Because he had survived so much in his first 8 years of living in a crate, receiving very little attention, probably not much food, Cory named him Arjun, her warrior-dog, after the hero of the Bhagavad Gita who meets God on the battlefield and sees the mystery of creation opened up to him. Arjun really was only warrior-like when our daughter seemed to be threatened or when our old dog Copper came at him. He was especially a warrior when he was on one side of the sliding glass door and Copper on the other. They waged fierce battles through that glass, teeth snarling, froth flying.
Now Arjun lies beside our garden. He breathed his last heroic breath Sunday afternoon. My good friends Herb Potts and Chris Wilcox came as soon as I called them and helped me through the last moments. Then they buried Arjun by our garden. I thank them a hundred times over. Our daughter was devoted to her dog. She called him "the love of her life." I would not presume to think that an exaggeration.
Here is a poem that my friend Susan Lefler wrote when their Gandolf died.
The old dog died—quiet.
Laid his gold head down
in my husband’s hands as if
to please us one last time,
which after all was his reason
for being: the cold nose
in the face each morning, his head
on my feet as I worked.
I listen for the click of his nails
as he crosses the house to see
where I am, how I am today.
A perfect V of wild geese flew above us
as we laid him in the ground,
they were calling
Our youngest dog, Ace, standing in the light of that same morning, when I was so happy to be back home.
Thursday, June 4, 2009
I'll make no bones about it, I love City Lights Bookstore in Sylva. I like just being there, wandering around, talking with my friends who work there, especially Joyce Moore, whom I've known since grad. school days. City Lights has a full schedule of readings/signings, bless them.
To day I want to feature an evening with a friend of mine, Judith Harway, whose book All That Is Left, has just been published by Turning Point Press. Judith has poetic ties to the state by way of her friendship with me, Susan Lefler, and Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin. Susan and Jeannette have had their poetry featured on our ncarts.org site in the past. The four of us came together through the Hambdige Center for the Creative Arts in Rabun Gap, Georgia. Judith and I worked as workshop leaders there for two summers, with Susan in attendance. Susan in turn pulled Jeannette into our circle of friends, and we have stayed in touch ever since.
(Jeannette, Susan, Judith, and me)
Near the end of May Judith read from her new book at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva. We all gathered for the occasion; the reading was mesmerizing and the discussion wide-ranging.
(Judith talks with a young woman who is taking her degree in Education and hopes to teach her students the love of poetry.
(Judith, before the reading)
(Two future teachers!)
(Mother and daughter poets!)
About Judith's book:
The haunting story of flight and arrival in Judith Harway's All That Is Left reminds us of the dire, even deadly, choices that history can thrust upon innocent people: "A journey starts/when it is time to go." Harway's poems trace, in memorable terms, the impact of large historical currents on the lives of individuals.
Testimonials for All That Is Left:
“All families, as Judith Harway knows, are haunted. We’re haunted by the ghosts of ancestors who, in turn, are dreaming of us, their descendants. In this elegiac suite of poems, Harway captures the delicate threads that bind these two worlds, lost to each other. It’s a stunning work that will pierce your heart.”—Joseph Skibell
“Judith Harway’s ALL THAT IS LEFT gathers a family’s history into poetry, right down to the least detail—the scrap of cabbage left in the soup pot, the almost fleeting imprint of a night’s waking dream, the various misunderstandings and connections that can haunt or nourish for a lifetime. Throughout this book, the longing for what Barry Lopez calls the ‘spine of narrative’ holds the poetry true to what it means to be an inhabitant of a particular place where one’s connections to history tangle and transform. Family, the inner and outer journeys of its members, and the expectations and responsibilities it places upon those members, remains a living source in these poems. Through them what is left is the human story. The ongoing song of survival.”—Kathryn Stripling Byer
“‘We die as many times as we close our eyes on memory’ reads an epigraph in Judith Harway’s wonderful new book All That is Left, and I’m grateful Harway does not close her eyes on memory. In these richly detailed and languaged poems of family and memory, history provides setting, imagery, gossip, terrors, and music... In one of the ‘Last Words’ poems, the grandfather says, ‘What the Torah asks of us is that we mouth each word as if our lives hang on it.’ Judith Harway’s poems do just that.”—Susan Firer
“Judith Harway’s All That Is Left is a mystic seance with poetry as medium bringing back the spirits of her Jewish lineage and those murdered in the Holocaust, honoring and incarnating them in her own being—the lives they lived, the love they felt—and in the process coming to terms with her Jewish identity. Her book shines like a Shabbat candle between the dark of history and an uncertain future.”—Antler
Judith Harway’s poetry has appeared in dozens of literary journals, as well as in The Memory Box, a chapbook published by Zarigueya Press in 2002. Her work has earned fellowships from the Wisconsin Arts Board, the Hambidge Center and the MacDowell Colony. She is on the faculty of the Milwaukee Institute of Art and Design.
ISBN 978-1934999523, 104 pages, $18.00
Judith's book may be found at Barnes & Noble, Powell's, and Amazon online.
POEMS FROM THE COLLECTION
Before the Pogrom
A dark room lit
by candles. Children
on the floor before
a smoky hearth,
toes of their shoes
cut off for growing.
Smells of soup
damp socks hung
to dry. Straw mattresses
piled high with winter
quilts. Outside, a shawl
of rain drawn over
evening’s face. Flocks
of goats lie huddled
on the leaky sod
of rooftops, handcarts
down muddy lanes.
A gathering of relatives
who stare into
the slow shutter of history,
afraid to move.
the Haggadah tells us
of a time of bondage,
of the flight
of the Israelites from Egypt
into the wilderness
of freedom. Plagues
rained on the land.
The hand of the Almighty
smote even babies
dead. This is the way
I understand the day
my grandmother’s family
there never was a choice:
A journey starts
when it is time to go.
—Solomon, sailing into New York Harbor
as, to court the obvious, a bird
one of the raucous swirl
diving for offal in the steamship’s wake
as young men doff their hats and crush
against the rail, stunned by the engines’
lurch towards silence, a dull humming
after nineteen days of roar; or free
as sunlight, pale and hesitant, an aura
petaling the Statue on her island,
bigger than imagining. A free ride
yours, across the North Atlantic
hiding first in folds of darkness
down below then slowly learning
that a man can be so quiet
no one notices the absence of his name
upon the manifest. Free as the bread
of strangers, weevily potatoes; free
as tears, as prayers that praise God freely
though you ask him nothing.
“Land of the Free,” a crust of island
rises to meet the ship like certainty
you’ve nothing left to lose, you’re free
to take your chances, for good or ill, in this
the only world I’ve ever known.
Tending the Past— for Chaie
Wrap your feet in rags. Come stravaging
home down a lane between potato fields
as daylight waters down to dusk
and hearthstones stir with fire. Take off
your shawl. Bend to your stitchery
by candlelight, pretending not to laugh
at your brothers singing Etel Betel’s tochter
und Chaim Yankel’s zohn. Unpin your hair
and brush it to your waist at bedtime.
It is better not remembering
some names, some times: just drop them
like a glove, their loss unnoted
in the mystery of how this world rolls
over us. Rolled in the same old quilt
wake up a million miles away
from Meskaporichi. Though home
is all you see, even with closed eyes,
bend to your stitchery until the whistle sounds
then shuffle out into grey streets
where lamps already glow. Walk slowly
in your flowered shawl and listen
past the cartwheels’ clatter, shouts and horns,
the streetcars’ racket down the Bowery
for a voice as gentle as your father’s was
then take a man from home and love him well.
Take his name, although its syllables pile up
like fallen chimney stones. Brush out your hair
and sow the rugs of your apartment
with hairpins and tears. Wrap your son in songs
you carried from the shtetl, feeding him
on things kept to yourself
no one can make you tell.
(photo credit: Stephen Crowley, NYT)
The best response that could be made to the email I featured yesterday is President Obama's speech in Egypt about which I just read in The New York Times onine. Here is a quote. The speech left me amazed that finally an American President could stand before an Islamic audience and deliver such words. How many decades overdue is this speech?
[The Iraq war was a ]“war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world.”
“Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible.”
This is a speech worth reading and remembering.
Tuesday, June 2, 2009
SO HERE IS THE EMAIL! RED FONT FLASHING (use your imagination!)