Poet of the Week Archive: October, 2005
October 3 - 9, 2005: Nancy Dillingham
Nancy Dillingham's poems tap our emotional keyboard with deft and delicate, yet meaty and strong vocabulary. Imagistic, narrative, dense as a laurel thicket, clean as the hogkiller's knife, precise as a lightning flash -- these poems catch at the senses; they linger like a memory, illuminating the spirit. As a master carver removes to reveal essence, this poet pares away verbiage and peels back syllables. The result is spare and stellar -- poems as blindingly immediate as sticking tongue to frozen metal. Ms. Dillingham writes of the pioneer woman ("Pioneer woman/ in all my silences/ I think of you"), the mountain woman ("There is a landscape/ of the heart/ that sets us apart"), and gives her the universal womanhood grounded in the specific ("Still/ as a white sapling/ she stands/ daguerreotyped/ by the night."). Her poems move us through the seasons and through the hurts and beauty of a hard life. She does all this with some touches of humor but without glossing over the painful miscarriage, the snakebitten child, or the mood of the wife -- the "umber statue in the dusk" who waits in the doorway when the unfaithful husband returns from his week with her sister in Idaho. -- Celia Miles
Celia Miles retired from Asheville-Buncombe Technical Community College, where she taught English and worked closely with Nancy Dillingham on the yearly production of the college's literary journal, Victoria Press.
A note from Nancy Dillingham: The following poems are taken from my latest book of poetry, First Light, inspired by my grandmother Zella Dillingham. I wanted to pay homage to her through an "imagined" journey of the archetypal mountain woman who carves out family and community in a western North Carolina wilderness valley -- the valley of Dillingham in Big Ivy. As I say in the author's comment on the back of the book, I follow her down the "hardscrabble road from marriage, childbirth -- and death -- to midwifery, folk medicine, and metaphor." (A footnote: I was born at home and my grandmother "attended" my mother.)
Soft as smoke rising
Having jumped the broom
Through the yard
In the Garden
The first time
Nancy Dillingham is the author of three books of short stories and poems: New Ground (1998), The Ambiguity of Morning (2001), and First Light (2003). Her work currently appears in The Asheville Poetry Review's tenth anniversary issue.
October 10 - 16, 2005: Ricky Garni
Ricky Garni, self portrait
Ricky Garni is our poet of the parenthetical thought and I adore him for it. Since we first met over a decade ago, through the offices of the North Carolina poet and publisher Jonathan Williams, he has continued to entrance me with his adventurous imagination and his inventive self-published works. As different as our work is, we share a common belief in the Other which feeds us, and in the mysteries of language. We both admire Jean Dubuffet's definition of art: "Art does not lie down on the bed that is made for it; it runs away as soon as one says its name; it loves to be incognito. Its best moments are when it forgets what it is called."
I envision Ricky at Gertrude Stein's couch; Alice beaming with approval. They would have liked Ricky not because he twists language inside out, feelings upside down, and thoughts middle to middle but because he, unlike her many contemporary disciples who pursue obfuscation for obfuscation alone, moves in circles and spirals and wicked topsy-turvys like a child. He is naturally so. Gertrude would gleefully have had Alice invite him to tea, coffee, chocolates and Alice would have cooked something nice. Something better than nice. The dogs would have nibbled his socks and everyone would have laughed. Picasso, then Tchelitchew, would have painted him. Ricky joins those quirky quarky quacky ones -- Stein, Christian Morgenstern, Russell Edson, Stevie Smith, Lewis Carroll, Alfred Starr Hamilton, and Kenneth Patchen -- in a realm where what is not is IS and what is is IS NOT. It's a world where all can play with none left behind. But you have to turn your thinking caps around, or cut holes in them, or turn them inside out. -- Jeffery Beam
Jeffery Beam is the author of numerous works of poems including Visions of Dame Kind (The Jargon Society, 1995), The Fountain (North Carolina Wesleyan College Press, 1992), An Elizabethan Bestiary: Retold (Horse & Buggy Press, 1997), and the award- winning spoken-word compilation What We Have Lost: New & Selected Poems 1977-2001 (Green Finch Press, 2001). He is the poetry editor of the online and print literary journal Oyster Boy Review.
Ricky Garni attended Duke University and has lived in the Triangle since 1986. He has produced twenty-odd books of poetry and prose in limited editions. Mr. Garni has published widely in print and on the web and has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize on three occasions. His work has been featured in anthologies by Pif, Mitochondria, and Megaera. Over the years, Mr. Garni has worked as a teacher, a recording engineer and arranger, a wine merchant, and a graphic designer. In the mid-90s, he organized a series of readings in the Triangle: 101 Secret Wing Dings. Slated for 2006 is The 1865 Project, in which the audience and speakers will be either younger than 18 or older than 65, and all invited to share parts of the world and history that they dearly love and wish to voice and preserve. Mr. Garni is presently in the process of completingMake It Wavy, a compilation accepted for publication byOyster Boy Review's Off the Cuff Books. His long-term favorite enterprise is a collection of autobiographical comic multimedia poems entitled The Eternal Journals Of Crispy Flotilla.
October 17 - 23, 2005: John Balaban
John Balaban, photo by Corolla Clift
I first encountered John Balaban's work in the 1970s at the Unicorn Press in Greensboro, when the publisher showed me, with great excitement, lovely hand-made volumes of Balaban's first translations from the Vietnamese. Some thirty years later, when we were hiring a poet-in-residence at North Carolina State University, I was delighted to rediscover John, and learn what a remarkably prolific, varied, and brilliant career he has had. The author of twelve books of poetry and prose, he has won many awards, including a Guggenheim fellowship. But what knocked me out -- and made me want to hire him -- was the work itself: the beautifully crafted, moving poems, the translations, the fiction, and Remembering Heaven's Face, a memoir about his experience serving as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, where he worked to save children injured in the fighting. In this remarkable book -- perhaps the finest ever published about this period in Vietnamese history -- Mr. Balaban observes the Vietnamese people, countryside, and war with a humane yet fierce and passionate eye. The memoir also reveals John Balaban as a man of great courage and moral principles.
While the war was still going on, Mr. Balaban returned to the Vietnamese countryside to tape folk poetry, which he translated and has now published in several volumes. During this time he first encountered the work of Ho Xuan Huong, an 18 th-century courtesan and political mastermind whose poems are still very much alive in Vietnam. Spring Essence, a volume of her poems published in 2002, is arguably one of the most important translations ever made in any language, for it presents Ho Xuan Huong's poems for the first time in its calligraphic originals: that is, in Nom, the ancient Vietnamese script, which had never before been set in type. Since then Mr. Balaban and his foundation (http://nomfoundation.org) have compiled a dictionary of Nom and have begun an online archive of the classics in this 1,000-year heritage.
John Balaban is a devoted and exacting teacher of poetry who often gives readings and talks throughout the state and nation. We're fortunate to have him in North Carolina. Read more about him on his own website (www.johnbalaban.com) and in the spring of 2006 be sure to look for his next book of poems. Meanwhile, enjoy the poems below. -- Angela Davis-Gardner
Angela Davis-Gardner has written two critically acclaimed novels, Forms of Shelter and Felice. Her third novel, Plum Wine, will be published in spring, 2006. Many of her short stories and personal essays have appeared in literary journals and anthologies. Her honors include two fellowships from the North Carolina Arts Council and the 1992 Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Fiction. Ms. Davis-Gardner teaches creative writing at North Carolina State University, where she was chosen Alumni Distinguished Undergraduate Professor, 2002-2004.
A note from John Balaban on the first poem in this group in its various forms -- Nom, roman script, and his English translation:
Ho Xuan Huong -- her given name means "Spring Essence" -- was born around 1775 in a period of civil war, foreign invasion, and social disintegration. Her fame in Vietnam as a poet and cultural figure continues to this day. A concubine, although a high-ranking one -- one of her cousins became Emperor -- she followed Chinese classical styles in her poetry, but preferred to write in nom, the language of ordinary Vietnamese. And while her prosody followed traditional forms, her poems were anything but conventional, often operating as complete double entendres, and sometimes suggesting tonal echoes of subversively risque. And if this were not enough to incur disfavor in a time when impropriety was punished by the sword, she wrote poems that ridiculed the authority of the decaying Buddhist church, the feudal state, and Confucian society. Yet, because of her stunning poetic cleverness and the sense of spiritual hunger that one can see in poems like "Autumn Landscape," her poems survived, copied by hand for almost 100 years before they finally saw a woodblock printing in 1906.
Spring Essence: The Poetry of Ho Xuan Huong is the first printing of her collected poetry in any Western language. Indeed, it is the first time that her poems have been actually printed in the nom she wrote in, rather than passed on by hand or copied in limited woodblock editions. One thousand years of nom writing -- in literature, law, religion, government, medicine, and philosophy -- are currently unreachable to all but a handful of Vietnamese scholars who can still read this ideographic writing system that began its slow surrender to Western-style, roman script towards the end of the 17 th century. Spring Essence is a first step, through computer analysis, towards recovering this long literary tradition.
Drop by drop rain slaps the banana leaves.
The following poem is drawn from Mr. Balaban's collection of his own poems entitled Path, Crooked Path, John Balaban, 2005. Copper Canyon Press, in Port Townsend, Washington, will publish the book next spring, and the poems appear here with the permission of Mr. Balaban and Copper Canyon (http://www.coppercanyonpress.org).
Highway 61 Revisited
Summer was flooding the city highways
In midwestern farmlands rustling wheatcrowns,
In Texas, I heard voices.
I turned onto a less traveled blacktop running south
But tonight is the summer solstice and I am with friends
John Balaban is the author of eleven books of poetry and prose, including four volumes that together have won The Academy of American Poets Lamont prize, a National Poetry Series Selection, and two nominations for the National Book Award. His Locusts at the Edge of Summer: New and Selected Poems won the 1998 William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America. In 2003, he was awarded a John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship. Mr. Balaban is Poet-in-Residence and Professor of English at North Carolina State University in Raleigh.
October 24 - 30, 2005: A Haiku By Any Other Name....
Back in April, the town of Sylva observed its yearly "Greening Up the Mountains," a street fair to welcome in the spring. As part of its display, City Lights Bookstore, owned and operated by my friend Joyce Moore, wanted to make poetry the centerpiece. We discussed several ideas to encourage folks to experience writing a poem. Magnetic poetry for passers-by to play around with? Some sort of springboard for poets of all ages to dive off of and see what they could find? We settled on a haiku writing "hook." The prize for best poem in each age group would be a poem written by me in response to the winning entries.
Below are the winning poems, with my poems talking back to them. I didn't attempt a haiku in response. I wanted to let my enjoyment of the poems spill over whichever way it wanted.
(Victoria Kelly, Courtney Clapper, and Megan Nicholson are students in western North Carolina. Ann Woodford is a Chapel Hill resident who has a cabin in Robbinsville.)
Sponteneity and attention to a particular image or moment are among the hallmarks of haiku, and therefore, the form is one that works well as an introduction to poetry for just about anybody. The traditional Japanese haiku is a form well worth studying, and I encourage everyone who is interested in poetry to become familiar with haiku's history.
The best place to begin is by visiting the excellent website maintained by the North Carolina Haiku Society: http://nc-haiku.org/. There you will find a discussion of haiku's history and its form, as well contemporary innovations on it. You'll find suggestions for using haiku in the classroom. And you'll find examples of haiku by a number of fine poets, including Lenard Moore, who has been president of the Society for several years and has won haiku awards both here in the U.S. and in Japan. These are haiku by a master of the form! -- Kathryn Stripling Byer
Age Twelve and Under (tie)
By Victoria Ashley Kelly:
Victoria Ashley Kelly
I love ice-cream so
Ice cream waits
the taste oh
as if teetering there
and so sweet
By Courtney Clapper:
Old lazy kitty
Too lazy to bring any
Age 13 to 20:
By Megan Nicholson:
The woman is old
Age 21 and over:
By Ann Woodward:
the misty dawn glow
Trick or Treat!
Kay Byer, photo by Chris English for UNCG
Several years ago, when my daughter was in middle school, I was working on her Halloween costume, a long blue silky princess dress, and in the course of that work, I was thinking about writing a sestina, a form in which six words are repeated in a pre-arranged pattern as end words for each line in the six stanzas. I asked her to pick six "magic" words for me, which she did. Silk, copper (the name of her dog), rose, pumpkin, lost, and hem. The last word must have come to her as she watched me hemming her princess dress. The poem seemed to spin right out like magic itself.
Years later, when our daughter was in college, I remembered the Halloween poem I had written for her and decided to write another, as Halloween approached, using the same end words. I was never satisfied with the poem, though there were parts of it that pleased me. I pulled it out again just a few months ago and decided to scrap the sestina form and use the images and magic words in a free verse form. The conclusion is borrowed from my friend George Ella Lyon, who was in a poetry circle I participated in last year. The "bright face of forever" seemed to capture so intensely the face of the full moon on All Hallows Eve that I couldn't resist stealing it! - Kathryn Stripling Byer
A princess, she likes the way silk
of your dress sweeps the hem
from the dead, wearing one perfect rose
art, our show of pretending we've lost
would say he knows nothing of this. Let us pumpkins
she whispers, but she wants to say something silk
the fragrance of rose-water! Under the copper
and time slides like silk