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.
Wednesday, May 25, 2011
Friday, May 20, 2011
I am filled with words like drowned bodies.
Just beneath the water’s surface, they bloat
indignantly. I see their watchful eyes -
pine and mud-colored like mine.
I hear the soft gurgle I’ve reduced them to.
Granddaddy told me once,
Don’t get above your raising.
I call him often to practice my self,
to remember that I am all about
holler and giggin, heared tell of and sigodlin.
I am taking steps.
I talk of craving pork rinds.
I drawl hard.
I write this poem out of spite.
I am full of poems that lie
the language right out of me.
I’ve whitewashed my South Appalachian
to an understandable hue, put those regional words
in jars with lace lids and waited, breath held,
for the scholarly nods. That approval
is almost enough to tolerate knowing
that between what I am and what I write,
something is rotting.
If I thought it was penitence enough
for turning my back,
for this fraudulence I wear
like a pond film over my skin,
I’d return home,
and lay deep
in that Old Dominion soil.
I’d pull the hollyhocks close,
sprout pennyroyal - pungent mint
and purple bloom - from my teeth,
my eyes full of nothing
but the backs of Blue Ridge steeps,
ears tipped with corn tassels
and calamus root and nothing
but the roll of the Shenandoah,
the ring of a banjo carried down
on mountain wind.
I would stand still and long
as August heat
till the kudzu took me over,
wound itself through me,
anchored me to that land
I can still see under my nails
after months of scrubbing.
I’d press my face to the cool damp
of the cannery walls,
my knees against the porch boards.
I’d open veins and spill
against the sycamore roots,
give myself over,
give myself back,
and lay me down
in that red Virginia clay -
if I thought it would have me.
When I was small, I slept
in Granddaddy's arms, my head
against his chest, dozing
to the rhythmic wheezing
my mama called Black Lung.
He muscled his pickaxe and shovel
into the black guts of the mountains
for twenty-five years, stooped ten inches
beneath the safety timbers
that held the earth.
We sit on the porchswing,
whittling twigs into smaller twigs
while Grandma hums "Over In The Gloryland,"
dips old cornshucks into a mason jar of water,
soaking out the dry age, their brittle edges softening.
She bends them, pliant and fresh again with water,
twisting them into bright, yellow dolls.
I look at Granddaddy’s fingers, knuckled deep and bent
around his knife, lean against the sagging point of his shoulder
and listen to the steady huff and whistle of his breath – a sound
like mud daubers buzzing,
encased in their tunnels of dried earth.
swirls crazy in autumn wind,
buckshot of cornseed and gravel
in my eyes.
heavy in plastic-soled slippers,
crunch on feed and pebbles.
Her pastel flowered robe
brushes the ground,
swings into a squall of feathers.
nails full of hickory bark
from my desperate tree-clutch,
shove against my eardrums,
against the final snap -
like a maple twig in deep winter.
Grandma yawns her way
to the shed,
white feathers dangling from her hand -
twitching, still clucking insanely,
one finger around the axe handle, two,
one more yawn on the downswing.
After the dull thump of the axe,
the scratching claws
run over feed and gravel,
and where I run,
the spastic death legs
point, propel the blood-
soaked body in a staggering
chase, so close
to dancing, these
toward each other,
Grandma kicks the head
to the cats
before I can see
if the eyes follow me.
First Southern Love, Done Right
First Southern love, when it’s with the raised-right,
still boy enough not to wanna wait,
man enough to do it right,
that’s the kind not suited to backseats.
No vinyl for this sweet zinnia,
no Lynrd Skynrd on the stereo or radio commercials
for A&P and Booth Feed; not when she can have
the sway and sway of a wheatfield
or the quiet of a hayloft. Mountains and valleys
can sneak her into coves of wild fieldgrass,
or overhangs of tulip poplars and sycamores
that blow across her skin and cool the sweat
where it stands.
It’s not about, I’ll call you some time.
It’s about the rounded rock he’ll pull,
smooth and cold from the riverbed, and wrap
in cattail fluff to hold against her
until the bleeding stops.
When it’s right, he won’t sit too close in church
or blush in front of her daddy.
They’ll wait, on slow simmer, until they can put
a valley or two between themselves and everyone,
find sun against their skin,
an audience of bluejays and cardinals,
and a river to swim in when being naked
is the only way to be.
Wednesday, May 18, 2011
Or a carpet of violets.
Sunday, May 15, 2011
Richard Krawiec writes poems that are an edgy and satisfying marriage of tenderness and well-honed attentiveness to the connections, often fraying, among people and the various places in which they find themselves, both physically and emotionally. How the poems' innermost pulses play out along their surfaces intrigues me, never more so than in Krawiec's new collection, She Hands Me the Razor, whose publication by Press 53 is forthcoming.
She Hands Me the Razor
when I ask
she hands me the razor
trust or faith I don’t know
where to begin to stroke
I press the three whip-thin
blades against her skin
how much pressure
does she need do I want
it is always a matter of finding
one’s own limits
I pull slowly
across the arched muscle of her calf
the stretched tightness of her thigh
a few wisps of black hair escape
I press harder feel that catch
which halts my breath in mid exhaust
no rose blooms so I return
to the world of breathing
slower now I scrape off the lather
with mincing strokes reveal
each dimple freckle curve
consider the flesh
where to daub stroke edge
how to reveal the many
smooth faces of God
The religious imagery brings the attentive reader up short, that arched muscle of calf signaling more than flesh, all the while staying faithful to flesh and its challenges and mysteries. From the image of "no rose blooms," a rose window of connotations blooms, so that when in the next 5 lines we are asked to consider, along with the poet, Michelangelo's brush stroke as it reveals the face of God, we have been prepared for revelation. So quietly, so subtly that we are not quite sure at the moment where we are. On the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel? Or in the bathroom of man and woman engaged in this intimate act of shaving flesh, knowing the flesh in its dimple, freckle, curve? We inhabit both, of course. That is where the poem leaves us, in the midst of the most searing and mysterious revelation.
Fred Chappell captures the achievement of these poems in his dustjacket testimonial:
The things they discover, observe, and reveal might cause anyone to flinch. But this poet does not avert his gaze; he sees and endures and at last achieves a dearly bought and perhaps unexpected grace. I admire this collection enormously because I never doubted, always thinking, "Yes, this is how it must have been." Powerful experiences powerfully rendered with an art that seems almost casual. I salute this high, rude accomplishment."
Judging the Worth
another 5AM wake-up call
from the child who has learned
the joy of song before language
he alternates high then low doos then lats
the melody brooklike a wander without refrain
his child's scat lacks the edge of sex
and sorrow adults impose on expression
outside it is all mist and fog
the yellow notes of streetlights
diffuse like brilliant words that have lost
the structure of their argument
I watch a small tornado rise
from the exhaust of my neighbor's car
my son hunches into my chest
it toooowl he says and I agree
it is cold but his breath warms
my shoulder his chest protects my own
he burrows his arms between us
one hand pops free his fingers slide
over his thumb as if testing fabric
the weight and weave judging the worth
of this life he throws his head up laughs
his teeth small and bright as stars
the firmament his face radiates
around us hidden in the dark branches
of the pines and hardwoods birds
chorus a greeting; the cacophony
of their song edges towards clarity
if I can only stand still long enough
When asked about the structure and craft of his book, Richard says: "
like the aftermath of violent tides
piled leaves debris the street
your parents called again
again I told them
what do they wish
to hear from me
that your older brother
armed with a dictionary
ordered you to comply
with his words of assault
younger brother pinned
your arms as he arched and sliced
into your body
father got you
drunk in a hotel room in Mexico
you to silence with egg beaters
hair brushes and wooden spoons
now they enforce silence
with flowers cards claims of love
and the repeated emphasis
on the suffering you cause
by curling on a bed
in the Psychiatric Ward
of the State Hospital
inside a code
of Oz tornadoes
and Bizzaro cartoons
that bring you messages
from the Virgin and her angels
in this world you are always
three years old and killing
be tossed raggedly
down the staircase
you believe in your fault
you can never be
so you construct a grid
of global conspiracy
to make your violators
heroes who saved you
by leaving clues
to what they'd done
the leaves are thick
I tell your mother
and as each one breaks down
the piles seem larger more
we are your mother tells me
having a nice autumn
Several of the book's most powerful and moving poems appear in the last section.
At the Borders
the woman in dancer’s black
stretch top skin-sleek
slacks draws a cigarette from the sea
green box of Newports
she doesn’t have to pace
through this Border’s
where single men
Armenian? Korean? Latino?
a verge of suspects
tic-tac-toe the cafe
simply carrying her iced
and cream-topped coffee
sliding a cigarette from fingers
to mouth is enough
to send heads ducking
to notebooks cell phones
any pretense of purpose
why do we connect
if not to mountain-mist
we are all alone
Rilke had his panther
sleek and muscular
padding behind steel bars
while men watched from without
now men sit imprisoned
behind wooden chair slats
while she stalks
across the dark interior
into the sunlight
where they no longer belong
a woman wearing a towel
shawl over a long dress
stands in the rush of tide
beating a bodhran
her body chants
from foot to foot
the white caps crash her hem
across the flagellant water
a crimson sun rises
above the mast of a shrimp trawler,
burns through the heliotrope haze,
the woman chants, beats, sways
her offered prayers lost
in the guttural glissade
of the sand-crunching waves
the woman I love arches
a sun salutation
her mermaid hair flows
wild tangles in the breeze
like the sea oats that shiver
their seed heads on the crest
of the weed-protected dune
along the porch railings
tourists peep out
tentative as snails
housewives in bathrobes
men in gym shorts and T-shirts
they smile shyly at me
in my paisley boxers
a Japanese mystic
claims the ocean contains
every thought that ever existed
the priestesses of Sangora
baptize with this wisdom
on the coasts of South Africa
I approach grace by watching
the feral curl of white froth,
rising sun, chanting woman
the red infusion of morning light
on my lover’s already glowing face
The poems in When She Hands Me the Razor ferry us through dangerous waters, leaving us finally upon the shore of grace, that infusion of morning light on a loved face. No wonder, after reading through these poems last night, I woke up with these lines from W.H. Auden's In Memory of W. B. Yeats sounding in my head: "In the prison of his days/ Teach the free man how to praise." Krawiec's new collection of poems culminates in praise, which has always been the goal and gift of poetry.
Friday, May 13, 2011
for Nina Bagley
The doves in the empty fields
still mourn my father
though he was no saint
into whose palms
they might have come
gladly to roost
through the long afternoon
of a South Georgia
August, their voices
at last making harmony
out of the daily
descent of the sun,
its grace note shimmering
this side of silence.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
Saturday, May 7, 2011
Only one week into May, and I'm missing April. Not the busy schedule of National Poetry Month--the literary festivals, the readings, the travel. I'm missing the way that month nudges the green up, everything promising ascendance, if not transcendence. I want April back again, so as we head into the second week of May, dogwoods already done for, redbuds gone, daffodils shriveled, I offer some poems by Andrea Selch, several of them set in April. They are love poems, as spring poems should be, and in their emotional and lyric movement, they remind me of one of my favorite of Robert Frost's line, "Nature's first green is gold"; like that first green, they seem to tremble as they reach out into the sensuous promise of new love. New life. They call back to my ears my first reading of Carol Ann Duffy's Rapture, a book that brilliantly renders the pleasures and uncertainties of falling in love. Andrea's poems are no less passionate and memorable than the more famous ones by Duffy, the UK's first woman Poet Laureate. Their craft and emotional intensity place them among the best love poems being written right now.
Andrea holds an MFA from UNC-Greensboro, and a PhD from Duke University, where she taught creative writing from 1999 until 2003. Her dissertation was a history of poetry on commercial radio in the United States from 1922 until 1945. Her poems have been published in Calyx, Equinox, The Greensboro Review, Oyster Boy Review, Luna, The MacGuffin, and Prairie Schooner. Her poetry chapbook, Succory, was published by Carolina Wren Press in 2000. Her full-length collection of poetry,Startling, was runner-up in the 2003 Turning Point competition and was published by Turning Point Press in October, 2004. [Startling was re-issued by Cockeyed Press in 2009.] Her most recent small collection, Boy Returning Water to the Sea: Koans for Kelly Fearing, was published in 2009 by Cockeyed Press. She is the winner of 2008 Hippo Award from The Monti for her spoken story, "Replacement Child." In 2001, she joined the board of Carolina Wren Press and is now President and Executive Director. She lives in rural Hillsborough, North Carolina, with her partner and their two children.
All of Selch's books may be ordered through the Carolina Wren Press website or Amazon.
Thinking of Robert Frost’s “To Earthward”
As I remember them, our first attempts
at love were superhuman—how many
waking hours, how few of sleep!
Back then we didn’t bother with a clock,
but let our bodies’ hungers beat out time.
Mere mortals now, we manage
maybe once a week to catch each other
lying down. Yet—I reason—
through such breaks flows love’s finest grain.
Good Friday at Another Academic Conference (2002)
Once, when each new morning brought her only
abstract dread and desperation, she loved
the trips away—the anxious packing, up
until all hours, gathering tiny padlocks,
teabags, nailclippers... and then the plane ride’s
private sadness, the solace of squirreling
so many packets of non-dairy creamer away,
and, later still, the passionate sameness
of the hotel room she couldn’t bring herself
to leave, when the conference finally ended.
Now, her heart unlocked, she hates them—even though
these days she hasn’t half an hour
to steep herself in joy’s real cream and cool,
or nail the final sentence in her speech.
How things came together she couldn’t have known,
but she accepts them, and dies to get back home.
Second Anniversary - At RDU International (1996)
Again along the airport road
the dogwood trees are blossoming.
Between the green pines, this year’s petals
snow and shiver, bringing winter into spring.
And though I know a week from now the clusters
will have flown, I love them all the same,
the same as I love you who’s always
going, going, or gone.
Or, I should say I love you more;
since unlike the flowers you needn’t reappear,
but contrive to do so—Oh and here you are!—
again, almost the same.
Easter Sunday (1987)
It was one of those green days
when there is no sun
you were coy—
like a cat.
Without speaking, we ate,
I went for a walk
in the kiddie park
and came back.
You came back
about the same time
and we went for a drive.
On a highway
that was blue-black,
empty, and smooth
as a train track,
we talked the scarred talk
of lonesome ex-lovers,
and the car warmed up.
At your house,
my lips pressed you down
by the mouth; the bed
was rumpled, cool.
You said, “Don’t think,”
but I didn’t mind
thinking about it—
it was fevered and trembly,
like traveling unfamiliar territory,
yellow as no sun ever was.
Then you slept
and I went next door
to make sense of things.
And after this poem,
I can only remember I dreamt
of making a huge pot of white rice
and Monday dawned
but filled with the noise
of a thousand birds.
Tuesday, May 3, 2011
I've known Scott Owens for years. We first met while I was at UNC-Greensboro doing a week-long residency for the MFA Writing Program. Since then he has devoted his time and energy not only to his own poetry but also to that of others in our region. As editor, blogger, and author of a regular column on poets and poetry, he serves as an example of what a poet fully engaged in his community can offer us. Go to Musings to read his blog posts; go to his books to read his poetry.
Author of 7 collections of poetry and over 800 poems published in journals and anthologies, Scott is editor of Wild Goose Poetry Review, Vice President of the Poetry Council of North Carolina, and recipient of awards from the Pushcart Prize Anthology, the Academy of American Poets, the NC Writers' Network, the NC Poetry Society, and the Poetry Society of SC. He holds an MFA from UNC Greensboro and currently teaches at Catawba Valley Community College. He grew up on farms and in mill villages around Greenwood, SC. His new book, Something Knows the Moment, will be published in August by Main Street Rag. I've selected several of my favorites from the manuscript to share with you.
The Dream of St. Francis
It started with the hungry look of stars,
wind a trembling lip, earth
a field of mouths closing on air.
For all I gave I thought that God
would show me the way, give me the means
to make my life a sacrifice.
He gave me nothing but pierced hands,
a dream of the world in need.
All I had left was myself.
I gave my hands to doves, shadow wings
incapable of flight.
I gave my arms to the deep needing
of thorns, feet to blistering sand,
ankles to holes in the ground,
knees to trees crouched in water.
A pair of crows carried my eyes away.
Wrens made nests of my hair.
I gave my tongue to the bleating of sheep,
my ears to bats. A possum wore my scalp
like a helmet. Rats settled in the back
of my skull. I left the skin of my arms
for snakes to inhabit, the rest for deer,
rabbits, raccoons, worms.
The smallest insects drank from the cup of my heart.
Reaching the pond I lay down beside it,
satisfied, unafraid, waiting
for what remained to turn to dust
and ash, for rain to empty this prison
of skin, feed the earth’s menu of roots,
castings, runoff to another day.
Why Angels Are Always Fat
He took all my pretty ones with him
the ones with tight bellies, long
streaming hair, faces thin as blades,
the ones who had fallen in love
with themselves, and had reason to do so.
He left me only these soft and silent
mounds of flesh, these uninspired,
these bodies needing wings twice
the size you’ve imagined.
He took all my hungry ones with him,
the ones who ate meat, drank fire,
howled at the moon. He left me
not with shepherds but sheep
fattening on clouds, their wrinkled bodies
growing chins instead of desire.
When I clapped my hands the pretty ones
came slow, always touching themselves
below the waist, lingering to see how
first one, then another thing felt against them.
He never clapped at all, just made his body
like silver, a mirror they’d follow anywhere.
Of course I had to let him go.
That was no way to run a heaven,
everyone looking at him,
myself no longer the center of thought.
But now when I clap, no one comes
at all, not that I wish they would.
Those he left stuff themselves
on dumplings and cream, their bodies
turning to clouds heavy with rain.
Sometimes when he leaves his lights on
I watch them from my high chair.
I like to see the shapes they make
with each other, see their bodies burn
with forbidden fire, see what they remember,
see my face reflected there.
Now Hiring Holy Angels
Title from a sign on Highway 16 Near Denver, NC
Job Title: Messenger.
Full-time position. No education required.
Duties may include intervention,
retribution, passing through silent rooms,
guarding trees and true believers,
unlocking gates, moving the dead.
Some heavy lifting.
Must have own halo and be willing to relocate,
possess excellent customer service skills,
bedside manner and flair for the dramatic.
Experience with flaming swords a plus.
White robe provided. Prefer blondes
or redheads with long, curly hair.
Fat babies need not apply.
Send name, photo, previous addresses,
age, religion, exact weight,
relevant experience, personal references
and driver’s license number for criminal background
check. All applicants will be tested
for drugs, narcissism, and insatiable lust.
Salary: None. Benefits to die for.
It starts with your hand floating on water,
your feet leaving no wet spots on the floor.
She was surprised to find how easily she stayed
on top, feeling weightless even on the thin skin
of lake. When she stood up she had to be careful
not to be seen. It’s not walking on water exactly
but floating just above the surface of everything.
Waking in the middle of the night you walk
to the mirror and find your entire face
dilated. The past has become a single dream,
more than enough to keep you from sleep.
Already her body yearns for earth,
her feet linger over roots, her hands
try to fly away like leaves, her mouth
leans to kiss every flower she sees.
One day you think you see yourself
disappearing in sunlight, your body scattered
like dust. You move quickly towards shadows.
The strange hair in your back begins to feel
like a feather, your feet curl like talons.
Reaching out to the people she loves
she feels nothing but the light around them.
She no longer knows the imperfections of face,
hand, breast. When she tries to speak
she finds her mouth can only make music.
If she could shed this skin, her body
would burst into flight, her wings cut the sky
like sharp limbs tossed erratic in wind.
Sunday, May 1, 2011
Ingrid Wendt is the author of five full-length books of poems, one chapbook, two anthologies, a book-length teaching guide, numerous articles and reviews, and more than 200 individual poems in such magazines and anthologies as Poetry, Poetry Northwest, Antioch Review, Northwest Review, Ms., and No More Masks! An Anthology of 20th Century American Women Poets. Among her many honors, she was the "Featured Poet" in the Spring/Summer 2009 issue of Valparaiso Poetry Review.
As flocks of birds from the depths of the field rise
in unison, arc and wheel and dip
with no one bird in the lead
and settle again into land
As fish in their silent schools flash
pivot and pivot again on the same
When the music begins and we, in our separate
that inner, ever-
present mental chatter and join
Together in song, again I forget
that in the last election
soprano next to me almost certainly voted wrong
That in tomorrow’s headlines the next
suicide bomber will take away more
lives than any one
heart can mourn. That in the next
Town a friend lies dying, that global
warming tomorrow will give us
yet one more
Flood waters rising will threaten
and is not scorned or shunned.
Anger on the horizon crashes and rolls,
breaks without mercy
over our heads and no
harm is done.
What is sacred space if not this shelter of song?
What is prayer if not these measures
in which the heart
can pour itself out, out, out, and the notes
Will catch it, help bear it along? Moments in which
each wounded and fragmented self
abides again in the wonder of wholeness.
Here. In this place. This home.
Published in GSU Review
On the Nature of Touch
My daughter's cat in the morning, before he'll eat,
needs to be picked up and petted, cradled (as I used to
carry my daughter) on one hip from pantry to counter
and back to the dish of food that was fresh the first
time he sniffed it, but not good enough.
This cat can be roaming all night, returning ravenous.
This cat can be let outside at first light and stand, moon-
patient, at the door, in rain, until we rise again. His fur
can be six soggy layers of needles and moss on the floor of the Oregon
coast range and still the Salmon Supreme we spoon into his dish
holds that scrupulous tongue only an instant before his voice
stalks our slippers, our wonder again at such
hunger for touch that goes beyond all bodily need.
So we stroke him between the ears, stirring up the same food.
And we rub his nose just over the spot where the whiskers sprout,
run our hands repeatedly down the long rapids of his spine
until dander and fur rise like spume, drift in the imperceptible
breath of the furnace, saying Good cat, Good Pillow, Eat.
And my daughter, who hardly could wait to be out on her own,
phones from her student apartment once, maybe twice a day, to ask for my
stroganoff recipe, or if vinegar will, in the absence of cleanser,
clean a greasy sink. She reads me the funnies.
Will I give her a ride to the store? Each day, this
delicate sniffing the ground called home; the words we speak
a ritual independent of meaning: thin fingers sifting the rich
humus of memory: bright
splashes of hair dye she left behind
on the downstairs hall carpet, each color a different
year of her life: stones scattered by Gretel to find the way back.
There is no returning to where she has been. How can I
not cradle her; each time she calls, one more blessed
delay on the long, slow road from touching each of us took
for granted those years I held her in my arms at least once a day
and she held me in a gaze that knew nothing but trust: water
disappearing through cracks in my fingers I myself tried, as a child,
over and over to cup and drink clear in my small, close hands.
Published in Ms. magazine
Prayer smoke that curls
Ash on the altar
Sand garden to rake
Hands that press skyward the rockface to climb.
What man makes in the sun
What he's made of the Earth.
The animals we are is a law stuck in nature.
Visages savaged by beadcarving, bloodcut,
And maskrutÑmaps of how we got this far.
In a lit circle, drums lead us to trance
To stare at the navel.
That's not what a monkey watches in the green leaves.
The mind goes up like a kite. In the air we drift,
Enchanted by such a grand station. Hands extended,
We seek piously, fervently
as a tank's roving gun
That stops on the man by the town fountain. One good
Kill among many. Another body to trash while the living
Take to the streets, each faced with learning, back to the wall,
Mouths floodlit and railing.
I heard you call my name years after
we parted. Summer in the mountains,
I looked up from weeding and saw only
a crow. That said, your dying began,
stopped, and commenced again. The year spent,
black boat with its red sail set in motion.
It was quiet the day I heard you,
nobody there but that solitary bird.
Some years start in black and white,
and by October scarlet enters in.
Leaf and sky were the shades I learned
with you. Now I keep a place in the pines
for the sun to slip through.
Why did we settle, uneasy, rock-heavy,
but not of rock?
At dawn, deer snort outside the bedroom window,
and half asleep I say, Oh hush, as if to a child.
Brain filled with morning air, my metabolizing
old organ awakes to scold again, demanding
even of these deer.