By & About Kathryn Byer
Fellowship of Southern Writers Award
Kathryn Byer received the Hanes Award for Poetry from the Fellowship of Southern Writers at its annual conference in Chattanooga in March, 2007. Two other North Carolina writers--Pamela Duncan (fiction) and Jennifer Grotz (poetry)--were also among the Fellowship's nine award winners this year. For the tribute North Carolina poet James Applewhite read at Ms. Byer's award presentation, click here.
Free poster of a poem by Kathryn Byer
The North Carolina Arts Council produced a poster to commemorate Governor Easley's appointment of Kathryn Stripling Byer in February, 2005, to the office of state poet laureate. The Council mailed the posters to public libraries, bookstores, local arts councils, and middle- and high-school libraries and media centers. Copies of the poster are available free of charge upon request.
Contact Burdette Southerland, Literature Program Assistant, North Carolina Arts Council, Department of Cultural Resources, Raleigh 27699-4632; (919) 807-6510; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Or, you can download the poster as a .pdf by clicking here:
Poetry by Kathryn Byer
The following poems are from Black Shawl by Kathryn Stripling Byer, published by Louisiana State University Press
Up here in the mountains
we know what extinct means. We've seen
how our breath on a bitter night
fades like a ghost from the window glass.
We know the wolf's gone.
The panther. We've heard the old stories
run down, stutter out
into silence. Who knows where we're heading?
All roads seem to lead
to Millennium, dark roads with drop-offs
we can't plumb. It's time to be brought up short
now with the tale-tellers' Listen: There once lived
a woman named Delphia
who walked through these hills teaching children
to read. She was known as a quilter
whose hand never wearied, a mother
who raised up two daughters to pass on
her words like a strong chain of stitches.
Imagine her sitting among us,
her quick thimble moving along these lines
as if to hear every word striking true
as the stab of her needle through calico.
While prophets discourse about endings,
don't you think she'd tell us the world as we know it
keeps calling us back to beginnings?
This labor to make our words matter
is what any good quilter teaches.
A stitch in time, let's say.
A blind stitch
that clings to the edges
of what's left, the ripped
scraps and remnants, whatever
won't stop taking shape even though the whole
crazy quilt's falling to pieces.
Handsome man, come with your black book to judge
me, I'll not ask you down for so much as a sip
from my bucketful. Stay in your saddle
and preach God's arrival. I'll listen.
I'll listen to anything. Left to my porch
I can see, past the stave of your hat brim,
the silverbell blooming its faraway music. Yes,
I know my price. Beyond rubies and diamonds.
Soul? Oh, that flimsy of silk hand-me-down,
it does not want to snuggle in Abraham's
bosom! It wants a strong wind. Let it fly
with the smallest of God's many sparrows.
This body you say will decay desires nothing
but sally grass, sycamore shade. Where my grave
waits is nobody's business. I walk on it
when I go trailing the first scent of dog hobble
into the dark that's already begun creeping
down from the laurel hells where I hear something
wild holding out, maybe the last wolf alive
on this mountain. He's hungry. Before long
we'll both hear him howling. Don't shout!
I believe every hair on my head has been numbered.
Lean closer. I'll untie my kerchief
and you can let God help you count them.
Full moon says look I am
over the pinebreak, says give me
your empty glass, pour
all you want, drink, look
out through your windows of ice,
through the eyes of your needles
observe how I climb, lay aside
what you weave on your looms
and see clouds fall away
like cold silk from your shoulders,
be quiet, hear the owl coming back
to the hayloft, shake loose
your long braids and rise up
from your beds, open
windows and curtains, let light
pour like water upon your heads,
all of you women who wait, raise
the shades, throw the shutters
wide, lean from your window ledge
into the great night that beckons
you, smile back at me
and so quietly nobody can hear you
but you, whisper, "Here am I."
Click here to download a recording of Kathryn Byer reading "Full Moon"
No, I'll not listen.
The sound of it's too sweet,
like honey I licked from the spoon
while he sat on my porch
and played Shady Grove.
"You are the darling of my heart,
stay till the sun goes down."
I remember the hoot owl came closer.
Moths burned their wings in his candle wick.
"Midnight," I said,
and his fingers stirred wind from the strings,
begging, Stay, while he cradled the wood in his lap
for a last song, the hazel-
green eyes of a lost lady.
Soul of the laurel shade.
"Come," he said, pointing through dark
to the bed of leaves
we'd gathered, wildflowers strewn
on a pillow of moss.
But I sent him away,
letting go of his hand
without whispering as I do
now when my wits fail me, oh my
good for nothing man.
Wesleyan College 2006 Commencement Address
Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia, presented North Carolina Poet Laureate Kathryn Stripling Byer with an honorary doctor of literature degree during its commencement exercises on May 13, 2006. Byer's message was delivered to 143 graduates via an occasional poem written specifically for the ceremony. In the poem she encouraged them to have corragio -- courage -- as they enter the world, leaving the safety of their alma mater.
-for the class of 2006, Wesleyan College, May 13, 2006
"Verde, que te quiero verde."
--Federico Garcia Lorca
When the soprano rehearsing
Traviata's impassioned "Sempre Libera"
missed yet another high E-
flat, the conductor looked up from his baton
and challenged, Coraggio, Madam, Coraggio!
What better word
could I offer as you take your leave
of this place that has gathered you
into its sisterhood?
Sometimes I still hear its voices
exhorting me: don't you forget
how you sat on the grass
outside Wortham dorm,
smoking too many cigarettes,
longing to find your way
into that poem you recited in Spanish class,
Lorca's verde viento that blew
through the classroom
like wings roused from slumber.
Forty years later I've come back
to say, simply, always be ready to welcome
the green, all that's verde within you.
Have the courage of your corazón,
a little French insouciance.
You know what I mean,
flair and attitude, flinging your purple
shawls over your shoulders!
That green wind I wanted
to follow is right here,
today, on the thirteenth of May,
so cup it awhile in your fingers
and listen: your voice,
the breath of it lifting its brave canción.
~ Kathryn Stripling Byer, Class of 1966
Click the following links to listen to recordings of Kathryn Stripling Byer reading her work.