National Poetry Month – Anne Kaylor

Full disclosure about Anne – she’s my Editor. She’s my Editor because I’ve known her for years, and I trust her eyes and ears when I need a second set of both to check my work when I’m ready to have it published. She’s the publisher of moonShine review and this year is co-editor of Kakalak 2017.

Her poems explore the raw emotions of love lost and found, of family dysfunction and family bonds. She observes nature and people, finds the irony, humor, sass or beauty in all of it. The skills she uses with other’s work, she applies to her own.

Like a great surgeon, Anne cuts words and closes phrases so well, readers never notice the slice or question what’s missing. Her poetry is crisp, without being sharp; photogenic in imagery.

From Unwilling to Laugh Alone, published by Main Street Rag Publishing, posted with the poet’s permission.

Defining the Gift and Take of Love

We don’t discuss sleeping arrangements,

our pain-imposed insomnias — my fear of dark

and its need for remembering, your fear of light

and how it embraces the future.

 

I love old things — a ghost-filled home,

plank siding, and mint-tinted copper roofs,

Grandma’s hand-made mahogany armoire

and Granddaddy’s ancient, overgrown azaleas.

 

You favor the new — fresh white walls and wide

walkways, polished pine beams overhead,

a smooth leather couch, and cleanly cropped

bushes bordering the lawn.

 

We share a lifetime through childhoods

declared in drunken passages and acrimony,

aspirations stolen by tragedies that plundered

your body and spirit, pillaged my belief in hope.

 

You and I don’t need to explain the way

my body fits in yours — and yours in mine —

our intimacies so priceless we protect

these delicacies by spending too sparingly.

 

I seize your sunrise, my  moons

and put them away to live for tomorrow,

or else I’d never let go.

 

Rest

Just above my right ear —

where the trunk of this old gnarled oak

branches out and my hammock ties off —

there’s a hollow crook.

 

Filled with last night’s rain,

this rotting niche sprouts mushrooms,

gathers leaves, hosts a wily woodpecker

who shares its bath.

 

Notches carved into bark

mark my growth in youth,

but I regret these wounds

as age bends me, too.

 

I sway to the same wind

that pushes darkened limbs

and wonder if we’re kindred now,

each reaching for our last rest.

 

The oak turns to winter and, I fear,

the sleep from which it won’t rouse —

the crook is a thief silently stealing

my old friend’s time.

 

Autumn Calls – haiku in five parts

Harvest moon draws me

as spider webs bend my thoughts

toward summer’s waning.

 

Shadows creep longer;

fall leaves mix with rose petals

clatter of crisp nights.

 

Autumn bids audit

of past hopes and illusions

uncovered by age.

 

Death haunts my conscience,

erects phantoms proclaiming

too little, too late.

 

Then secrets beckon,

I reveal my own darkness,

and revel in grace.

 

Anne answers my questions ~

I actually didn’t start writing poetry until high school, when John Dacus, my creative writing teacher and mentor, set up a poetry writing class outside of school (because the school wouldn’t offer it). I won first place in a regional contest for my sonnet — about love, of course.

 

I started writing fiction when I was eight and spent the summer after sixth grade typing out my first murder mystery novel ( and then retyping it after I had edited it by hand). I submitted it to Doubleday and received my first pink slip — literally, a pink rejection ‘slip’ of paper. I aimed big!

 

Wine and Anne Sexton. She has always fascinated me, we share the same birth month. Her poetry resonated with me early on since I’m drawn to and tend to write confessional poetry.

Very close second is Edgar Allen Poe, who was the first poet I ever read, in fourth grade, I choose “Annabel Lee” for an assignment to recite in class (not from memory, of course)– my fellow students didn’t get it, and I think my teacher worried about me for while after that.

Anne’s photo by Leslie Ruphracht

 

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National Poetry Month – Scott Owens

Scott is the host of Hickory Poetry in Hickory, NC, and that’s where I first met him as I made the rounds of readings when my book was released a few years ago. He’s a great supporter of local writers and visual artists.

Scott teaches full-time, but also owns a coffee shop, Taste Full Beans in Hickory, where he holds the readings. These two occupations fit with what little I actually know about him, and what I read in his poetry – someone who is curious, who ponders things big and small, works his art and still gets excited about it.

 

Acts of Defiance

Just a boy,

not yet eight,

and knowing nothing

of the world,

I simply did as I was told

and reached my hands,

my forearms, long and thin,

even up to the elbows,

into the bloody back end

of a moaning cow

to grasp what I felt there

and pull,

and pull harder

when it wouldn’t come

until something appeared,

and pull harder still

until something became

a wet mess of calf

spilling into my lap

and my uncles laughing

and my grandfather,

his hand on my shoulder,

looking at me hard,

eyes full of seriousness

saying, Good job.

Good job.

 

A lifetime later,

at forty-one,

holding you

I finally understand

the weight of it all.

I look at your mother

spent in bed

and say, Good job,

and then into your own

uncomprehending,

just born eyes

and say again,

Good job.

 

From Thinking About the Next Big Bang

In the Galaxy at the Edge of Town, published by Main Street Rag Publishing, posted with the poet’s permission.

Used

I want to be used up by life,

all resources expended,

all reserves exhausted,

thistle picked clean,

river run dry.

I want to work to the last

minute at making and giving,

and take nothing with me.

 

After my last breath,

if there is anything left

unused, I’ll feel I’ve failed,

and will only be saved by those

who need what I have

coming to carry it away.

 

Scott answers my questions ~

The first poem I remember writing was in 4th grade, and it was about my mother.

And I would tip my hat to Galway Kinnell, whose poetry taught me how to do what I had been trying to do for years.

Scott’s photo by Richard McGee

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National Poetry Month – Blynn Field

I first met Blynn when I was invited to join a critique group, The Jabberwocks, in which she was a member. That was maybe eight years ago and I’ve been captivated by her ever since.

She’s refined like someone raised with social graces one doesn’t see much anymore, and has a dancer’s carriage. Her poems reflect that appreciation for art and beauty as she writes of museums and cathedrals in Paris. But she’s also at home in the woods and her beloved Maine.

In Blynn’s poems we’re transported with her in her sensory details, her desire and ability for finding just the right word to show the textures of those places.

From Whale Watch Cottage, published by Main Street Rag Publishing, posted with the poet’s permission.

Grandpa Sighted a Whale,

So the Story Goes

in the sound before he built the cottage.

The slippery merman was off course,

a nor’easter having roiled the waters,

and Gramps distracted, his mind on

Picardy where Dad was in the trenches.

 

I picture the grey giant rising

and lunging far out – a phantom

fellow mammal, eager to commune

with men, seasoned sailors say.

He lifts the weight for both of them.

 

Since that favorable day, binoculars

stand ready on the windowsill, facing

sunsets, the longing always there to spy

precise answers, to discern

meanings we cannot fathom now.

 

Who Doesn’t Like a Country Auction?

We always take a picnic – egg salad sandwiches

on Anadama bread, slices of chocolate cake,

two thermoses – one of coffee, one of lemonade,

folding chairs or a blanket from the mill outlet store.

 

The setting often seems to be a sagging clapboard

farmhouse. Everything’s up for sale – equipment, horses,

barn, but we’ve come for housewares and to watch

wily auctioneer and stubborn antiques dealers skirmish.

 

If there’s a sealed box of items sold cheaply, “sight

unseen”, we sometimes buy, hoping it might contain

a diary or brooch. We’ll go home with a few

Victorian greeting cards, some postcards of familiar

 

places as they once appeared, small kitchen items,

like wooden butter presses or cutting boards,

a frayed quilt. Sometimes we surprise ourselves

by bidding with gusto on an early blanket chest,

 

painted buttermilk red, an Imari bowl, or once,

a pine daybed for ten dollars which we didn’t need,

resold right then and there to a local man for double

what we paid. The piece that means the most to us

 

is a wrought iron candle chandelier, rusty

when they put it in our hands. Now sanded, painted black,

it hangs over the trestle table, where grandchildren vie

to kindle or snuff out the flames.

 

 In the Winter’s Welcome Shade

we follow the vestige of a logging road.

“Let’s sing a song, Gramma,” she insists

as we pick the berries the black bear missed.

 

We begin In the Forest Far Away until

I notice clucking near a decaying pine. Nine turkey

chicks feast on insects, unaware

of the Red-tailed hawk circling overhead.

 

Dogs bay in the valley and two deer

bound across our path. Stopped

by the pounding of their hooves, we stand

still and will them to safety. As we

 

reach open fields, she asks

for On Top of Old Smoky. We serenade

the grasses, the lichen, and plaited boysenberry

vines under our feet. For our bookcase

 

museum, we gather spruce

and hemlock cones, birch bark,

Purple Loosetrife, Devil’s Paintbrush, recall

how Papa Jack used to praise our collections.

 

On the way back to the cottage – her hand

in mine – she begins another tune.

 

Grandpa Sighted a Whale, So the Story Goes, previously published in Iodine, Fall/Winter 2010/2011

Blynn answers my questions ~

The first poem I ever wrote, I can’t remember, but I lived in an era when children were asked to memorize poems and the first poem I memorized was in the first grade and one that I’ve looked for but never found. It was an Italian Father telling his son why there was no school on Washington’s birthday. It began, “You know what for is school keep out this holiday my son? Well then I gonna tell you ’bout this Georgio Washington…”  Then, at our Junior High graduation, I and about 4 others were asked to recite poetry. I recited Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s , “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways….” There were others in high school, and all made a deep impression on me.

Blynn’s photo by Alice Osborn.

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National Poetry Month – Joseph Bathanti

I first heard Joseph read and discuss poetry almost twenty years ago at my first Central Piedmont Community College Literary Festival, organized by Irene Blair Honeycutt. I immediately felt a connection to his poetry because he writes about growing up Catholic in a working-class family in a steel town. I did too. I kept my ear out for him. Along with garnering numerous awards, he was named NC Poet Laureate for 2012-2014.

In 2013 I had the great fortune of studying with him at Table Rock Writers Workshop and it was there, along with the others in the class, I was able to call him mentor and friend.

In Joseph’s poems you feel the grit and smoke from the steel mills, laugh at his escapades as a young man and his love of baseball; you taste the cheeses, salamis and sauces that were always present in his childhood home; see the nuns in their black habits, ever ready with correction. Joseph also writes of the NC Correctional System where he worked as a Vista worker. Throughout his poetry and essays there is the thread named Joan, and you smile at the love Joseph has for his wife.

Joseph’s current work, however, is something very special. He’s the Charles George VA Medical Center’s Writer-in-Residence, helping Veterans and their families write their stories. Some of these stories have already been collected in a book and are sometimes presented in public as readings or as plays.

From Anson County, published by Press 53, posted with the poet’s permission.

Copperhead

The dogs have seen a ghost.

The dance around the demon,

barking with dread at the sexless coils,

the switchblade tongue.

The book insists it’s death’s look alike.

I’m tempted to let it go about its business,

but it does not fathom mercy.

Snug on its hump of clay and bloodberries,

it begins unraveling.

The puckered skull levitates.

No moon nor fury for this work,

I’ve merely an inkling of kill or be killed —

a sorry yet orthodox theology.

Like an exorcist, I lift the spade

and pray to the God of murder,

then strike.

All night I dream

of the death-wiggle,

the ghastly heap flip-flopping,

the severed head

inching toward my boot.

 

From Concertina, published by Mercer University Press, posted with the poet’s permission.

Shank

The first shank

I was shown doubled

 

as a toothbrush,

the fiberglass

 

handle sharpened

to a pointed hush

 

by scraping it

on the concrete

 

cellblock floor.

Stick it in,

 

then pull it out

and scrub your teeth,

 

the owner confided.

Hygiene comes first in here.

 

From Full Metal, published by Press 53, posted with the poet’s permission.

The Strike Baby (for my Mother & Father & Marie)

Eleven dollars a week

unemployment

 

and I wasn’t getting pregnant.

When I did

 

your father went on strike.

We were renting from

 

Nick and Ida Santilli.

They said forget about the rent

 

until the baby comes.

You were due.

 

Your father was on strike.

Then winter came;

 

and, my God, the snow.

The 1950 snow:

 

everybody called it

the big snow.

 

I baked bread.

We bought produce from the huckster.

 

Daddy painted Abe

and Lena Vento’s house.

 

They bought us a crib,

so we asked them

 

to be Godparents.

The days Daddy got paid

 

he brought home

a twenty sent pie.

 

It cost a hundred and ten

dollars to have a baby:

 

nine months care

and delivery,

 

calcium and vitamin pills.

Two days after

 

you were born,

the strike ended.

 

My Sister’s Childhood

There exists no accounts

of trouble in my sister’s childhood.

She was a virtuous, myopic girl;

gifted, mysterious, one to hesitate

with the secret word in the wee of night

when I tapped the wall that separated

our bedrooms and asked, “What is naked?”

And, though not quite happy about it,

she would know. When the nuns dragged me

to her classroom and beat me in front of her,

they forced her to stand

amidst her seated class. Akimbo

cross a chair I could make out

the pale blue veins

of the hand she placed on her desktop

to  steady herself as she watched.

Even as the black board fell

I thought only of her rescue.

When I finally uncrooked myself,

I was required to turn and say,

“Thank you, Sister,” to the gleaming

face that was not my sister’s.

Then I looked at Marie,

her small hands petaled across her face —

nowhere else for my eyes.

 

Joseph’s answers to my questions ~

I wrote my first poem, I think, when I was in high school and it was prompted by falling in love and wanting to impress the girl.

I’d love to have tea with Sylvia Plath.


 

 

 

 

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National Poetry Month – Beth Ann Cagle

Beth is another poet I’ve had the joy of knowing for many years. She is the third founding Co-Editor of Kakalak, Poetry and Art Journal. Beth is also a widely published photographer.

She shares  my poetry quilt posts and, for those whose work she knows, adds things I’d like to include, but in order to keep things short, I don’t. I’m so grateful she does! It’s like I’ve handed her the quilt and she enhances it with pretty, decorative stitching that she’s so gifted in. Her support and encouragement of fellow poets is well-known in the Charlotte and surrounding areas.

Beth’s own poetry has been described as sensual, spiritual, funny and moving. Having experienced physical and emotional crises,  her poems take us to the depth of that pain, through the struggles of righting oneself, and finally the joy and freedom of survival.

From First Comes Love, published by Main Street Rag Publishing, posted with the poet’s permission.

Monkey Junction Waffle House, 2:00 AM

Sauntering over asphalt, a glaring teen stops and helps

himself to a half-smoked cigarette from the parking lot.

He presses the moist butt to his lips and takes a long drag,

settling into an almost painful grimace. Suddenly, he cuts

his eyes toward a smiling obese woman shoving the door

open, huffing in humidity as she enters the café.

 

He tosses the spent stub, exhaling as he enters the café.

In a booth, she welcomes pecan waffles from the help

and slices as her breasts come to rest on the table. The door

bangs open. A shirtless drunk stumbles from the parking lot.

Blood runs in rivulets down his chest, soaking cut-

offs. The teen bums a smoke from his waitress, inhales a drag

 

as the man spews fricative blood on a frantic drag

queen, asking directions to the bath. The smoky café

turns silent while the woman, eyes averted, desperately cuts

a waffle as the drunk turns toward her; the smoker helps

himself to a cigarette, staring at the man’s wobbly gait and lot

in life. The drunk flounders toward the Men’s Room door,

 

fingers painting poppies along the wall; he bangs into the door.

The smoker smarts, “Pull the handle, Man,” nursing a drag

as the guy topples into the restroom. The cook flips a lot

of bacon; grease splatters loudly in the quiet café.

Swabbing a red face, he dials 911, “Urgent, he needs help.”

He pours eggs and flips a red sirloin as the obese woman cuts

 

another wedge of waffle, wipes her chin, and dips the cut

into syrup. After ten minutes banging behind the door,

the drunk, with flamingo steps, approaches the anxious help,

“How ya doing” like it’s an ordinary day. The juvenile drags

on his cigarette as the bum steps through blood, exits café,

and disappears beyond the glaring lights of the parking lot.

 

The cook says, “Clean up;” the waitress mutters a lot,

“Don’t pay me enough to do this shit.” The portly woman cuts

the last waffle; the smoker bums a cigarette from the café

waitress before she wipes a wet rag over walls and door.

Would-be customers turn away, repulsed as she drags

a red mop. The cook scrapes burnt eggs in the trash and helps.

 

An EMT, crossing the parking lot, enters the smeared door.

The fat lady cuts a last slice, and the smoker draws his drag.

The EMT orders toast, scans the café and asks, “Who needs help?”

 

From The Fearless Tattoo, published by Shadows Ink Publications, posted with the poet’s permission.

Mincing Cappuccino

Breathe me a blue-winged butterfly

dancing hopscotch between my ribs

in a loud drunken stupor,

bringing back my laughter

pulsing red and slurring

giddy across the warm tongue you offer,

or was it cappuccino with topping?

 

You thank me for dinner meaning lunch.

I say my pleasure meaning I want your tongue

in my mouth. You repeat my pleasure slowly.

A full second of comfortable silence,

I wait holding your hand

like a barn swallow, building a nest,

reluctant to loose her warm feathers.

 

Monkey Junction Waffle House at 2:oo AM was previously published in Main Street Rag. Mincing Cappuccino was previously published in Poetry Motel.

Beth answers my questions ~

At age five, I wrote my first greeting card verse – a rhymed four-liner about a duck I drew on a hand-made Christmas card for Dad. Since I knew the alphabet but not how to spell, I asked for the correct spelling of nearly every word from two elementary-aged boys, from the Thomasville Boy’s Home, who were spending Christmas with us that year.

My first true poem-an ekphrastic piece about the “Mona Lisa” – came at age seven or eight when a poet, visiting my second grade classroom, asked students to write about different images he’d brought. I couldn’t detect any trace of a smile. Instead, an apprehensive Mona Lisa worried as her distressed Mother watched her from a doorway beyond the painting. Reflecting, I realize the poem reveals much about my childhood desire to please, my over-sensitivity to other’s emotions, and my mom’s intense sadness after a medically-necessary hysterectomy.

I would lift a glass of wine with and to Anne Sexton, because reading her Compiled Works in college freed me to write about all types of subject matter I believed taboo for poetry or at least for my poetry. Her brave writing about personal issues – including depression, irreverent spiritual crisis, and female sensuality – led me to write my own poems on those subjects as well as spousal abuse, near-death experiences and survival, medically-necessary abortions, family rumors, bisexuality, and strong women.

 

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National Poetry Month – Nancy Posey

One of the great things about attending local poetry readings and open mics is meeting other poets. I met Nancy when I read at Poetry Hickory at Taste Full Beans, hosted by Scott Owens. Nancy was a regular reader there, but has since moved to Tennessee. When Nancy smiles her eyes sparkle, and she immediately made me feel right at home in her poetry backyard.

In her book, Let the Lady Speak, Nancy channels the famous – like Zelda and Penelope – and the familial like her Grandma Sally Rose. Each lady speaks a truth, sometimes an uncomfortable one, and Nancy gives them a strong voice to speak it. There is joy and sorrow in Built by Hand; matter-of-fact acknowledgement coupled with curiosity in Breast Milk and Frozen Okra. The women come alive under Nancy’s care. They become women we care about, and want to sit and listen to as they tell their stories.

From Let the Lady Speak, published by Highland Creek Books, posted with the poet’s permission.

Wash Tub Ablutions

Out in Zip city, everyone knew

that cleanliness was next to

godliness, despite the lack of

modern conveniences, so by day

we relied on the little wooden

outhouse, a test of our bladders

(How long could we wait?) or

our lungs (How long could we

hold our breath?) and at night,

we used the slop jar she slid

beneath our bed. Bathing was

simpler; squatting in a galvanized

wash tub heated with water from

the wood stove as our granny

scrubbed us hard with a clean rag,

a rough brush, and lye soap.

Squealing in mock humiliation,

we relished the tales we’d tell,

returning to our homes in town

as if from some remote village

in Africa. Our skin still raw from

the scrubbing, surely then we felt

just a little closer to God.

 

Breast Milk and Frozen Okra

Easy enough to ignore the Philco deep freeze

tucked in our garage, bought to hold the catch

from a deep sea fishing trip or the impulse

purchase of a side of beef, the plastic bags

and boxes of some summer’s bounty –

just not this one. It keeps purring alone

out there unnoticed, until the rare urge

to deep clean strikes, and I find myself

digging through last year’s blueberries

or buy-one-get-one deals I couldn’t pass up,

then wondered why. And then I find them

there, near the bottom: three misshapen bags

of mother’s milk, stored unneeded for

my son now old enough to ride his bike

without the training wheels, and next to that,

freezer-burned okra, planted, picked,

mealed and bagged for me by my granny’s

liver-spotted hands I last saw folded across

her chest before the lid was lowered.

 

Feeling silly, first I cried, then laughed to think

of souvenirs that I might leave behind.

 

Herself, Only Thinner

She steps in front of the full-length mirror

in the store, glancing right then left

before turning sideways for a look.

Placing her hand over the bulge just

below her waist, she tallies every bite

she’s taken since yesterday, but can’t

account for the change.

 

Why can’t they see what she sees?

How can they deny what’s in plain sight?

She feels hunger gnaw at her insides,

giving herself a silent “Good girl” for

resisting every offer of just one sliver,

one tiny bite, for moving the food

around on her plate, cutting it into

smaller and smaller bites but eating

none, hoping that one day

she’ll see what they claim they see:

herself, only thinner.

 

Washtub Ablutions was previously published in Dead Mule School of Southern Literature

Nancy answers my questions ~

I can’t remember when I didn’t write poetry! I started back writing seriously about ten years ago, but I remember that in high school I was in our high school beauty pageant (representing the debate club if that explains my presence there!) Instead of singing “Color My World” or something like that, I recited poems I had written. I’m sure they were typical high school poems, but I remember some of the popular girls coming up afterwards and telling me they wrote poems too.

I’ve been fortunate enough to share a cup of coffee or a glass of wine with some of my favorite poets, since many of my favorites are those generous North Carolina poets. I’d love to spend some time with Natasha Tretheway, Billy Collins, or Ted Kooser to hear about how being National Poet Laureate changed them. I’d like to know how good it must feel to be able to introduce people to poetry in a fresh new way.

 

 

 

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National Poetry Month – Wendell Berry

There have been many happy coincidences putting this poetry quilt together. One of them has been seeing some of my favorite poets showing up, as the ones my featured poets would like to spend time with. Knowing Tony Reevy, I wasn’t surprised Wendell Berry was his choice. He was on my list to feature, so it seems fitting to follow Tony’s post with Wendell’s

. . . though I’ve never actually met Mr. Berry.

I’m forever grateful to the farmer who led me to Wendell Berry years ago, when I was still homeschooling. My ‘baby’ will be 28 this year so you know how long it’s been since I began reading Berry’s work. His poetry and fiction take up half of one shelf in one of my bookcases. I need to add his essays.

Berry’s writing influences in little ways. My cottage is my Port Williams, where time and life slow down. After reading his poetry my hands ache to go out and dig in the dirt, plant something, tend my garden. Even the name for my blog, A Writer’s Window, was inspired by his book, Window Poems. And he influences in larger ways – in the way I see things, the way I strive to live a simpler life.

Since I didn’t ask Wendell my two questions, I’ll include two of his quotes~

“Whether we and our politicians know it or not, Nature is a party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and a stricter sense of justice than we do.”

 “There are no unsacred places; there are only sacred and desecrated places.”

and two links to hear him read one of the poems that I read to re-center myself.

The Peace of Wild Things, read by Wendell Berry.

The Peace of Wild Things, read by Wendell Berry.

 

 

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