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.


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.

VISIT MY NEW BLOG, MOUNTAIN WOMAN, WHERE YOU WILL FIND UPDATES ON WHAT'S HAPPENING IN MY KITCHEN, IN THE ENVIRONMENT, IN MY IMAGINATION, IN MY GARDEN, AND AMONG MY MOUNTAIN WOMEN FRIENDS.




Tuesday, February 28, 2012

ROBERT WATSON: FRIEND AND TEACHER







Today I mourn the passing of my friend and teacher Robert Watson.  Bob cared for his MFA students in UNCG's graduate writing program much as a close relative might. He had what I called so many years ago in a tribute to him, "a caring focus."   A detailed and loving description of Bob and his contribution to UNCG and the lives of his students was written by Kelly Cherry for storysouth.  Kelly was in my first poetry workshop, by the way.  


Bob, as an intense young poet!
So many stories to share about Bob at parties, in workshops, along the street, at the nearby restaurant where the food wasn't great but all the writerly talk was!  Here is a poem that contains some details of a memorable workshop afternoon.  


Exotics
    for Robert Watson

The exotics, as the witty department head called us,
we gathered each Thursday, if  I can remember it right
after thirty-two years, in the seminar room
of the library, eager for what Bob would say
as he scrutinized, word by word,
what we had brought him.  We passed our new poems
round the table and waited to read aloud,
palms sweaty, tongues dry from suddenly doubting
that anything inside the dark of our voices could sing
worth Bob’s listening.  Bertha’s brave circus beasts
galloped in sawdust.  Then Ellen’s glass kept harping back
to the same jangle.  I heard my cornfields beginning
to sprout a shy whisper.  And Rick’s Soledades: O Luminous
Afternoon, when with the fanfare of hyacinths, Pat levitated
her dead grandpa’s flimsy fedora!  The odor of hyacinths
that April I’m not ashamed to saw followed me
everywhere, promising more poems that I believed 
possible.  Poetry or prose, we debated,
and let pass our judgment till some other time
when the question seemed less dull. We’d engineer fire-
works, our poems bursting forth in a plumage
of red smoke. But once when I stubbed my True
cigarette into the trash can and rough drafts of poems
began smoldering, George muttered, “Jesus
H. Christ,” and ran out with a styrofoam cup
to fetch water. So Joel extinguished the first nip
of flame with his breath and swore he would write
poems that burned clean through the page,
as if nobody knew he was falling in love with the air
itself teasing him into her circles
within circles till he was so dizzy
he could see stars in the smallest reflection
of night in his black Chevy’s rear mirror.
That April, King was gunned down
and the city shut tight in its curfew at sunset,
we walked every afternoon roundabout Spring Garden,
looking for poems we could bring back to Bob,
not those blowsy pink dogwoods
that littered the campus with tickets to easy romance,
but the hard freight that rattled our teeth
till we wanted to shout at the crazy caboose-man who waved
as he disappeared into the junkyards
at city’s end: Take Me!
O Central of Georgia, where are you tonight?
Do your boxcars still wait at the corner of Highland
and shudder with wanting to keep their long lines moving
on into margins I can’t see the limits of?
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
in a wind I am sure I remember
demanding so fiercely we hold our poems close to our bodies
as if out of fear
(or desire)
they would blow away into a jungle
of burning wings
green tongues
and we would have no other choice but to follow.


from COMING TO REST, LSU press, 2006







THE FOLLOWING IS A FEATURE ON MY LAUREATE'S POET OF THE WEEK SITE (NC ARTS COUNCIL)

February 20 - 26, 2006: Robert Watson

Robert Watson
Robert Watson
Robert Watson is a master of the Contemporary American Moment. Whether walking alone at night, buying cigarettes at a drugstore, or sitting in his backyard, he makes each poem resonate with both ironic humor and pathos. As one of his students years ago in the graduate writing program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, I saw his generosity and open-mindedness in class after class. He was able to read a poem on its own terms, regardless of what earlier assignment might have triggered it. One of my favorite stories is that of a lovely Japanese MFA student who had struggled through a sestina assigned by Allen Tate our first semester. Mr. Tate, himself a memorable teacher, simply had no response other than, "This is a failed sestina." The young woman turned the same poem in to Bob's class the following semester, saying nothing about it being a sestina. Bob loved the poem and was able to see what it succeeded in achieving. He brought a caring focus to all of his students, and because I lived only a few paces down from his house on Highland Avenue, I saw the ways in which he brought these same qualities to his family. His home was filled with his wife's stunning paintings, and he often introduced himself as the husband of the painter Betty Watson. He was just the teacher I needed when I came to UNC-G as an awkward but ambitious young woman from the deep South. He helped me understand that poetry can spring from many sources and have many voices, tones, and textures. That's probably the most important lesson a young poet can learn and I remain grateful to Bob for setting such a good example for me to follow in the years that lay ahead.-K.S.B.

Please Write: Don't Phone

While there is mail there is hope.
After we have hung up I can't recall
Your words, and your voice sounds strange
Whether from distance, a bad cold, deceit,
I don't know. When you call I'm asleep
Or bathing or my mouth is full of toast.

I can't think of what to say.
"We have rain"? "We have snow"?

Let us write instead: surely our fingers spread out
With pen on paper touch more of the mind's flesh
Than the sound waves moving from throat to lips
To phone, through wire, to one ear.
I can touch the paper you touch.
I can see you undressed in your calligraphy.
I can read you over and over.
I can read you day after day.
I can wait at the mailbox with my hair combed,
In my best suit.
I hang up. What did you say?
What did you say? Your phone call is gone.
I hold the envelope you addressed in my hand.
I hold the skin that covers you.

Lost

It's hard for me to get lost in this town
But I try. I seem to know all the streets
And paths. Yes, even where no streetlights are:
At night I can find my way, can name the lanes
Without signs, name the sleepers in their houses,
The dead who built them. How can I get lost?
I try to get lost, to take a wrong turn
That leads to a strange street, an unknown house
Where I ring a bell. The door creaks open
An inch. I say, "I'm lost, very lost."

A voice answers in a tongue I do not know.
I rejoice. At last I am on the threshold
Of the unknown, unexplored. I am lost.

But then a car pulls up to the curbstone
And familiar voices call. "Hey there.
There he is. We found him." They found me.

Dogs

I hear them bark outside my window, dogs
The country is going to, packs of them.
Rabid dogs, plunging through the forest and field,
Our city streets at night, leaping at doors,
At each others' throats, at our throats. I've heard
About them all my years. Daytimes they are
Behind fences, chained in yards, locked in barns.
And in daylight they wag tails, like our hands.
Nights on the loose, howling they race in packs.
Midnight this tumult calls me to the window
Where outside in moonlight I see my neighbor
Unlock his gate. He looks long-eared and furry.
I hear him growl, snap his jaws. I bark back.

The Uncertainty Principle

From my captain's chair in the yard
I steer the earth among the stars.

Inside the house my wife's asleep.
Our hall clock ticks out minutes, hours.

A cloudless autumn night outdoors
For sailing through the universe.

All thoughts of civic duty gone
Or right or wrong I travel on.

I am not Noah riding a flood
With all the birds and beasts aboard,

Nor am I Ulysses awash
In interstellar seas.

I do not search for gold or for
The waters of eternal youth.

Unmindful of my past I sail
Through chandeliers of planets

In search of what I do not know.
The universe swells like a balloon

After the big bang that began
It all. Before the crunch that marks

The end, I'd like to be certain
Of where I am and what is where.

Robert Watson has published five poetry collections, most recently, The Pendulum: New and Selected, from which these poems are drawn (Louisiana State University Press),Selected Poems (Atheneum), and Night Blooming Cactus(Athenaeum). He is also the author of two novels, Three Sides of the Mirror and Lily Lang. Among his many honors, are awards form the National Endowment for the Arts and the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. He has taught at Williams College, the Johns Hopkins University, and for many years at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. When not traveling around the globe, Mr. Watson lives with his wife, the painter Betty Watson, in Greensboro, North Carolina.




3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all of these wonderful things, Kay. We'll remember and mourn Bob in our own ways, but none could gather it so honestly as you have. Heather

Kathryn Stripling Byer said...

Thank you, Heather, for your words. Perhaps we can all gather our rememberings together in a memorial book for Bob and his family.

Tom barthel said...

I wrote to Bob Morgan and he mentioned his friendship with you. So, just floating a ghostly message from the me in 1968 to you.
Tom Barthel