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.




Sunday, November 30, 2008

Books, Books, and more Books

Take a look at this. What do you think? It's from this morning's New York Times.

How to Publish Without Perishing
Even in the digital age, books have a chance for new life:
as a physical object, and as an idea, and as a set of
literary forms.


(Here's the conclusion)

In bookstores, the trend for a decade or more has been toward shorter shelf life. Books have had to sell fast or move aside. Now even modest titles have been granted a gift of unlimited longevity.

What should an old-fashioned book publisher do with this gift? Forget about cost-cutting and the mass market. Don’t aim for instant blockbuster successes. You won’t win on quick distribution, and you won’t win on price. Cyberspace has that covered.

Go back to an old-fashioned idea: that a book, printed in ink on durable paper, acid-free for longevity, is a thing of beauty. Make it as well as you can. People want to cherish it.

James Gleick, the author, most recently, of “Isaac Newton,” is on the board of the Authors Guild.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Making Thanksgiving Last, Despite Everything

The news of the Mumbai terrorist attacks, the trampling death of the Wal-Mart employee, and other appalling events too many to mention, have made wonder how we can keep Thanksgiving alive, day by day. I've found at least one way--celebrating our good teachers and student poets, working up a Christmas Gift List of books by NC writers on my ncpoetlaureate blog, and for this one, sharing some of the books I'm reading, some of the images that catch my eye (like our amazing holly tree) and, yes, what I'm discovering in the kitchen, if not in my poetry notebooks. After the 9/11 attacks, the kitchen was where I wanted to be.

Now I'm going to go into said kitchen, make stock from the turkey bones and concoct a new kind of "something" from leftover dressing and pumpkin pie mix. I'll let you know how it works out.

More about the holly tree in a few days!

Friday, November 28, 2008

An Appalachian Songbook on WDAV fm

On Thanksgiving Day, I had something special for dessert. WDAV fm station ran the recording of "An Appalachian Songbook," a composition by Kenneth Frazelle, with soprano Jacquelyn Culpepper, pianist Phillip Bush, and me reading poems from WILDWOOD FLOWER and BLACK SHAWL interwoven into the musical fabric. This recording was made at St. Peter's Church, where the Charlotte Chamber Music Series has become a popular program in the area. Elaine Spallone, whose blog I list, helps make these programs possible. She's an amazing artist herself. So, give her blog a visit.
You may download the performance at WDAV.org, where you will also find information about the performers. (http://www.wdav.org/printable_html.cfm?page=1_222_0&cat=1&subcat=222&subsub=0&do=view&id=210)

Here are two poems from the program:


No, I'll not listen.
The sound of it's too sweet,
like honey I licked from the spoon
while he sat on my porch
and played Shady Grove.
"You are the darling of my heart,
stay till the sun goes down."

I remember the hoot owl came closer.
Moths burned their wings in his candle wick.
"Midnight," I said,
and his fingers stirred wind from the strings,
begging, Stay, while he cradled the wood in his lap

for a last song, the hazel-
green eyes of a lost lady.
Weep Willow.
Soul of the laurel shade.

"Come," he said, pointing through dark
to the bed of leaves
we'd gathered, wildflowers strewn
on a pillow of moss.
But I sent him away,
letting go of his hand
without whispering as I do
now when my wits fail me, oh my
sweet, nothing
but sweet
good for nothing man.

from Black Shawl, (LSU press 1998)


Last night I stood
ringing my empty glass
under the black empty sky
and beginning, of all

things, to sing. The mountains
paid no attention.
The cruel ice did not
melt. But just for a moment

the hoot owl grew silent.
And somewhere the wolves
hiding out in their dens
opened cold, sober eyes.

Here's to you I sang,
meaning the midnight
the dark moon
the empty well,

meaning myself
upon whom
the snow fell
without any apology.


Tuesday, November 25, 2008



Why this old Persian form for today, of all days?
Why not sonnet or blank verse to help me take hold?

Down to the wire goes the season’s gold,
late this year, so long it took to take hold.

I don’t care that my days tumble down
to the compost pile. I want to look, to take hold.

Seize the day. Carpe Diem, if you like.
Bite down hard on the hook and take hold.

Down the creek float the leavings of what I once was.
Just a girl. Mostly waiting for luck to take hold.

Last night rain kept the roof busy scolding
me, wake up you dumb cluck and take hold.

I’ve already answered my e-mail, my voice
mail, my snail mail. My real work? To take hold.

Kathryn died too young. Age twelve. Now she tolls
in the dust of my name: to come back, to take hold.

(from COMING TO REST, LSU Press)

The ghazal has a long and storied history in Persian and Islamic literature. Now it is becoming part of our own. The late contemporary Kashmiri-American poet Aga Shahid Ali wrote several beautiful ghazals, in the traditional form. Adrienne Rich's "Blue Ghazals" are looser in their construction but well worth reading. And there is more to learn about this difficult, yet evocative form. I hope readers will do some exploration on this topic.

Sunday, November 23, 2008


(On the Elizabeth Bridge)

Since our return from Hungary, and the election of a new president, we have heard much about bridges and how we must connect with each other, despite our differences. After crossing the three bridges, Margit, Chain, and Elisabeth, so many times during our stay in Budapest, I have a much more literal response to bridges, especially these three, all destroyed during World War Two. I came to love crossing the Elisabeth Bridge for the view of Pest on the other side, where so much of the cultural life of the city awaited, and I loved heading back toward our hotel on the Buda side, seeing on my left, the Liberation Monument, still there, still holding up her palm wreath to the forces of history. As for the Chain Bridge, who couldn't love those lions! I would like to have one at the bottom of my driveway!

I don't know how Jim would feel about that, though!

(Connie Kotis, Photo Credit)

Crossing the Chain Bridge, I also was able to see the legendary Turul spreading its wings atop Castle Hill.

Other bridges were the friends made, Szidi Juhasz, for one, the history of a country I'm just beginning to learn, the awareness that so much about the world waits for all of us to know more about, to enjoy, to honor, and protect.

And then the artistic bridges that writers, musicians, composers, all artists really, make when they practice their art and work together to bring it to the rest of the world. My collaboration with Harold Schiffman has been one of the greatest gifts of my artistic and personal life, and I thank him him and the crew at the Gyor Philharmonic for it!

So, here is a photo ol the usual suspects in The Mozart Cafe in Győr, provided by Jane Perry-Camp, a fitting conclusion to my travel diary.

Those included in the photo (taken by a kind waitress) compose October's whole Kiraly Music Network (KMN) team [aka "The Crew"], from President David Zsolt Király, to cheerleader and occasional pianist Jane. They are (with roles as members of The Crew, as if you didn't know!!!):

L to R: Szidónia Juhász (interpreter/translator), Mátyás Antal (conductor), Harold Schiffman (composer), Jane Perry-Camp (yes), David Zsolt Király (President, KMN), István Biller (recording engineer), [above Király's head -- but only in the photo] Wolfgang A. Mozart (composer and keyboardist). Location: Mozart Cafe, Győr, Hungary; 20 October 2008, 7:52 p.m. (Items from menu that were chosen -- not disclosed.)
Notes by Jane!

Last Evening in Budapest

As the sun began to set, we headed back to our hotel, crossing the Elisabeth Bridge yet again, glad that our hotel had been on the Buda side, giving us so many opportunities to see the Danube in all its variations of light and color as we crossed the bridge day after day.

I stood on our 5th floor balcony a while, watching the light fade.

I watched the sunset relected in a window across from our balcony.

And this view of Buda side of the city we were about to leave! It remains one of my favorite images.

How do apartment residents manage to have such lush displays of flowers on their balconies?

And, as night fell, we toasted our stay in Hungary with the country's famous drink, Tokaji, a dessert wine I heartily recommend.

Last Day in Budapest

On our last day in Budapest, I took a photo of what we came to call "our church," from the vantage point of the 5th floor stairwell.

Then after the usual delicious and filling breakfast at Hotel Orion, we headed out over the Elisabeth Bridge for a stop at the oldest church in Budapest, the Inner City Parish Church (V. Március 15. tér 2). It has origins going back to the twelfth century and is also the site of the grave of the martyr Bishop Saint Gellért. During the Turkish occupation in the seventeenth century the church was converted for use as a mosque. After their expulsion and a great fire in 1723 it was rebuilt in baroque style, although the interior also contains Classical elements. Looking into the garden at the rear , I saw this fresh green ivy climbing up the centuries-old fence.

Then a walk by the famous St. Stephens Basilica,( Hungarian: Szent István-bazilika), named in honour of Stephen, the first King of Hungary (c 975–1038), whose mummified fist is housed in the reliquary. We did not drop in to see the fist! This structure, by the way, is, along with Parliament, the tallest building in Budapest.

We climbed the hill to Gul Baba's mausoleum, only to find it closed for repairs. (If you google the mausoleum, you can find photos of what we missed inside, one of the most beautiful resting places ever seen.) Gul Baba was a poet, and so the legend goes, introduced roses to the region that became Hungary. There were roses of several colors blooming around his tomb. The bronze sculpture of Gul Baba perched on a leafy promontory called Rose Hill is recent and constitutes a belated acknowledgement of the debt Budapest owes to its Ottoman heritage.

A companion of Sulayman the Great, Gul Baba was killed in the Turkish military campaign that captured Budin in 1541 following two earlier short-lived conquests (the modern Budapest was only formed in 1872 by a union of Budin on the Danubéis western bank and Pest in the east).

Gul Baba wrote poems and prose. Some of his manuscripts on mystics are to be found in the works Miftah al-Ghaib (Key of the Unseen). Some of his poems have been preserved for us is a small hand-written booklet, Guldeste (Bunch of Roses), although many of his manuscripts have probably been lost. He wrote all his works under the name of Mithali. (from Wikipedia)

No, the image below is not from a sci-fi exhibit. It's the interior of the Centennial Memorial, commemorating the hundredth anniversary of the city's unification, on Margit Island, a pastoral retreat in the midst of the busy city, with a singing fountain, trees, benches, and lots of green grass for picnics on weekends. We crossed the Margit (Margaret) Bridge to get there, and if we'd had more time in our last day, we would have lingered.

This sculpture looks like a huge seedpod to me, or a flower bud just opening. Both seem appropriate for the anniversary it celebrates. The inside of the pod looked very much like the interior of a time machine.

Walking toward Ferenciek tere to see the relief commemorating the Great Flood of 1838.

This relief gives a view of the tragedy that befell Budapest in 1838. Ferenciek tere is named after the Franciscan church on the corner of Kossuth utca, whose face bears a relief recalling the great flood of 1838, in which over 4 hundred people were killed. More would have died had not Baron Miklos Wesseleny personally rescued scores of people in his boat, depicted on the plaque outside the church.

Hasn't everyone wanted to stand beneath such a lion? Here I am before we crossed the Chain Bridge, guarded on both ends by these heroic lions.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Debbie McGill Leaves NC Arts Council

Today is the last day that my friend Debbie McGill will serve as Literary Director on the NC Art Council's staff. I need all the happy thoughts I can muster. I will miss her, and the state will, too. Our literary community owes a great deal to her hard work and belief in the power of literature. Here is Council Director Mary Regan's "Recollection". (http://www.ncarts.org/email/NovDec08/)

For the past 20 years Debbie has been a leader and friend to writers and writing in North Carolina during her impressive tenure. When a wonderful staff person leaves for a new job I feel both happiness for her new opportunity and real sadness at losing an employee who contributed so much to her field and cared so much for her constituents.

Debbie was widely recognized as one of the leading literature directors at any state arts agency in the country. She extended the reach of the Arts Council's grant programs for individual artists to include not only writers of fiction, poetry, and plays but also writers of literary nonfiction, literary translation, original work in languages other than English, and work intended for children, as well as spoken-word artists and screenwriters. With the appointments first of Fred Chappell and later Kathryn Stripling Byer to the post of North Carolina Poet Laureate, she developed programs that have enhanced the capacity of the poet laureate to serve the people of the state directly and actively. Both as an ally and a grantmaker she encouraged organizers in their efforts to be ambitious and creative in the ways they use literature to improve quality of life in their communities.

Debbie will become the Senior Editor at Family Health International (FHI), based in Research Triangle Park. FHI is a nonprofit organization active in public health projects in 70 countries. Debbie will manage the editing and production of FHI's publications.

Debbie's last day at the Arts Council is November 21. We will miss her enthusiasm, energy, intelligence, and wit, which have created so much good will for the Arts Council in the writing community. We wish her all the best in her new job.

----Mary Regan, NC Arts Council

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Feeding Our Opera Addiction at the Operahaz

When The Ed Sullivan Show occasionally had an opera singer on the Sunday night program ,my father would call out, "Shut that #*# off." I don't think we ever did, but we knew without the slightest iota of doubt how he felt about "grand opera." Now, the Grand Ole Opry, that was another matter. We purchased a television set for the express purpose of watching the Opry on Saturday nights. I grew up listening to Kitty Wells, Ernest Tubbs, June Carter, and, well, the list could go on and on. I didn't give the other kind of opera another thought, except when I tried to sing some watered down arias in my vocal songbook when I briefly took voice. I wanted to be a singer. But I didn't know what kind. First I wanted to be Connie Francis, then Patsy Cline, then Aretha Franklin, followed by Emmy Lou Harris. Emmy Lou had been hanging around Greensboro close to the time I'd been there, and besides I loved her fringes and boots, almost as much as her songs. Sometimes I still wish I could be Emmy Lou.

More times, though, I wish I could be Renee Fleming, Natalie Dessay, or Cecilia Bartoli. I've developed an addiction to opera as intense as my father's addiction to Hank Williams and country music. How did this transformation happen?

First, I had to get married to a man who would not, ever, curse the soprano singing on Ed Sullivan's show. Then he had to take me to the Brevard Music Center to hear "Tosca." That was my first opera. I fell in love with it. And not because I knew I had to in order to stay married to this man sitting beside me. Over the years we've seen many opera productions, from London to Cullowhee. I've been happy at all of them. What heaven last spring to sit way back, away from the students, in the new WCU Performing Arts Center and watch "The Barber of Seville"! (A fine production) I was in my own world, totally carried away by the music. I only glared once at a student, who got up to leave right in the middle of Rosina's famous aria. How could he? I bared my teeth at him. He looked startled and fled.

To be in Budapest is to be in Opera Heaven. I know NYC thinks it has all the goods (about everything), and I'm sure London, Paris, and other great cities think the same thing. But Budapest, first off, has an old, lavishly beautiful opera house with a company that produces some of the best acting, if not necessarily the most renowned singing, in the opera world. Before performances, dozens of folks roamed around taking photos of the interior of the Operahaz. I was one of them.

Here's the description of the House from the terrific website, www.fsz.bme.hu/opera/bud_operahaz.html. Just perusing this site is an aesthetic experience. (All photos, save those of my interior shots, come from this site.)

Designed by Miklós Ybl (1878-1884)

The Opera House was designed and built in Renaissance style according to the plans of Miklós Ybl. Ferenc Erkel conducted the inaugural concert in 1884. Underneath the risalit is a drive-in entrance for cars and carriages. The statues of Ferenc Liszt and Ferenc Erkel, outstanding contributors to Hungary's musical life, can be seen on either side of the risalit. Both statues are the work of Alajos Stróbl. Between the Corinthian columns are statues of the Muses. Beyond the main entrance is the vestibule, decorated with allegorical frescoes from Bertalan Székely, and at the entrance to the foyer are landscapes from Árpád Feszty. The ceiling of the horseshoe-shaped three storey auditorium is decorated with the paintings of Károly Lotz. The Opera House was reopened after reconstruction in 1984, the year of its centenary.

Most of the singers were native Hungarian voices we'd never heard of before. No matter. They were wonderful. Our first opera, Beethoven's "Fidelio", was, shall we say, experimental in its set and action, but after our initial dismay, the music took over and carried us through to the end, where the freed prisoners turn out to be ordinary folk who now can get married, have babies, jobs, wear bright clothing, and rejoice in all sorts of diverse and celebratory ways.

We were almost hanging over the orchestra pit in our last-minute procured seats, and believe me, those cellists tore into the Leonora Overture with such energy that I feared they might have a stroke. I'd seen plenty of symphonies on stage, but this was sheer arerobics, nevermind the predictable gyrations of the conductor. By opera's end we decided the experimentalism had worked --or maybe we'd finally gotten used to the designer's "vision", though we agreed we might not wish to see this particular production again. Listen to it? Sure. The singing was fine. We left the opera house feeling what I call our "opera high." It was Friday night and lots of people were out in the parks, the restaurants, skate-boarding, drinking, shopping. There was a full moon. Life was good, it was even worthy of an opera stage!

Wagner's "Die Meistersinger" was staged more traditionally, and despite Mark Twain's comment that the opera's music was a lot better than it sounded, it sounded pretty darn good to me. Again the set, the acting, and the sheer passion of the performers in their roles left us feeling we'd seen something special, especially since this was an opera we had only listened to on recordings. Hans Sachs putting David through his paces with his famously sublime aria touched me deeply. The aria got better and better with each suggestion from the master. How it warmed my battle-scarred poetry teacher's heart! And my poet's heart.

The night before we left for Gyor, we had nothing planned so we asked ourselves, Why not Tosca? We bought tickets and settled into the narrow seats to watch our old favorite, my inaugural opera. The first act brought tears to my eyes, yet again. Cavaradossi's and Tosca''s love for each other overflowing both in voice and action. Scarpia! I still get chills thinking about how evil he looked. He was perfect, and oh, the heartbreaking last scene when Cavaradossi sings his heart out! Facing death, he loves la vida more than ever. How many times have I seen "Tosca"? Not as many as I've seen "Gone With the Wind," but whereas I never again want to see GWTW, I'd gladly see "Tosca" again and again, especially at the Budapest Opera House. Below is a shot of the scene in which Tosca, upon leaving Scarpia's apartment, after stabbing him, sees herself in the mirror beyond the door. A powerful way to end a powerful second act. The soprano's performance of Vissi d'arte was wrenching, a tour de force of acting and a fine vocal performance as well. Yes, she finally did end up on her knees to finish the aria, where all Toscas are supposed to be at that moment.

Seeing two operas set in times of political repression was a completely different experience in a country that has itself suffered such repression, for so long. We had wondered how the Hungarian company would present the liberation of the prisoners at the end of "Fidelio." To us, it seemed the perfect way--ordinary Hungarians now free to be colorful, lively, diverse! Harold Schiffman had mentioned that t wenty years ago when he was in Hungary, people seemed drab and beaten down. They were not like that in the conclusion of "Fidelio"! To be honest, it reminded me of a Bollywood movie conclusion. Yes, indeed!

Speaking of "Gone with the Wind," the repertoire at the Operahaz included a ballet of GWTW. We could have see that, too, but, well, I felt I'd overdosed big-time on Miss Scarlett, even though I was tempted by the photo in the program booklet, the lead dancer standing before a fan, with her hair being blown about. The music was by one of my heart-throb favorites, Antonin Dvorak, but one can't do everything in a brief visit to a country, and I felt it was time to let Scarlett go her way and I'd go mine. The scene below must surely be Scarlett dancing in the dress made from the draperies she pulled down, just before her journey to Atlanta. Maybe she's dancing with Rhett?

Or maybe poor Mr. Kennedy whom she charms away from her sister Sue Ellen? No, this dancer looks more Rhettish, I'd say. I wonder how they handled the burning of Atlanta? Maybe next time we go to Budapest, they'll be performing this ballet again and I'll find out.

Little Cars!

They have a thing for decorating their cars in Hungary. Here are two of the cutest ones. We saw them on our last afternoon in Budapest. I wish I could have put the blue one in my shopping bag. It would have almost fit!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Hungary: Returning to Budapest

After three days in Gyor, we headed back to Budapest, by bus this time. We enjoyed seeing the countryside up close and personal, and the ride reminded me of the many I had made as a college student traveling from Georgia to North Carolina. In the photo above, you can see the reflection of the window across the aisle when the shutter clicked.

Here below is the bird I originally thought was the rapacious eagle of empire but is instead the legendary Turul, the bird that helped save the Magyar people.

The bus lines in Hungary are top-notch, and this bus was comfortable and fast. After little more than two hours, our express bus was entering Budapest. Because I'd fallen in love with this city, I was thrilled to be back again!.

Even when what I saw on the outskirts looked pretty much like any other city! But I knew that in a short while we would be back on the banks of the Danube, heading toward our Hotel Orion, with only a few more hours left to enjoy Budapest.

Once back at the hotel, we discovered we were on the 5th floor.

But with a balcony. I was enthralled by the view, leaning out over the railing to see as much as I could. Here is what I saw on my left.

And yes, there she was, as I turned to look over the rooftops toward my right. Still holding her palm wreath, facing east. Toward the morning sun.

And just below me, the late afternoon light on the buildings.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Redheaded Stepchild Magazine

The Inaugural issue of Redheaded Stepchild Magazine, a home for rejected poems, is online now, so take a look at the poetry, all of which has been rejected, no doubt numerous times, by other magazines. I know my two poems have been, by Arts & Letters, Appalachian Heritage, Poetry, and ---I've lost count.
Here is one of them.


In drawing class the day before
Thanksgiving break,
our instructor called one of us up
to pose. Fully clothed, I should hasten
to add. This was a woman’s college,
deep in the Bible Belt South,
where all of us good girls wore Madras
and Villager skirts, underneath which
our Bass weejuns plodded respectably.

The model du jour
was an unsmiling beauty
whose long neck our virile instructor
admired, her hair teased bouffant
in the style of the period.
She set her stare hard against
us, then turned her face
into the afternoon light
of the windows through which
she’d have seen the flag still
at half-mast after JKF’s murder.

She moved not a muscle for almost
two hours. Nor did her face soften
when she surveyed
what her classmates had rendered,
our two dozen versions of Modigliani’s
signora tricked out southern belle-style.

She transferred at term’s end
to the state university,
got married,
lived in Atlanta,
a lawyer’s wife,
till she was killed
in a car wreck on I-85.

that was her name.
She of the coldest stare ever
I withstood.
Whose swan’s neck I grudgingly

The editors' statement:

Malaika King Albrecht and Deborah Blakely are the poetry editors at Redheaded Stepchild Magazine. We know that a lot of kickass poetry gets rejected, and we thought it would be fun to publish only previously rejected poems. We like rejects. That being said, receiving a rejection note from us doesn't say anything about the quality of the poem(s). If it doesn't work out here, submit elsewhere.

Malaika has been featured on our ncarts.org website. Malaika’s poems have recently been or are forthcoming in Kakalak: an Anthology of Carolina Poets, 4am, Hiss Quarterly Review, The Bedside Guide to No Tell Motel - Second Floor, The Pedestal Magazine, Poetry Southeast and other online and print magazines. She has taught creative writing to sexual abuse survivors and to addicts and alcoholics in therapy groups and also volunteers teaching poetry in schools. She lives in North Carolina.

Deborah Blakely lives in Los Angeles and is currently a graduate student at California State University Northridge. Her past occupations have included: Melrose Avenue hairstylist, commercial p.a., switchboard operator, and volunteer at the Los Angeles needle exchange.