Poet of the Week Archive: June, 2005
June 6 - 12, 2005: Michael Chitwood
Michael Chitwood, photo by Jean Chitwood
I've been lucky enough to know Michael Chitwood and his poetry for nearly two decades. What he writes never fails to delight and instruct me.
Delight first, because that's what poems afford above all: concentrated verbal pleasure. Chitwood's free verse is tight and vivid. If I have students whose work is too prosy or abstract, I give them a copy of Salt Works or Whet orGospel Road Going or that masterpiece The Weave Room and say: Look how wonderfully sharp and specific these lines are, how nothing is wasted! His poems are also delightfully surprising, with satisfying leaps of imagery and audacious imagination. They are always accessible, the language of a man speaking to his fellow humans, who can enjoy his words without a fancy college degree. Finally, they delight because they are so Appalachian, so deeply rooted in that lofty place: we are both mountain natives, and so I'm going home when I read his lines. I get their wit and edge and ache.
It may sound strange to call his poems instructive, but they are in a number of ways. Chitwood is a connoisseur of quirky facts, especially natural or historical ones. From him I have learned about trebuchets and lard firkins, for example. His poems have also taught me through their larger groupings. I don't know another contemporary who is better at discovering a subject (the unionization of a cotton mill, the truth, old folks' whatnots, familiar adages) and developing it through a series of poems. And Michael Chitwood's poems have also taught me - by example, through their very existence - about the value of diligence and persistence. He is a hard-working and prolific writer, so if I ever feel like slacking off all I have to do is think, Mike's at his desk every day, working at writing, sending his words out into the world; I should be, too. His perseverance is truly inspiring. – Michael McFee
Michael McFee teaches creative writing and North Carolina literature at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is the author of six books of poetry - most recentlyShinemaster (Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2006) - and the editor of two anthologies of poetry and fiction by North Carolina writers.
Tonight, the moon is hauling bituminous,
Quarters, Dimes, Nickels
Born and raised in the hills of the Virginia Blue Ridge, Michael Chitwood is a freelance writer and a visiting lecturer at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. A new book, From Whence, is slated for publication by Louisiana State University Press. Both these poems are drawn from that collection and are reproduced here with permission of Mr. Chitwood, who holds the copyright. His poetry and fiction have appeared in Poetry, The New Republic, Threepenny Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, Field, The Georgia Review and numerous other publications. Ohio Review Books has published two books of his poetry: Salt Works(1992) and Whet (1995). His third book, The Weave Room (1998), was published by The University of Chicago Press as part of its Phoenix Poets series. Also in 1998 Down Home Press published his collection of essays, Hitting Below the Bible Belt. His most recent collection of poems, Gospel Road Going, was published in 2002 and was awarded the 2003 Roanoke-Chowan Prize for Poetry. Mr. Chitwood is a regular commentator for radio stations WUNC-FM, in Chapel Hill and WVTF-FM, in Roanoke, VA. His book reviews and articles have appeared in newspapers and magazines including the Greensboro News & Record, The Charlotte Observer, and the Raleigh News & Observer's magazine.
June 13-19, 2005: Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin & Susan Lefler
Susan Lefler, Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin, photo by Charles Lefler
Sometimes a writing workshop rewards you beyond measure. So it was with a class at John C. Campbell Folk School, in Brasstown, several years ago. Among the participants were two poets I knew little about, Susan Lefler and Jeannette Cabninis-Brewin. Cracker-jack smart, I decided on the first day, and able to vocalize their reactions to the work the group presented. Over the course of a week, their own work began to speak, Jeannette's obviously the more assured and experienced; Susan's still a bit tentative but with the eagerness of the beginner breaking through in ways that hinted at what was to come. After the workshop, the two of them began an e-mail critiquing relationship that quickly became a real literary friendship. The results of that friendship can be seen in these poems. So can the results of a workshop whose energy still keeps stirring years later. Archie Ammons once said that a good poem has an inexhaustible source of liveliness at its heart. So does a good poetry workshop, if it has writers like Susan Lefler and Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin in attendance! -- Kathryn Stripling Byer
On Reading William Stafford the Morning After the Election
Jeannette Cabanis-Brewin lives in Cullowhee. Her poetry has appeared in such journals as The Atlanta Review andAppalachian Heritage and a chapbook is forthcoming.
The Photographer at Cataloochee Waiting for Elk
Susan Lefler lives in Brevard. Her poetry has appeared inAsheville Poetry Review, Appalachian Heritage, Wind, and other journals. Her photographic history, Brevard, was published by Arcadia in 2004. She is a contributing editor for Smoky Mountain Living.
June 20-26, 2005: John York
John York, photo by Jan Hensley
I like to think of John York as "family," in the way that writers sometimes feel about those whose perspective and use of language seem akin to their own. Having known John for longer than I can begin to remember, I know how tenacious he has been in the development of his craft. Here is a Southern voice that is rich and compelling, humorous and humane, generous and gentle without losing any poetic muscle. I have admired John's poetry for years and his work richly deserves a wider audience. No longer "promising," it has arrived in all its down-home glory. John has worked hard as both a high-school teacher and a poet for a good while, and his integrity shows forth in his poems: there is nothing stinting in his presentation of his world. The scents, the sights, the tactile details all shine through with a winning and memorable style and voice. The best compliment I can give? That I wish I'd written these poems! – Kathryn Stripling Byer
Shining Wind, Stone, and Tree
John Thomas York was born in Winston-Salem in 1953. He grew up on a farm in Yadkin County, in northwestern North Carolina. He has degrees from Wake Forest, Duke, and UNC-Greensboro and has taught in the public schools for twenty-seven years. In 2003, the North Carolina English Teachers Association (NCETA) named him the state's Outstanding Teacher of the Year. "June" appeared in the spring, 2002 issue of Appalachian Journal. "Shining Wind, Stone and Tree" appeared in Mr. York's chapbook, Johnny's Cosmology(Winston-Salem, NC: The Hummingbird Press, 1994). Both are reproduced here with permission of the author, who holds the copyright.
June 27-July 4, 2005: Dannye Romine Powell
Dannye Romini Powell, photo by Dustin Peck
"Dannye," I say, "you've got the most wonderful quirky edge to your poetry - like no other - and at the same time so human and immediate." I've been telling her this since the 1970s, all the years that Dannye and I have been in a poetry work group together. The original cast consisted of Harriet Doar, Dannye, and Susan Ludvigson. I joined soon after, as did Judy Goldman and Lucinda Grey. After Judy dropped out to concentrate on novels, we were supplemented by Mary Hunter Daly and Dede Wilson. So now we are six. Six who have enriched one another's work by our sternly passionate criticism. I think I speak for all in saying this give-and-take has also been a wonderful self-learning process. "Now, Julie," Dannye says, underlining my poem in her on-the-target way.
It Is Said that Wigmakers
All I Know for Certain
Dannye Romine Powell is the author of two collections of poetry, At Every Wedding Someone Stays Home (1994) and The Ecstasy of Regret (2002), both published by the University of Arkansas Press. She has won fellowships in poetry from the NEA and the North Carolina Arts Council. Her poems have appeared in numerous journals, including Poetry, The Paris Review, Ploughshares, The Georgia Review, Field, Beloitand Praire Schooner. The Ecstasy of Regret was a finalist for the Southeastern Booksellers Award, and Andrew Hudgins chose it as winner of the Brockman Campbell Award. She is also the author of Parting the Curtains: Interviews with Southern Writers (Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, 1994). She is a local news columnist for The Charlotte Observer. "Is Said that Wigmakers" appeared in the spring, 2004 Bellevue Literary Journal. "The Avalanche" appeared in the spring, 2005Ploughshares. All three poems are reproduced here with permission of Ms. Powell, who holds the copyright.