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, July 30, 2008

Frank X Walker

Another of my favorite poets featured in the current Appalachian Heritage journal is Frank X Walker, who coined the term Affrilachian Poet. Walker's book about York, the personal slave of William Clark, of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, is a fasicnating book. The poem below gives you a sample of York's voice. Walker's website is frankxwalker.com; there you will more about his other books, as well as biographical information.


---from Buffalo Dance: The Journey of York

“I proceeded on the sandy coast and marked my name on a small pine, the day of the month and year…”
–William Clark, November 19, 1905

If I could make my words dress
they naked selves in blackberry juice
and lay down on a piece a bark, sheep
or onion skin, the way Massa do.
If I could send a story home to my wife
float it in the wind, on wings or water
I’d tell her about Katonka, the buffalo
and all the big wide and high places
this side a the big river.
How his family, numbering three for every
star in the sky, look like a forest when they
graze together, turn into the muddy Mississippi
when they thunder along, faster than any horse,
making the grass lay down
long after the quiet has returned.
How they lead us through the mountain snow
single file, in drifts up to our necks.
How they don’t so much as raise a tail
when I come round with my wooly head
and tobacco skin, like I’m one a them
making the Sioux and Crow think me
“Big Medicine, Katonka who walk like man.”

Today we stood on the edge of all this
and looked out at so much water, the mountains we crossed
to get here seem a little smaller.

As I watched black fish as big as cabins take to the air
and splash back in the water like children playing
I thought about you, us and if we gone ever be free,
then I close my eyes and pray
that I don’t live long enough to see
Massa make this ugly too.

Frank X Walker, photo by Tracy Hawkins

Monday, July 28, 2008

From North Carolina to Iraq

My daughter at home with her dogs.
Novelist Vicki Lane, whose blog I read daily (vickilanemysteries.blogspot.com), yesterday gave us a post entitled "Fear." In it she drew together a segment from her novel SIGNS IN THE BLOOD, in which a character comments on a harmless water snake too often killed, because the perpetrator doesn't know the difference between it and a copperhead, and a news report about the killing of three innocent Iraqi civilians by American troops on June 25. The military had said that these civilians, driving to their jobs at a bank, were criminals and thus legitimate targets. That official story turned out to be wrong. "Ignorance combined with fear is a dangerous thing," she concludes.

This set me to remembering.

WOMEN WRITING PLACE, that was the name of the conference in which I participated just days after the invasion of Iraq. Located at Barton College, in Wilson, NC, the writers included Judith Ortiz Cofer, Crystal Wilkinson, Janette Turner Hospital, and me. We read our work, engaged in a panel discussion, and on April 8,l went home. On the drive back, I began reading the Raleigh News and Observer, stopping short at an Associated Press release about civilian casualties in the neighborhood believed to house Saddam Hussein. U.S. planes had bombed it to smithereens, killing numerous civilians, but not Saddam. One of those killed was a 19 year old girl whose mother was keening out her grief. The young woman had been decapitated by the blasts.

I was haunted by that mother wailing over her child, so brutally destroyed, and then and there I began the poem below. To say that this was one of the most difficult poems I ever wrestled with would be an understatement. I thought of it yet again this morning when I read Vicki's post. Ignorance and fear are a dangerous mix, and we have seen too much of it over the last several years, not to mention throughout human history! We know so little about Middle Eastern and Muslim history, culture, and art! And yet we believe we can transform this region, this culture, through bombs.

My daughter at the time was studying Urdu literature at the University of Texas, translating Urdu poetry, considered by those who know it well, to be among the treasures of the literary world. I found the W.S. Merwin lines in C. M. Naim's essay on Ghalib; going through my daugher's old photocopies from her U. of Chicago days, I came upon this, by one of her favorite professors. The essay, and these lines, helped me conclude the poem in a way that retained the humanity of the subject, or so I hoped.


"Charred dove, nightingale still burning"
—Mirza Ghalib

Baghdad, April 8, 2003

Four years younger than mine,
her daughter lies under the rubble.

She stands at the edge of it,
watching the men lifting one stone,

another, till out of the crater
they gently lift somebody's

body, a body she now
sees is female. She tries to recall

what her daughter was wearing,
but no scrap of clothing remains

on it. Whose body is it? She sees
no face. She sees no head.

At the edge of the crater she stands
while they swaddle the body in blankets

a neighbor has brought. Through
the blasted streets she calls

a name that gets lost
in the rattle of gunfire, a name

no one hears as they pull
from the rubble her daughter's

head, hair twisted round like
a root-wad, not blonde

like my daughter's, not waking
up as my daughter will be, being safe

on this morning in Texas, beginning
to brush her hair after her shower,

her face in the mirror as perfect as
always I see it, the fair skin

she wishes had South Asian
dusk in it, not southern

sun from the fields of her mother's
line, as she examines

the scar on her temple,
the chin she believes looks

not quite smooth
enough, while her fingers

scroll over its surface
as if they are translating

Urdu, word after
unsteady word of a ghazal

that she must recite
today, all the while fearing

her voice will fail
even as she tries

to fill up the silence
with Ghalib's desire

to see, lost in the blaze
of the mirror

that holds her,
the face of the Beloved.

The URL for this page is http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200511/her-daughter. (There's a recording of me reading this poem, but be forewarned---I have a lot of trouble with the Arabic pronunciation of "gh."

My daughter at the University of Chicago graduation.

Glenis Redmond

Glenis Redmond's poem "Footnotes" closes out the new issue of APPALACHIAN HERITAGE, and I will have to give five-star credit to editor George Brosi for that decision, because the poem is, in addition to being a stunner, a piece that lingers in your mind long after you've closed the magazine. Glenis, well-known as a performance poet, has been honing her poetic skills and expanding her poetic territory over the past few years. When I heard her read at the recent Wordfest celebration in Asheville, back in May, I said to my friend and sister-participant Fatemeh Keshavarz, "Yes, indeed!" (Lots of head-nodding going on!) To myself I said, um-humh, she's workin' it; yes ma'am, she is bringin' it! Her villanelle about forsythia is still singing inside my head. So is "Footnotes," where I can find a word like "tote" and remember my grandfather using it, so many years ago. Who uses that word anymore? Glenis brings it back from that "silent edge" over which so much might disappear if we did not have our poets to bring it back to us.

Glenis will have a new book, UNDER THE SUN, coming out from Main Street Rag in late August, so stay tuned to our ncarts.org site, where we will be featuring it. In the meantime, here is "Footnotes."


Glenis Redmond

Where does history go
when it hasn’t been tended?
I say it grows wild amongst
the Periwinkle, the Turkey-foot fern
and my mind. There it is
right along side my heavy heart
like that mass of stones left on a hill
the only remnants left of the Kingdom
speaking of mountain royalty,
King Robert and Queen Louella
leased for ten cents a day
by a Civil War widow, named Serpta.
Their rule over 200 acres
of chopping, hauling and toting.
I understand this urgency
the need of self-appointment.
I hear it in the restless wind on the ridge
or are those ancestral voices crying out
about the uneasy quilt stitch heresay
of their lives being left to myth and lore?
Where does history go when it dies?
When corn cribs and makeshift houses
no longer riddle the mountain slopes
and forty years of hands culling
Comfrey into a healing balm
along with Gospel Songs cease.
This silent edge is where I live
filled with heartache remembering history
and where it goes without a foothold.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Appalachian Heritage Quarterly

In my next few posts I will be featuring work from the new African American issue of APPALACHIAN HERITAGE journal.
Go to http://community.berea.edu/appalachianheritage/ to learn more about this publication.

Red Dirt Blues

Craziness in
concentric interlocking circles.
But look closely
at old photographs.
See? That heaviness
at the corners of
the mouth. Even in
smiles, the lips
turn down
in sadness. Familial, communal
concentric interlocking sadness


------doris davenport

Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Mystery of the Present Moment

This title sounds like one a poet would choose, doesn't it? It comes from novelist Milan Kundera, however, and I've lifted it from his most recent book, THE CURTAIN, by way of DOCUMENT, a publication of the Duke Center for Documentary Studies. Kundera writes of "...the richness contained in a single second of life," and also makes mention of "the existential scandal of insignificance." I found these phrases in Sylvia Plachy's introduction to the collection of work entitled 25 UNDER 25, showcasing twenty-five American photographers under the age of 25. Plachy maintains that these three phrases sum up most photographers' concerns as well.

I'd say they sum up most artists' concerns, regardless of genre or medium. Not to mention most gardeners, quilters, parents, and teachers, to limit myself to a short list. Artists' concerns may be felt and expressed more passionately, in terms of sharing the vision that animates their work, perhaps. But I've always felt that anybody can step into what Eavan Boland calls "the center of the lyric moment."

I've always wanted passion in my own work, as well as the work of artists to whom I give my attention. Passion roots us to the here and now.

This time of year, the passion flowers are spreading over the grass around our garden. I'm glad to have them there. I wish they could bloom all year long, but it's up to me to keep them blooming in other ways after they have shut down for another season.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Previews of Coming Attractions

I am rich in poets, if not in love ( tipping my hat to Josephine Humphreys for her novel, Rich In Love...), and I plan to introduce them over the next several weeks to readers of my blog. I will preview some of them beforehand, to whet your appetite, so today, let me begin with my friend Nancy Simpson. I met Nancy years ago when my daughter was only a few months old. She invited me to Hayesville to read, and of course I went, babe in arms, to the reading, where I met not only Nancy but also other writers who have been my friends for thirty years--Steve Harvey, Janice Townley Moore, Bettie Sellers, among others.
Here is Nancy, sitting on her porch with her dog Sasha. We read together last week at Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, for the NC Arts Council's Board of Directors.

Nancy has two manuscripts of poetry in circulation. Living Above the Frost Line is the one from which I'll be choosing poems to share with you. I find these poems both passionate and tightly controlled. I hope this manuscript finds a publisher soon.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Finding Mary Adams

My latest post on Mary Adams ended up beneath my Dogs post, so please scroll down past them to find her poems and the various photos! Sorry about the glitch.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Dogs, Dogs, and more Dogs

I've introduced you to only two of our five dogs, so here are the other three, each one with a unique story and completely different personality. The first in order of seniority, not to mention in our affection, is Arjun, the dog waiting for our daughter Corinna after her cocker spaniel Honey died suddenly nearly ten years ago. We were in a state of shock afterward, and so I suggested we go to ARF adoption day, just for the heck of it. There under the tent was a larger version of Honey, looking lonely and lost, as well he might. He had been rescued just days before from an incarceration that included around 40 dogs, all in cages, and in various stages of neglect. The owner had died of a heart attack, and the poor dogs had gone several days without care. Only a few of them could be saved, and this sweet dog waiting under the tent was one of them. Our daughter sat down by him, and he climbed into her lap.
Of course we claimed him! We took him home, and because our daughter was at that point considering graduate school in South Asian Studies, with Hindi concentration, she named him Arjun, from Indian mythology. He is an old guy now, hard of hearing, nearly blind, but he still has his lustrous eyes and coat, and his appetite remains as robust as ever!

After our old dog Copper died, a few years following Arjun's arrival, we wanted a puppy. So, again we visited ARF where our friend Mary Adams awaited us with a litter of pups she had saved from the shelter. One of them was a stubby legged little bear cub of a dog. Mottled coat. Female and fuzzy. We took her home and named her Pooja, another Indian name, but she has become Poo, our strange breed of dog, part cub, part coyote, who knows what else. Her legs are still stubby, suggesting she's part Corgi. But I wouldn't lay any bets on that. She loves to be stroked by my husband, especially when we are under our poplar tree, he drinking a beer, and I often holding a glass of red wine. (I think she likes beer drinkers better than anyone else!)

Mary Adams figures in all of our dogs' stories. About five years ago, she invited me over to see another litter of pups she had saved from the pound, these obviously close to being pure-bred, maybe spitz, or Samoyed. All of them were fat, fluffy white little polar bears. Dangerously cute, as a friend described them. I took home two of them, a male and female, and named them Bro and Sistah. They thrived. They dug holes, they trampled the garden, they grew into large 60 pound teenagers. It was time for one of them to go, alas. I had early on fallen for Bro, so Sistah had to leave us for a home up in Little Canada. Bro became my boy, the big, furry sled dog I'd always said I wanted. I'm convinced he's mostly Samoyed. Although we don't have any reindeer for him to guard, he keeps a watchful eye out for us and alerts us to any intruders, like the meter reader. In this photo of a few days ago, he looks a bit unkempt. He's been shedding. In his full winter glory, he is magnificent.

Our dogs make our lives a lot more complicated, a lot more entertaining, and much, much more interesting to talk about. We have many dog stories. I know you are looking forward to hearing more of them! Aren't you?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Many Faces of Mary

I've mentioned Mary Adams several times in my posts, always in the company of dogs, because here in Jackson county she has become a guardian angel for so many of our abandoned and abused animals. Here's another side of Mary, one that people tend to forget. She is one of our finest poets, an inventive formalist who can give George Herbert a run for his money. She's a Milton scholar, a computer whiz who has helped me set up DSL so that I can go blogging, and a devoted caretaker of numerous animals she fosters at her home and hopes to place with folks who will care for them as well as she does. She has been a member of the WCU English Department since -I'm not much good with dates-sometime in the early 1990's. She directs the WCU Spring Literary Festival, and her poetry has appeared in many magazines. She can boast of degrees from the Iowa Writers Workshop and the University of Houston's writing program, as well as a fellowship from the National Endowment of the Arts. Mary doesn't boast, though, so I will do that for her! Her first book, Epistles from the Planet Photosynthesis, was published by the University of Florida Press. She will have a chapbook appearing in the next few months from Spring
Street Editions.

Mary is one of our favorite people here in Cullowhee, and we think the rest of you ought to know more about her. So, here are a few of her poems, from her forthcoming chapbook.


He dreamed he wanted all her wilderness.
She dreamed his smell of saffron and clean halls.
He dreamed about the souls of animals.
Her animals were tired of being wild.
Her house blew up. It oozed when he entered there.
He cherished her, but he was made of walls.
Her longing sang him in a foreign language.
He could not dress or slake her loneliness.
He wished she saw how everything hed had
swallowed everything hed thought he wanted.
She wished he knew she longed to be devoured.
He dreamed about the house he dreamed before.
She dreamed her body in which no one dreamed.
She tasted him recede, a ghost of salt.
She dreamed but it did no good.
His children throbbed in walls that compassed once
his world as perfect as the gusts of birds
he used to dream she winnowed in like song.
She gathered him as if he were not gone.

Mary at our dining table, listening to my husband make a comment.


It's when your house erupts
with animals, dogs on the roof, dogs
hassling joggers, dogs helping themselves
from the icebox, that you know
the man will leave. Why, exactly's
harder. A man undaunted by a cat's
flaunted asshole surely knows
love works the wrong end
sometimes. Nor should squalor
scare a man who eats mayonnaise
every morning. Maybe it's
a fear of ghosts, you think.
In a movie once, you saw the hero
tame a wolf and then an Indian.
You’d hoped for such a man,
gentle hands, gold
hair like prairie grass.
Even the wolf trusted him, blithely
standing on his groin
or wagging hopefully for days.
Nothing's worth that kind of wait.
Not you who cannot give the wolf back
to the dog, not he
whose kindness kills the wolf
and Indian before he rides away
at movie's end.
Love makes the wrong promises.
Above you, dogs are crooning from the roof
as from the wild.

Mary trying to explain something to my husband.

The following poem, intensely personal, is also intensely entwined with the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Mary gave me a draft of it a few months after the towers fell, and I remember catching my breath at the sheer formal beauty of it and the pain and sense of loss it expresses.


I know . . . what the stars conspire,
What willing nature speaks, what forced by fire. . . .
- George Herbert, “The Pearl”

Gravity is matter’s memory that it once was light.
- Gowan, John A. “Principles of a Unified Field
Theory: a Tetrahedral Model.”

Dear Charlie, In September when you left,
the towers fell. I don’t mean to equate
one with the other, or to make a deft
metaphor of either. But the date
of the disaster was transformed by where
you were and what I felt, by the stair
I watched the t.v. from. Quiet as water,
the towers burned to sky within my sight.
If gravity’s the memory of matter
that it was light,

then falling accelerates toward symmetry,
a fractal. People falling from the towers
and towers themselves fall down in patterns free
yet mathematic. Arteries or mirrors,
Mandelbrot might say–like coral, leaves,
lightening, mountains, how a whale breathes–
back to creation. I wasn’t at the scene
to pick up body parts or sift soot
and gases trailing from the dead. They train
dogs to root

the smell out. I read that. So I watched
daily, as if watching helped. My grief,
smaller than cataclysm, seemed attached
by coinciding with it, as a leaf
spirals slowly to the cooling ground
while, worlds away, a city spins around
in a cyclone. I couldn’t claim the dead
or you, either, or that June that seeped
inside, or seemed to. Not even how the red
candles kept

darkening as we turned to kiss each other,
how even now it feels like I could follow
the kiss’s vestiges or plot its weather
back through branching space. You used your new
cell phone to end it. You were on your way
to work. The cellular tower ascended gray
and masterful on top of Cowee Mountain.
I read that habitats of apes and the long plains
of elephants were stripped to mine the coltan
powering your phone,

pitching your words above the dying season,
above the towers erected in the path
of birds. You said you didn’t need a reason.
Maybe you didn’t. Fall, the aftermath
of the world’s love, drove the leaves down
and the towers and the bodies down
and burned the hole they would not cover over
lest the island, like an age, forget.
My emptiness that thinks it is forever
is different, yet

it helps me feel the other one. The edge
of chaos is the momentary source
of every choice, the now preceding knowledge.
Each choice creates a different universe.
In one your voice as from a doomed plane
rings with unearthly love. In one the fine
binaries blow into flesh and fall
blows back to summer. If I can’t stop it,
cannot die of it, can’t keep your hand still
where you laid it,

let me be ruin where your hand has been,
indifferent as love is to leveled plains,
be the empty cradle and the mountain
lofty as language, be the gorilla bones,
be bombs and buildings that relentless love
blew into being and dogs are dying of,
that pave the birds to roads and drive the crazed
fires. Let me be a field that lies
beneath them, razed and razed and razed and razed
when summer dies.

Mary, in glam-poet mode:

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Good Morning, Morning Glory

Our first Morning Glory blossom appeared this morning, named Scarett O'Hara, according to the seed packet. I immediately thought of Bobbie Gentry, the late 60's singer from Missisippi who had some brief fame with "Ode to Billie Joe." On her album was a song, "Good Morning, Morning Glory", which I liked a lot. I remembered it this morning, welcoming our one small glory climbing up our garden fence.

My friend doris davenport has a thing for morning glories, so much so that she titled her collection from LSU Press Madness Like Morning Glories. Here are some poems from that book.

Now, I know you remember so and so

meaning somebody who rode through town once, ten
years ago or who lived and died before your birth. They
expect you to remember, to know, just like your mind is
their mind and if you don't, they might take it personal.
Get so mad at you, they can't get on with the story.

Not like Fannie Mae. She will get all into a story and
catch herself: "But that was before you
were born." Great Aunt Fannie Mae will pause, grin for emphasis
and say, "And I just wish you
coulda seen it!

not me.
When i get through
when i am done
won't be no wishing
you could see.

You gone see.

1002 Desota Drive, Newtown

at the top of one hill and the bottom of
another street unpaved dusty red
dogwood trees, a big flower garden in front

train tracks, across
a deep grassy ditch. At train time, when Momma
went from Gainesville to Cornelia
Grandpa & Granny & Daddy stood
in the backyard waving at us
waving back on the train (Grandpa waved a red bandanna)

sometimes i stand there with them
wave at Momma and my
sisters heading north
somebody still

stands there waving


Regulated by the whistle
blowing time at the veneer plant
cycles of sunsets blown on a whistle
the mountains
in endless seasons, spring to
fall blown each year
winter encircling the hill in ice
regular concentric circles of
irregular spiral lives

doris davenport has a Ph.D. (African American Literature) from the University of Southern California. She has taught at a number of colleges and universities from New Haven to Los Angeles, Oklahoma to Ohio. She has done more than 100 poetry performances and workshops and published book reviews, articles, essays, and five books of poetry. The most recent is madness like morning glories, from which these poems are drawn.

Meanwhile she has also worked to end all the "isms" (racism, sexism, stupidism, heterosexism) and to inject joy, laughter, and passion into daily life. This approach to life was inspired by growing up among the hills and mountains (and kinfolk) of northeast Georgia.

doris davenport is available for workshops, lectures, and performances. She can be reached at expertise@mchsi.com

doris reading from Madness like Morning Glories at Malaprop's bookstore in Asheville.

doris and Leigh Twitty at Leigh's bookstore in Camilla, Georgia

Monday, July 14, 2008


I grew up knowing what drought was like, my father more and morose as each day passed with no rain. One of the first poems I ever wrote was titled "Drought," and I still remember how the cornfields looked after weeks of dry July weather. My father was convinced that there would be a water war between Metro Atlanta and rural Georgia and that farmers like him had to gear up for it, learn how to use water as efficiently as possible, not to mention politics. Even after his death, I can imagine him standing with shotgun in hand as a great wave of Atlantans comes guzzling across the state, ready to suck up all the water they can for their sprawling city.

Dwindling supplies of oil have led to apocalyptic visions of violent conflict among countries desperate to keep their economies running, but water is what we should be worrying about. Climate change is leading to worldwide water shortages, and we are seeing our own weather patterns shifting in ways we can't predict. Wasting water has become a way of life in our country. In fact, wastefulness in all things has become the American Way. Most of us give water only a passing thought.

Yesterday, though, I wanted to celebrate water!

Finally we had been visited by rain, enough to make a difference in our garden. All through the weekend we had drizzle, and then Sunday a real rain. I walked out Monday morning to diamonds shimmering on leaves, tomatoes, grapes, and tall asparagus plants.

More precious than diamonds and rubies this water, I thought, remembering the poem I had written so many years ago, in which Alma, the mountain woman speaking the poem, walks out with her future husband onto the steep
hillside he will inherit.


This, he said, giving the hickory leaf
to me. Because I am poor.
And he lifted my hand to his lips,
kissed the fingers that might have worn
gold rings if he had inherited

bottom land, not this
impossible rock where the eagles soared
after the long rains were over. He stood
in the wet grass, his open hands empty,
his pockets turned inside out.

Queen of the Meadow, he teased me,
and bowed like a gentlman.
I licked the diamonds off the green
tongue of the leaf, wanting only
that he fill his hands with my hair.

from Wildwood Flower (LSU Press)


The prize cabbage in our patch must weigh over six pounds. I didn't put it on the scales, but I think I could use it for weight training. Now my fridge is full of cabbage. (dorisimma, eat your heart out!) We've been dining on a lot of cabbage soup and stir-fried, steamed, etc., etc. Anybody have some cabbage recipes to share?

We picked one tomato yesterday. We hope blight doesn't get the rest, as last year. The chard is still doing well. The winter squash is spreading over the entire garden, producing blooms and a few baby squashes. We are going to harvest the beets today. Okra looks puny. Oh well, win some, lose some. .

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Hambidge Summer Festival

The Hambidge Center for the Creative Arts in Rabun Gap, Ga. is one of my favorite places. I've done four residencies there over the years, revising mansucripts, beginning new ones, walking in the woods, and meeting new artists like Suzanne Stryk (suzannestryk.com), whose painting "Little Wing" graces the cover of The Movable Nest, published last fall by Helicon Nine.

Each summer the Center sponsors a Summer Festival, the headliner being barbecue, of course, followed by U Do Raku, giving folks a chance to paint and fire their own pots. The lines were long for this one! Nearby a couple of artists worked on portraits of the passers-by, and on the lawn in front of the Rock House, a tent was set up for Performances, which included those by me and story-teller Cathy Kaemmerlen, a NC native who now lives in Atlanta.


I read my poetry in the morning and the afternoon. In the audience were good friend and wonderful poet Becky Gould Gibson, doing a residency this summer, and John Skeen, a composer and artist from W. Virginia. John is setting several of the poems from my Catching Light for mezzo-soprano and piano. I found the three he had ready for listening strangely familiar, as if he knew the voice of those poems as well, if not better, than I.

Becky Gould Gibson and John Skeen

After the morning reading, I chatted awhile with Elizabeth Frost, from NYC, another poet doing a residency at the center. She told me she loved being out of the city, discovering new writers and artists in regions that many New Yorkers don't know, or care, about. "Parochial" is the word she used to decribe that attitude. An attitude artists in any genre have to confront!

Beth Frost

After lunch I read again, my mountain women's voices from Black Shawl blending with the haunting voice of the young woman singing with Mountain Hoodoo. Then Cathy delighted us all with her performance of Eudora Welty's "Why I live at the P.O."

Cathy Caemmerlen

Go to the Hambidge Center's website to find out more about this beautiful haven for creative artists. (hambidge.org)

Oh, I almost forgot! The barbecue was pretty good, too.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Paintings That Burn Through My Eyes

My great-grandmother, Ella Valentine Fry, was a painter. Her large oil paintings hung on the walls of our house while I was growing up in Southwest Georgia, and I often wanted to walk into them, especially the ones with snow-capped mountains, magnificent elk, a moon hovering in the night sky, and, in one, a young American Indian woman guiding her canoe to shore. That was my "Red Wing" painting, the one I still carry in my mind as if it's close enough to touch. I sang "Red Wing" in my private voice lessons: Oh, the moon shines tonight on pretty Red Wing. The young woman pictured on the sheet music looked like the one in the painting. My great-grandmother did many things in her life besides paint; she was a Pentecostalist preacher, one of the first women teachers in the Black Hills, and the mother of several children. She lived her later years in Dahlonega, Georgia, where my grandmother was born.

Right now, as I sit at the computer, I am looking at a painting by another artist whose landscapes widen my eyes with their burning moons, their dark pines rising out of the frame, their mists swirling like wildfire smoke or morning fog twining through a Georgia field. The woman who painted these images is Cindy Davis, whose work I discovered at a large show of SW Georgia artists in my hometown of Camilla two years ago. This painting I am looking at is titled South Georgia Pine. It reminds me of the sunsets I was drawn to so often while growing up, standing by the highway, looking through the pines at the sun swelling as it settled into the earth. Cindy has captured that moment in this painting. Another of her paintings, Dusty Moon, captures the same burning landscape that I remember so well.

The painting that haunts me most of all, however, is one titled Totem Ghost. Here again we see the Georgia woods, dark and light and color tangled up in each other, and down in the corner of the painting, a ghostly figure, perhaps a dream figure. Is it threatening? My first reaction was that it looked like a Ku Klux Klansman, barely visible in the darkness, an image haunting beyond words for anyone who has lived for years in the South. Maybe this figure is really some sort of Rorschach for the viewer. It has scarecrow qualities, doesn't it?

Yet it looks barely real, an apparition rising up from the soil.
Behind it the world seems on fire. The three pine trees
look charred, the moon about to be covered with smoke. I enter this painting again and again,
looking around, letting myself be swept up in its waves of line and color.

I encourage you to visit Cindy's website, http://cindydavisart.com. To see what other SW Georgia artists are creating, go to http://flintrivergallery.blogspot.com/ and flintrivergallery.com. I like to think that my great-grandmother would have been drawn to Cindy's paintings as I am. I also like to think that in some part of our imaginations, some timeless sphere, all three of us are young girls standing in the pine trees watching the sun burning down into the cornfields and later the ripe moon rising over a landscape that forever haunts and inspires us.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Lord Byron beside the flowers

One of our five refugee dogs is a small black bundle of stubbornness that we found sitting on a chair under the ARF (Animal Relief Fund) tent several years ago on one of their adoption days. He had been rescued in the Caney Fork area, where someone found him wandering the road, obviously homeless. Speculation was that students had abandoned him after their time at WCU came to an end. He sat in his chair as if he owned it, the tent, and the Wal-Mart parking lot. I can't remember how much he weighed at the time, but it was a lot less than he weighs now! (I hear him barking at the door, demanding to come in.)
The ARF volunteers had nicknamed him Road Warrior, and we soon discovered why--he liked to wander whenever he felt like it. He also liked to veg out on the sofa, or the bed, whenever he felt like it. He especially liked to snuggle into any clothes left lying about on the sofa, easy chair, or bed, and sometimes he was indistinguishable from them. Once, my husband ordered his dark flannel shirt to get off his chair. Well, the room was dark, and our eyesight is not what it used to be.
"Byron, get down," my husband ordered. Byron meanwhile was in the kitchen hoping for a snack. The shirt did not move. But then, if it had been Byron, he would not have moved either.
Yes, our daughter named him Byron. It seemed perfect for him, capturing his essence, so to speak. He lives according to his own rules and lets us know it whenever we expect him to live by ours.
He's still barking at the door, wanting his morning snack. I better go let him in!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Elegy for September

This short poem is from Steve's second book, Elegy for September, published by March Street Press (marchstreetpress.com).


Buddhist scholar in the saffron dust
of his understated gown, he flits around

a simple hut below a massive mountain,
accepts the silence of trees and stones,

sips the slightest ripples onto small pools,
dines on seeds and scattered crumbs,

and in light-stained woods at dawn
composes short poems by the hundred.

-------Stephen Holt

A Tone Poem of Stones

From A Tone Poem of Stones, Finishing Line Press, publication date August 29. The press offers free shipping on pre-publication orders.

What Wish Must I Have Wished
Upon What Flower or Jag of Rock?

Although my past, mistakes, clung to me
the way beggar’s lice furs
the hunting hounds of autumn,
you never minded. I did not know
you understood, could not bear to have you
ever think of me the way I am, prone
to stray and roam by night
the fields of easy yield and ripened fullness.

For I have been as one who wallows
in a yellow dust that fails to cleanse
the soul. O, what regret and loss I feel
each time I cross the millrace
and see your lily face among ten thousand
floating pads, Ophelia.

Stephen Michael Holt

Sunday, July 6, 2008

My Friend Steve Holt

I met Steve Holt several years ago at the Hindman Settlement School's annual poetry workshop, held on the banks of Troublesome Creek in Hindman,Kentucky. Steve'svery first in-workshop writing, a response to my favorite introductory springboard--"That Time"---made me sit up and take notice. Over the course of that week, I came to realize that his was a voice just waiting to blossom. And blossom it has. He has just published his third book, this time with Finishing Line Press, and over the next two days I will be sharing more about him. For today, though, I'm only offering a "teaser,"hoping you will check back in tomorrow for another of his poems and more information about his new book.


We came upon a gutted backcountry.
Whittled timber, rutted roads,
Tarpaper shacks.

And light strings of hair in rain,
So slight a girl. Retarded
In her speech, shy.

Down a harpstrung riffle she led us
To a pool hidden under willows
Dripping. Sweet fishing spot.

We gave her a 10-cent French pastry
Sprinkled with coconut, packaged
In cellophane. Store-bought.

-----Stephen Holt

Friday, July 4, 2008

Celebrating Charles Price on Independence Day

We've reason enough to celebrate the 4th of July each year, but this year we have another reason as well, if we love literature, history, and our country. Today is the official publication date of Charles Price's new novel about the American Revolution in the South, Nor the Battle to the Strong. Today of all days, we should remember this quote from Thomas Jefferson: 'If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." Much has been written lately about our country's ignorance of its own history. Mr. Jefferson would applaud Charles's book and urge every citizen to read it.
You can go to ncarts.org, click on Writers and Books, and be taken to an excerpt from the book, as well as an interview with Charles by the beautiful and talented Britt Kaufmann. Both have websites, by the way, so give them a google!
My brother, whose name is also Charles, years ago proclaimed Charles Price's book, Freedom's Altar, one of the best he'd ever read. He commented that Price is a master story-teller. My brother took his degrees in American History, by the way, so he knows what he's talking about.
Let's begin our Independence Day celebrations! Happy 4th to all of you.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

We Hear the Leaves Call Our Names

Every noontime when the weather is good, my husband and I sit under our tree. When we moved to this house 33 years ago, the former owner had thrown a pile of old wood out by the side of the driveway. A few sprouts began to push their way out and after we'd cleared the rotting wood, the sprouts began to grow. Now, as you can see from the photo, they are joined at the base and branch into two beautiful trunks laden with shapely poplar leaves. Sometimes we drink a glass of wine under our tree, sometimes, like today, it's iced tea. When the wind comes calling, the lower branches stroke our heads.
The Appalachian mountains are the vegetation cradle of North America. More species of trees and plants can be found here than anywhere else in the country. We can look through the canopy of leaves beyond us and see the distant ridges, always waiting and lately reminding me of a passage from A Doorway in Time, by Herbert O'Driscoll: "To see the woods on the high ridges of the hills, dark green against the sky... was to think of the legendary warriors called the Fianna and the baying of their wolfhounds as they crashed through the forest in pursuit of deer." He was speaking of the Irish countryside, of course, but there is enough Irish lore lingering in this hills to make the Fianna sound a wee bit familiar.
Instead of wolfhouds, we have our five dogs of various DNA. Three of them are fine howlers, and while we sit under our tree, there will often come the wail of sirens that resonate all the way down to their wolfish cores. They lift their heads and sing.
Tomorrow we will be sitting under our tree, celebrating the 4th of July. We will open a bottle of wine, fire up the grill, and be grateful that we live in this cradle of green, forgetting for one day, at least, the threats to its survival, what the late poet Charles B. Dickson wrote in "Blue Ridge Moments: Nine Haiku" ( Southern Appalachian Poetry--www.mcfarfandpub.com)
acid rain
growth rings thinner and thinner
on the new-felled pine