Poet of the Week Archive: December, 2005 Part I
November 28 - December 4, 2005: doris davenport and Darnell Arnoult
Sadly enough, we often lose some of our best NC poets to other states. Whether through marriage or jobs, these poets leave us, but not in spirit. Most of them still consider themselves North Carolina writers. Such it is with two "ex-pats" who have published books with LSU Press within months of each other, doris davenport and Darnell Arnoult. Both have been good friends of mine for years, and I am pleased to be able to feature their work this week. These books bring fresh voices to the Southern/Appalachian renaissance already making such an impact on contemporary poetry. We hear much about novels by Appalachian writers -- Lee Smith, Fred Chappell, Robert Morgan, Charles Frazier -- but an amazing amount of poetic talent is also bubbling up. LSU Press is already tapping some of it. Davenport's and Arnoult's books each adds a distinctive voice to that group. -- K.S.B.
madness like morning glories: poems, by doris davenport
I met doris davenport shortly after she received a North Carolina Artists Fellowship back in the '90s. As part of the Western Carolina University Writers Series that I was then directing, she spent two days on campus visiting classes and giving a standing-room-only reading. She wowed the audience and consequently has been invited back to read and do workshops with some of our public-school students over the years. She now lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where she has taught at Stillman College. Her new collection of poetry, madness like morning glories, brings a strong new African-American voice to the canon of Southern literature. No one can spin a story quite like doris. A performance poet par excellence, she brings her strength, beauty, and morning-glory humor to every reading she gives. Most recently her work has appeared in Appalachian Heritage -- poems so engaging that I read them to my doctor at my last physical! (I had brought the journal with me for company while I waited.) How often can you say that about a poet's work? Any Southern writer who can take the hoary old subject of hog killing, for example, and make it funny and poignant is worthy of respect and enjoyment. (And in case you're wondering, my doctor loved the poems.) As a poet, doris gathers in the voices of her African-American community and makes them resonate in our imaginations. -- K.S.B.
Now, I know you remember so and so
meaning somebody who rode through town once, ten
Not like Fannie Mae. She will get all into a story and
You gone see.
1002 Desota Drive, Newtown
at the top of one hill and the bottom of
train tracks, across
sometimes i stand there with them
stands there waving
Miss Robbie Mae Franklin
You cannot get too familiar with some people.
Regulated by the whistle
doris davenport has a Ph.D. (African American Literature) from the University of Southern California. She has taught at a number of colleges and universities from New Haven to Los Angeles, Oklahoma to Ohio. She has done more than 100 poetry performances and workshops and published book reviews, articles, essays, and five books of poetry. The most recent is madness like morning glories, from which these poems are drawn.
Meanwhile she has also worked to end all the "isms" (racism, sexism, stupidism, heterosexism) and to inject joy, laughter, and passion into daily life. This approach to life was inspired by growing up among the hills and mountains (and kinfolk) of northeast Georgia.
doris davenport is available for workshops, lectures, and performances. She can be reached at email@example.com.
What Travels with Us: Poems , by Darnell Arnoult
I met Darnell Arnoult through my good friend Isabel Zuber, who told me how much she liked the poems Darnell was writing then. How many years ago was that? I can't begin to count them. Like doris's poems, Darnell's capture the voices of a particular place with compassion and humor, with nary a shred of pretension or condescension. Reading her first book of poems, What Travels With Us, is a journey through one story after another. Like doris, she brings a fresh new voice to our regional literature. She has the enviable ability to give both a sense of the communal and the personal. Even as she is presenting a believable and moving picture of her community, she is also giving these characters their own unique story to tell. Add to that her own story, as she tells it in some of the work gathered in this book, and you have a densely layered collection of poems whose language rises and falls with the cadence of real voices. There are stories both funny and poignant, and there are songs of various kinds (love songs, laments, and hymns); and then, there are poems that examine the nature of kinship and what endures.
The voices in Darnell's work are from a community that is slowly losing its sense of itself, its stories, its center, and in this it is reminiscent of other Appalachian and Southern stories -- Lee Smith's novel Oral History, for example. At the center of this "place" is the poet's eye, sharp and discerning yet loving, that is able to render these people's lives with humor and generosity.
Much of this book's material risks the cliché, the sentimental, as so much of mountain/mill life has been done to death, but out of that risk comes a lot of the book's effectiveness. The voice is so dead-on, so believable, that the tone is consequently neither patronizing nor pandering. -- K.S.B.
While my trousers cling wet and heavy as past sins,
Women in hats stand on the bank and pray,
Singing in disjointed chorus, Praise Jesus. Hallelujah.
Wash away his iniquity and cleanse him. Hallelujah.
Cleanse and sanctify, Jesus, in this holy water, God.
Photograph in the Hall
Bill leans toward her, hand on the hood, loving her with his eyes.
They are sharing something private -- a joke, lust, full hearts, like minds --
Her hair is swept into soft round waves, a thick roll of dark hair pinned behind.
Bill and Mae came to visit this evening. Out for a little Sunday ride.
Bill saw her working a tobacco field and right there decided.
Today they move slow. Hold hands to hold up. Stop to rest. Hard to believe back when there was no rest to be had, he watched her old shift slide like water across her breasts and
Darnell Arnoult's first novel, Sufficient Grace, will be published by The Free Press, an imprint of Simon and Schuster, in June 2006. Her short fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have appeared in a number of journals. She worked for many years as an arts and education administrator for the Center for Documentary Studies, at Duke University, and received her master's degree in English and Creative Writing from North Carolina State University. She has taught creative writing for the Duke Short Course Program and the Duke Writers Workshop. She married a Tennessee cowboy in 2000, and they now live on a small farm in Brush Creek, where Darnell is at work on her next novel. But she returns to North Carolina often to conduct readings and workshops. More information, including her tour schedule, is available on her web site: http://www.darnellarnoult.com.
December 5-11, 2005: Paul Aaron
The rewards of being poet laureate can sometimes be categorized as serendipity. That's how I would describe finding Paul Aaron. I had made a quick trip into Chapel Hill's Branch's Bookstore back in late May only to find it in a state of crisis, about to close. On the counter were flyers advertising a benefit reading, along with contact information. Naturally, I made use of the contact e-mail and that's how I met Paul. In the course of our e-mail conversations, he sent me a new poem he'd done, about Dulce, the chicken-sized dog. I was charmed, and I have remained so ever since by Paul's unique voice and personality, his energy, and his devotion to making poetry a part of our everyday lives. He is an activist for the literary arts, and for him, poetry is a way of expressing all the emotions and experiences in his life. I know that I will always find something surprisingly human when I read one of Paul's poems. I say surprising, because he comes to each poem with a fresh eye, seeing things that take the rest of us by surprise. Maybe that's what serendipity really means—the world opening up connections in ways that enrich our perspective on what we call reality. Paul Aaron wouldn't call this serendipity, though. Paul would call it poetry. –K.S.B.
The Cat-sized Dog
Dulce the cat-sized dog
OK a little bark
Turning topsy-turvy hearts of all who meet you,
I Was Sweet, Struck Dumb Out
The last time I played wiffle ball, I wanted a home run,
The next morning, I called my girl.
"No home runs," I shouted in mock anguish.
My sweetheart said,
After the storm
It was a quiet storm
Out the window flew my soul
It was then the tree limbs fell around us.
And there was nothing.
The breasts that I loved to touch
After the storm is over
A Word Of Thanks
Each time I sit to eat, I picture
Paul Aaron has recently returned from a tour of New York and New England, where he was promoting his CD of songs and poems, "Love, Sex, Coffee and Politics," published by Saura Press. The CD, recorded with the poet Jaki Shelton Green and guitarist Matt Kalb, is based on the evenings of poetry, prose, and song that he regularly stages in Chapel Hill and Durham. In addition, Mr. Aaron has gained some prominence as a literary activist in the Triangle area. Over the last July 4 th weekend, he organized a festival of literature and music, "Independence Day for Independent Bookstores," celebrating independent bookstores.
Mr. Aaron's publications include the collection of short stories and poems, Bush Doubles Oil Price and Other Stories, Fact and Fiction (Chapel Hill: Saura Press), and the short story, "White Flower," published by the magazine Urban Hiker. His short story, "Catastrophizing," was performed by The Deep Dish Theater Company in 2003. See www.paulaaron.com for a selection of his writings on love, politics, life, and death, and the "poetry stories" he performs with the children's poetry group, "The Crumpetty Tree Irregulars."
Mr. Aaron lives in Hillsborough. He was married for twenty-six years to Saura Bartner, Master Teacher of the Alexander Technique, who is now deceased. He has three children and will be married next spring to Liz Gilson, who recently left a successful career in computer training to pursue a Ph.D. in Religious Studies.
December 12-18, 2005: Maureen Ryan Griffin
Maureen Ryan Griffin says that she has loved words ever since "The Cat in the Hat." In her coaching, her critiquing, and the workshops she gives through her business, Word Play, she demonstrates that love every day. But even more than words, she loves life, and she radiates that love for life both in her poetry and in her being. You can see it in the three poems that appear on this site – "Diamond," "The Thin Air of Our Intentions," and "Dear Vivé." In this last poem, especially, she presents that love in "this scatter of fragrant blossoms" – a metaphor for that intense love for life that overcomes our sadness, our fear of death. Her poems are touched with humor, with love for people and nature, with an understated passion that keeps them from becoming sentimental. She knows the hard things – see "The Thin Air of Our Intentions" – but she will not be defeated by them. In the work of Maureen Ryan Griffin, it may be autumn, but it is never winter. "This Scatter of Blossoms" – the title of her beautiful chapbook – is there to remind us to breathe, to be, to taste, to feel, to find. – Tony Abbott
Tony Abbott is the Charles A. Dana Professor of English Emeritus at Davidson College. He is the author of four books of poetry, most recently The Man Who(Charlotte, NC: Main Street Rag Press, 2005) and of the Novello Festival Press Prize winning novel, Leaving Maggie Hope (2003).
What if you lost your diamond in your laundry room, what if it were wrenched
What if you'd spent hours looking through that last wash load even though you knew
What if you'd recently given your creative writing students your favorite haiku
What if you keep finding poems you wish you'd written,
the laundry is piling up because he's too busy to take apart the washer
What if this is as bad as you thought, this ungainly string of angst when what you wanted
What if you never find that one-third carat of pure carbon,
The Thin Air of Our Intentions
If my brother still remembers
Life's cheap, cats keep
Ridiculous. We're none of us
Autumn again. Walking Peppercorn Lane,
~ all the while blissful