Notable Books by North Carolina Writers: October, 2005
Declarations of Independence
Years ago, before I had published anything but a handful of poems and had already received what I considered my fair share of rejections for my first manuscript of poetry, I joined forces with Patricia Peters, a former classmate in the MFA writing program at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, to publish two small books of poetry. We named ourselves Amicae (Friends) Press and set forth. My Search Party was the result -- a chapbook containing the poem sequence by that name and several drawings by artist Joyce Sills. Despite some initial frustrations, that experience showed me that "independent" publishing was possible and that one could recoup one's expenses eventually. Several years later I joined artist Sharyn Hyatt to printAlma, containing some of the first poems from what would become a book that Louisiana State University Press published:Wildwood Flower. Only a few copies of this chapbook remain and I cherish each one of them.
Now I have the pleasure of being a part of Spring Street Editions, working with my good friend and sister alumna of UNC-G, Joyce Moore, to produce small editions of regionally focused books. My own Wake was a result of the partnership, and the process of planning the book, selecting paper, and hand-sewing the final product still beguiles me. This sort of independent publishing has a long, honorable tradition in our literature. I'm happy to be able to introduce new additions to that lineage, as well as to draw attention to our new medium for self-publication, the website. The possibilities for bringing one's work to public attention, as well as the work of writers who speak to the issues one cares about, have expanded since I declared my poet's declaration of independence more than twenty years ago. We need not be held hostage to the ever-increasing poetry competitions that pit us against one another and require us to spend large sums of money to have someone read our manuscripts and, most likely, consign them to the trash bin. I recall Maxine Kumin, who was the United States poet laureate for several years, telling me, "You have to be stubborn to make it as a poet these days."
Here are five stubborn poets who have brought their work to readers through their own efforts. - Kathryn Stripling Byer
1. The Blue Notebooks, by Dudley Marchi
photo by Robby Marchi
1307 Glenwood Avenue, Suite 152
Raleigh, NC 27605;
distributed by Quail Ridge Books & Music
3522 Wade Avenue
Raleigh, NC 27607
(919) 828-1588 / (800) 672-6789 / (919) 828-1768 [fax]
Dudley Marchi, of North Carolina State University's Romance Language department generously mailed me a copy of his book,The Blue Notebooks, almost as soon as the announcement of my appointment became public. This full-length collection gathers poems written over years of travel and reading, and the poems pull together imagery of landscape, cities, and favorite texts. As he says in his preface, the book "represents a poet's experience of the world as well as the growth of an aesthetic awareness." Some of the places permeating this work are Paris, Toulouse, Rome, Siena, Florence, Athens, and Raleigh. The literary voices that under gird these poems are many and include Sappho, Eliot, Rilke, Catullus, and Pound. - K.S.B.
No wonder ancient lips get ready
to move. There are night loops
of city buses, a child running,
trying to leave home.
His heart is as robust
as a coca-cola truck.
Sweat leaves a stain in the air.
The perfect rhythm lock
lying awake in the next room
with garlic greens and Hank Williams.
Then the tension of aunts
starts talk around the table
and the coffees and southern moons.
the earliest memory is at 3 a.m.
distant kitchen in dark humidity
grandfather coming home
from the night shift
and the sound of voices
the recurring thunder of a spiral staircase
as a child awakes in sweat
blinking at a gang of moths.
and somehow the night's mouth
opened like a wound
made him think of these
as the voice of mother rises in the air
between the need for coolness
and black and white
which bubble over and moisten the inner
Burnt flower in the heart of a wheat field, the unfinished sky.
Thistles in the brain and thirst in the undergrowth. Something
comes apart in triple ideas at night then lives inside a star
where the spirit twists endlessly. Frozen poppies explode
inside the eyes. Trees on the banks of a stream. Crows
take your breath away in the dark blue afternoon.
Dudley Marchi is a faculty member at North Carolina State University. He teaches courses on European and American literature and art, and especially appreciates British, American, and French poetry of the nineteenth century. He also enjoys playing guitar, writing songs, traveling, and spending time with family and friends.
2. Confessions of a Madwoman, by MariJo Moore
photo by J. Moore
Candler, North Carolina: rENEGADE pLANETS pUBLISHING
to order go to http://www.marijomoore.com or your local bookstore
MariJo Moore, a widely published author of Cherokee/Irish/Dutch descent, has brought out her eleventh book, Confessions of a Madwoman. A fiction writer, as well as essayist and poet, Moore has also brought her energies to teaching and promoting American Indian literature and culture. Her rENEGADE pLANETS Publishing: Books by Indigenous Authors, has produced this small pocket-sized book, reminiscent of the Shambala Publications, that gives voice to what Ms. Moore describes in her poem "Incubation":
Like the screams of strange women
who were once glorious birds,
free enough to have no name,
nothing any other being could claim,
poetry aches inside my spirit.
(October 31, 2004)
full of blood releases the past.
Consummate shape shifter
now yellow, now black, now red, now white
cleansed and hiding behind the eclipse of
our sun-shadowed eyes.
We blink once and our lives have changed
(March 31, 2005)
...a sacred fury
an uncommon madness
a scattering of birds...
Calling Down the Spirits
(May 3, 1998)
I pray to the mountains, give me
The mountains reply, give us your hands.
I pray to the skies, give me your beauty!
The skies reply, give us your eyes.
I pray to the rains, give me your healings!
The rains reply, give us your lips.
I pray to the trees, give me your patience!
The trees reply, give us your heart.
I pray to the stars, give me your teachings!
The stars reply, give us your insight.
The birds reply, give us your sleep.
I pray. I pray.
I pray. I pray.
MariJo Moore is the recipient of several literary, editing, and publishing awards. Her most recent books include The Diamond Doorknob, a novel, and Confessions of a Madwoman, poetry. She edited Genocide of the Mind: New Native American Writing, for which the Native Circle of Wordcraft Writers and Storytellers chose her as 2003 Wordcrafter of the Year. She is the founder of rENEGADE pLANETS pUBLISHING: Books by Indigenous Authors, and resides in the mountains of western North Carolina, near her son, Lance, his wife, Katie, and their two daughters Zoey Makayla and Emma Kate.
3. Here the Ordered World: The Sabbathday Lake Shaker Village, by Louis Miles
photo by Celia H. Miles
Available from Friends of the Shakers, Laurelwood
35 Maple Ridge Lane
Asheville, North Carolina 28806;
$10 per book plus $2 postage per order, with checks made payable to "Friends of the Shakers"
Using Laurelwood as his publisher's imprint, Louis Miles, of Asheville, has brought out this collection of poems and photographs. He brings a contemporary poetic response to the world of the only active Shaker community left, near Poland Spring, Maine. For most of us, Aaron Copland's Appalachian Spring - with its use of "Simple Gifts," a Shaker hymn - and Shaker furniture are all that remain to us of these remarkable communities. But as Mr. Miles shows, there is so much more to Shaker life. These poems spring from Mr. Miles's quarter-century of knowing and appreciating the Sabbathday Lake community. The collection is dedicated to the late Sister Mildred, who warns in the Elegy that begins the book, "We Shakers are not another piece/ of furniture... So don't display us like a chair." -- K.S.B.
Summer, With Light Rising
Before my visit to the dwelling house,
its corridor floors golden, polished to a sheen,
the dining hall filled with trestle tables
set for dinner,
the meeting room harsh with light,
I imagined those Shakers living solitary
days of labor,
nights of prayer,
Then, in the library, under the eaves,
where shelves sagged under the burden
of their books,
and papers spilled upon a carpet, royal blue,
to cover by half a leather bound
The Pilgrim's Progress,
my illusion vanished.
The brother noticed my eye lingering
on the pile.
"A gift from friends," he said.
The sisters wore no caps, no kerchiefs.
Across the lawn, in early light,
a woman's figure scampered toward the barn,
Bermuda shorts and sneakers,
And in the shop, another sister,
clutching a Hadley sweater to ward off
dusted cans of herbal tea.
Nostalgia was wrapped about the place,
in sage, perhaps, or lavender,
but the smells mingled with the music
of a distant record player
and were lost.
I bought a box of note cards.
"They're printed here," the sister said.
"Brother Arnold has an offset press."
At dinner, for grace, we stood in silence,
until reverberating air told us
that we were among the living,
not the dead.
Elder Joseph's Maple Tree
Under an Overcast Sky in August
Going or coming on the walkway
between dwelling house and trustees' office
I cross the concrete poured in an arch
to spare the roots of Elder Joseph's maple tree
Yesterday when passing,
hurrying toward the dwelling house
dining room for dinner,
I reached out with my left hand
to feel the bark,
rough, scaley, cool,
with just a hint of moisture.
The tree returned the touch.
From inside the tree a tremor
vibrated through ringed trunk and bark,
rippled into my fingertips,
into my arm, shoulder, chest,
spreading glowing warmth as it moved,
I was held fast,
even while dinner waited.
Later at table, another visitor
who was building a new coop
for Sister Marie's chickens,
said to me, "I saw you at Elder Joseph's tree."
"I think I felt its touch."
"Next time you pass, look how
in throwing shadows with its leaves
it builds an ocean,
wave on wave, running forward."
When Sister Mildred heard him,
she sang, "An ocean I see without
bottom or shore -
Oh, feed me, I'm hungry; enrich me, I'm poor."
Afterward, dinner finished,
under a sky grown overcast and gray,
there were no shadows.
Louis Miles was a student in Robert Lowell's graduate seminar in poetry writing at Boston University for three semesters (just missing classes with Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, and George Starbuck, who studied with Lowell during a two-year interval between his first and second courses). In subsequent years his poems were published in university quarterlies and regional and national magazines. Three small books have also appeared: Our Coaming Now is Clover (Stockwell, 1973), In the Filtered Light (Laurelwood, 2000), and Here the Ordered World(Laurelwood, 2005). A West Virginia native with degrees from Berea College, Boston University, and Drew University, Mr. Miles has lived in western North Carolina since 1960. He taught history, religion, and creative writing at Brevard College before joining the religion department and chaplaincy staff at Warren Wilson College. Following his 1994 retirement, he completed the degree program in professional crafts - jewelry at Haywood Community College.
One of Mr. Myles's primary academic interests is the Shaker religious movement, the focus of Here the Ordered World, which is based on a 25-year friendship with the still active Shaker community at Sabbathday Lake, Maine.
4. Heartleaves, by Phoebe Cobb
Order by e-mail (email@example.com) or by telephone (704-487-0874); $8.95 each.
Phoebe Cobb is the pen name of Patricia Anderson, who explains her choice of nom de plume and book title this way: "Phoebe is for the songbird. Cobb was borrowed from someone I admired (but did not know), Beatrice Cobb, for many years the publisher of the Morganton (NC) News Herald. ...The book's title comes from the family of plants that includes wild ginger (heart leaf), an endangered species." Ms. Cobb has put together a book of poems and photographs that weave the personal and the historical together in often surprising, even humorous, ways. A true poet, she says, "I see language as a gift, awesome and powerful, worthy of great respect." - K.S.B.
Death and Taxes
Miss Ella had never heard of John Maynard Keynes
And if she had, her reaction, had you mentioned
The subject of economics, would have been
"Ta'ker, ta'ker," meaning "Take care -- I don't have time for that."
What she knew was when there was enough or not enough -- and
When there was not, she did something else.
Miss Ella took care of contingencies.
Her vegetable garden (planted by the signs)
Was bordered by a jumble of red poppies and blue larkspur,
With a full palette of snapdragons and hollyhocks,
Zinnias, marigolds, and dahlias.
But you didn't cut Miss Ella's flowers --
Their best gallery was where they grew.
Hardy and luscious fare came from that garden
Along with blackberries and dewberries
And apples from the little orchard down the hill.
Now and then there were purchased peaches, with
Southern female names -- Elberta and Georgia Belle.
Some years there was a Guernsey cow, some years not.
Always there were eggs, from geographic chickens
(Plymouth Rocks and Rhode Island Reds), and those
Outsiders (or were they poets?), Barred/bard Rocks.
"R and R," of evening, was in a front porch chair,
Facing east across the bottomland toward the
Distant tree line along Lower Creek.
Only occasionally did the sound of a car
Intrude upon the sounds of whippoorwill or jar fly,
Or as evening deepened, owl.
You could lie in the grass and gaze into the great night sky
And study the galaxies, though you didn't know the word
Galaxies then, and you were transported to a distant plane,
Somehow aware of the vastness of the universe and your
Minute presence in it.
Then, music from a radio pulled you back
To your own center of gravity and the benign indulgences
Of a grandmother named Miss Ella, who let you
Comb her beautiful white hair.
In the end, Miss Ella lost her farm --
This stoic woman, almost formal in her uninformed way,
Whose thrift wouldn't quite stretch to cover the taxes.
We didn't curl up and die, of course,
But I think neither she nor I ever felt as bound
To any other place as that half-worthless farm.
I momentarily flinch
As an Ethiopian mother
Pole-axed by desperation
Spoons vitamix too late
Into her starving child.
Here in this yet-breathing boneyard
She cradles innocent death --
Skeletal remains that stare
Uncomprehending as a bovine
In a slaughterhouse.
I press the REMOTE, pole-axed
By a panoply of choice.
photo by Peter Burian
I found Maura High's poems on her web site, thanks to a tip from a friend. What a terrific website it is, and what a great idea for publishing one's work. Ms. High varies the selection of poems online, so that her readers will be tempted to come back again and again. Here are two poems from her website, both rich in physical detail and sensory inducements to read more and yet more. Go to her website and see what the future of poetry publication looks like! -- K.S.B.
Southern Green Landscaping
Two men are at work in a yard
up the street, one spreading mulch
and the other planting --
juniper and bayberry, thump
of a shovel in the cold clay,
a rake scratching at pine bark,
a jangle of leaves. They talk
back and forth in high, bright voices
while a woman sings from the radio
of their company truck,
and the sounds trickle down
through roots and stones, to find
their own level, their own
In my yard, we are mourning
a dead cat, to the rattle
of bulbs in a cardboard box,
daffodils that will flare like candles.
There is at first nothing
but gray sand, gray sea, gray sky,
not even shells or birds
or other people's footprints
or the frayed rope and battered polystyrene
that sometimes wash in
with a winter storm--
only this morning of intermittent drizzle
and a light fog
that dissolves all hard edges,
like the sea, raking and scouring,
redefining these dunes and inlets,
property lines, shipping channels,
its ceaseless hush-shush erasing
what few thoughts I set out with,
ebbing, leaving behind
small mounds and streaks of foam:
pearly, rainbow-colored bubbles
that shimmer and pop.
Maura High was born in Wales, where she still has many cousins and friends, but she makes her home in Carrboro, where she lives with her husband and an elderly dog, working mainly as a freelance copy editor and editorial manager, volunteering for The Nature Conservancy, and traveling whenever she can. She has edited poetry and fiction and published her own poetry in small magazines, and has a continuing interest in teaching, having taught English language and literature from many angles and at various levels in Nigeria, New England, and North Carolina -- most recently at Duke Continuing Studies, where she teaches grammar and editing classes. Her poetry reflects her interest in language and place, focusing often on landscapes and the way we experience them.