When I started getting serious about writing poetry, there were three poets I thought of as the Grand Ladies of Charlotte Poets. I was in awe of their work, their presence, and how they supported the writing community. Diana Pinckney was one of them. (Irene Blair Honeycutt was another). When I gathered all my books to organize what is now referred to as a poetry quilt, I noticed I bought my first Diana Pinckney book, White Linen, in 1999. I’ve been a fan for a long time.
Reading Diana’s collections is like a mini workshop. One of the greatest take-aways is not being fearful. Diana is a beautiful, elegant, graceful Southern woman, but that in no way means a lack of strength. That strength is evident in her poems – in the topics she writes about, how she approaches them, by the language she uses. There’s also the fun, imaginative side as she creates a delightful, soulful world with mermaids in Green Daughters.
From White Linen, published by Nightshade Press, posted with the poet’s permission.
In June we played statues and lay on the damp grass
the way we fell, the way friends wilted
and dropped that summer.
By July, our mothers had pulled the shades –
no movies, no Kick the Can.
Bats and balls in closets, pools closed.
Come to Kentucky, my aunt invited. I traveled
alone in my berth,
sitting up to watch three states
blink through the night. Flatlands faded
into morning where Aunt Jennette waited
on the wooden platform. Ash and cinders left behind,
I raced dogs across a lawn so fresh it stained
my sandals. Afternoons, the pony pulled the cart,
stopping to let us rake
blackberries from their thorny nests.
Once we visited Man O’ War; the champion
clomped slowly out of his stall. Sway-backed
and dull-coated, he lit the eyes of the trainer
who told of Derby days, the world screaming
the stallion on, his chestnut legs churning
toward blue streamers they hung around his neck.
Each week a long shiny car, its fenders
sprouting wings, took us to town to buy legless dolls
that hid other dolls under their skirts
made by mountain women selling quilts
with designs like the stars they lived so near.
The stars I ran under those summer evenings,
legs and lungs pumping,
my bare feet crushing clover
that must have been thick with four leaves.
I hardly thought of friends
I would see in September, those blond twins
at school that everyone would now
be able to tell apart.
From Green Daughters, published by Lorimer Press, posted with the poet’s permission.
Little Girl on the Shore
“Red is the color of magic in every country.” ~ W.B. Yeats
bye bye ocean and conk
in your curly shell bye
pretty lady who
swims like my Barbie without
a suit my brother says I
just dog paddle I like the red
cap the lady twirls sometimes
sitting on a rock
in the inlet she splashed across
to my drip castle where Daddy
fished she said I could swim if
I wore her red cap my
brother laughed about
the water lady and told
Mommy I was making stuff
up again the lady who smells
like rain and shells is my secret
friend Mommy doesn’t like
fish tails and makes Daddy
leave them on the beach the lady
has the most
beautiful tail ever with water
sparkles grown-ups can’t
see actually they don’t
see lots of things.
From Alchemy, published by Main Street Rag Publishing, posted with the poet’s permission.
Winter was not done with us
the year the furnace burned out.
My father shoveled and stoked,
hauled no telling how many lumps of coal
to the living room hearth, blue heat
circling us like a happy family.
When he said, We can’t afford
a new furnace, my mother’s glare singed
the air for days. Curled under blankets,
Grandmother’s quilts, any wool thing,
we took comfort from the dark sun
of my father’s voice as he read to us
by the fire and my mother’s refusal to huddle
or bundle. The ashes grew, gray mounds
consuming the cinders of a long damp March,
Mother promising, You’ll be warmer tomorrow,
as if she could dig spring from the earth
the way her hands had worked the soil
in late fall, planting white marble bulbs
soon to torch purple and yellow
on the table. Though nothing changed
the weather in that house.
From The Beast and The Innocent, published by Futurecycle Press, posted with the poet’s permission.
Gray Wolf to Dog
I passed you, cousin, chained
by your dry bowl, when I trotted my starved
body to the edge of town. Down
on the banks of the river, nothing leapt
from shallow rocks,
no fat heads with soft eyes, not one
flapping silver tail to move mine. Nothing
but light and shade shimmering
in September’s heat. Not one cloud
pulled the red fish here. Not one drop
for the creek bed. No salmon
and only berries for the bear. You, dog,
never rolled in the dark
snows of tundra, never knew
the secrets of cedars. You, who whined
for scraps and dodged their sticks,
are free. And when they come home
with the crimson sun,
their pockets and pails empty,
they will find strings of fur, curls
of white tinged with pink at the end
of a chain. Because of you, I live
another day to follow the wood’s
scented trails, to run
under the shadow of the owl.
‘Polio Summer’ was previously published in Cream City Review; ‘Blue Heat’ was previously published in Sow’s Ear Poetry Review; ‘Gray Wolf to Dog’ was previously published in Thin Air
Diana’s answers to my questions~
I really don’t know how old I was when I wrote my first poem, but I do remember writing songs and making up songs and dance routines as an early age. I was a child of the 40’s and 50’s and spent many an afternoon in theaters, watching musicals.
I have given some thought to different poets and I keep coming back to Elizabeth Bishop. And it might be prudent if I lifted a cup of coffee with her since she had bouts of alcoholism. But she was well-known to be reserved, shy, so it might be more enlightening and, not to mention, fun to lift a glass of wine with her. Whatever, I have so many questions to ask her about her amazing and wonderful poems. Not when she wrote or how she wrote, but questions about certain of my favorite poems.
Diana’s photo by Gay Pender