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.




Monday, October 26, 2009


A few weeks ago, my daughter and I took a quick trip to SW Georgia to see the farm house and walk in the trees. These are some of the paintings still hanging on the walls in the house. They were painted by my great-grandmother, Ella Valentine Fry. This first one was a favorite of mine while I was growing up. It was also my brother's favorite. There's something so quiet, peaceful and romantic about it that I often wished I could step right inside the image and pick up the oars of that canoe.

One of the great pleasures of walking around the farm is looking at the trees. Here is one that my friend Cindy Davis would like claim as a subject. I immediately named it Cindy's Tree.

I can't name this wildflower, but it was luminous.

Some of the pine trees my father planted several years ago.

We'd taken our Ace of Dogs with us, and he was wondering why I was such a slow-poke.

My daughter headed out on her own.

SW Georgia Morning Glories.

Sunday, October 25, 2009


We met my brother, his wife, and a couple of their friends at O'Malley's last night for drinks and supper, while watching numerous football games on the televisions all around us. We cheered when Clemson beat Miami--the whole restaurant cheered, for that matter. The Auburn fans were downcast over the LSU game. As we were preparing to leave, I saw that my sister-in-law had left a plate full of chicken bones from her meal, so I asked her for them.

Why? she asked.

For stock, I replied and shamelessly wrapped them in a paper napkin.
And so this morning I have boiled them down to stock and am making a big pot of gumbo.

First the roux, oil and flour in my cast iron pot, heated to a nice brown color, then the peppers and onions, letting them turn a bit soft and savory looking, after which I add the leftover crabmeat in my freezer, the frozen tomatoes from our few in the garden, some chipped barbecue, broughr back from S. Georgia, and catfish. Oh yeah, good ole catfish.

I've just added the exceptionally good looking okra I found at the market, and before supper, I will add the shrimp, though I've already immersed a few with tails on for flavor.

Then I'll let it sit for the afternoon, the flavors mingling in all sorts of magical ways. Just a slight re-heating, and we'll have it for supper, maybe with some cornbread or Annie's Bakery baguette.

For dessert, maybe a cherry pie. We'll see.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009



Students who love to write poetry have a chance to win prizes and recognition in a contest sponsored by the 5th Great Smoky Mountains Book Fair. The contest is open to students in grades 1-12 in Jackson, Haywood, Macon and Swain counties, including home-schooled students and students on the Qualla Boundary.

The poetry contest was an idea proposed by Kay Byer, North Carolina Poet Laureate and one of the planners for the Book Fair, which is sponsored by City Lights Bookstore, the Friends of the Jackson County Main Library, and the Jackson County Public Library. “The love of books and reading begins early, and the earlier the better,” Byer said. “Poetry is a great way to nurture that love, beginning in kindergarten and all the way through to high school. Our student poetry contest will encourage our children to develop a love of language that will enrich their lives.”

“We are urging teachers and parents to encourage their students to submit a poem as a way of drawing attention to the Book Fair, which is a promotional event to raise money for the new Jackson County Public Library Complex,” said June Smith, president of the Friends of Jackson County Main Library. “Students who write poems now will one day soon have a new library in Jackson County filled with books and poems.”

First and second prizes will be awarded in three categories: Elementary—Grades 1-5, Middle School—Grades 6-8, and High School—Grades 9-12. Students may submit only one poem, not longer than 40 lines. Each submission must include the student’s name, parents' names, grade level, school attended (if home-schooled, please specify), address and telephone number. Include email address, if available. Poems must be received by October 31.

First prizewinners in each category will receive $50, and the second prizewinners will receive $25. Judges for the contest are Jeannette Cabinis-Brewin, Dr. Mary Adams, and Dr. Newton Smith.

Allan Wolf, author, poet, performer and educator will read the winning poems at the Great Smoky Mountains Book Fair. The Fair will be held November 14 at the United Methodist Church in downtown Sylva. Wolf’s books include Immersed In Verse: An Informative, Slightly Irreverent & Totally Tremendous Guide to Living the Poet’s Life, The Blood-Hungry Spleen and Other Poems About Our Parts, and New Found Land: Lewis and Clark’s Voyage of Discovery.

Prizewinning poems and honorable mentions will be published in the Smoky Mountain News. The winning poems will be published in the Poet Laureate’s blog, http://ncpoetlaureate.blogspot.com.

Students can submit by email to more@citylightsnc.com (Student Poetry Contest in subject line) or by mail to Student Poetry Contest, City Lights Bookstore, 3 E Jackson St., Sylva, NC 28779-5668. Deadline is Oct. 31, 2009. For more information contact either Kathryn Byer at nclaureate@aol.com or 293-5695 or City Lights Books at 586-9499 or more@citylightsnc.com.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Senior Trip: 1962

I found this old photo during one of my last trips home. Do those of you of a certain age remember "senior trips" to the Big City? They were deleted just a few years after my class trip to Washington, DC and New York City. Classes still have such trips but often they are cruises, like the one my daughter's class offered and which she declined. Being on a train with classmates some of whom you may dislike can be hard, but a boat? Getting seasick? No thanks.

Here we are, a goodly bunch of my senior class, waiting to get on the train to take us to D.C. and then to New York. Look at how we are dressed--girls in suits, gloves, and hats, the buys in suits and ties! It's hard to believe high school students once dressed like this for major outings.

I think I'm in the back row. The prettier, more popular girls were always in front, and my friend, the elegant Cheryl Phillips, now deceased, is the one in the center of that particular front row. I barely remember D.C., but I do remember New York and how amazed I was that the place never went to bed at night. At 2 in the morning it was still making so much noise I couldn't sleep in my hotel room. West Side Story was on Broadway that spring, and billboards advertising it were everywhere, "Maria," singing from every record store. We went to see The Sound of Music and the Rockettes, and we ate some very bad food, which we expected, since this was NYC, after all. Once you crossed the Mason-Dixon line into the Nawth, you knew nobody had figured out how to cook. I recall one of us asking for iced tea and the waitress saying they didn't serve that; we looked at her as if she were some benighted creature.

I remember being terrified of the subway, the stories I'd heard about falling in front of one, being caught in the doors and dragged to a horrible death. The kind of people I'd be pushed up against in the cars. I wore my money pinned into my bra. I was sure I would never survive the subways.

Mostly, though, I remember getting sick. Horribly ill with a bad cold, sore throat, and cough that grew worse and worse. I remember sitting in the audience at The Sound of Music terrified that I would have another coughing spasm. By the time our train returned to Albany, GA, I was having chills and fever, and next day I was hospitalized with pneumonia. I don't think the chaperones even noticed my travail, except when I coughed. They had enough to worry about!

I stayed in the hospital for over a week, then I developed pleurisy. It was quite a siege. I listened to the radio a lot--Soldier Boy was popular then, and so was Runaway. The Beatles and the Mamas and the Papas hadn't arrived yet. Elvis had, but by then he was old news.

I don't think I'd want to take a large group of students to the Big Apple and try to ride herd on them. Well, we did take a largish group of WCU students to London years later, and yes, we had one picked up by the police for smoking pot and another who didn't come back the night before we left, causing us to fear she'd been ....well, you know. She turned up next morning before we left for the airport as if nothing had happened.

Still, I'm glad I was able to have a real Senior Trip. My mother had gone on hers, and her stories had stayed with me. New York and D.C. were soon perceived as being too dangerous, as the Civil Rights struggle became front and center of our news. Southerners especially felt they were at risk in those cities; no sane parent would let a child go there, as my father commented.

I look at us in this small photo, dressed up and ready to go, ready to leave home and see the wide world. Despite knowing what has happened to some of us, knowing the way the world disappoints, the bright city lights seeming not so bright after all, I still feel a nudge of excitement.

I want those train doors to open again for me, and this time I want to be wearing not a hat or gloves, but sleek black boots, a poet's cape, a skirt that swishes as I stride throught the station, a wind that blows my hair as I climb into the car, holding my ticket, my money still pinned tight into my cleavage and a book of poetry I've been waiting for ages to read in my hands.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Student Poets and Sheila Kay Adams Celebrated


(With Nancy Posey, Director of NCETA's Student Writing Awards)

Yesterday's drive over the mountains to Caldwell Community College was fraught with uncertainty. I didn't know how the weather was going to turn out, and I wasn't sure about the directions Mapquest had given me. Yes, I got lost. And I decided asking folks at service stations and Kentucky Fried works better than the internet if you're lost.

Sure enough, thanks to the cheerily helpful woman at KFC, I found Caldwell Community College and Technical Institute. Nancy Posey, past president of the NC English Teachers Association and this year's Director of Student Writing Awards, greeted me as I walked in with a big box of First Light booklets.

Lunch was just what we needed after a cold, windy morning: soup. White chili, red chili, chicken noodle, cabbage-sausage. Both the white chili and the cabbage soup were great, and to be honest, I was having a hard time paying attention to Elaine Cox announcing the Teacher of the Year because I was enjoying that soup so seriously! After Elaine's presentation, the Student Awards were presented, the first being the Wade Edwards Fiction Award, followed by the Watterson-Timberlake Essay presentations, the subject this year being "Memoir."

Then, it was time for POETRY. Because of weather and distance several of our student winners couldn't make it, but all of our Middle School winners did, even Allie Sekulich, all the way from Raleigh with her parents Mike and Kim and her siblings Summer and Nick. C.J. Murphy, his teacher Lydia Dunn, and his mother made it from Hickory, and Falecia Metcalf and family were in the audience, as well, having driven over from Buncombe County. Falecia's teacher at N. Buncombe Middle School, Julie Young, was there, too.

These young poets were understandably nervous about reading their poems to a large audience, so I offered to read their work for them, after presenting their awards. That was the best part of the day! Reading them aloud, I realized all over again how good these poems are.
Here we are after the program.

(From left, C.J. Murphy, Falecia Metcalf, me, and Allie Sekulich)

Only one high school awardee attended, our first place winner, Sarah Brady. She, too, traveled from Raleigh with her mother Rebecca. She read her splendid poem, Vocabulary Words, to nods of appreciation from the assembled teachers.

(Sarah Brady and her mother Rebecca)

The Ragan-Rubin Awardee this year was Sheila Kay Adams, an old friend. How old I won't reveal. We sat together at lunch, Sheila with her ibook, scrolling through a long piece of prose. John York was to my other side, enjoying his chili. Perfect lunch companions!

(Nancy Posey presenting Sheila Kay Adams with the Ragan-Rubin Award)

Sheila's presentation was a reading from her laptop, a new book she began a while back, "weird," she said, but I'd call it magical. Sheila is a born performer, right down to her gold shoes, which you'll see in this photo of Sheila signing books after the program.

After the book signings, Sheila Kay received yet another award--the Little Debbie Cupcake Award, which she gratefully accepted from John York.

Please visit the NCETA website at www.ncenglishteacher.org for more information about the association and the Student Award programs.

I will be presenting the winning poems this coming week on my blog. That's when you will see why I fell in love with them and why I couldn't decide among the High School submissions and ended up declaring so many ties.

Friday, October 16, 2009

FIRST LIGHT: Student Poet Laureate Awards

Tomorrow is the big day, the day when the students who have won the second annual NC Student Laureate Poetry Awards will be recognized at the yearly conference of the North Carolina Engligh Teachers Association held at Caldwell Community College. These awards were established two years ago by my family as a way of bring poetry more into the student awards lineup at NCETA, thereby encouraging the reading and writing of poetry in our public schools.

The awards are given for the best poems by middle and high school students. John York is first readier and I am final judge, as each year's Poet Laureate will be. The student Laureates receive monetary awards, as well as books. This year they, their families, and assembled teachers will also be receiving a chapbook of the winning poems, First Light.

Here is the list of winners. You may find out more about NCETA's student writing contests by going to http://www.ncenglishteacher.org/. I will be posting the poems themselves, along with photos from the awards ceremony when I return on Saturday.

MIDDLE SCHOOL:First Place:C.J. Murphy“Where I Come From”W. Lincoln Middle

Second Place:Falecia Metcalf"The Rain"N. Buncombe Middle

Honorable Mention:Allie Sekulich“On the Ice”Charter Neuse Middle

HIGH SCHOOLFirst Place:Sarah Brady“Vocabulary Words”Holly Springs High, now at UNC

Erin Walklet“Agape”Cardinal Gibbons High

Second:Courtney Duckworth“Ode to Karen Dalton”R.L Patton High
Chelsea Hansen“Met Death”Penn-Griffin School
Maria Evans“A Breath”Leesville Rd. High, now at UNC-CH

Honorable Mention:

Allison Kupatt"Cult Classics"Enloe High School
Rachel Thompson“Aqua, Zephyr, Terra”Penn-Griffin
Amanda Honey“Runners”Carrboro High
Megan Przybyla"Summertime"Leesville Road High School

Monday, October 12, 2009


My husband bought this shawl for me in Florence, Italy many years ago. I keep it draped over my bedroom wall. I think I may have worn it once. It's the sort of shawl to wear to an opera, maybe Tosca or La Traviata. It's also the sort of shawl that feels out of place here in Cullowhee. Actually, it ought to be an opera singer's shawl. And since I sing opera only in my dreams, amazing myself as I walk onstage to hear Musetta's aria coming out of my mouth, maybe I've always felt that this shawl is just too special for someone like me to wear.

The black shawl below is another matter. I ordered it from the Sears Catalog--yes, Sears--so you know how long I must have had it. Whenever I wore it, it picked up various debris in its long fringes, like a net, and so I came to think of it that way, as a net gathering up a woman's sensibility. Her dreams, fears, and songs.

That image was the start of my third book, Black Shawl, from which Celia Miles and Nancy Dillingham wanted to reprint the title poem in their recent Clothes Lines anthology. They couldn't afford it, though, because my publisher, asked a huge reprint fee. So much money for one poem? I was astonished and horrified.

Nothing to do, then, but to write another shawl poem, which I did surprisingly quickly. Maybe the mountain woman's voice in it is a close cousin to the woman's voice in Black Shawl. Yes, it's in the anthology, which again I recommend highly. And although I don't approve of any poet's poems being kept from anthologies because of unreasonable reprint fees, I'll have to concede that this time those fees pushed me into writing a poem that I like and am pleased to see published in this anthology.

River Shawl

She’d dribble the fringe of her shawl
in the river. The quick current rippled the black threads.
They floated as she wished she could.
They wanted to be swept away but she held fast
to what had been woven. Her mother’s shawl.
Now her own. How much longer
to be handed down, this black keepsake?

She’d lift out the fringe,
rub it over her face, feel the cold
water run down her cheeks,
down her neck,
into white folds of flesh underneath the dress
worn before her by her kinswomen.

What might she catch in this web
if she let it drift far enough
out of the shallows,
into the dark center
where she could not see the bottom?

How far would she have to wade
until she stepped into
some other world, under the sun-dappled
surface? The river itself was a shawl,
always wrapping itself round the hills,
threaded with golden light,
trailing its castaway leaves.

It could weave her into its weft,
carry her farther than she could imagine--
the sea she could feel surging
inside when she let herself
want what she knew she could not
have, a life she could open
as wide as a closet door onto
garments no woman had worn
before her. Nobody’s life but her own.

from Clothes Lines, ed. by Celia Miles and Nancy Dillingham, Catawba Publishing, 2009.

Sunday, October 11, 2009


(An October bouquet from the last of my zinnia patch.)

This glorious Sunday I've spent doing my "kitchen meditation" using one of Lynne Rossetto Kasper's Weeknight Kitchen recipes. I've loved The Splendid Table for years, and a while back, I signed up for Lynne's newsletter. I read every recipe that shows up in my email, and this week's FABULOUS FALL ROOTS SOUP, excerpted from Sunday Soup: A Year's Worth of Mouthwatering, Easy to Make Recipes, by Betty Rosebottom (Chronicle Books) did indeed make my mouth water, and since it's Sunday, I decided, why not give it a try in my messy kitchen. (My photos try to frame only the parts I'd want my friends to see!)

Actually, I decided to begin this recipe-meditation yesterday, spending part of late afternoon roasting the vegetables so they'd be ready this morning. I also wanted to make my own chicken stock, of course, and I wanted to be able to leave it in the fridge overnight, so that I could skim the fat off the top

You can click on my blog title to be taken to the recipe on Lynne's website, by the way. (You can also check on how faithfully I followed it.) Yes, I cheated a bit. No leeks. I walked right past them at Ingle's; they are not part of my lexicon. I'd never heard of them while growing up. But I HAD heard of rutabagas and sweet potatoes, and carrots. And after I became sophisticated, I even heard about creme fraiche. And I knew how to make chicken stock. My grandmother always seemed to have a pot of it on the stove.

(My succulent roasted root veggies!)

So, this morning I took my gorgeous roasted veggies from the fridge, resisting the urge to cram some of them into my mouth, and scooped them over into the chicken stock. I let them simmer for a little while longer, just to make sure all were cooked thoroughly. And then....

....and then, a major decision. The un-pureed soup looked so good. And I do like what my friend Vicki Lane calls "texture" in my soup, as does she. Did I want this to be a vegetable soup or a "potage." Should I follow the recipe or diverge from its path? I meditated a little while, looked out the window at the fall foliage, and decided to follow the path of the recipe this time around.

I did not, after the luscious puree was done, add creme fraiche. I added non-fat sour cream instead. Non-fat is good for you, right? Next time I'll do the French.

We will have this soup for supper tonight when my husband returns from hiking in the Smoky Mountains. I think he'll like it, even if it does have rutabaga in it!

Friday, October 9, 2009


Can you believe that communities have gotten into brawls over clotheslines? Some folks seem to think they make a yard look "trashy." I've always had a clothesline; hanging out the wash is one of my favorite activities. Then I can enjoy the pay-off-- sheets dancing, shirts waving in the wind, underwear mincing its way along the line, and later, I like the way sun-dried laundry smells.

Well, here's another look at clotheslines, but it won't get you into a brawl, nor do you have to worry about bringing your clothes in at night, in case of rain. What I'm talking about is a whole bunch of clothes lines strung together by Celia Miles and Nancy Dillingham. This anthology of work about clothes and how we women get tangled up in them has just been published and its cover looks like a writer's shawl, don't you think? One she'd throw around her shoulders before heading out for the cafe, the salon, the bookstore, the poetry reading! The 75 western North Carolina women in this book would probably love to fling such a shawl round themselves and head out to make the literary scene in style.

Here is Nancy Dillingham's poem on the back cover. If your local bookstore doesn't have this collection on its shelves, gather your shawl around you and demand that it be ordered at once! It's from Catawba Publishers, and the ISBN is just below Nancy's poem.

Finding Our Line

Every day
we shape our clay
from the inside out
giving it cachet.

But sometimes
it’s the clothes we wear
that give us away
that give us sway

Curves, straight lines
diagonals, in-your-face style
au courant, de rigueur
faux, retro

we define ourselves as writers
shape our style

The curve of the plot
the turn of the phrase
the tone of the prose--
it’s the pattern of patter that matters

We preen, we pose
give color to character
and landscape
decorate and align

weaving a provocative story
stitching a tall tale
spinning a yarn
threading a theme

piecing a poem
with precision and panache
punctuating with élan
finding our line

Nancy Dillingham

Edited by Celia H. Miles and Nancy Dillingham ISBN 978-1-59712-355-690000