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, January 27, 2010

The Song in the Depths of the Shell

(from redroom.com--"my favorite short story")

We carry certain images with us as proof, Barry Lopez says, “against some undefined but irrefutable darkness in the world.” So it is, for me, with shells. One shell in particular, a conch shell that my grandmother kept on her coffee table in the “living room,” as we called it, though it had also contained the coffin of her first-born child for whom I was named. I would venture into this room rarely. It was dark. It smelled of furniture polish and upholstery. Outside I could see, if we’d had rain, corn undulating in the wind. In drought, I saw corn stalks brown, withering. In winter I saw fields lying fallow.

I entered that room because of the shell. I gathered it up in both hands. I held it to my ear where, so my grandmother told me, I could hear the ocean murmuring. The shell was cold to my skin, its edges sharp, and deep inside it sounded a mystery. A song I couldn’t reach, so deeply spiraled was it into its decades-old source. My uncle had brought it back to my grandmother when he returned from the Coast Guard in World War Two.

When I read “The Woman Who Had Shells,” from Lopez’s Winter Count, that shell washed up on the white sand of my memory, along with all the other shells, smaller ones, that my grandmother's daughters and grand-daughters gathered from the beach at Panama City where we would spend two or three days during the hot droughty summers of Southwest Georgia. The woman in Lopez’s story walks the beach at Sanibel, reaching out with fingers like a crane for shells, then returning them to the surf. He cannot forget her. She haunts his memory. Later, the narrator finds her in a restaurant in New York City, introduces himself, and learns that she is a photographer. They talk for hours. He senses “the edges of her privacy,” but asks if he can see her home.

They return to her apartment where, after cups of tea and some reticence, she begins to tell him about her search for shells. “As she described what she saw in shells, she seemed slowly to unfold,” the narrator tells us, and before he leaves, she opens a glass compartment to show him her collection, placing several of the shells in his palms, some small as grains of sand. Dawn breaks, and in its light he sees the “flush outline” of her cheek. The image of her stepping among the shells at Sanibel returns to him. He hears the “pounding of wings,” and imagines that it is possible to “let go of a fundamental anguish.”

Is this my favorite story? I can’t say. All I know is that it has haunted me for years, that as I have grown into late middle age I understand more and more what that fundamental anguish means and how the image of a woman walking among the shells on a shining beach might enable one to let go, at least for a moment, of that anguish.

I see my grandmother walking along the beach at Panama City, following her daughters and their children, carrying the large handbag in which she has carefully wrapped the leftover hushpuppies and fried fish from our supper, a habit we know well. Sometime in the middle of the night we will hear her open the bag and unwrap the food. She will eat it in the dark while we pretend to sleep.

But now she walks just beyond the edge of the surf, where her grandaughters run in and out of the foam, screaming and laughing. She laughs, too. When they find shells, they bring them to her, and she nods her head. She reaches out to touch them. The Gulf of Mexico unfolds around us. The moon rises, laying a path of light into the edge of the world. I am spiraling into the depths of her conch shell, and in that moment I am no longer afraid.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010


Two weeks ago, redroom.com asked its members to blog on the topic of "my favorite poem." How could I choose? One poem from all the ones I love? Then I took a look at our Aero garden and knew. Verde, que te quiero verde!

Poets are fickle creatures. We fall in love over and over again.We can never remain faithful to only one poet. I began to understand this the day I forsook Wordsworth in my college Spanish class. My poetic guide. My first love. How could I?

What was I doing in a Spanish class anyway? Hadn’t my father instructed me to take either French or German, the latter being his grandmother’s native tongue?

He would have found it silly, the way my infatuation began, with a 75 rpm record bought during my senior year in high school. The Music of Spain. I listened at night after lights out to “Granada” and “Malaguena.” The hair on the nape of my neck trembled. The dark outside my windows beckoned.

And so, on the first day of classes in a small woman’s college in Georgia, I sat down to learn Spanish from a short rotund woman who demanded we call her La Senora, although she had never married. I read the classics of Spanish literature, moving inexorably toward the 20th century where in the anthology’s last section, I found Romance Sonambula and, and in the burst of a verde viento, the English Romantic poets became as dust to me. I fell in love with Federico Garcia Lorca. In Spanish. No matter how many translations of his work I’ve read over the years, the original Spanish has never lost its seductiveness, whether I read it silently or, better, aloud.

Verde que te quiero verde.

Verde viento. Verdes ramas.

El barco sobre la mar

y el caballo en la montaña.

Con la sombra en la cintura

ella sueña en su baranda,

verde carne, pelo verde,

con ojos de fría plata.

Verde que te quiero verde.

Not that I agreed with La Senora that everything sounded better in Spanish. Shakespeare? Wordsworth? Keats? No, I already knew that the language of poets is beautiful, no matter what it is. Hungarian, Romanian, Polish, French, English....Cherokee.

Garcia Lorca’s poetry spun me around, gave me a new way of experiencing language, my own language, which was now infused with the cante jondo of Andalusia.

Even now, years later, I recite those lines as a kind of mantra, Verde, que te quiero verde... and I still love the feel of them in my mouth. I love the deep song of them in my viscera. I have dreamed of trying to save Lorca in the olive grove, with only my child’s fingers pointed like guns at his assassins.

Verde, que te quiero verde.

Not even these lines can stop bullets. Hurricanes. Earthquakes. I know that.

But they live on in our daily lives, these words we love. They wait patiently for us. I had to reach middle age before Garcia Lorca’s duende found its way into my own poems.


Long before I could read Lorca

I wanted to give myself over to green

as he had and be lost like a sleepwalker

in it. I wanted to hide in the honeysuckle

and never come home if it meant I must stay

by the telephone, waiting for someone

to call with the doctor’s pronouncement,

my mother then turning to us saying

over and over again in my memory, Gone.

Such a word I would never repeat

to the oaks that held sway round my favorite pasture,

or blackberry bushes I dreamed would stay

unscythed by road crews sent forth to claim

right of way. Verde, que te quiero verde,

I’d gladly have cried if I could,

but where are such beautiful words

when we need them? And what if that’s all

this poem means now I’m middle-aged: words

as a way to want green back again

and myself in the throes of it,

even though I’ve learned enough about Lorca

at last to be quite sure that no verde

anywhere spending its June on this earth

could have outstayed for one blessed

second what waits at the end

of the line, always some bloodless voice

trying hard to sound human across so much

distance, its words still escaping me.

(from The Store of Joys, NC Museum of Art)

W.H. Auden said that art is a way of breaking bread with the dead. Each time a poet begins to write, or to read a poem, she takes the bread of those gone before and places it in her mouth. She does this over and over again. With one poet. Another, and yet another, living or dead. She loves the taste of the bread they share. So many poets. So many poems. By the end of her life she will contain, like Whitman, multitudes, and will never again try to answer the question, “What is your favorite poem?”

Monday, January 25, 2010


A painting by my great-grandmother, Ella Valentine Fry.

(From "Language Matters"----www.ncarts.org)

Old Letters for the New Year

By Kathryn Stripling Byer

Lately, my brother and I have been exploring the contents of the attic in the house where we
grew up. We greeted this new year without my father’s presence, and perhaps that is why we
have felt so drawn to what remains of our ancestors whose books, letters, journals,
and articles of clothing rest in the attic like relics.

We found century-old letters from our great-grandparents and one letter from a great-greatgrandfather writing from County Clare, Ireland, in 1869, telling his son Will how proud he
would always be of him. We found another from his daughter, Nell, speaking of our great-
grandfather’s childhood and early manhood, written to his wife, my great-grandmother Ella
Valentine Fry, after her husband’s death. My great-grandmother was quite a letter-writer herself, educated well enough to become a teacher at age 16 in the Lead City, South Dakota schools, the first female so “nominated” to that post. My brother and I unfolded each of these letters as if they were the most precious items in the house. Each one was written with care, the handwriting graceful, the language itself literate in both style and grammar. These letters obviously mattereda great deal to both the authors and the recipients. Now, more than a century later, they speak to us in ways we’ve only begun to appreciate.

Who among us writes letters like this anymore, I wondered, as I read the words that flowed from those long-ago pens, the ink fading, but the language still vibrant? Whose handwriting could match theirs? Not mine. I type my letters, my handwriting increasingly unreadable and hurried. Or, like more and more of us, I email my correspondence. With the click of a mouse, I send my messages. I do not labor with a dip pen to put into durable words my love for a child gone to thenew world to become a miner in South Dakota. My messages are nothing like the letters we found by a sister writing across the Atlantic about her dead brother’s love of tools and engineering. Like so many of us, I am in a hurry. My correspondence is fleeting, disposable.
Most of it will be deleted.

In his poem “Please Write: Don’t Phone,” Robert Watson, my former teacher in the UNC-G
writing program, exhorts, “Let us write instead: surely our fingers spread out / With pen on paper touch more of the mind’s flesh.” He explains, “I can touch the paper you touch,” and “I can read you day after day.” His last lines continue to haunt me: “I hold the envelope that you addressed in my hand. / I hold the skin that covers you.”

In this new year of email and instant-messaging, few seem to have time to sit down and put their lives onto paper that can be unfolded again and again, or placed in a drawer for safe-keeping. The flesh of my family’s past resides in those yellowing sheets of paper we found in the attic. I carry their words into the new year, resolved to write more letters in long-hand, letting the words rise slowly to the surface and take shape on the empty page like a gift to be cherished.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Jean Lets the Texture of Saba's Poem Speak to Her

Here is my friend jean wall penland's ( www.penlandia.com) response to Saba's A Winter Noon. Jean always brings an artist's voice to her work. She was in a poetry workshop I led many years ago and every week astonished me with her offerings. This is no exception. Jean is on facebook, so you can visit her there.

starting with your lines (my lines):

today as i was limping to the mailbox, a grumpy man was complaining about a teenager

last week i wandered into a fabric shop where a mother was buying material for her daughter's wedding

fogiveness from . . . GOD god?

for happiness for happiness?

reduced nearly to tears damn god! heavy crap! dark -- happiness not dark!

a certain lovely creature sweet

you'll surely say NO

who smiled at you in passing pleasant and yellow-green-pale or condescention dark grey

but no oops, i flunked

a blue meandering balloon air-light blue -- floating fun

against an azure sky bright now

my native sky where is this native sky

never so clear ah, glass

and cold clear cold icicle -- dripping? noontime?

as then noon?

that dazzling winter day ah, clear AND bright

a few small clouds peaceful airy blue (and white) again

and upper windows flaming in the sun i am CAPTURED! -- in love -- happiness is here!

and faint smoke from the chimney, or two hmmm are we moving away from happiness? inner place

and over everything oh oh, ominous over everything

every divine thing uh oh again, i am already mad at god about the happiness thing

that globe the noon sun?

that had escaped a boy's incautious fingers hmm, maybe not the sun?

surely he was out there broadcasting through the crowded square his grief WHAM! i love the 'broadcasting' - and

the grief, has he lost something?

his immense grief oh, surely he must have! something of his heart

between the great facade of the Stock Exchange and the cafe large city

where i, behind a window hiding, resting, spying , being protected but not flaming now?

watched with shining eyes crying for his grief? yours? not smiling-shining surely

the rise and fall breathing, pulsating ?

of what he once posessed not a simple loss, a death?

not really what you asked for, just what happened with me -- and the reader, i suppose, brings along his own stuff just as in viewing paintings -- well, i sha'n't forget this poem soon jn -- lv

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Waking Up in the Middle of the Night, or Texture in Poetry

I often wake up in the middle of the night, the demons scratching away in my mind---all the things I have to do, all the regrets, the fears, the memories. But two nights ago, I woke up after a dream in which I was teaching a poetry workshop again, trying to engage to the young students about "texture" in language. I remembered giving them a simple sentence, something like, "Today I walked to the post office and talked to Margie behind the counter about her teenage son."
What's the texture of that sentence, I asked. And then, how can you change the texture? Make it nubby or silky or tangled. What about each line of a poem? Or the whole poem?

What do you do with a snag? Is it a productive snag, one that stops the reader for a good reason and adds to the texture of the poem? Or one that stops the reader for good, confuses the reader and causes the poem to lose its flow?

And color? What color is this sentence I just gave you? Sort of beige? How can you change the color? How does syntax enable you to play with color and texture?

I was having a grand time, even wishing that I had a set of those little hot pad weaving toys that I loved as a child, with a lot of yarn on the table. Making it all tactile, as well as visual.

I woke up feeling excited about language, about poetry, and I remembered the Saba poem I posted just a day ago on this blog.

What, I wondered, would a reader have to say about the texture in this poem? Line by line? as an entirety? And color?

Give it a try, those of you who visit my blog. Look below this post at A Winter Noon. Leave a comment to tell me how you "feel" this poem. What is the syntax doing to weave its texture? The imagery?

Happiness? Well, I can say that waking up at 3 in the morning and feeling jazzed over a dream about poetry and the fabric of language comes pretty close, especially after the other dreams lately have been about endless searches for lost passports, letters, recipes, working an eternity to try to get a meal on the table, pack a suitcase, decide which poem to read, what clothes to wear, and finding none of what I need close by, nothing ever resolved, my heart pounding when I wake up. After waking up from this dream, I kept teaching the class in my head, thinking of ways to make poetry come alive. Who cares that it took me at least an hour to fall back asleep? I was having a blast.

So, let me continue the workshop. Tell me how A Winter Noon runs through your fingers like wool or silk or broadcloth, where the stitchery changes, becomes nubbier, or smoother. The cut of it as it falls to closure. How it hangs on the clothesline!

I will use your comments in a later post.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010



Who in the moment of my happiness
(God forgive my using a word so grand,
so terrible) reduced my brief delight
nearly to tears? "A certain lovely creature,"
you'll surely say, "who smiled at you in passing."
But no: a blue meandering balloon
against the azure air, my native sky
never so clear and cold as then, at noon
that dazzling winter day: a few small clouds,
and upper windows flaming in the sun,
and faint smoke from a chimney, maybe two--
and over everything, every divine
thing, that globe that had escaped a boy's
incautious fingers (surely he was out there,
broadcasting through the crowded square his grief,
his immense grief) between the great facade
of the Stock Exchange and the cafe where I,
behind a window, watched with shining eyes
the rise and fall of what he once possessed.

by Umberto Saba, --Translated by Geoffrey Brock

from The Alhambra Poetry Calendar, 2010
Poetry Anthology

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


(My kitchen window, New Year's Eve)

December 31, 2009, 10:36 am

So when redroom.com asks me to blog about happiness, I don't know what to say.

I don't know what "happiness" means. How to answer, if you are a poet?

Maybe you say, that day in November when I was sixteen and I ran through the fields and the sky gathered me up....

Ok, you're thinking cliche. I get it. So, let me try again.

I open a book in the college library and there I find a poem by James Dickey that pulls me in like a lasso. Friday night on campus, everyone else on dates, getting drunk at frat houses. I am what you might call happy to sit in silence, nobody else in the stacks, reading this poet named James Dickey.

But-- Oh, no, James Dickey is not politically correct. Sorry. He was a boozer, treated his women badly, his own gift shabbily.

So, instead I open another book and Federico Garcia Lorca pulls me into "verde, que te quiero verde," and I follow it all the way to the end and later declare my major in Spanish, only to change it to art because I have fallen in love with Kandinsky, only to change it to English because I have fallen in love with Beowulf, Wordsworth, Hopkins.

Let me tell you about the time I walked with a man in October, all the leaves burning, and thought I had entered a sacred wood......but that ended in marriage, and we all know, if we watch enough t.v. or read enough contemporary fiction, that marriage does not lead after nearly 40 years to real "happiness." Whatever happiness is.

So, I stand in my kitchen, this New Year's Eve and watch the trees, naked as I want my words to be right now, waiting for a a little light, a little green. And I wonder, am I happy? The sky is gray, the way I like it this time of year. There's soup on the stove, bread in the oven. I don't know if this makes me happy. But here in this cluttered kitchen, the girl running through the field, the young woman falling in love, the old dead grandmother smiling down at me from the photo over the counter come together in the scent of bread rising, soup simmering. They do not ask if I am happy. They ask if I am still alive.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

One of 30 Best Poetry Blogs!


30 Awesome Poetry Blogs You Aren’t Reading Yet Posted by admin in Resources on Dec 31st, 2009. It’s time to update your bookmarks and check out these great sources of innovation and poetry. Many of these blogs are under the radar but it doesn’t mean their authors are any less reputable or exciting to read. In no particular order:
1. Poems and Poetics – Jerome posts his own texts as well as work that has influenced him throughout his life.
2. How a Poem Happens – Read up on poet interviews and learn how they go about making their art.

3. Amy King - Read up on excellent social commentary relating to poetry and also occasional poems by the author.

4. One Poet’s Notes
– Edward Byrne is a great blogger with many unique perspectives and commentary on contemporary literature.
5. Blogalicious – New Jersey poet Diane blogs about life and literature.
6. Out of the Woodwork – Brian speaks about his life, interests and of course poetry. 7. Wanderer Thoughts - Dragon blogger writes all types of poems. Updated frequently.
8. The Poetry Foundation – Fantastic resource which covers all things poetic including columns and news.
9. Poet Hound – Cozy little blog with open submissions.
10. The Poetry Resource – Patrick has been managing this site for well over a decade, full of resources.
11. Sherry Chandler - Sherry is an award winning poet who resides in Kentucky.
12. Indie Feed Performance Poetry – Don’t ever forget spoken poetry’s beauty. Listen to user submitted performances of great poems here!
13. Surroundings – Rob is a Scottish poet that also uses his blogs for literary reviews.
14. They Shoot Poets, Don’t They? – Nick is a lovable Canadian poet.
15. Chicks Dig Poetry – Sandra contributes to The Washington Post
16. Funny Rhymes and Poems – Puns, puns and more puns over here.
17. Jake Adam York – Jake is a professor from the University of Colorado Denver.
18. American Life in Poetry – Pulitzer Prize winner and former poet laureate Ted Kooser writes here.
19. Chicken Spaghetti – Amazing site for kids with a poetry section.
20. Mark Doty - Mark’s blog is a mix of online poems and his own personal work.
21. Rooted – The author’s slogan is to not worry about the inner meanings of their text, just enjoy it.
22. Robert Peake – Robert’s personal blog is a plentiful source of enjoyable poems and ideas
23. World Class Poetry – Allen provides insight and commentary in contemporary poetry.
24. Me Tronome – Larry is the curator of the Myopic Book reading series in Chicago.
25. Betsy Lerner – Betsy writes about the ups and downs of the publishing process (mainly the downs).
26. Poetry Chaikhana – Huge collection of poems from around the world.
27. The Amandzing Way – Source for vibrant South African poetry.
28. Read Write Poem – A large community for poets who wish to share, learn and discuss.
29. Mike Snider - Mike reviews, comments and speaks about poetry daily.
30. Here, Where I Am – North Carolina’s poet laureate Kathryn writes about poetry and her life.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Riding in Cars With Dogs

On my last trip home to SW Georgia for the Campbell Christmas reunion, we decided to take two of our dogs with us, Lord Byron (who wanders off the the Pizza Hut and laundromat if left outside) and Ace of Dogs. We knew the temps would fall into the teens while we were gone, and we were sure our big bear of a dog Bro and the smaller one, Pooja, would have the sense to sleep inside the garage. Byron and Ace were great traveling companions. Here are a couple of photos I took of them on the drive back to North Carolina.

Of course Byron expected to ride with me in the front passenger seat, on a pillow no less!

Ace had to make do with the back seat.

Once home, we built a fire in the woodstove and, you betcha, fed all the dogs.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010


New Year's Eve, and we aren't celebrating. I'm already garbed for bed. But outside the moon is rising, the "blue moon," and of course I have to go out in my bedclothes to see it, along with my digital camera, although I'm no good as yet in taking night photos.

Fog everywhere. Inside it, the lineaments of the trees beside our house fascinate me. I wish I could paint them. Instead I snap a not very good photo.

Then I find her, Mistress Blue Moon, hiding behind a tall pine.

Blue Moon

Why so blue,

the fog swirled

around you

atop the tree?

I try to snare

you with shutter

clicks, New Year’s

Eve having gone

to my head,

bubbles bursting

around me

as I roam

the backyard

in muddy scuffs

and gray nubby

bathrobe (on which

my dog sleeps

every night).

Why so blue,

I ask myself

looking up at you,

oh you moon

turning fog

into gauze into

silk into spider’s

web (choose

one) I'm trolling


as if I don't

want to go back

inside to the light

of a room

where I know

every shadow that

waits for me.

The fog as captured by my camera looked like bubbles! Champagne bubbles?

Inside, real champagne waited in the fridge. We would save it for New Year's Day when we felt more celebratory. Tonight I longed only to fall asleep, knowing the fog swaddled everything outside, erasing the rough edges. Easing us into another year, like a veil drifting before our eyes, one that would be gone when morning came.