National Poetry Month, April 30, 2014

NC Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti

NC Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti

I was in Bethlehem, North Carolina last night at the Bethlehem Branch Library, featured in its fifth annual “Night with the Authors,” hosted most amply and graciously by the library (managed by Chris Lee) and Bud Caywood. It was a wonderful occasion, soup to nuts: a warm, smart, engaged audience, unabashed in its delight in poetry, and many of the attendees practicing poets. The library also had displayed a wonderful exhibition of photography by Micah Henry, the Managing Editor of The Taylorsville Times.

Bud Caywood

Bud Caywood

Bud also publishes, twice a year, Bloodshot: A Journal of Contemporary Culture. It’s a beautiful little magazine, a little smaller, a little thinner than City Light Pocket Poets Series, themed and packed with fine poems and accompanying visual art. Folks unacquainted with the liveliness and wherewithal of little communities like Bethlehem (though that name does have mythic valence) might call them the middle of nowhere. Joan and I have abided in a number of these towns, and raised our children in them. That library I visited last night is emblematic of the concerted, often heroic, collaborative efforts among vibrant libraries and conscionable imaginative citizens in tiny communities across the sate of North Carolina to keep the Arts and Humanities, reading, writing and literacy at all times on the front burner. This is perhaps most noticeable in April, National Poetry Month, though spreading the good news about poetry and how it dovetails into education and life-long learning is hardly confined, among these partners, to the month of April.

John Crowe Ransom

John Crowe Ransom

And enormous gratitude to libraries everywhere in this state – and the school systems, arts councils, colleges, community colleges, universities, hospitals and other agencies. It’s staggering, and beyond gratifying, to contemplate the activities generated in North Carolina where so many of our state’s citizens gather in small and large towns, in small and large rooms, to spread the news and celebrate poetry in April. Today is the birthday of John Crowe Ransom. Here’s “Winter Remembered.” Annie Dillard, born in my hometown of Pittsburgh, also celebrates a birthday today. We rarely think of Dillard as a poet, but here are two convincing poems of hers: “Quatrain of the Body’s Sleep” and“Mayakovsky In New York: A Found Poem.”

Lee Smith, Annie Dillard and Colin Wilson at Hollins College in the mid 60s

Lee Smith, Annie Dillard and Colin Wilson at Hollins College in the mid 60s

I mentioned Lee Smith in yesterday’s post, and her appearance at Appalachian State today. It’s mind-blowing that Lee and Annie Dillard not only attended Hollins College at the same time, but were also roommates. I could be imaging the latter, but I’m certain Lee told me this face to face. I do know that they remain very close friends to this day.  Here’s a review of Nancy C. Parrish’s 1998 Lee Smith, Annie Dillard, and the Hollins Group: A Genesis of Writers that I hope you’ll find intriguing – maybe even enough so to get your hands on the book. The review mentions Ransom who was of course keenly influential among the Fugitive Poets. It’s fascinating and mysterious when writers and artists come together at a given time under a declared, or even coined, banner that continues to not only chart a literary movement, but to also identify them for their entire careers.

Morri Creech

Morri Creech

Colossal congratulations to Morri Creech of Charlotte. His book, The Sleep of Reason, was a finalist for the 2014 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry.

Today concludes National Poetry Month and thus I shall conclude blogging. It’s been an eye-opening adventure and I’ve learned so very much. It was even fun – in a masochistic sort of way. Thanks to all of you who checked it out. It’s Half of Whatreally been my pleasure and great honor. I want to thank especially David Potorti, Literature and Theater Director at the North Carolina Arts Council. David has been my guide and advocate; and, without him, this blog would not have been possible. If it looks good, it’s because of David’s artistic and aesthetic sensibilities. He is affable, kind, generous, broadly talented; and a huge benefit of being Poet Laureate has been getting to know him so well, being in constant contact and, more than anything, counting him among my dear friends.

And, of course, my proverbial cloak across every puddle in North Carolina for my beloved wife, Joan, the Muse Laureate, who accompanied me faithfully and in good cheer on my many treks this April and over the past 22 months or so. She left her own shimmering stamp of poetry among the people she met. I promised Joan I would mention Piggy Bear, the legendary dog she had when we first met back in 1976 as VISTA Volunteers. Piggy’s birthday is April 23, the same as Shakespeare’s. I decided not to feature Piggy that day, fearing he would crowd out The Bard.

So, in reparation for that slight, and to make good belatedly on my promise to Joan, I’m offering the following tribute to Piggy Bear. It will appear in an essay called “The Turf of Hankering,” from my forthcoming book of essays called Half of What I Say Is Meaningless, due out in June of 2014 from Mercer University Press in Macon Georgia.

Piggy Bear, Joan and Joseph Bathanti

Piggy Bear, Joan and Joseph Bathanti

Joan … packed a .22 pistol and her own set of tools. There was the ’66 two-door Ford Fairlane, with its brazen red interior. She liked to camp along the Broad River, in Clarke County outside Athens, Georgia, with her dog, Piggy Bear, a fourteen pound long-legged prognathous dervish with velvety ears, a teased mohair pelt, and metronomic tail the size of a half-smoked stogie. Half bulldog, half French poodle, son of Spud and Croquette, he ate charcoal and cigarette butts and was insanely, possessively, in love with Joan and murderously jealous. Fugitive from a fairy tale, he waited for that one foretold kiss from Princess Joan that would turn him into the handsome prince he knew himself to be – though if kisses from her could’ve worked that magic, he would have been a prince a million times over.

Happy Birthday, a little late, to Piggy Bear.

Okay. Let’s kiss this glorious 2014 National Poetry Month goodbye with a little Jazz Praise Song – keeping in mind that April is also a month-long National celebration of Jazz – from Louis Armstrong. This number makes me think of Piggy Bear.

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