24 September 2014

29 March 2014

An Interview with Concord, N.C. poet, Justin Chopin

Justin Chopin graduated with a degree in Creative Writing from St. Andrew's Presbyterian College in 2009. He currently lives in Concord, N.C.


Piedmont Poetry Project: What do you hope to achieve with your poetry?

Justin Chopin: “A more personal goal is that writing poetry helps me to battle OCD, which can make me feel like I am living in a war zone. Writing allows me to take all of the forebodings trapped inside of my head and create pieces of poetry that reflect the mental struggles that I have to face everyday. This routine of writing when I am stressed usually works really well because it allows me to be liberated from the plague of anxiety bringing a great deal of relief and joy knowing that God allows me to express myself through the written word. I would also hope that my poetry would help others with similar struggles to know they are not alone and God is there to help them.”

PPP: What are your earliest recollections of poetry in your life?
JC: “My earliest recollections of poetry in my life are the brilliantly rhyming and witty books of Dr. Seuss.  My Mom would read them over and over to me until I had them memorized.  Later on during middle school, we studied the dramatic and passionate Psalms of David, which became a very profound influence on me. My Bible teacher had the class write a poem in response to a Psalm. I wrote my first poem, “The God of Peace “ which was published in the school newspaper.”   

 PPP: Why, in your opinion, is poetry important in our society?
JC: “Poetry has an immense importance to society both to the writers and readers of poetry.  Writers can express themselves through the many forms of poetry providing a creative outlet for everything inside of them. Poetry benefits the reader because it can speak to us about our problems, joys, and experiences in both a creative and intelligent way that we can appreciate and relate to.  Isn’t it amazing that we can relate to poetry written hundreds of years ago?  Most societal struggles are timeless and so is poetry. “

PPP:  What inspires you to write?
JC: Everything and anything can inspire me to write including but not limited to: God, whatever I am feeling in the moment ranging from happiness to depression, my relationships with my family, friends and other people who are important in shaping the foundations of my life, current events, tragedies, triumphs, rock n roll music and rock n roll musicians, the stupidity and the sheer mindlessness of television, the wickedness of the world we live in, etc. Anything I see or hear can spark an idea or an emotion, and I can’t help but write about it.

PPP: When do you write?
JC: “I write anytime and all the time.  I usually don’t go anywhere without a notebook. I write whenever I feel I have something to say about the condition I have found myself in. Whether it is devotionals, attempting to outline a new story idea, taking notes about a book or a passage of the Bible or developing a piece of poetry, you can usually find me writing whenever I have a chance. Writing is an omnipresent force in my life.”

PPP: Is there a particular place that you like to write? 
JC: I like to be outside when I write.  I usually sit on the front porch swing, which is a good perch as I watch the world go by and observe the awesome marvel of creation. 

PPP: What poets do you read?
JC: I love to read poetry almost as much as I love to write it. I have read an unholy throng of poets: Ezra Pound, William Blake, William Wordsworth, Robert Burns, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, Robert Frost, Wallace Stevens, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, John Keats, Lord Byron, Christina Rossetti, TS Eliot, Edgar Allan Poe, William Carlos Williams, Dylan Thomas, Elizabeth Bishop, Robert Browning, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, etc.   

Honestly, I admire the Romantic poets more than the Modernistic poets. I believe that the Romantics were much more optimistic about life, love, and all of the other vital aspects of life praising them as a blessing.  They wrote odes to everything they described including their childhood memories in very elegant, lyrical verses. Since I could relate to their longings to go back to the past and live as freely as they did when they were still in their early years, Romantics made my desire to become a poet much greater. 

The Modernistic poets are complete opposites in that I find most of this poetry boring, depressing, and cynical. Modernists tend to have the attitude that society is some kind of sadistic monster that would annihilate all of humanity.  This kind of “grungy” bleakness made me loathe having to study their poetry.  I would rather read and write poetry that is uplifting and encouraging.

PPP: What advice do you have for others who might want to get started writing poetry?
JC: My advice to those who have poetic aspirations would be to just start writing. There are many websites that allow you to write and critique the work of others.  The Internet is also a great source for prompts and contests. 

Beginners may want to take a class in poetry writing. I majored in Creative Writing in college and especially enjoyed my poetry classes.  I would also suggest that they read a variety of poets and notice their different styles, their poetic voice and the messages that they are sending with their compositions. I also think it is important for poets to be open and honest with their feelings about their lives and the world.  This vulnerability is beneficial to the writer by providing an outlet for feelings even if no one else ever reads it.

PPP: Have you noticed any trends or patterns in your writing over the past 5-10 years?
JC: The trends I have noticed during the last five years are actually patterns that I believe my poetry has always had namely a spiritual theme about God and the wonders that He bestows about mankind every day, a rhyme scheme that usually consists of couplets that almost always enhance the quality of the piece I am writing.

The mood of my poems can either be very joyous if I am speaking about the greatness of God or can be very sadistic and cynical if I am lamenting the modern world that we live in. An ever-present narrative voice sets the tone for the majority of my pieces.   

When I was in college, my poems had a very optimistic and spiritual kind of mood and theme to them. I would sit outside near the lake and gaze at the skies, the trees and all of wonderful natural creations that God had fabricated, and I could not help myself but to praise Him.

PPP: Share a comment or two about life, parenthood, nature, teaching, writing, or anything else that you'd like.
JC: After I had graduated from college, I became anxious about my future.  As my anxiety increased, so did my OCD, which can actually be debilitating.  The moods, themes and other aspects of my poetry became darker, moodier, and much more unpleasant.  But writing helped me to get through this dark time and provided a release for my anxiousness.  Even though I am still dealing with OCD, the monster has been quieted and the darkness is not as bleak and neither is my writing. Praise God!

Life to me is a very precious and beautiful gift from God that some people love and some loathe.  Some people wake up everyday with a smiling face hoping to embrace every beautiful aspect of life. Others gaze at life as one long, depressing tragedy that they would rather avoid than be a part of. 

Writing is a process that takes time, patience, and determination. I do not believe that anybody can pick up a pen or pencil and just scribble down some lines and become the next William Shakespeare. It just doesn’t work that way.  Truly wonderful writing comes from an individual who has disciplined himself to persevere through the rejections and disappointments knowing that if he keeps writing and takes the advice that his peers and his critics have given him and makes the most of their critiques, then he will be successful.
  
If writing has helped to soothe your soul or to comfort another soul, then you are a successful writer.



Read the feature on Justin Chopin and his poetry at Independent Tribune. 

30 November 2013

Helen Losse enjoys her view of the world...

The following Poetry Corner feature was originally published in the Independent Tribune in September 2010.


Negating Natural Erasers

I walk the rocky road after midnight,
moon overhead, feel dew descend,
land on dusty weeds at the road’s
edge. The soft wind will strive to
negate my walk, blow my scent away.

I will write my name in dark sand
near the ocean, hum a tune that can’t
be heard over the breakers. They will
wash away all evidence that I walked
here. Can I prove them wrong —

from now on — by writing love songs?

-- by Helen Losse


Helen Losse has a window to the world. And she’s not afraid to use it.

Losse, a poet and editor, writes a blog called “Windows Toward the World” -- in reference to the place where many of her poems originate. “The view from the window gives me a place to start,” Losse explains. “I can go anywhere from my back yard.”

Losse has composed hundreds of poems over the years. She is the author of a book of poems entitled Better With Friends (Rank Stranger Press, 2009) and two chapbooks, Gathering the Broken Pieces and Paper Snowflakes. She is poetry editor of Dead Mule, an online journal of southern literature.

“Much of the imagery in my poems can be seen out my window,” she explains, taking some poetic liberties with the actual contents of her yard. “Trees, deer, wind, grass, rivers, the ocean, the cabin our family had in Oklahoma when I was a child, the ocean, the Mulberry Tree at the back of our yard when I was a child -- all appear in multiple poems. The mountains and the coast of North Carolina provide rich settings that appear over and over.”

Losse traces her interest in poetry back to her earliest memories of childhood. “I was exposed to poetry as a child without being told it was poetry,” Losse says. “My mother read and quoted nursery rhymes and songs, and sometimes she read poems she had known from her childhood—poems her mother had read to her. I had no idea I was listening to poetry. I just liked listening to my mother recite and sing.”

These days, Losse still appreciates the music of poetry. “Poetry can present useful and powerful ways to look at life,” she says. “Important ideas (and ideals)—such as love and hope—can be expressed through images and in the musical element of human language.”

This combination of music and imagery is what – Losse believes – makes poetry so special. “Imagery and musicality are exaggerated in poetry,” she explains. “These images and music can change the world. Because images are not judgmental, they allow readers to bring their own experience to the poem in an honest way.”

Losse’s poem, “Negating Natural Erasers” was inspired by her memories of evening walks she took with her mother, father, and older son Troy the year she was pregnant with her younger son. “My husband had left Troy and me in Missouri to spend about six weeks with my parents,” Losse recalls. “While there, we often spent part of the week at my parents’ trailer on The Grand Lake of the Cherokees near Grove, Oklahoma. The trailer was in a quiet, rural retirement village, where many of the residents walked in the cool evenings. The ‘rocky road’ and the ‘dusty weeds’ were located there. The ocean scene was an extension of the lake scene—connected by the presence of water.”

Like other poets and writers, Losse is inspired by the mystique of the sea. “I love the ocean because its vastness puts life in perspective,” she explains. “The tide and the wind wash away much that “proves” we were here -- and thinking about something that big and powerful opens me up for large questions.”

“Negating Natural Erasers” addresses some of these large questions. “I can make my mark on the landscape, but will it remain?,” Losse asks. “Is making and leaving a mark on humanity more important than the one we make on nature? Can I change the world so that it is a better place when I leave it than when I came? How? Is it ‘by writing love songs?’”

In this case, Losse points out that “love songs” are more than the catchy tunes we hear on the radio. “I meant ‘love songs’ in the broadest way one can imagine,” she says. “An ode to the ocean is a love song, for example.”

When she’s not writing her own poetry, Losse is busy reading and editing the work of others. As poetry editor of Dead Mule, Losse appreciates the place poetry holds in this region of the country. “The poetry scene is North Carolina is vibrant,” she explains. “The more poets I meet, the more I feel I am a part of something large and diverse -- something that matters.”

Poetry matters, Losse believes, because of the unique perspective of those who write it. “Poets—in their search for truth—can say things no one else can, because poets are not bound to a particular set of doctrines or world views,” Losse says. “Poets can bring truth and, therefore, social change to the world in ways no preacher, columnist, historian, or teacher can. Poets challenge the status quo.”

As a poet, Losse wants to do her part. “I want to share the hope that is in me through my poetry,” she says. “I want to explore and discover ‘truth’. I want to allow others to think with me and to come to see that the truth matters so much more than the facts.”

From her window, Helen Losse sees a variety of images and possibilities. She also sees an opportunity to make a difference in our lives. “I want to share the hope that it is possible for us to be human together and live in peace. I write to make the world better.”


• Read Helen Losse’s blog, “Windows Toward the World”
• Read a variety of southern fiction and poetry at Dead Mule


Bill Diskin is director of admission and financial aid at Cannon School in Concord. He can be reached at wdiskin@cannonschool.org.


29 November 2013

The Poetry of "lighght"

The following essay was originally published in 2005 in Rapportage, the journal of the Lancaster Literary Guild.


Aram Saroyan discusses his career, his father, and his battle with congress…


Ars Poetica

A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,

Dumb
As old medallions to the thumb,

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown--

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.

*
A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind--

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.

*
A poem should be equal to:
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea--

A poem should not mean
But be.

-- Archibald MacLeish



Aram Saroyan credits the final line of Archibald MacLeish’s “Ars Poetica” as the inspiration for his controversial, one-word poem, “lighght”.

By manipulating the spelling of “light” to “lighght,” Saroyan believes he found a way for his poem to be, not mean. “Part of the aim seems to have been to make this ineffable (light) into a thing, as it were -- to change it from a verb (the agency of illumination) to a noun that yet radiates as light does,” Saroyan explains. “The double ghgh seems to work in that way.”

That double ghgh, it turns out, also ignited a firestorm of controversy in the U.S. Congress that many believe still smolders today, some forty years later. After poet and editor Robert Duncan published “lighght” in The Chicago Review in 1968, George Plimpton included it in the second volume of The American Literary Anthology, which he published in 1969 with the help of an National Endowment of the Arts grant. “It’s only after that,” Saroyan explains, “that the political brouhaha occurred. They [some members of Congress] felt it somehow violated a puritan ethic…that one word could receive $750.”

In 1970, when Representative William Scherle, a Republican from Iowa, learned that the NEA had supported Saroyan’s work on “lighght”, he started a national campaign to expose NEA recklessness and remove NEA Chairperson Nancy Hanks from her post. According to Sabine Magazine, “One Congressman at the time said of Saroyan’s poem ‘If my kid came home from school spelling like that, I would have stood him in the corner with a dunce cap.’”

Plimpton, for his part, did little to calm the controversy. Sabine reports that when he was asked by a congressman what “lighght” meant, Plimpton replied, “You are from the Midwest. You are culturally deprived, so you would not understand it anyway.” Saroyan learned later that Plimpton was so upset by the negative treatment of the NEA brought forth by Congress that Plimpton personally went to Iowa to successfully campaign against the re-election of Representative Scherle. Hanks remained at the helm at the NEA for several more years.

So, while Aram Saroyan had unwittingly become a lightning rod for the anti-NEA movement, he certainly never intended his work to be at the epicenter of controversy. “I was a 22 year old writer,” he explains, “involved with the minimalist movement that was mostly apparent in visual art and in music at that time…not so much in writing. At some point, I became interested in the question ‘How does one make light palpable?’” After experimenting with several options, Saroyan focused on the spelling of “light” and the potential power of the silent gh. “The extra gh gave the word extra weight. So, the question became, how many gh’s do you add?” As members of congress accused him of making a mockery of art and language -- and doing so at the expense of American taxpayers, Saroyan was sincere in his approach to the craft of his minimalist poetry. “ ‘Lighght,’ resulted from an aesthetic decision informed by everything I had done up to that point.” Saroyan explains.

Looking back, Saroyan remembers that he was not terribly concerned about the controversy surrounding his poem. More so, he was troubled by the darkness of the Vietnam War that threatened to snuff out the creative beacons of artists everywhere. “What troubled me most at the time,” Saroyan explains in “Flower Power” an essay he wrote some 30 years after “lighght” was published (www.ubu.com, 1999), “was a recognition that my work comprised a sensibility that was being fiercely challenged, not to say effectively obliterated, by the surge of world events.”

No doubt, Aram Saroyan, Saroyan’s first collection of poetry (published by Random House in the Spring of 1968) landed in bookstores at a critical period in American history. “My book appeared just after the winter that saw the heaviest American losses in the war in Vietnam---500 or more American lives lost each week---and arrived simultaneously with the murder of Martin Luther King,” Saroyan recalls. “It stood on the bookstore shelves when Robert Kennedy was murdered after his victory in the California presidential primary.”

As a result, there wasn’t much room for “lighght” in the American consciousness. “These events made it hard to entertain the innocently benign, anarcho-pacifist perspective at large in the pages of the book,” Saroyan notes. “A perspective nurtured in that decisively apolitical cadre of the sixties culture that didn't care a cracker-jack-toy-prize for politics. ‘Make Love Not War,’ we declared, but the way things worked out, we were summarily swept to the sidelines as the planet grew swiftly darker and darker that spring.”

Like so many artists in the late 1960s, Saroyan was left to deal with the impact of world events on his work and the influence these events might have on his future. “As a poet, I knew instinctively that I'd come to the end of something,” he says. “For a while I thought it was the end of being a poet at all--and it was another five years before I wrote again, this time in a decisively non-minimal mode.”


***

Since his dramatic and controversial entrance onto the American literary scene in 1968, Aram Saroyan has solidified his reputation as an internationally respected writer, poet, memoirist, and playwright. Among the collections of his poetry are Aram Saroyan, Pages, and Day and Night: Bolinas Poems, his largest collection of poems, which was published in 1999. Saroyan’s prose books include Last Rites, a book about the death of his father; Artists in Trouble, Starting Out in the Sixties; and Friends in the World: The Education of a Writer (Memoir). Saroyan, a faculty member of the Masters of Professional Writing Program at The University of Southern California, has completed his sixth play entitled “At The Beach House,” which is scheduled to debut in Los Angeles on October 7, 2005.

Aram Saroyan visited Lancaster in the spring of 2005 as part of the Lancaster Literary Guild’s 2004-2005 Lecture series. All who attended his lecture that evening – and met with him afterward – would agree that Saroyan’s demeanor is kind, thoughtful, and sincere. He speaks easily of his relationship with his father, the writer William Saroyan. “My father had a powerful impact on my writing,” Saroyan explains. “He gave me a big head start. I’d be headed down these cul de sacs with my writing and he’d be there telling me to turn around and go back! He was hell on wheels as a father though.”

The elder Saroyan is perhaps best known for his plays “The Time of Your Life” and “My Heart in the Highlands”, his novels The Human Comedy, and The Laughing Matter, and his collection of short stories My Name is Aram. His work also includes the memoirs Here Comes, There Goes You Know Who and Not Dying. A prolific writer, Saroyan had more than 60 titles to his credit when he died in 1981.

Looking back, Aram Saroyan is grateful for the time he spent with his famous father. He remembers fondly a time in 1966 when they were together in London. “We were working in a room together. I was reading his short stories. He was doing some work of his own. It occurred to me at that point that my father’s books were to the 1930s what Bob Dylan’s albums were to the 1960s.”

Today, Saroyan believes his father’s work is still relevant and important. “My father was a terrifically gifted artist. I believe he’s currently underrated in American letters,” Saroyan says. “The best of his works are first-rate contributions to our literature. My Name is Aram is an extraordinary stylistic achievement.”

Last spring, while visiting with a group of high school students at York Country Day School in Pennsylvania, Aram Saroyan was asked if he had received any advice from his father. “He was a wonderful teacher by example…not too much by explicit instruction. But, I do remember he encouraged me to pursue longer writing,” Saroyan laughed, the topic of the one-word poem controversy still fresh on the minds of the students. “And he did give me some advice that I follow to this day. He said, ‘Come up with a daily, achievable goal of writing – a page, or two pages…and try to do it at roughly the same time every day.’” Before the next student question, Saroyan added, quietly and partly to himself, “I was lucky to know him.”


***

Has the lingering controversy surrounding “lighght” been a good thing for Saroyan’s career? “I don’t think about it much,” he says. “Whether it’s a one word poem or a novel, I am still swimming against the current. Once you’re identified as a one-word poem writer, there is an inertia that takes over. But I feel privileged that I could write this poem. I feel lucky to be in America. Think about it as if this had been in Russia. Instead of being sent off to Siberia, Random House called.”

Saroyan doesn’t worry much these days about being remembered solely for his minimalist poetry – and for his notorious run–in with congress. “I am a much more traditional writer today,” he says. “Being older, the question becomes ‘where’s the adventure now?’ I have gotten a gratifying response for the past thirty years as a mainstream writer.” In spite of all the controversy, Saroyan still enjoys talking about his famous poem. “The poem has a rather pristine history -- the sincerity of it and of the award,” he says, appreciatively. “These poems remain part of a minimalist concrete modernist movement and some of these poems are now in textbooks.” Saroyan’s explains. “My poem ’Eyeye’, which was the predecessor of “lighght” by one year, for example, is currently included in Frances Mayes’ anthology, The Discovery of Poetry.” And in the August 1981 issue of Mother Jones magazine, George Plimpton said Saroyan’s “lighght” “…may be one of the most important poems of the 20th century.”

In this age of infinite electronic choices, Saroyan has discovered that his 1960s minimalist poetry remains accessible – though not always in the form it was intended. “…I recently found my thirty-year-old, long out-of-print book (Aram Saroyan), on the Internet in its entirety sans the first poem [a fourteen word poem entitled “a man stands”], which may have been considered too long-winded, as it were,” Saroyan explains in his essay, ‘Flower Power.’ “The book [entitled Aram Saroyan], appears as part of an international survey of avant-garde poetry in which it figures as one of three "historical" documents.”

Ironically enough, as Saroyan points out, “the book has been retyped and I was astonished to find the poem “lighght” misspelled” (lightght). And this, Saroyan explains, demonstrates a valuable lesson regarding the poem. “When it is misspelled, you see that it doesn’t work. It did not achieve what it was meant to do.”

Saroyan has continued to experiment with “lighght”. In doing so, he has discovered at least one possible alternative to his original approach to the poem. “Embossing the word light, without the extra gh, would also work to give it physical reality, heft as a noun,” Saroyan realized some years ago, while designing a family Christmas card. “It was a lesson to me that, if you embossed the word, the extra gh was unnecessary.”


Bill Diskin is Poet Laureate of York, PA and Director of Admission at York Country Day School. His last piece for Rapportage was a profile of writer Cathryn Clinton in the Spring 2005 issue.

28 November 2013

Concord poet has seen the region grow

The feature below originally appeared in the Independent Tribune in September 2009.


September 13, 2009

The Old Red Barn

The old red barn sits down by the river,
The tin roof glistens just like silver.
For many years it has been standing tall,
An old ad about Burma Shave is still seen on the wall.

I remember the fields where we brought in hay,
We had to harvest it without delay.
The old red barn would guard the yield,
Just like the knight got protection from his shield.

The harvest of the corn was next on the list,
We shucked the corn and made it ready for the grist.
The old red barn received the corn meal right away,
Just like a girl receiving her first bouquet.

The old red barn is still in its place,
There is no corn, nor hay, not even a trace.
The people are gone that once made it thrive,
In your minds-eye they were like bees in a hive.

The old red barn has closed its door,
No one comes to visit any more.
I look back as I walk away,
The old red barn seemed to be weeping that day.

- by Lynn Glover, Concord, NC.



For many people, scenes and images from our daily lives are often the source of inspiration and art.

And while interstates, strip malls, and cell phone towers tend to dominate the landscapes we witness on our daily commutes these days, some local folks are still able to envision a time before the Target and Sam’s Club went in up by the highway.

Lynn Glover has witnessed a variety of scenery changes over the years in Cabarrus County. And Glover, who loves to spend his time writing and playing golf, has found a way to share his memories of this growing region.

In 2008, at age 73, Glover published his own book of poems, entitled Poems From the Heart. While Glover has written in and about many places over the years, more than fifty percent of the poems in Poems From the Heart were written in Concord. “I have written on board ship, in barracks at naval bases, at Treasure Island Navy base in San Francisco, at the beach,” Glover explains. “Today I write mostly at home or in my back yard.”

Among the poems in the book, “The Old Red Barn” recreates images that likely dominated the landscape of the pre-developed Cabarrus County region. Glover uses rhyme and metaphor – two common poetic devices -- to bring the barn to life for his readers. The images of the old barn “guarding” the hay and “receiving” the corn harvest offer the reader a glimpse of what that old red structure meant to the families that lived near it.

Glover has been writing poetry for a good long time. He remembers dabbling in poetry a bit around the age of eight, but he has a vivid memory of becoming more serious about writing poetry when he was seventeen. “I first started writing poetry at the request of one of my teachers Miss Doris Jo Campbell,” Glover recalls. “She asks me to write the senior class poem and I did. I‘ve been writing ever since then.”

Glover recognizes the importance of his role as a writer – and does not take for granted the cultural significance of poetry. “I think the soothing rhythmic flow leading to the climax of a short story is something society should not have to miss out on,” Glover explains. “It also is meaningful to present society because of the folks that started writing in societies many years ago. We must keep this going and I do believe poetry is making a come back.”

When he’s not writing himself, Glover loves to read the works of Robert Frost, Edgar Allen Poe, and Robert Louis Stevenson. He considers Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” as one of his favorite poems.

Glover encourages others to give poetry a try. And he has an answer for those new to writing and poetry who might wonder what makes a poem a poem. “Telling a rhythmic story that the reader can understand, by pulling that reader into the story where he becomes a part,” Glover says. “That makes the poem a poem.”

Fortunately for his readers, many of Glover’s poems are rhythmic stories that recall and preserve a simpler, and perhaps more scenic, time in the history of Cabarrus County.

Bill Diskin is Director of Admission and Financial Aid at Cannon School in Concord.

27 November 2013

Poet Maureen Sherbondy loves coffee and writing...

The poetry feature below was originally published in the Independent Tribune in November 2009.


Family Jewels

Now when she visits
she brings me things –
a ruby pin, a cameo broach
wanting to impart jewels
to her daughter
with her still-live hand.

I store these mementos in a tin
unable to wear them yet,
how can I pin the prospect
of her future death
upon my chest, gold and cameo
reminders of what will soon be gone.

-- Maureen Sherbondy


Maureen Sherbondy loves coffee. And she loves writing. So it is not a surprise that she seeks ways to combine the two. “I write six days a week,” she explains. “In the morning after I‘ve exercised and had lots of coffee. I revise my work in the afternoon.”

These daily coffee-induced writing sessions have resulted in a number of awards and accolades. Sherbondy’s aptly titled book of poems, “Praying At Coffee Shops” (Main Street Rag), won a Next Generation Indie Book Award for poetry in 2009.

Sherbondy’s work has also won both first and second place in the Deane Ritch Lomax Poetry Award (Charlotte Writers' Club) and first place in the Hart Crane Poetry Award sponsored by Kent State University. She recently read her poetry on National Public Radio's “The State of Things”.

And while the awards and recognition are something she appreciates, Sherbondy is motivated to write for other reasons. “I hope to create something from nothing,” she explains. “[I hope] to interpret the world in a unique way, to impact others in a positive way.” Sherbondy’s poems “Famous” and “Questions for the Hotdog Record Keeper”, for instance, explore the fascinating worlds of celebrity and hotdog eating contests -- in both unique and positive ways.

Sometimes, however, her writing turns more serious and personal. She wrote her poem, “Family Jewels”, for example, after a recent visit from her mother. “When my mother visited recently, she gave me one of her favorite pieces of jewelry,” Sherbondy explains. “This is what people begin to do when they are in their later years. I recalled that my grandfather started giving away important papers and photographs just a few months before he died. I realized that my mother wouldn't be around forever and I was very upset by this.”

Coincidentally, it was gifts from her mother and grandfather that started Sherbondy down this path as a writer and poet in the first place. “I wrote poetry at an early age,” she explains. “My grandfather gave me his old typewriter and I was always typing poems and stories. My mother gave me the book ‘Reflections On A Gift Of Watermelon Pickle’, an anthology of poetry, and I read this book so often that I memorized several of the poems.”

And it was an elementary school teacher who eventually gave Sherbondy her permanent poetic license. “My fourth grade teacher told me that poetry doesn't have to rhyme and a whole world opened up for me,” she recalls.

Today, Maureen Sherbondy is a teacher herself. She has just been accepted to the Creative Writing Program at Queens University of Charlotte and will begin the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program in May. She has been teaching publishing and poetry classes and would like to teach more in the future.

Given her life-long appreciation for poetry, it is no wonder that Sherbondy could not imagine living in a world without poetry. “In our fast-food nation, poetry and art are very important,” she explains. “A society void of poetry leads to the decline of society. I wouldn't want to live in a country where poetry doesn't exist. Poetry helps us make sense of the world, it reminds us of our humanity.”

Like other poets and writers, Sherbondy admits that she has some concerns about the current state of language in our culture. “We have all these new platforms to deliver our voices -- Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, e-journals -- but I see very little meaningful content. It's like a continuous diet of deep-fried cardboard.”

Sherbondy does her part, though, to foster an appreciation for language and poetry. She organizes poetry readings, writing groups, and belongs to both the North Carolina Poetry Society and the North Carolina Writer’s Network.

And when she’s not busy writing and promoting poetry, she reads. Her favorite poets include Li Young Lee, Denise Duhamel, Robert Bly, Sharon Olds, Louise Gluck, and Billy Collins.

She encourages aspiring poets and writers to start with accessible poets like Collins.
She points to his animated poetry videos on YouTube as a great place to learn about poetry. “Billy Collins writes very accessible poetry,” she says. “And watching the poems come to life visually is an excellent way to become engaged in poetry.”

Given her life-long passion for writing, reading, and sharing poetry, it makes sense that Sherbondy considers poetry central to who she is. “Poetry forms the spiritual backbone of my life,” she says. “Writing guides and informs my daily existence.”

The coffee, in the end, is just an added perk.

Bill Diskin is the Director of Admission and Financial Aid at Cannon School in Concord, NC. He can be reached at wdiskin@cannonschool.org


Poetry resources mentioned in this article:

Charlotte Writers Club
North Carolina Poetry Society
North Carolina writer’s Network


28 September 2013

An interview with Charlotte, NC poet, Lisa Zerkle

Lisa Zerkle has served as president of the North Carolina Poetry Society, community columnist for the Charlotte Observer, and co-editor of Kakalak: Anthology of Carolina Poets. Zerkle currently lives in Charlotte with her family.

Piedmont Poetry Project: What do you hope to achieve with your poetry?

Lisa Zerkle: To me, a poet’s first job is to notice. Our second job is to convey. A journalist seeks to be objective, while a poet seeks the opposite. I want someone who reads my work to recognize part of their emotional selves. I want them to think, yes, that’s exactly how that feels.


PPP: What poets do you read?
LZ: I’ve studied (and love) now-deceased poets like Elizabeth Bishop and James Wright, but day-to-day, I prefer to read contemporary poets like Ellen Bass, Sharon Olds, Marie Howe, Kay Ryan, A.E. Stallings (her ease with form is remarkable), Billy Collins (he is a joy to hear live), W.S. Merwin, Lucia Perrillo, Sarah Lindsay (Twigs and Knucklebones is a favorite), among others.

PPP: What are your earliest recollections of poetry in your life?
LZ: My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Woodward, had our class go through Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky line by line. She compiled what we thought the poem meant. Our class performed this interpretation as a play, complete with student-made costumes, for the rest of the school (I was the frumious Bandersnatch). It was a compelling illustration of the power of imagination and words. I still love that poem.

PPP: Why is poetry important in our society?
LZ: I’m for anything that increases the level of empathy in the world. At its best, poetry helps articulate what it means to be human -- when you read a poem you get at felt experience. Poetry is particularly appropriate at times of celebration and grief, but some of my favorite poems are ones that describe an everyday happening.
In our ever-busier world, poetry has the advantage of being concise. As Rita Dove says, "Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful ... like a bouillon cube: You carry it around and then it nourishes you when you need it." You can’t read a novel in one sitting, but a poem can transport you or make you laugh or cry, often in only one page.
I find intellectual and creative fulfillment in poetry, the way I imagine others do from music or art. There are others out there like me who perhaps haven’t found their way to poetry just yet. When they do, I want them to experience the rich, vibrant expansion of the world that I did.

PPP: What advice do you have for others who might want to get started writing poetry?
LZ: That’s easy: read. If you want to be a good writer of poetry, you must also be a good reader of poetry. If the last time you read poetry was in high school, connect with current work from contemporary poets. Look for magazines and literary journals that have a national distribution, but also seek out the regional and local publications (print and online) that feature poetry.
Participating in a writing group or class where you receive honest, but specific, constructive advice, is invaluable. The North Carolina Poetry Society, North Carolina Writer’s Network, and Charlotte Writers’ Club are all excellent resources for people trying to connect to other writers.

PPP: When do you write?
LZ: I have three teenagers who participate in many activities. I keep a portable “poetry bag” with drafts, revisions, and background material ready to go at all times. I’ve written poems at the karate studio, the rock climbing gym, in the library, the oil change garage -- you get the picture. I’ve seen a quote that says something along the lines of, If you wait for the perfect time to write, you’ll never write a word. True for me. I find if I work on a poem, even for a short while, my mind will continue mulling it over and I’ll have something to add when I next sit down to write. There have been times when I’ve been able to block out writing time on a regular, weekly basis. That’s a great practice if you can make it work with your schedule. I’ve learned to carry a small notebook with me everywhere. If a phrase occurs to me while I’m walking or driving, I’ll lose it if I don’t write it down.

PPP:Is there a particular place that you like to write?
LZ: See above! When not writing on the move, I write at a desk next to a window, surrounded by books of poetry.

PPP: What inspires you?
LZ: Snippets and scraps. I’ll hear something on the radio, read an article, or come across a phrase I can’t get out of my head. This is where my poems sometimes begin. My writing groups also inspire me. They are open to criticism and dedicated to finding exactly the right word. Editing is a different, but related, skill to writing poetry. Helping others fine-tune their work has helped me look at my own writing with an agnostic eye. And I’ll say it again, because it’s key -- reading good work of all genres.

PPP: What is your opinion of the poetry community in Charlotte and surrounding areas?
LZ: We are fortunate to have an active, dedicated group of poets in our area. I’ve found the community supportive, welcoming, and professional. Writing poetry in a banking town can seem somewhat arcane. It helps to find your people.
Park Road Books has been a steadfast supporter of local poets. Main Street Rag and Iodine are two well-regarded literary journals based out of Charlotte. CPCC’s Sensoria Festival always has a strong presence from local writers, including poets. Charlotte Viewpoint, an online magazine, regularly publishes local poets and writers.
My one beef -- and it’s a big one -- the audience for poetry readings and events tends to be other writers. It will be a good day when the public-at-large shows robust support for literary events.

PPP: Where has your poetry been published?
LZ: My chapbook, Heart of the Light, has just been published by Finishing Line Press. Press 53 featured my work in one of their Spotlight anthologies a few years ago. Poems have also been published in Nimrod, poemmemoirstory, Main Street Rag, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Pinesong, Crucible, Literary Mama, among others. I have work forthcoming in Charlotte Viewpoint, The Ledge Magazine, and Sixfold.

04 September 2013

Charlotte poet Lisa Zerkle featured in Independent Tribune




Lisa Zerkle
Charlotte, NC poet, Lisa Zerkle, recently published her first chapbook of poetry entitled Heart of the Light.

Zerkle's the subject of this month's Piedmont Poetry Project feature in the Independent Tribune

21 July 2013

An Interview With Poet Hannah Newberry

Hannah Newberry is a poet, songwriter, and musician from Raleigh, NC. Below are Hannah's unedited responses to questions she was asked as part of the Piedmont Poetry Project.


Piedmont Poetry Project: What do you hope to achieve with your poetry?

Hannah Newberry: I hope that people read my poetry and can relate to it. I hope they think about things that they had never thought about before. I hope I can bring something to their attention, and I hope my poetry alters their perspective. I hope people act on the ideas expressed in my poetry. Art can't change the world, but it can change people who can change the world.

PPP: What are your earliest recollections of poetry in your life?

HN: Does Dr. Suess count? After Dr. Suess and Shel Silverstein, I remember finding a book of poems from my mother's high school library. It's mostly children's poems, but I remember flipping through it and falling in love with Ogden Nash. I loved everything he did, but The Tale of Custard the Dragon became my favorite poem. I remember skipping over everything in that book that didn't have his name on it. I suppose that was my first recollection.

PPP: Why, in your opinion, is poetry important in our society?

HN: It's an outlet. It's a means of education about the important things that they never teach you in school, like how feelings sound when you write them down, and how words paint some of the most beautiful pictures that could never be captured with a camera or a paintbrush. It's an expedient to making people question everything. Poetry can change the people that make up society, therefore changing society. And society is always in need of change.

PPP: What inspires you to write?

HN: Plenty of things inspire me. Sometimes a thought comes to my mind and I center an entire poem or song around that thought. Sometimes I'll ask someone else what to write about (and I get everything between lions playing ukuleles and paranoid schizophrenia) and I write about it. That's how "Darling" came about. Sometimes I write from other people's perspective, sometimes I just get angry and vent in poetic form. I challenge my own creativity and imagination. People inspire me quite often. A lot of the time though, I draw inspiration from the internet. There are plenty of strangely inspiring things on the internet.

PPP: When do you write?

HN: Every day. I've just started a 365 project, and now I'm writing either a poem or a song every day- sometimes both. Sometimes I write three songs a day. I used to have writing binges where I'd write something really good every day, and sometimes multiple poems or songs a day, and that would go on until I'd lose all my inspiration or motivation and I'd have a writer's block for about the same amount of time. And then it would repeat. But I try to write as often as I can. That's how you get better.

PPP: Is there a particular place that you like to write?

HN: I write everywhere. I write in the car, I wake up in the middle of the night and write in my bed sometimes, I've written a poem with eyeliner on a napkin when I was hiding from people in the bathroom. I write during class. I write anywhere I can, especially when I'm inspired and I have a good idea. I just like to write, so I do it every where.


PPP: What poets do you read?

HN: Edgar Allen Poe, Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and of course, Ogden Nash. But I don't just read dead white people's poetry. I go to local poetry readings a lot, and I read things I find online. I'll read just about any poem, but I just happen to read a lot of poetry by dead white people.


PPP: What advice do you have for others who might want to get started writing poetry?

HN: Start now. I started when I was eight years old, and that's put me years ahead of people my age that are just starting to write now. Lots of people say they don't want to try it because they know they won't be good at it. That's so disappointing, because first of all, that's not the reason to write poetry. No one starts writing because they think they'll be good at it. But once you get going, and figure out your own voice and style and what inspires you, there are so many beautiful things that can be written, but not if you don't start now. Write right now.


PPP: Have you noticed any trends or patterns in your writing over the past 5-10 years?

HN: Most of my poems are written either in anger or sadness. But I seldom feel the same way when I begin writing a poem as I do by the end of it. People always tell me to write happier things, but it's easier said than done. Happy poems are hard to write. And no one likes them because it's hard to relate to them sometimes. And sometimes, an angry or sad poem can make me happier than a happy poem. It's comforting knowing that someone else feels the same way I do. But when I read a happy poem, I just get sad that I'm not as happy as that poet.


PPP: Share a comment or two about life, writing, or anything else that you'd like.

HN: Poetry is medicine.

Read more about Hannah Newberry and her writing (including her poem, "Darling") in the May 28 edition of The Independent Tribune.

06 April 2012

An Interview With Davidson, NC poet Anthony Abbott

Today's post is the unedited text of my recent interview with poet Anthony Abbott. Abbott is the Charles A. Dana Professor Emeritus of English at Davidson College in Davidson, NC. The author of several books of fiction and poetry, Abbott continues to write and teach regularly. His latest book is If Words Could Save Us, a collection of poetry (Lorimer Press, 2011).

Piedmont Poetry Project: What do you hope to achieve with your poetry?

Anthony Abbott: For me writing poetry is an activity of the soul, it is the way the soul expresses itself in a world that is noisy, busy, and demanding. It is a place where I can express my deepest feelings and thoughts in a way that allows the reader to say, I hope, I have felt that too. You are expressing what I have felt. That reader response is very important to me.

PPP: What are your earliest recollections of poetry in your life?

AA: That is a very hard question for me. I didn't begin to write poetry seriously until the late 1970's when I turned 40. The unexpected death of my daughter in 1967 turned me toward poetry, toward the discovery of a language through which I could express grief, loss, love, hope, joy--a language very different from the academic language of critical articles, which I had been trying to write up until that time. I read poetry before this time, but never with real intensity. All that changed in the 1970's.

PPP: Why, in your opinion, is poetry important in our society?

AA: William Carlos Williams wrote: "It is difficult/to get the news from poems/yet men die miserably every day/for lack/of what is found there." Our best poets are our prophets---they speak the truth we do not wish to hear, they speak the truth we need to hear, they speak to the best part of us and urge us to change our lives, to respond to the mysteries within and without that we pass by daily and ignore in our busy lives. Poets tell us to stop, and in the words of Mary Oliver---"pay attention, be astonished, tell about it."

PPP: What inspired you to write "Necessary Music"?

AA: My mother died when I was fifteen. I remember very little about her. This poem is one of several I have written trying to bring her back in some way, through language. She grew up in the South, she drank too much, she sang and played the piano. I try to imagine her drinking and singing and playing the piano, sitting in a bar with a man, perhaps, smoking a cigarette. And I wonder what her voice was like. I wish I had known her better.

PPP: When do you usually write?

AA: I write, mostly, in the mornings between about nine and one. Usually, I take a walk when I get up and think about what I am going to work on before I actually get started.

PPP: Is there a particular place you like to be when writing?

AA: As a retired professor, I have a small carrel in the library with no windows, no distractions, no disturbances. It is a wonderful place to write, very quiet, very private.

PPP: What poets do you read?

AA: In my class at Queens University, I have had virtually the same students for the last ten years. They bring the new poems they have written, and each year we study a different poet for seven weeks. I love that. The poets include Linda Pastan, Maxine Kumin, Sharon Olds, Elizabeth Bishop, Mary Oliver, James Wright, Jane Kenyon, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and William Carlos Williams. Next year we will do Yeats. These are the poets I have spent the most time on in the last decade. They are very important to me.

PPP: How would you describe the poems, themes, or central ideas that make up IF WORDS COULD SAVE US?

AA: My new collection includes a CD of me reading twenty of the poems in this collection. In the introduction to the CD I answer this question in some detail. Here is a short version of that introduction. The book is the story of a human journey. The book is divided into three parts: Providence, Ordinary Time, and Grace. In the first part, the central figures of the poems are cast out into the world; they lose their innocence, they come of age and must depend on Providence to care for them. In the second part, they must live in that real world, in ordinary time, both enjoying its beauty and suffering its losses and frustrations and pains. In the third part, ordinary time is transfigured by grace. The central figures experience moments of transcendence--their daily lives are infused with a sense of the sacred, the sensual, the true, the beautiful. We don't all experience that third part, but wouldn't it be wonderful if we did? I transfer that hope from myself to the reader…..

PPP: Have you noticed any trends or patterns in your writing over the past 5-10 years?

AA: I retired in 2001. Beginning in that year I have published a book every other year: two novels and four books of poetry. I have had the time to write and the time to finish projects that I had started a long time ago. Trends? Patterns? Maybe an emphasis on language, both its crucial importance and its inadequacy as a means of expressing the mystery, the pain, the wonder, the joy and the grace in life.

PPP: Share a comment or two about life, parenthood, nature, teaching, writing or anything else that you'd like.

AA: I will be 77 in January of 2012. We live in a youth dominated culture, where old people are generally viewed as not being very important. To stay young despite your biological age, you must have a passion, you must have something you love deeply that you can do. Through that passion, you continue to be alive, to be real, to be a participant in the world. I am a passionate writer and a passionate teacher. I continue to teach short courses at various colleges and universities because I love it. I feel most alive in the classroom, or before an audience. I am lucky to have that, and I wish that for everyone. Rumi says, "Let yourself be silently drawn by the strange pull of what you really love. it will not lead you astray.


NECESSARY MUSIC
by Anthony Abbott

After I left
the flowers on my mother’s grave—
calla lilies, freesia,
the enormous, fragile
peony—I asked my
heart for her forgotten
voice. Was it soft,
like the lilt
of her Georgia
childhood. Or more
like the dirt red notes
of her piano, out of key
from the smoke of too
many bars.

I search for the music
of her voice
in the rustle
of the naked limbs.
The wind says wait.

05 December 2011

An interview with poet Robert Abbate

Below is the unedited text of an interview with Concord, NC poet, Robert Abbate. Abbate teaches English Composition at Rowan Cabarrus Community College in Kannapolis, NC.

Piedmont Poetry Project: What do you hope to achieve with your poetry?

Robert Abbate: What I achieve in poetry has always been concerned with reaching a broad reading audience, which, unfortunately, in contemporary times has become a readership of poetry editors, other poets, and critics in academe. I recently read Dana Gioia's essay "Can Poetry Matter?" and I have come to the realization that a general readership beyond the poetry coterie is the most coveted goal any poet might strive for. When collections of poetry like Alfred Lord Tennyson's _Idyls of the King_ or Marilyn Nelson's _Carver: A Life in Poems_ become best-sellers, then the poetry world has regained is lost stature in the publishing world. i can only dream about such a collection crafted by me.

PPP: What are your earliest recollections of poetry in your life?

RA: I decided I wanted to be a writer in elementary school through the encouragement of my fifth grade teacher who encouraged me to write stories, but poetry came to me later in middle school and high school. My high school creative writing teacher encouraged me to write poetry and serve on the editorial staff of the literary magazine. I developed a thirst for having my poems published that endures to this day. I eventually studied creative writing at Penn State University with nationally renowned poet John Balaban, now the MFA director at NC State. I also went on to study creative writing at UNCC and i am currently working on my MFA in craft poetry at Western State College of Colorado.

PPP: Why, in your opinion, is poetry important in our society?

RA: Poetry matters because it touches the human soul and transforms people's lives. Since people continue to memorize the poems of Shakespeare, Donne, and Blake, the evidence of poetry's relevance for society takes on the stature of a spirituality akin to the religious fervor found in studying the holy scriptures. I often joke with my friends that I have joined the Church of Holy Poetry and that I have become a Knight of Poetry's Holy Grail.

PPP: What inspires you to write?

RA: I am inspired by nature, especially birds and wildlife. I attempt to mine the metaphoric ore in what I see around me. i am also inspired by people's stories, the ethnogrpahic poems that capture the voices of people telling their stories. My first collection of poetry _Courage of Straw_ reflected on my decisions to donate a kidney to my sister and to speak out about physical and sexual abuse.

PPP: When do you write?

RA: I usually write in the morning or evening with a steaming cup of brewed tea beside me. I still draft my poems on paper before transferring the drafts to electronic format.

PPP: Is there a particular place that you like to write?

RA:I have been very productive with my writing at home in my living room in a comfortable chair. I like having windows nearby so i may look outside and see the beauty of nature. I also write in the local coffee houses.

PPP: What poets do you read?

RA: The most influential poets upon my writing have been John Balaban, Seamus Heaney, Fred Chappell, Kathryn Stripling Byers, Betty Adcock, Marilyn Nelson, Daniel Tobin, Mark Jarman, Timothy Steele, David Mason, and Richard Wilbur. I have been studying with the New Formalists and New Narrative poets at West Chester University Poetry Conference for the past eight years. Craft poetry pays particular attention to form, meter, and rhyme, the traditional modes of poetic expression.

PPP: What advice do you have for others who might want to get started writing poetry?

RA: The best advice I can give for those who want to write poetry is to read the best poetry available, to immerse oneself in the whole scope and sequence of the English poetry tradition, not just the latest trend in contemporary poetry. Once an aspiring reader gets a sense of their favorite writers, he or she may then emulate them. Also keeping a daybook or journal is helpful. I have kept a dream journal for years attempting to capture the vivid images from my dreams. Writing takes work and commitment, but remember composition isn't always about committing words to a page, its about meditating on lines and composing while you are busy doing other things like Wordsworth taking his daily round around the Lake District, Wallace Stevens composing poems in head as he walked to work at the Hartford Insurance Company, or Kathryn Stripling Byer forming her lines while hiking through the woods in the mountains of North Carolina. Be patient with the lines that that you cast and keep them pliable. Be willing to cast your lines in multiple ways until the poem takes on the "Sound of Sense" as Robert Frost called it, poetic expressions that pass for everyday conversations.

PPP: Have you noticed any trends or patterns in your writing over the past 5-10 years?

RA: My poetry has become much more formal over the last eight years. I have been writing fixed lyrical forms such as sonnets, villanelles, sestinas, rondeaus, rondolets. The West Chester University Poetry Conference has challenged me to experiment with form beyond free verse. Even my free verse pays close attention to stress meter now. I think Robert Frost was right when he said that free verse is like playing tennis without the net. The rules of meter help poets achieve lyrical effects. Otherwise, poetic lines in free verse are merely prose poems.

PPP: Share a comment or two about life, parenthood, nature, teaching, writing, or anything else that you'd like:

RA: Poetry is a mirror of the soul. When the mirror is clear, its expression can be transformative for both readers and writers. Keeping the mirror's reflection unclouded is a challenge that poets and writers may courageously face provided they are willing to revise their work for the sake of clarity and audience appeal.

22 April 2011

An Interview with poet Carrie Anne White

Below is the unedited interview with poet Carrie Anne White followed by her poem "Questions Addressed to Love".

Carrie Anne is finishing her senior year at Cannon School in Concord, NC. She will be heading to Colorado College in the fall.

Piedmont Poetry Project: What do you hope to achieve with your poetry?

Carrie Anne White: I write poetry mainly for myself, so I think the most rewarding accomplishment would be to keep writing.

PPP: What are your earliest recollections of poetry in your life?

CAW: I read rhyming children's books as a kid, and wrote my first "book" of poems in the third grade. Before I learned how to write, I made up and memorized lyrics to my own songs, so I imagine this fed into my need to write poetry.

PPP: Why, in your opinion, is poetry important in our society?

CAW: Poetry is the organized chaos we need in order to make sense of the generalizations and logical perspective that we have to have in business aspects of life. Poetry is the hard-edged, fun, raw, emotional, aesthetic, and melodic side of writing--and an outlet for disorganized expression. Without it, I know I'd have a hard time making sense of things.

PPP: What inspires you to write?

CAW: I'm most inspired by novelty in any form: new people, new tragedies, new perspectives, new challenges, and new places. Anything that strikes me as unfamiliar is fuel for poetry. It's how I decode the unknown.

PPP: When do you write?

CAW: I write when I'm alone at night, or if I have free time during the day and something especially inspiring comes to mind.

PPP: Is there a particular place that you like to write?

CAW: The most inspiring place I've ever written at was at Bard College at Simon's Rock in Massachusetts, where I spent three weeks dedicated to learning and practicing writing. I had the opportunity to write outside with my elbows in the grass on a hillside with near eighty other young writers. It was a really enriching experience to write in the presence of other students who are as passionate as I am about writing. As for now, I most enjoy writing by an open window.

PPP: What poets do you read?

CAW: I have a soft spot for Shel Silverstein. (I've passed that on to my baby sister; I buy her a Silverstein book every year and read to her from it.)

PPP: What advice do you have for others who might want to get started writing poetry?

CAW: Don't wait to start, just do it. The best advice I've ever had was to write about whatever I knew best. If writing on an unfamiliar topic scares you, try different genres or subjects of poetry until you find one that lets your ideas percolate.

PPP: Have you noticed any trends or patterns in your writing over the past 5-10 years?

CAW: I have always written in a sharp, almost cold way. My writing style has evolved to have a taste for dark edginess, unusual wording, and the occasional rhyme. I love short poems, partially because others will be more likely to read them, but mostly because they're challenging. It's difficult to sum up the ideas withing a poem in just 10 to 14 lines.

PPP: Share a comment or two about life, being a senior, nature, toasters, writing, or anything else that you'd like:

CAW: I've noticed that we remember small bursts of life rather than entire days. The more variety we put into our day, the more bursts of life we will be able to savor on a nostalgic afternoon later in life. I've been trying to keep this in mind as I push through these final days in high school. I'm realizing that I won't remember the thousands of facts I've put on flashcards, but I'll remember the spontaneous afternoons I spent with friends or family trying new things apart from my routine.



Questions Addressed to Love

I asked her who she was.
She showed me the clouds--
Molecules clumping and morphing,
Turning and running off the endless page of sky.

I asked her where she’s been.
She pointed to the silhouette above,
The raging mass of black wings,
Silently changing directions.

I asked her what she wanted.
Just then, her iris fogged, revealing
A lighter shade of blue.
She blinked and the vibrancy returned.

I asked her where she was going.
She took me to an empty room.
She sat with me by a stained mirror.
She sang to me and let the echo
fade.

She never really told me,
But it reminded me of a cliff dive.
A warm wetness on the tongue.
Absent-tasting, and it stung.

-- by Carrie Anne White

03 April 2011

Johannesburg

I read that Johannesburg is the world’s largest city
not on a river, lake or ocean. That’s what I read.
Water is important. But what I know for sure

is that my grandmother could not drink water
just before she died and I remember feeding her
ice. My mother, well, she died like a vapor

before I could even feed her goodbye.
My father anointed his dry mouth with a swab
dipped in water the night before he passed.

And I wake up and reach for the bottle
on the nightstand and just before
the water passes my lips a thousand thoughts

enter my mind and I drink anyway,
thirsty, but what choice do we have, really,
but to stay close to water


for as long as we can


-- by Harry Calhoun

20 March 2011

An interview with poet Harry Calhoun

Bill Diskin: What do you hope to achieve with your poetry?

Harry Calhoun: I enjoy communicating with others, especially other poets, through my poetry. I also hope that I can continue to develop a reputation as a talented poet whom others would like to publish. So far, while I’ve had limited financial success, I have been lucky to have two books and two chapbooks published in 2009 and 2010, with more on the horizon.

Poetry is sort of the “odd bird” of the literary world. Even people who are voracious fiction readers, or people who paint or pursue other artistic endeavors, seem a little skeptical when you tell them you write poetry. The reactions range from, “Why?” to “I don’t understand poetry” to simple indifference. I guess one of my goals is to make my poetry so accessible that they’ll read it and see why ... and truly understand poetry.

Editor Shirley Allard once said “Your poetry is so real and easy to relate to. I don't know how anyone could read your work and still say ‘I don't get poetry’." That means a lot to me and it’s close to the heart of what I try to do when I write..

BD: What are your earliest recollections of poetry in your life?

HC: Well, of course I was exposed to it early on in school, but I guess I first started liking it — and writing it, badly — in high school. I remember I wrote a poem comparing a girl I had a crush on to a purple-and-green stuffed gorilla. Obviously, I had a lot to learn.

BD: Why, in your opinion, is poetry important in our society?

HC: Well, if you mean important to most people, it’s not. That’s not intended to sound bitter or cynical, it’s just true. There is a website called Outsider Writers for a reason … many writers, and I think especially poets, feel like outsiders, ostracized almost. But for people who care and understand it, poetry is a very pure and, at its best, beautiful way of communicating. One very different from reading fiction or nonfiction … something that connects in a visceral and special way. Poetry at its best either changes you or makes you feel deeply what the poet is expressing.

BD: What inspires you to write?

HC: My wife and my dog. Pain and joy. The ocean and rain and sunshine. It really can be anything, but it’s not an accident that I mention my wife and dog first! Also, I lost both my parents over the period from March 2008 to February 2009, and believe me, soul-searching to get to my feelings about those events inspired me to do a lot of writing. It’s a lot of therapy, sometimes not easy to go through, but it does get the emotions out there and lets you examine them. I have often said that one reason I write is to find out what I’m thinking about. I think that’s true. The poems sometimes surface emotions, fears or simple joys that would otherwise go undetected.


BD: When do you write?

HC: More or less when I feel like it, but often I wake up at night with a bout of insomnia and will write ideas for some poems. I almost never remember them the following morning, which I guess is why I write them down. When I walk my dog, I have developed the knack of ruminating about things and coming up with poems in my head, which I then write down later.

BD: Is there a particular place that you like to write?

HC: Yes, I keep a notebook beside my bed. When I have insomnia, as I mentioned before, I write then. But my wife and I like to take naps on weekend afternoons, and many times I wake up from those snoozes with poems in my head. And of course, I keep several books of poetry by authors I like close by. Just with any other type of writing, you have to read it to be able to write it. Reading newer poets keeps me current, and reading the old ones reminds me that the old dogs still have quite a few tricks to offer.

BD: What poets do you read?

HC: Well, the poets that I consider “mainstream” that I love are W.S. Merwin and Billy Collins. Early on, say in my 20s, Dylan Thomas was a great inspiration to me. Oh, and of course, Charles Bukowski, how can anyone live without some Bukowski? Now, I like to read the young’uns … Christopher Cunningham, out of Asheville in our own North Carolina, is one who bears watching. So is Hosho McCreesh out of New Mexico. I also enjoy people whom I have published in my magazine, Pig in a Poke, which has recently been revived as an online literary magazine. But poets I published there long ago — Jim Daniels and Louis McKee spring immediately to mind — still hold a special place in my heart. I have been reading a lot of McKee lately and marvel at his simple eloquence, the easy way he has of talking about difficult subjects. That is at the very heart of poetry.


BD: What advice do you have for others who might want to get started writing poetry?

HC: As Ray Bradbury once said in Zen and the Art of Writing,, don’t do it for money. Do it for passion, for love of the game, so to speak. And keep at it, and keep reading it and pick up pointers from your betters. Copy shamelessly if you must, and eventually you will become one of your betters!


BD: Have you noticed any trends or patterns in your writing over the past 5-10 years?

HC: Yes, I am writing more and thinking about it less. I throw the first draft on the page longhand and then savagely attack it and rewrite at the computer. I know other people — Christopher Cunningham whom I mentioned earlier — who like to write on the typewriter. Doesn’t matter how you do it, it’s getting it done that matters. As I’ve told my wife, Trina Allen, who is herself an excellent fiction writer, the important thing is to place the seat of your pants on the chair. Then, as someone else once said, just open a vein and let it flow.

BD: Share a comment or two about life, parenthood, nature, teaching, writing, or anything else that you'd like.

HC: Life is great. I have a good job — good enough that I can work part-time and still survive. I would recommend that to anyone. It always seemed unfair to me that a working man would have to relegate his passion, his poems, to two days and a few evenings a week. Having an extra day off means so much to me and I really don’t miss the money. Parenthood I wouldn’t know about it, except to say that there is a reason I have never had children. I’m sure they can be a joy, but I’ve also seen what pain they can cause. Nature: I love it … I am a huge fan of Hal Borland, the nature writer for the New York Times, and I incorporate the woods, the sea, the simple sights I see walking my dog Alex into my poems.

That’s about it. It is so gratifying to me that, at age 56, I’m getting some recognition for my poems. I mean, I had some publications earlier on, but nothing like this. Just call me a late bloomer and a baby boomer, and happy either way. And thanks for the interview!

Further reading:

Harry Calhoun’s articles, literary essays and poems have appeared in several magazines including Writer’s Digest and The National Enquirer.

Check out his trade paperback, I knew Bukowski like you knew a rare leaf, the recently published The Black Dog and the Road and his chapbook, Something Real.

He’s had recent publications in Chiron Review, Chiaroscuro, Orange Room Review, The Centrifugal Eye, Monongahela Review and many others.

He is the editor of Pig in a Poke magazine. Read Harry's poetry and more at http://harrycalhoun.net.

08 September 2010

An interview with poet Helen Losse

Below are the unedited responses from poet Helen Losse to questions I asked her in preparation for a column I wrote for the Independent Tribune (Concord, NC).

Bill Diskin: What do you hope to achieve with your poetry?

Helen Losse: I want to share the hope that is in me through my poetry. I want to explore and discover “truth.” I want to allow others to think with me and to come to see that the truth matters so much more than the facts. I write to give glimpses of what it means to be human in God’s world. I want to share the hope that it is possible for us to be human together and live in peace.

BD: What are your earliest recollections of poetry in your life?

HL: I was exposed to poetry as a child without being told it was poetry. My mother read and quoted nursery rhymes and songs, and sometimes she read poems she had known from her childhood—poems her mother had read to her. I had no idea I was listening to poetry; I just liked listening to my mother recite and sing.

BD: Why, in your opinion, is poetry important in our society?

HL: Poetry can present useful and powerful ways to look at life. Important ideas (and ideals)—such as love and hope—can be expressed through images and in the musical element of human language. Imagery and musicality are exaggerated in poetry (as opposed to prose). These images (and music) can change the world. Because images are not judgmental, they allow readers to bring their own experience to the poem (as though anyone ever leaves his/her experience behind) in an honest way that informs the very image itself and makes it useful to the reader. Poets—in their search for truth—can say things no one else can, because poets are not bound to a particular set of doctrines or world views. Poets can bring truth and, therefore, social change to the world in ways no preacher, columnist, historian, or teacher can; poets may but do not have to work in opposition to others. Poets challenge the status quo.

BD: What inspires you to write? Do you have a story about what inspired "Negating Natural Erasers"?

HL: Natural beauty, human love, social injustice, memories of a happy childhood, and God deep within my soul inspire me to write.

I started to say, no to a story behind this particular poem, but the reality is I began it by recalling the evening walks, I took with my Mother, Dad, and older son Troy the year I was pregnant with my younger son. My husband had left Troy and me in Missouri to spend about six weeks with my parents. While there, we often spent part of the week at my parents’ trailer on The Grand Lake of the Cherokees near Grove, Oklahoma. The trailer was in a quiet, rural retirement village, where many of the residents walked in the cool evenings. The “rocky road” and the “dusty weeds” were located there, but we never walked it after midnight, and I can’t recall walking the road that circled the development alone. The ocean scene was an extension of the lake scene—connected by the presence of water. The ocean must be the Atlantic; I’ve seen the Pacific only once and never felt its waves on my bare feet.

I love the ocean because its vastness puts life in perspective. The tide (and the wind) wash away much that “proves” we were here. And thinking about something that big (and powerful) opens me up for large questions. I can make my mark on the landscape, but will it remain? Is making (and leaving) a mark on humanity more important than the one we make on nature? Can I change the world so that it is a better place when I leave it than when I came? How? Is it “by writing love songs?”

Poets use metaphor to compare and contrast. I meant “love songs” in the broadest way one can imagine. An ode to the ocean is a love song. Poets also make mental leaps in which the subjects are related then leave it to the reader to figure out how they are related.

BD: When do you write?

HL: I write when I have the time to do so and when I feel that anxiousness that tells me to do so. I don’t have a set routine. I often write as a response to natural beauty—God did make a lovely world.— and more recently from prompts. Having said that, I know, it is easier to write form negative rather than positive emotion. I write to make the world better.

Since I am a happy person by nature and choice, I must allow myself to go (mentally and emotionally) into places where I do not dwell in my “real life” in order to write poetry. Many creative people have a melancholy side that is or borders on depression; I do not. I have said many times that I am too well adjusted to be a poet.

BD: Is there a particular place that you like to write?

HL: I write at my computer, because it works for me. I used to write poems longhand first, but “cut and paste” seems more efficient.

[I just stopped answering a different question to write this one.]

Just seconds ago, three young deer came running across my back yard. I saw them from my seat at the computer. Yes, I know deer eat azaleas. But what further inspiration does one need to write? I named my blog, “Windows Toward the World,” because I spend a lot of time at my computer, and my poems begin here. From my window, I can see several trees—evergreen and deciduous, a dogwood and a crepe myrtle, whose blossoms look like fire, when seen from a distance—various bushes, the deck, hanging baskets, a bird house, bird feeders, the ditch in front of the Duke Power right of way—they do things to nature that I hate—long and short grass, a falling down metal storage shed, an outdoor fire pit, a fallen-and-cut-up but not-yet-hauled-away tree, a concrete mixer and unidentified junk. Deer, dogs, and children run through from time to time. My back yard is my “triggering town.” (See The Triggering Town by Richard Hugo, which is my favorite book about writing poetry.) I can go anywhere from my back yard. The view from the window gives me a place to start.


BD: What poets do you read?

HL: I read a lot of local poets that I hear at poetry readings. And I read a lot of southern poets who submit poems to The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, where I am the Poetry Editor. But you want names, right? I always hate this, because I might leave someone out.

Jane Mead, Dennis Sampson, Christine Garren, Kathryn Stripling Byer, Cathy Smith Bowers, Carter Monroe, Tim Peeler, Scott Owens, Jessie Carty, and many of the poets who have read at Poetry Hickory. That’s just a few. I do try to support poets by buying and reading books at poetry readings. Sometimes I just reach for a book I’ve already read. I keep all the poetry books I buy.

I read a few journals: The Main Street Rag, The Iodine Review, ….


BD: What advice do you have for others who might want to get started writing poetry?

HL:
Show, don’t tell.
Never preach.
Find your own voice.
Listen for the music in the words you choose.
Be careful when you use rhyme.
Showcase your vocabulary in appropriate places.
Revise. Revise. Revise.

taken from my essay, “Suggestions for Poets.”

BD: Have you noticed any trends or patterns in your writing over the past 5-10 years?

HL: Oh, yes. Of course, I have. Jane Mead, with whom I studied poetry at Wake Forest University, once remarked—probably quoting someone—that poets seem to write the same poem over and over. And we do. Much of the imagery in my poems can be seen out my window. Trees, deer, wind, grass, rivers, the ocean, the cabin our family had in Oklahoma when I was a child, the ocean, the Mulberry Tree at the back of our yard when I was a child, all appear in multiple poems. The mountains and the coast of North Carolina provide rich settings that appear over and over.

Although I grew up and went to college in Missouri, I have lived all of my adult life in North Carolina: 15 years in Charlotte, where I taught English, etc. at Charlotte Christian School and Carolina Christian Day School, 2 years in Walkertown just east of Winston-Salem, and the last 24 years in Winston-Salem. This gives me two homes—two setting from which to write—one as a child and one as an adult, one in distant the other in recent memory.

I often write dream sequences in which imagination and reality are blurred. My first book, Better With Friends, explores the intersections of memory (factual and embellished), dreams (daydreams and night dreams), reverie, and prayer, so that all of one’s thoughts can be envisioned as prayer. Although the book has strong spiritual overtones, it is not a religious book nor a book of poetic devotions. The events that serve as story in the poems make possible a life in which one can “pray without ceasing” (II Thessalonians 5:17) through the bad and the good. Being a Christian always colors my point of view.

BD: Share a comment or two about life, writing, art, the poetry scene in North Carolina, toasters, or anything else that you'd like:

HL: I am glad that I learned very early in life that happiness is a choice. As an adult, I have learned that it is a choice that is easier for some than others. I am glad I made that choice early and that happiness is a habit with me. I do not shoulder the unhappiness of the world (and there is much). but I do try to empathize with others. I did write a poem about depression, which a bi-polar friend said rang true. My goal is to live one life well. Living life well has little to do with one’s vocation.

The poetry scene is North Carolina is vibrant. The more poets I meet, the more I feel I am a part of something large and diverse something that matters. I see that through submissions at the Dead Mule, where I am the Poetry Editor. Because the editors and publisher of the Dead Mule are located in North Carolina, we get lots of submissions from North Carolina poets, although we publish literature from all of the south. I’ve met a lot of poets through the Dead Mule. Scott Owens, a poet from Hickory who organizes Poetry Hickory, where I’ve met a number of poets, shared with me that you might be receptive to including me in this project, and here I am. Poets share; they are that kind of people.

Ah, toasters. Actually I have two: a toaster oven that is good for baking the small packages of biscuits that we use when I cook sausage on Sundays and the $8 pop-up kind that toasts cheap bread for BLTs. My husband and son once saw a toaster at the mall that cost several hundred dollars. I’m glad I know, no toaster on earth is worth that kind of money. 

29 August 2010

Local newspaper celebrates poetry

The Independent Tribune(Concord and Kannapolis, NC) publishes a monthly column celebrating local poetry.

05 June 2010

Stardust

by Lorri Barrier

In memory of Vickie Honeycutt

“One must have chaos in one, to give birth to a dancing star. I tell you, you still have chaos in you. “ ~Fredrick Nietzsche

We are stars
winking at each other
across the universe.
We glow, burn and die,
our light glorious in the black sky.
A blanket for the moon--
a quilt of wishes.
Stargazers know
some stars are gone.
The light reaching the eye
is older than a thousand grandmothers.

A constellation of memory--
Summer lightning bugs
the first red bud of spring
a maple tree in fall—all burning, burning.
Our winter breath frost
so cold it burns us, too.
Catch my dreams, sister star,
make me believe they are possible
the way you did then
when your light was housed in flesh
and hope poured from your pen.

14 February 2010

Outside Your Front Door

by Roger Elliott

See the world...
outside your front door
Anything can happen,
when you close your eyes
...open your heart
open up to the world,
...the world outside
outside your front door
Slow things down,
don't move so fast,
look around...
...don't look past
...the world outside,
outside your front door
Ants a crawling...
birds a calling...
Flowers are blooming,
trees are swaying...
swaying to a song...
singing a song...
outside your front door
So much life hidden,
...hidden from your eyes
open your heart,
so you can see
Listen to the buzz...
of a bumble bee
Watch the birds,
as the build a nest,
...piece by piece,
making a home...
...without rest
So much life,
...so much to see
See the world...
outside your front door

07 February 2010

Doofy

by Roger Elliott

I'm the doofy,
I'm the goofy,
I'm the foolish one
Chasing dreams,
chasing rainbows,
chasing everything,
dreams unknown,
chasing places
...places never gone
Looking to find,
a peace of mind...
things I think,
things I see,
...things I feel
that set me free
I'm the doofy,
I'm the goofy,
I'm the foolish one
Why don't you join me,
set yourself free
You never know
...what you may find
stuff hidden in your heart,
things hiding...
hiding in the corners,
the corners of your mind
There is a you...
that you don't know,
turn it loose...
set it free...
Chase a rainbow,
walk with me...
I'm the doofy,
I'm the goofy,
I'm the foolish one
Take my hand and join me,
together we will be free...

Roger Elliott lives in Hickory, NC