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.




Saturday, December 24, 2011


Words Shining in the Night 
By Kathryn Stripling Byer 

Nothing brings our language into brighter focus than religious holidays. As we gather to 
hear the words of this holiday season, we have lately become more aware of how those 
words can both bind us together and push us apart. Just last Christmas, there was an 
uproar over greeters at various stores using Happy Holidays instead of Merry Christmas, 
as if the former somehow diminished the latter. Yet, many Americans do not celebrate a 
traditional Christmas and many others do not celebrate it at all. Some, like certain Native 
American tribes, never have, welcoming the solstice instead with their age-old earth- 
based rituals. 

So, what to do in our increasingly pluralistic society, where Latino, Arabic, African, and 
Asian voices are joining our own? Can we agree at least on the meaning of this yearly 
turning, that it pulls us back into the light, if we let it? And that the light can bring us 
together, if we let it?  

Perhaps learning some new words for light would be a good place to start. Tara, for 
example. We English speakers think of Ireland and Scarlett O’Hara’s plantation. But the 
word is also Urdu/Hindi for star, descended from the Sanskrit for “shining.” And this 
time of year the star shining in the night carries special significance. In Spanish it is the 
beautiful word estrella, and in French, etoile. The German star rings in the season as 
stern, whose light cuts through the darkness and leads the way to revelation. In Arabic, 
the haunting word shihab means flame. How can we deny this light shining in the 
darkness, regardless of which word a culture uses to say it? We all light our candles this 
time of year and watch the flames dance in the night. 

I like the word shihab because it is the given name of a poet I admire, Naomi Shihab 
Nye, American-born daughter of a Palestinian journalist and an American Montessori 
teacher. For years she has worked to bridge cultural and religious differences, to heal the 
divide that keeps us from being able to communicate with one another. Her voice shines 
like a candle flame in this season’s dark night of suffering and war. 

Her poem “Red Brocade,” begins: The Arabs used to say,/When a stranger appears at 
your door,/feed him for three days/before asking who he is,/where he’s come from, 
/where he’s headed./That way he’ll have strength/enough to answer./Or, by then you’ll be 
/such good friends/you don’t care. 

Let’s go back to that, she pleads in the line that follows. No matter the language used, this 
time of year we call out to light, not only to the flame of the sun returning to our 
hemisphere, but also to the light of understanding. This season challenges us to believe 
that our words for that light matter. Call it luz, lumiere, shihab, or tara, it means the same 
thing: the realization that we are called by the light to live together in peace. 

from Language Matters, NC Arts Council Site

Saturday, December 17, 2011


       What a great gathering of women in this anthology edited by Celia Miles and Nancy Dillingham!  And what a great Christmas gathering of several of those writers at the Coffee with the Poets at City Lights Bookstore this past Thursday!  We nearly had standing room only, and I can't credit the Milky Way Cake of my Piece of Cake Laureate poem fame, though the plate was clean by the time we left. The credit belongs to these writers and the two savvy editors who put together a diverse group of voices from 50 Western North Carolina Women Writers.

Books and cake and coffee! It doesn't get any better than this!
For a wonderful post about this anthology, please go to Kaye W. Barley's fine blog, Meanderings and Musings.   Here you will find information for ordering this book, as well as details about the cover artist and the editors.

You can order WOMAN'S SPACES, WOMAN'S PLACES  online from City Lights Bookstore.

Writers who read from their anthologized work are standing behind the editors, Celia Miles and Nancy Dillingham. ( I'm sitting beside Celia.)  They are, from left to right, Beth Moore, Janie Mae Jones McKinley, Marian Gowan, Martha O'Quinn, Jennifer McGaha, JC Walkup, and Glenda Beall.  

Celia and Nancy asked me to begin by reading Peg Rhodes' poem, which I was happy to do, finding it moving and oh so resonant at this stage in my life. Peg was unable to be with us.


I am older and wiser now.
I have climbed to the peak
Of Transition Mountain
Where footing is rocky and sharp
And the downward view 
Is perilous and real.

Courage, my heart, as you scan
The lonely panorama of Aging.
Make the careful descent
From denial to acceptance
Aware of the wild flowers
Peeping from the crevices.

Adjustment is the order of the day--
And the long nights.

***Peg Rhodes, political activist and humanist, has written poems most of her life.  At ninety, she continues to write and publish.

Janie Mae Jones McKinley reads from her selection,  "On Bear Mountain."  We could all go with her as she remembered walking with her grandfather to Naybin's general store, the aromas of onions, hoop cheese, fertilizer, and oiled wood floors filling our imaginations.  And candy!  She had even brought small bags of old-fashioned penny candy to give to each one of us.

                        JC Walkup chats with Glenda Beall before the program begins.  J.C's towel buying saga left us laughing like school girls, while Glenda's moving poem about her grief after the loss of her husband left us hushed.

Martha O'Quinn, Marian Gowan, and Beth Moore get caffeinated before Celia and Nancy begin their introduction.   Martha's poem gave us imagery to carry home, as good poetry always manages to do.  Marian, a quilter, described a special quilting retreat on the NC coast. (Maybe I should finally take up quilting before it's too late!)  And Beth's lovely recollection a trip to Kenya captured the spirit of the season in a profound and lyrical way.

Jennifer McGaha's "Vampire Run" was hilarious and expertly crafted.  But don't take my word about how good these poems and stories are.
Over the next few days I'll be posting them, or excerpts,  to highlight  that morning's celebration of mountain women's voices.  Keep dropping by to read them.
And order the book for Christmas, if you haven't already.    It's not too late!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Campbell Clan reunion

     I am in SW Georgia today for the annual Campbell family Christmas reunion.  This tradition began decades ago when my grandparents, Carrie Mae and Ulmont Campbell, gathered all their children and grand-children together on Christmas night for supper and gift-giving.

On their 50th Anniversary

 My grandmother always had a chafing dish of melted cheese with a wreath of crackers encircling it to the side of  the large dining table where ham, turkey, bread, and numerous accompaniments waited.  On the buffet table sat various desserts.  Coconut cake, my grandfather's favorite, lemon-cheese cake (does anyone make this anymore?), divinity, pound cake, and goodness knows what else!
     After my grandparents died, the family kept the tradition alive over the years.  The family has grown, of course, with numerous great grandchildren, and great-great's!  Two women were missing this year, though--my aunts Carolyn and Mary, leaving my mother as  the surviving child of Carrie Mae and Ulmont Campbell.   I took these photos during the last Christmas reunion at which all three sisters were able to be together.

Carolyn Campbell Dixon, Bernice Campbell Stripling, and Mary Campbell Gunter
The traditonal melted cheese, surrounded by crackers and cakes.

The sisters share some family gossip!

My Aunt Carolyn left us at the end of last October, when the veil between worlds becomes so thin we might be able to see through to the other side, according to Celtic belief.   All Hallows, or Samhain as our Scots ancesters called it, is the Celtic New Year.

      This is the last photograph I have of my Aunt Mary, who was a black-haired beauty when she was young.  She always had a flair for wearing bright colors, as you can see from this turquoise tunic.  Her hair had turned a beautiful silver in her last years.  She died on our  traditional New Year's Eve last year.
         Although my poem below is set on All Hallow's Eve, it captures how I felt today at the Campbell reunion, remembering the faces of my gone family members.

                  Halloween Again 

and time slides like silk 
against silk.  
Easy to get lost 
in letting go 
this time of year. 
Lost letters.  
Lost  memories 
Lost copper 
earrings a  friend 
 gave me.  
Split Silk, 
I haven’t forgotten 
 the name 
of that church 
on the far side 
of home , 
how it rose 
from the roadside, 
 a hymn to the landscape 
I passed through 
 where pumpkins 
lay stacked beside fields 
 like the kindling 
my ancestors gathered 
for bonfires 
on All Hallows Eve 
when the veil 
between seen 
and unseen trembles 
sheer as silk 
through which 
we might, if 
we come close 
enough, see 
the other side 
waiting for us 
as a mirror waits 
to be filled 
with  the bright 
face of forever. 

from  Coming to Rest, LSU Press

Friday, November 25, 2011


MOUNTAIN WOMAN: COMPOST: A poem for the end of November and yet another year added to my ledger of days. And in memory of Ruth Stone, who died just hours ago, at t...

Sunday, November 13, 2011


Chairs, from Magpie Tales

My grandmother had long chestnut-colored hair, or so I've been told, and her photosgraphs in her youth show a woman with thick hair piled atop her head.  In her later years, she dyed her hair red.  She had married a man much older than she, and after his death she married again.  She did not have the luxury of musical chairs during those difficult years of the Great Depression.  I wonder if she ever looked back at the ones she might have chosen.


Because she died shorn
of her crimped, hennaed glory
called shameless for 
someone her age, I hate short hair 
that clings to the skull
and risks nothing.  Her fiery

profusion I like to imagine as flaring
out into the sickroom to shock,
to accuse:  all she might have become
had she not said “I do” and sat down 
in that chair when he pulled it out, 
scraping the floor,

making idle talk stop for an instant.
the old women frown when 
she whispered I must have this,
canna lily she plucked from the vase
on the table to pin at the nape 
of her barely contained bun, 
what she called a chignon. 

The other chairs she might have
chosen,  did she reminisce as she
wandered away from them into
 the mirrors of middle-age?  Goaded
by what she saw,  she dyed her gray back
to flaming rebellion they cut off
the last day she lived, for the sake
of what family called Visitation--

the coffin lid opened, no time for
embarrassment.  People might gossip
about her lack of repentance, the devil’s
own red coming loose from the pins.
So she lay  without any complaint, 
as I too have sat cowed in the stylist’s chair 
watching  my dishwater blonde hair
descending around me like chaff.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Freeze Warning

So cold this morning, down to 22 degrees!   Shivering as I pulled myself out of bed, I remembered this poem I wrote years ago for the collection that became Catching Light.


        Freeze warning.
  Leaves curled on emptiness
         crawl across

        sidewalks.  My gatepost
surrounded by wind jangles

           I’ll stay put
          and kindle
        some fat wood

     with yesterday’s
   newspapers ripped to

    But what if the matches
won’t strike, the chimney
     won’t draw?

   What if  goose flesh
      I hug to my breast
 shivers not from the ice
 waiting outside but inside
 where no slug of whiskey 
       can thaw it?   
   I’ll take  a  jelly glass
    down from the pantry.

          Now stand back
        while I  pour a jigger
         of bottomless fire   
                 Last call.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011


Willie James King

I became an admirer of Willie James King a few years ago while I was still NC Poet Laureate.  Preparing a feature for the NC Arts Council on Pembroke Magazine's African American writers  issue, I knew that  I liked his poetry right away.  Since then I've come to like  him, his straightforward presentation of his life and his work, his obvious delight in the written word, and his sense of place and region.    Reared in Orrville, Alabama,  he is the author of three books of which only one is still in print, The House in the Heart.  (Such a great title, isn't it?)  It has a foreword by Cathy Smith-Bowers, our current NC Poet Laureate.  His poems appear widely in literary print journals and online as well, among them AlehouseAppalachian Heritage,  ConfrontationCutthroatThe Caribbean WriterPembroke MagazineObsidianThe Lullwater Review, and The Southern Poetry Review. ( Over a hundred-plus poems, or so.  Wow!) He resides in Montgomery, AL. His manuscript, Autumn's Only Blood is scheduled for publication in 2012.

I will be posting more about this book when it appears, but for now my readers will have to be satisfied with the following three poems from the collection and this testimonial that I wrote after reading Willie James's manuscript.

How a poet comes to his voice remains a mystery and so it should remain, for poetic lyricism and passion rise up in the darkest of times, as well as in the most beautiful. It sings those moments when the words in one's mouth taste of blood, as well as those when they taste of ripe plum, sweet, sweet, sweet, as Willie James King reminds us, closing out his powerful new book of poems. Dedicated to Troy Davis, executed by my native state of Georgia after denying an appeal that might have exonerated him, these poems speak honestly of the injustice inflicted by racism, the strength of resistance, and the sheer pleasure, inextricable from the pain, that being alive can bring, and doing so with what I call pure, unadulterated "wordlove." This poet has learned to trust his language, let it lead him where the poem needs to go. His poems sing, mourn, rage, celebrate, their language always remaining true to its source. 

It Will Not Slip
To pull away from it all, you know, quit!
without an effort to begin again
is as if you've done enough now to sit,
look, as if there’s so little left to gain.

You are allowed to feel the way you feel.
It’s a given; most journeys do get rough
as oil-slick hands trying to hold a wet eel,
whose struggle makes the slightest grasp too tough.

You just don’t give it only half your heart,
in doing so, expect to reach your goal.
Know that giving up is the hardest part
(a bud must strain before its flower shows).

Take a handful of grit to gird your grip;
then, let the eel struggle! it will not slip.

That Fear

Ah, winter blew-in hard, with it came snow,
and those who said they wanted it grew tired
too soon, in just a few drab days or so.

On T.V., a white world seems gentrified
but none of us had seen snow this far south;
and most would rather not since those who tried

found out how hard it is to get about.
Some want it if it would remain soft-ice,
think it might be better and fun no doubt.

But ice outside, in any form’s not nice
to me. Drivers just don’t know how to steer.
Taking on roads here is mere sacrifice.

Once out there one feels like a lane-locked deer
craving the safety of the woods, that fear.

It's True

More than once, I dreamt the world was on-fire
A blond, thick blaze sloping down the mountain,
unstoppable in its famished desire,
weaving a dark, monochromatic plain,

pitch darkness that contradicted its flame,
moving like lava-milk 'cross the landscape.
Waves from another planet was to blame.
And so it seemed there would be no escape.

Spew and soot like snow was all about us,
sedulous mainly, making good its threat;
but soon it dawned, I was dreaming; and thus
I woke in fits, starts, and all wet with sweat.

If you think something is out to get you,
don’t be surprised only to find it's true.

My thanks to Willie James for letting me showcase these poems on my blog!

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Blog This Rock: Poem of the Week: Penelope Scambly Schott

Blog This Rock: Poem of the Week: Penelope Scambly Schott: At the Demonstration Back when I used to march in the noon of the green world, I sang like a crow. The cacophony of insistence ...

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


Frida Kahlo

 El Dia de los Muertos

In Frida’s house, it was every  day.
She doted on skeletons,
contraptions of wicker and colored paper strung up
with twine, letting one hang alongside her bed
and another recline on her canopy.  Mis companeros,
she called them.  Compadres.
She’d stared back at Death,
nose to nose,
frente a frent ˙e,
for so long she called him
El Viejo.  Just part of
the household.  She knew he would
nudge her too soon and say Lista?
Esta lista, mi'jita?
No wonder she scrawled
on the last written page of her diary,
I hope the leave-taking is joyful
and I hope never to come back.

Forty years later,
I almost believe her.
It’s November second again,
and again I imagine her grinding
her teeth on those last words,
(despite being nothing but ashes
Diego sealed into a clay pot)
still trying too hard  to resist the fiesta
that’s dawning, its candy skulls hawked
from the corners, the jiggety-jig
of the bone-men in every mercado.

At nightfall, the cities of graves
with their pink vaults and blue stucco archways
will come back to life with the pictures of lost children,
wives, fathers, husbands, while flowers cascade
over gravestones where, nestled in baskets,
pan dulce and still warm tortillas
the living once loved to hold inside their mouths
keep the taste of life fresh for the dead
to come back to,  if only as wind playing
over the grass, blowing
out every  candle
before moving on again,
not having answered the question
we’re left to ask, begging the  darkness
that takes us,  Adonde?  Adonde?

from Catching Light, LSU Press

Candied skulls on sale in Toluca in the days leading up to
El Dia de Los Muertos
The link will take you to a great site on the culture and history of Mexico, with some stunning photos of El Dia de los Muertos celebrations.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


MOUNTAIN WOMAN: ALL HALLOWS: These powerful days around the Celtic New Year have always pulled at my soul. Today is All Saints Day or All Hallows. I remember a poem...


The typewriter is now obsolete, and who actually writes with paper and ink anymore?   This poem was generated by the dozens of letters written by my great-grandmother to my grandmother, most of them during the depression, when she taught Latin and handwriting.  They came to light after my father's death.   I remember the sheer curtains above the writing desk.  Scattered sheets of paper.  Thanks to Magpie Tales for reminding me.


A teacher of grammar and penmanship,
she saved her letters
in  chifforobe drawers or stacked
on the floor of her closet.
They lie even now where she left them.
Every last one of them answered.

I’d watch her bend over her desk,
words streaming onto the  ivory vellum
like blue tributaries,
and sometimes, when she left awhile
to tend gumbo that boile d on the stove
or fold linens she scooped from the clothesline,
I touched those rose-scented sheets

and tried to imagine I lifted
their seamless meander of words
from the envelope.

When I complained over school compositions,
that I could find none of my own words
for such disagreeable assignments,
she would say, Just pick a word
and then wait.
Like a leaf spinning
round in a backwater,
sooner or later it catches the current.

Her last letters never got mailed.
When I read them,
her perfect blue words drift away
on a tide of forgetfulness,
as if she lived out her days underwater.

A  few now and then break
the surface,
names of  roses
she still pruned
and watered. King’s Ransom.
Joseph’s Coat.
Queen Elizabeth.

Not  debris,
as a rescue team scanning the waste
might describe them,

but more like the named
things themselves,
as if she’d thrown them
one by one,
into the wake
of her vanishing.

from Catching Light, LSU Press

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

POET'S FEATURE: unsettled by Jodi Barnes

Jodi Barnes recently received second prize in the Poetry Council of North Carolina's Book Award.   Her chapbook Unsettled was published by Main Street Rag. Please visit their website and order a copy!   I've met Jodi only in passing and have stayed in contact through facebook.   I'm delighted to be able to feature some of the poems in her chapbook, as well as a few new ones. First place winner was David Rigsbee, for The Red Tower, and Honorable Mentions were Joseph Bathanti and Nancy Simpson, both of whom I have featured on this site earlier.  You can link to their features to see poems from their outstanding work. 

Jodi Barnes is a poet and writer in Cary, North Carolina. She has a PhD from The University of Georgia and has taught graduate and undergraduate students all facets of human resource management, ethics, leadership and change management at three Research I universities. She has also been a journalist, an HR manager and a consultant.

When she is not writing, Jodi helps teens understand how group identity (e.g., race, ethnicity, gender) differences and commonalities enrich confidence and competency. She has been a writer-in-residence for Wake County schools for the past two years.

Her favorite author is Tom Robbins and her favorite teachers are her daughters Sarah, Ali and RaeAnna, and her aiding/abetting husband, JB Maddox. Jodi has moved households 24 times--that she can remember.

Denial Lost and Found (from unsettled)

After I lost the 12-week thing
declared inanimate tissue—
removed by gloved hand— 
you mentioned we didn’t
have to have the wedding right away

that first you could move to the coast
that I could come second, find you later
and it was just an idea but I must
have known this was your way
to say let me be unfound.

I tried to forget until our eighth
married year, when you left—
a memory of small, arrested life—
the unviable matter once 
and always between us. 

The ninth year, I revived
what we were not able
to name or bury. 

Holy Magic Goat Shit (from unsettled)

I asked my sixth-grader what she liked about mythology.

She picked Persephone—a damsel lost,
swallowed seeds, a mother's grief,
fascination with hell and frost. 

What do you like? She echoed.
I broke my rule, my language imprecise,
“All of it.” (At least I hadn't lied.)

When she was asleep, I replied:

Hope. The story never has to end 
or remain the same. 
There is holiness in the unfixed. 

Their gods are full of flaws – 
hubris, favorites, fickle laws.

We mortals hold some sway.
They can't resist challenge,
like dads who say, “Go ahead. Take a swing.”

You can get a god's goat – which
eventually shits on you – but it's
god's goat shit, not a pope's.

And wouldn't Yahweh tend toward sheep?

The other thing is magic:
nymphs into cows,
winged horse from mortal blood,
one guy gender-switched, twice!

Can you imagine Jesus asking,
Man or woman: who has more pleasure in sex? 
(But she is eleven; 
that part I’d slice.)

Implacable parent, perfect offspring, 
unshakable ghost in one god
is too much pressure, 
He's too remote.

Souls are never stolen or saved.
Suffering spawns each sacred season. 
And I believe this is true:
The devil only wants his due.

Hera and Zeus, that miserable pair,
can’t keep their distance.
Familiar as family, we know their sins
and those they bore too well – 

Thank whatever god you, my goddess, will. 

The smallest things (from unsettled)

Unless you’re lucky
each box comes furnished
with rattling tears,
a giraffe’s jagged ears 
chipped off your baby’s ceramic arc 
you meant to glue back these 20 years, 
an errant button, two beads of glass,
a photo pass to Frampton’s I’m in You

a matchbook from Amsterdam, 
your Sanskrit name in wood,
resolutions made in Birmingham
and a poem you read when your friend 
chose to leave this world. 
All good intentions come to pass 
like things too small to wrap,
too large to be confined to content.
Work Themed Poems  (2)


It used to be good here, Myrna says,
time-and-a-half, double holidays.

It’s my first week, so I nod my head,
hoping to make rent, see my kids again.

Myrna says her kids came from the same

now he’s in the ground.

And she looks at me like I could be him
so I smile and tell her I just fell hard

on hard-luck times. That I want to
help their mama with bills

but a man can only do so much.
You can’t bleed a turnip, she says

and I agree. Then Myrna turns on me:
But you can dig a hole, throw in the seed.

She rolls her sleeves, grabs two brooms.
I barely have a handle as she sweeps circles around me.

Straight time and toting dirt, she says,
better than waiting for a root to bleed.

-published 2011 by MSR in The Best of Fuquay-Varina Reading Series 

From management professor to bakery salesgirl

At 5:30 a.m. I drive to work, that place 
I manage to burn my fingertips, schlep bread
from rack to rack, stack croissants, sweep
up crumbs of the bourgeoisie. 

If I were still at State, I’d have two more hours
to sleep, teach them what to pay the masses, 
when to sac them, where to outsource brooms,
how to sweep over burnt spirits. 

-published 2011 by MSR in The Best of The Raleigh Reading Series