National Poetry Month – Diana Pinckney

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.

Polio Summer

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.

Blue Heat

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

 

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4 Responses to National Poetry Month – Diana Pinckney

  1. Theodora Hill says:

    I can feel the cold. and smell the coal cinders in Blue Heat. The subtle but strong difference between the poem’s “circling us like a happy family” instead of “circling a happy family” is terrific. Hat’s off to Diana for all of them.

    • Hi Theodora, thank you for commenting. Yes, it’s amazing how just one little word or twist of a phrase changes the whole idea, and the more subtle the better. Diana definitely has that gift.

  2. Elizabeth Penfield says:

    Maybe it’s because I’ve always loved water–ocean, river, brook, marsh–but “Little Girl on the Shore” was my favorite. The imagery creates just the right pictures and the interlacing of rhythms and spacing is perfect, with the last line, set off all by itself, delivering an honest and powerful idea. Thanks.

    • Hi Elizabeth, thank you for stopping by! If you’ve not read the rest of Diana’s book, Green Daughters, I think you’d enjoy it. Poems teem with seafaring folk, mermaids and life along the shore.
      ~Kim

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