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.




Wednesday, December 30, 2009


The Work of Winter (from www.ncarts.org)

By Kathryn Stripling Byer

This time of year poet Adrienne Rich’s words bubble up into my

consciousness: “The work of winter starts fermenting in my head / how with

the hands of a lover or a midwife / to hold back till the time is right.” She

urges to “trust roots” and “learn what an underground journey / has been,

might have to be; speak in a winter code / let fog, sleet, translate; wind, carry


This time of year my imagination wants to trust roots. To go underground

where so much of our inner journey takes place. In other words, it wants

time to think about the origins of memory and language. It’s a time when I

pull out my Oxford English Dictionary, hold up the magnifying glass and

look up the sources of words I use everyday. Where did they come from?

How have they changed? Inevitably, this always leads me back to the

question, “How have I changed?”

Because I recently turned sixty-five, a truth that women of a certain age are

not supposed to own up to, I’ve been thinking a lot about the word “old.” I

don’t feel old, I just feel as if I’ve been around for a long time, learned a lot

(though not enough) and that I’m in my prime.

When I turned to the origins of the word “old,” I found that it’s a very old

word indeed, and that its root many centuries ago meant “to nourish.”

Tracking it into Old English, I discovered that it becomes “oeld,” meaning

mature and lasting, something to be valued. The word appears numerous

times in medieval writings, and nearly always in a positive context.

Knowing this, I now no longer mind thinking of myself being described as


When we begin to think about how our language began, we are drawn back

to a speech that sounded earthy, no trace of Latin in it. A language of

survivors in a cold, rough landscape. Over the years that language changed

by absorbing words from all over the planet, but mostly words from French

and Latin. Just about any word one picks out of a dictionary contains a piece

of that history. The renowned English poet W. H. Auden once said that

every one of his poems is a hymn of praise to the English language. A poet

in any language feels the same way about what we call the mother tongue.

Our mother tongue nourishes us. Just as the word “eald” meant centuries


Each morning my husband reads a page from his “Calendar of Forgotten

English,” a ritual that began 5 years ago when I gave him the 2000 calendar

for Christmas. These calendars collect words no longer in use, or not often,

and they lie on our table, waiting to be read while my husband drinks his

coffee. Words like “flaws” (gust of wind) and “blague” (humbug). Old

words. And, finally, not forgotten. Here they lie beside the cereal box, the

jam and butter, another morning’s invitation to look back and realize what

the word “old” really means. Still here. Ready for another year. Pick a word.

Any word. And it will carry you back to the roots of our language, and

forward into a present made even richer for knowing how the past spoke


Tuesday, December 22, 2009


When my cousin Joe Campbell was asked while a student in elementary school if he had a lot of friends, he answered, "I just have cousins."

And so he did--and does. This year Joe was the cousin in charge of the annual Campbell reunion, held at the Stripling Irrigation Park outside Camilla, Georgia on December 13. This is our way of continuing the Christmas night gathering at my grandparents' house where the table was laden with good food, cousins sang Christmas carols, and my grandfather sat in his chair and beamed.

My mother, her friend Ann Noble, and I arrived first, followed shortly by my brother and sister-in-law. My mother didn't want to be photographed, as you can tell from this photo.

The Campbell clan gathered before the meal.

My cousin Dicksy arriving amidst hugs.

My first cousin Jean Dixon Coalson before the onslaught.

Photographs upon photgraphs as the Campbell clan arrives.

My cousin Gail Gunter Williams and I pose before an irrigation map at the Stripling Irrigation Park. Gail was Miss SW Georgia when she was in high school over in Worth County, home of Sue Monk Kidd, by the way, but Sue can eat her heart out when she sees how my first cousin looks these days. Best-selling novels are fine, but heading into your sixties looking like this trumps best-sellers, I'd say!

Passed around amongst the Campbells was this photo of my beloved "Uncle Dick," who died too soon of diabetes. He was an avid horseback rider and a great, fun-loving uncle to have.
His children Dicksy and Murray were on hand.

My mother lets us know how she feels. Let the feast begin! (barbecued chicken, barbecued pork, beans, potato salad, scrumtious chocolate pudding and banana pudding....)

Thursday, December 3, 2009



Full moon says look I am
over the pinebreak, says give me
your empty glass, pour
all you want, drink, look
out through your windows of ice,
through the eyes of your needles
observe how I climb, lay aside
what you weave on your looms

and see clouds fall away
like cold silk from your shoulders,
be quiet, hear the owl coming back
to the hayloft, shake loose
your long braids and rise up
from your beds, open
windows and curtains, let light
pour like water upon your heads,

all of you women who wait, raise
the shades, throw the shutters
wide, lean from your window ledge
into the great night that beckons
you, smile back at me
and so quietly nobody can hear you
but you, whisper, "Here am I."

by Kathryn Stripling Byer, from BLACK SHAWL, LSU PRESS, '98

Wednesday, December 2, 2009


As I stood in my kitchen before Thanksgiving, relishing the opportunity to experiment with a couple of recipes, one from the package of the cornmeal mix I was using, and the other from my friend Vicki Lane, I did not think about the women standing in their kitchens in countries threatened by our own country's drones and armaments. After listening to the President last night speak about escalating the war in Afghanistan, I began to think about them. To think about preparing a meal for children, parents, and husband and to be blown to smithereens by a drone controlled by someone sitting in California.
When I read of the numerous missed targets in Afghanistan and on the border of Pakistan, I shudder. We don't hear about these missed targets much in our media. And the President certainly will not acknowledge them. The families and neighbors remember, though. And I have vowed to think about these nameless women in their kitchens each time I prepare a meal, especially a holiday meal.

Yes, I will feature my post on my kitchen experimentations and my Thanksgiving meal, which was a success, if I do say so myself, but each time I do, I will have these women in my mind. I hope we all do, as the holiday season bears down on us with its demands and seductions.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Reading with Friends this Weekend

Mary Adams

I'm looking forward to this weekend when I get to read with three friends--Cecilia Woloch, Mary Adams, and Julia Nunnally Duncan. On Saturday Night, Cecilia, Mary and I come together at City Lights in Sylva to flaunt our new books. Mary's Commandment is hot of the press at Spring Street Editions. An NEA Fellow in writing, she saw her first book, Epistles from the Planet Photosynthesis, published by The University of Florida Press.

On Sunday, December 6, 2009, Malaprop's Bookstore/Café (55 HaywoodStreet in downtown Asheville, NC) will host poets Kathryn StriplingByer reading from ARETHA'S HAT: INAUGURATION DAY, 2009; Julia NunnallyDuncan with AN ENDLESS TAPESTRY and new, unpublished poems; andCecilia Woloch, author of CARPATHIA.

Julia Nunnally Duncan writes both poetry and fiction. She has
previously published two collections of stories and a novel, and her
second novel, WHEN DAY IS DONE, is just out from March Street Press.
Her Appalachian poems have appeared in scores of literary journals,
and her first published collection of poetry, AN ENDLESS TAPESTRY
(2007), was named a finalist for the 2008 Roanoke-Chowan Award for
Poetry. She recently completed the manuscript for a second collection
of poems, AT DUSK. Rob Neufeld, book columnist for The Asheville
Citizen-Times, wrote of Julia Nunnally Duncan that she is one of four
Western North Carolina "poets to watch." He remarked that her poems
"make the greatest possible use of line breaks, so that individual
phrases glow like haiku observations. Metaphors develop naturally and
emotionally." In a recent article in North Carolina Literary Review,
Jeffrey Franklin observed of AN ENDLESS TAPESTRY, "Duncan always makes
the place solid, the people real, the situation, in all its emotional
complexity and perilousness, rendered with a deceptive simplicity that
quietly resonates. . . .[Her] people are as recognizably human as any
in Shakespeare[.]" Like our other readers for December 6, Julia
Nunnally Duncan is at once a dedicated writer and an experienced
teacher; she has served as a full-time English instructor at McDowell
Community College for nearly two and a half decades. At Malaprop's,
she will read selections from AN ENDLESS TAPESTRY and from her
manuscript, AT DUSK.

CARPATHIA is Cecilia Woloch's fifth poetry collection. Published in2009, it went into a second printing about two months after itsofficial publication date. Natasha Trethewey, Pulitzer Prize-winningpoet, has written of CARPATHIA, "The poems . . . are guided by anexquisite lyricism and heartbreaking emotional honesty. . . . This isa gorgeous book by a poet who is passionately alive in the world."Cecilia Woloch has traveled widely and taught just as widely, offeringpoetry workshops for children and adults across the United States andin several locations abroad. She serves as a lecturer in creativewriting at the University of Southern California and is foundingdirector of the Paris Poetry Workshop. The recipient of numerousawards for her writing, teaching and theatre work, in 2009 alone,Cecilia Woloch has been recognized as a finalist in the CaliforniaBook Awards of The Commonwealth Club of California for her 2008chapbook, NARCISSUS; as a finalist for the Pablo Neruda Prize inPoetry at Nimrod; as the first prize winner of the New Ohio ReviewPrize in Poetry; and as a Fellow at the Center for InternationalTheatre Development/US Artists Initiative in Poland.
Please join us in welcoming three distinguished poets on December 6,and begin your holiday season with poetry!

Poetrio: Kathryn Stripling Byer, Julia Nunnally Duncan, Celia WolochSunday, December 6, 2009, 3:00 p.m.Malaprop's Bookstore/Café55 Haywood StreetAsheville, NC 28801(828) 254-6734http://www.malaprops.com/

Saturday, November 28, 2009


My friend Margaret Spilker wrote a Birthday Haiku for me this year; her mom Peggy brought it over on Thanksgiving along with an elegant bottle of wine which we've been enjoying today.

Here is Margaret's haiku:

Celebrate this day
The anniversary of
Your birth and rejoice!

Sometimes it's not so easy to rejoice over another year gone, especially if, like this year, you mark your entry into Medicare. So, I needed Margaret's celebratory poem to remind me that each day should be cause for rejoicing, if for no other reason than to look around, see the light surging through the windows, the clouds shape-shifting above us.

To be honest, this year's birthday was not at all depressing, despite my advanced age!

The day was gorgeous, we drove into Asheville for lunch, and upon our return, UPS delivered a package from my daughter---a small cedar with accompanying decorations.

I had saved my packages to open in late afternoon, so I began with the one from her that arrived the day before. She's a genius as gathering together gift items, wrapping them in elegant ways, and arranging them in the box.

You can see that she has a package for our dogs, Ace, Brody, Pooja, and Byron. More about that a little later. I was interested in what the box held for ME.

My daughter said the cover of the card reminded her of her guinea pig, which was at that moment chirping for attention (lettuce!) in the back room. Who can argue with the card's message?

Or its interior?

And because life is unsure, everyone needs a soft pair of socks.

And a bottle of cognac, compliments of my husband.

By now the dogs were interested in what I was pulling out of my packages. What's in it for US, they wondered.

Ace of Dogs snuffled in the corners, hoping something edible would magically appear.

When I held out a chicken flavored treat, he came to attention. Really scary, that look!

Byron, of course, was already in bed, his most favorite place. I had to bring one of the treats to him. Disgusting, isn't it? How did I become a servant to a dog that only weighs 16 pounds?

After tasting it, he joined the rest of the dog pack in the kitchen.
By then, my husband had kindled a fire, so I sat down with a glass of cognac to relax and savor the day.....

... but it didn't take long for Ace to lay his chin in my lap, begging "Uno mas? Por favor?"

It didn't work.

Later in the evening, I decided to decorate the little tree and set it up on a pretty Christmas runner that my mother had given me, surrounded by various gifts.

The best gifts can't be arranged on a table, though. And I had a sufficiency of those gifts throughout the day.

Saturday, November 21, 2009


The last evening of Albany State University's Poetry Festival featured Frank X Walker, Shirlette Ammons, doris davenport, and me. This event was held at the new Albany Welcome Center, a fine facility for the arts. I arrived early so that I could sit outside and watch the children and families play in Turtle Park.

Shortly after the sun went down, folks began arriving in the upstairs auditorium.

My friend, artist Cindy Davis, was among them.

Dr. doris davenport, the genius behind the festival-- and its director-- welcomed the audience.
She asked me to read first, and of course I couldn't refuse. Here is one of the poems she liked.

First Presbyterian

Sitting in church every Sunday, I hated the hats
I had to wear. They were small things with net
attached. Or hard plastic fruit. They did not fit
and sometimes they fell into the aisle or my lap
if my mother had not pierced their velveteen
skins with hat pins she wove through my stiff
hair-sprayed hair. There was no way to scratch

my small soul through those hats. No way
I could sit through the sermons if not daydreaming
out of them, using the blank wall beside the piano
as movie-screen, imagining myself hatless, free
of my hair spray and beehive, my hair grown
miraculously long, trailing hat pins across
the small town, heading north toward what soon

would be Interstate. What happened next?
Let us pray, said the preacher and I came awake,
though I shut my eyes dutifully. What was
he saying that I should heed, who was this God
who knew everything? Why should I pull on a girdle
and hose for His sake and sit waiting for Him
to call? Just As I Am, we sang, closing the service.
My soul took a deep breath and walked out

(From Aretha's Hat: Inauguration Day 2006, copyright Kathryn Byer)

Shirlette Ammons entranced the crowd with her poems, among them, one of my favorites, from her collection Matching Skin, from Carolina Wren Press.

What is Grass?

All of it—
the tin roof on Trinity Avenue
where the clouds sit and scheme
a seventy-degree Durham
before the heat peaks

A neither bad nor good morning

The Britneys, the Burmese,
a track champion halved and veined,
criminal attempts at concerned media
scribed by typewriters with filthy keys when

We all have medals we should return

The grass is a mattress for our trampling
whisking us past overdue fines and late fees,
oh shits and honest-to-god forgets
as we beg to get clipped
like a thief preying on sickly screen doors
in the beam of broad daylight

—Courtesy of Carolina Wren Press and Shirlette Ammons

(Photo by Jeremy Lange)

(Shirlette talks with students after the reading. )

Frank X Walker began his reading by asking how many in the audience could sing the first stanza of Amazing Grace.

He chose Chasity to sing, and did she ever sing it!


Then Frank read his poem.

Amazing grace! how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see ...

It isn’t negro
but it is spiritual
it do speak to the power
of redemption
to power period
converting lost
to found creating sight
where there was none
but what sound could be
so powerfully sweet
sweet enough
to turn a wretched
slave-ship captain
into england’s most outspoken
abolitionist and songwriter

was it the splash of bodies
dragged kicking and screaming
jettisoned off decks
of ocean coral
was it the crack of the whip
or the popping sound bloody flesh makes
when a sizzling branding iron
breaks the skin

the sound of fear and confusion
below deck
muffled by the sound of rape up above

the sound of 609 beating hearts
sardined into a space for 300

amazing is to be lost and blind
and still the captain
a willing participant
in crimes against humanity

but what was that sound
that liberating release
granting pardons
for penitence undone?
what does forgiveness sound like?

Thro’ many dangers, toils and snares
I have already come ...

now every time you hear amazing grace
listen for john newton’s apology
his silent sobs seeking salvation
listen and hear
what healing sounds like

’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home

(Photo by Tracy Hawkins)

(I pose with Chasity after the reading, to congratulate her for doing such a splendid job of singing! You can see doris in the background, looking on, obviously pleased with how successful the evening was.) Later I told Chasity that she could sing anything---blues, jazz, grand opera, gospel, country....etc. She couldn't stop smiling.

( The audience flocks to the book table.)

When the Welcome Center shut down, we headed for Orene Hall on the campus of ASU, where a memorable feast awaited us.

And, not long after, we were treated to a dance extravaganza onstage.

With Professor Davenport joining in!

This is the way to end a great day of poetry, don't you think?

Friday, November 20, 2009


Recently I was invited for the second time to participate in the annual Albany State University Poetry Festival, titled Ascensions, referring to Frank X Walker's latest book of poetry, When Winter Come: The Ascension of York.

I joined Frank, Shirlette Ammons, Dr. doris davenport, the creator and maintainer of the festival, and the students who came to our sessions to write and listen. The three day festival was high-energy and high-fun. I enjoyed every minute. As a native of Southwest Georgia (Camilla, in Mitchell County, a mere 25 mile drive from Albany) I take special pride in seeing one of our local institutions bringing the gospel of poetry to the community.

On Friday morning, I began the day's writing workshop by reading some of my poems and inviting the students to "steal" whatever they wanted from my work. They Did!

Fifila had a good time working on her poem.

Students participating in the work shop were the following:
Ronnie Myers

Nicolle Burke

Frederick Peges

Cassandra Starr

Daniel Bowman Forsythe

Fifila Griffith

Maggie Emily

Shawn Sessoms

Wilbur E. "Geno" Jordan, Jr.

Quanda Smith

Charquita Arnold

Geno stole a line about petunias from my "Glorified," and wrote a terrific poem with it, one that he performed in great voice afterward. I'll hope to have it on my blog eventually.


Whenever I praise what she's brought forth,
whether biscuits or chicken stewed all day
with sweet corn and butterbeans, she says, "To God
Be the Glory." But I tell her I don't mess around
with an old man who's so far away he can't hear me.
I'd rather be talking to petunias that bloom on her porch,
or the bathrobe she wears when she's making
the coffee, her toes while she's sleeping in front
of the t.v., her big mouth that's snoring.
To you be the Glory, I say, feeling
so brazen this morning, I dare God
to give me the finger. Go scrub out
your mouth,she scolds, but I see her smiling.

DB Forsythe, Cassandra Starr, Shawn Sessums, and Maggie Emily work on their poems.


Dr. doris davenport proudly presents her students after they have read their new poems

She then read one of Frank X Walker's new poems in the persona of Myrlie Evers, the widow of Medgar Evers, slain during the civil rights struggle in Mississippi. (Mr. Walker has also written poems in voice of Evers' assassin and his wife. )

.....and reminded them of the open-mic reading that evening, at which they would be reading the poems composed during this morning session, and urged them to come to Frank X Walker's lecture/presentation early in the afternoon and his Master Class workshop following.


Go to http://www.frankxwalker.com/, for more informationn about Mr. Walker and his work.

In the afternoon, Frank, after a long, long drive from Kentucky to SW Georgia, gave us a masterful introduction to his work centered around York, who accomanpanied his master William Clark on the Lewis & Clark expedition. Walker's first book, Buffalo Dance, gives us the voice of York as he travels across the continent with the expedition. His new book, When Winter Come, gathers the voices of various characters, both human and not, involved in York's story.

Students listen intently to Frank X Walker's presentation.

At the Master Class, Mr. Walker talks about what good writing demands from its makers.

I took notes during the presentation; Frank looked at me and said, "You're going to steal some of this, aren't you? "

"You bet," I answered. If Jeno can steal my petunias, I can steal some of Frank X Walker's workshop ideas!