Notable Books by North Carolina Writers: December 2006
An invitation . . .
How many times have I heard the saying, "Throw a rock (or whatever else comes to mind, something nonviolent, I hope) in North Carolina and you'll hit a writer!" Well, throw a lariat, as I like to think I'm doing, and you'll pull in some books worth adding to your collection, your nightstand, your life. I hope this "book of the month" feature does just that: reels in some books by North Carolina writers, most of them by poets -- but not always. Sharing books we like is one of the pleasures of life, as far as I'm concerned. It's like passing on a memorable recipe or a personal story of how some writer's words made the world become more alive, more mysterious, more hospitable. These books invite you to enter them and be a part of their experience.
-- Kathryn Stripling Byer
About Longleaf Press
Michael Colonnese and Robin Greene
Longleaf Press was established in 1997 as a nonprofit literary press whose mission is to publish quality chapbooks from new and deserving poets from the Southeast. Located on the campus of Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina, the press publishes the winner of its annual chapbook contest, and as funds allow, other deserving manuscripts that come to its attention.
Longleaf Press was founded and is currently run by Michael Colonnese, who serves as managing editor, and Robin Greene, who serves as editor-in-chief. Assistant editors are students in Methodist University's English and Creative Writing program.
Next year the press will extend its reach to include consideration of chapbook-length and full-length manuscripts from poets not only in the Southeast but also in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeastern regions (CT, DC, DE, MA, MD, ME, NH, NJ, NY, PA, RI, and VT).
Longleaf Press will launch its expanded mission in January, 2007, with the publication of Roger Weingarten's full-length collection of poetry, Premature Elegy by Firelight, excerpted below.
Click here for our submission guidelines.
Longleaf Press Titles
Unravelings, 1998, Barbara Presnell
Mortal, 1999, Judas Riley Martinez
The Tar Baby on the Soapbox, 1999, Carole Boston Weatherford
Lost Languages, 1999, Jonathan Minton
Birth Mother, 2000, Joanna Catherine Scott
Junkanoo, 2000, Keith Cartwright
Logic of the Lost, 2001, Kenneth Chamlee
Red Land, Black Land, 2002, Tina Barr
Los Hijos, 2002, Barbara Presnell
That Echo, 2003, Deborah Doolittle
The Ice Carver, 2004, David Manning
Vigils of the Dead, 2005, Sally Logan
Paradise Motel, 2005, Earl McMurray
American Journey, 2006, Stephen Benz
We're happy to share with you excerpts from chapbooks we've published by Joanna Scott, Barbara Presnell, and Roger Weingarten, and invite you to get to know the work of the other fine writers we've published over the years.
-- Robin Greene & Michael Colonnese
Robin Greene is a Professor of English at Methodist University in Fayetteville, North Carolina, where she teaches creative writing and composition. She has published two collections of poetry, and one nonfiction collection of birthing narratives.
A past recipient of a writers' fellowship from the North Carolina Arts Council, Ms. Greene regularly publishes her poetry and nonfiction in journals. Her creative nonfiction has aired on National Public Radio. Currently, she is working on an anthology of open letters from established poets to young poets, and she is writing an historical novel about slavery in Fayetteville. Ms. Greene's poetry appeared on this web site in May, 2006.
Michael Colonnese is a professor of English at Methodist University. His stories, poems, and essays have appeared in many literary journals including Carolina Quarterly, MSS, Poet Lore, Passages North, and The Chattahoochee Review. He is working on a novel.
From Birth Mother, by Joanna Catherine Scott:
The Birth of Love
Until now, faces in a photograph, bruised eyes
saying they have seen too much, too soon.
Pity for them. Charity. Atonement, maybe,
for those blond children lost so many years ago.
I creep into the sleeping room to kiss these three
adopted children cheek by cheek by soft Korean cheek.
They lie together, limb-wound in a pile,
breath rolling out in low contented sighs.
But then, a hand, tight-clenched against the sheet,
uncurls to show a just-in-case-life-changes ball of rice.
I die in that brief moment, rise again,
the heavy nights of weeping for my other children
gone, the panicked waking before dawn,
hallucinations of a quick fair head around a door,
of scuttling feet on carpet, gravel drive,
clutch of arms about my waist, or thigh,
of sad wet faces buried in my breast,
the sweet, sweet-sour smell of children's flesh.
He who saveth one life saves the world.
My breath rolls out, and in with theirs.
Miss Lee, the social worker, worried over us. From Korea
to the Philippines? Is that advancement for an orphan?
Sure enough, no sooner here than wax-winged Marcos
melted from supremacy. Revolution in the streets,
and in the sky, fighter jets defecting to the rebels' side.
Meanwhile, our three new children squat around a low
glass table out on the lanai, mull over pages in cheap
coloring books, arrange new crayons in a triple row.
While dictators collapse above their heads, short-wave
squawking in another room, they color dancing girls
in swirling skirts, a boy swinging a baseball bat, a dog,
a family at a meal. Green trees and grass, a yellow sun --
such simple things, but how they bow their heads
above them, how they work to stay inside the lines.
With that rapt expression people wear when nothing matters
but the task at hand, they color for themselves new lives.
. . . Manila
She comes scuttling
across the rough edge
of the road,
all scabbed head
and deprecating, half-accusing
expecting nothing, expecting
a couple of pesos only
inside that hand
with blackened nails
so chewed and worried down
there's nothing left
like chips of bone
a dog leaves when he's done.
What do you think,
with your hand stuck out
and your sly-eyed,
You know, if fate's indifferent wheel
had turned another
in setting us both down,
you could have been mine.
Joanna Catherine Scott's first chapbook, Birth Mother, won the Longleaf Poetry Award. Her second, Coming Down from Bataan, won the Acorn-Rukeyser Award. Breakfast at the Shangri-La won the Black Zinnias Poetry Book Award, and Fainting at the Uffizi the Brockman Campbell Book Award. Ms. Scott is also the author of Indochina's Refugees: Oral Histories from Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, and four novels: The Lucky Gourd Shop, a nominee for Book Sense Book-of-the Year; Charlie and the Children, a Vietnam Veteran's Association Book-of-the Month; Cassandra, Lost; and most recently, The Road from Chapel Hill, a novel about resistance to the Confederacy in Civil War North Carolina, inspired by the true story of a runaway slave from Chapel Hill.
From Los Hijos, by Barbara Presnell:
Wash Day at the Orphanage
Boys beat clothes against rocks, scrub them on washboards,
rinse them in creek water that rushes between trees.
Girls spread soggy dresses on rails and bushes,
sometimes the clothesline. In hot Galeana sun,
cotton dries in shapes of what holds it:
a blouse squares in the middle like a post,
T-shirts stretch like fig limbs. Clothes from the church
in Texas are favorites -- Levis, a Dallas Cowboy jersey,
anything Gap. If you want a shirt,
if you want jeans or a skirt,
you must take it before someone else does.
Little ones wear what is left.
Beneath the clotheslines, chickens skitter
in dust, race like barefoot children
in and out of sheets. Sometimes they fight,
feathers flying. Sometimes they nest
against the wall and lay eggs.
Behind the clotheslines, five cows graze.
Each morning, the older girls milk them,
strain the milk through HandiWipes into a deep pot,
boil it for drinking or rice pudding.
Niños and niñas leave treasures in pockets
that the wash boys pile on stumps.
Today, hair baubles, pieces of candy,
a screwdriver bit, ring washer, small brass key.
And from the back pocket of a large boy's jeans,
a poem, folded into a square, called "Rememorar."
Texas Border Crossing at Sunrise
Tell them you go to La Laguna,
Larry instructs us. Tell them fishing.
Don't mention the mission. Hide tools
under your mat. Too many times
they take what we bring. An American bill
slipped inside your papers may help.
We have come before dawn
to cross at shift change, hoping
they'll be too weary to search.
Air grumbles with sewage from the Rio Grande,
darkness slick with words I don't understand.
Concrete and steel, a few cold benches.
Crusted beetles on stilted legs
peck crumbs from gravel.
Mexican turtles, someone calls them.
A dark-eyed guard with an automatic rifle
watches from the upper rail.
I feel guilty, but I'm not sure of what.
¿Cuarto de baño? I call up. Bathroom?
No hay. There is not one. He smiles as though
he has told this to many American women
and is glad to also tell me.
La Laguna, La Laguna, we say one after another.
Sí, Norte American. The bill, folded
in the birth certificate, gone
when papers pass back to me.
From Unravelings, by Barbara Presnell:
This one for the baby that did not come
to the lowly stable or the silk-lined cradle
but stumbled and died, Mary's miscarry.
Tonight we wait by the empty crib,
lamplight from the table flickering,
our breathing cold as the unswaddled quilt,
waiting, waiting through the long night
for the sign of a star or the moan
of a sheep. But there is no
wisdom here, no gold gifts gathered,
just one small pot of mums bowing
their blood-stained heads to the cold,
and our own clenched prayers that
darkness chokes like wickless candles.
So one more miraculous conception
misses its own advent, and we,
our eyes accustomed now
to dimness, click off the lamp
and leave the room.
Barbara Presnell's collection of poetry based on the textile industry in North Carolina from the 1960s to the present, Piece Work, won the 2006 Cleveland State University First Book Prize and will be published by CSU in early 2007. A portion of that collection, "Sherry's Prayer," won the 2004 Linda Flowers Prize from the North Carolina Humanities Council and was published as a broadside as a part of the NC Crossroads series. In addition, she has published three poetry chapbooks: Snake Dreams (Nightshade Press, 1994), which won the Zoe Kincaid Brockman Award from the North Carolina Poetry Society, and the two Longleaf Press books excerpted here. Unravelings won the Oscar Arnold Young Award from the Poetry Council of North Carolina. Maureen Sutton has translated Los Hijos into Spanish. With an accompanying comprehension workbook, it is being used in college language classrooms.
Ms. Presnell's work is included in the anthologies Listen Here: Women Writing in Appalachia; Word and Witness: 100 Years of North Carolina Poetry; Claiming the Spirit Within: A Sourcebook of Women's Poetry; and Earth and Soul: An Anthology of North Carolina Poetry. She is the recipient of writers' fellowships from the North Carolina Arts Council, the Kentucky Arts Council, the Kentucky Foundation for Women, and the Carnegie Center for Literacy and Learning in Lexington, Kentucky, and residencies at the Virginia Center for the Arts, and Soapstone, Inc. in Portland, Oregon. She lives in Lexington with her husband, journalist Bill Keesler, and son, who is a student at UNC-CH.
From Premature Elegy by Firelight, by Roger Weingarten:
From the Temple of Longing
The moment the children climb
into my ex-wife's car they buckle
themselves into a faraway look.
The little one
never cries, the eldest
counts white hairs that sneak
like the future up the side of his arm.
Camel, tent, oasis, storm -- their ancestors
longed to pause and longed even more
to press on. But on a cobalt dark
night like this, following
an invisible need at the other
end of a leash, I want to hear
from my wild nomads dreaming
on the other side of the state. I want
to hear them say, Papa, it's alright,
always thirsty at three a.m.
for something more than water. Maybe
you think this is all about a dime-
a-dozen emotional flotsam who left a furious
marriage only to miss his children from one
school holiday to the next, who exaggerates
the tangled heartworms that pressed
his rib cage when his
parents divorced. Maybe you just
want to tell me that children
are not that fragile. But I wonder
what I would hear, years
from now, waiting for the solar
eclipse of the century, my arms relaxed
around my teenage boys, hovering
over a jerry rigged
cardboard theater, watching
the little moon erase the little sun --
I wonder what they would say
in that strange light, if I asked them
Premature Elegy by Firelight
I never had the time to write
about the loneliness of waking
at 4 a.m. to the certainty of my own
early demise in my father's eye
that wrote me off like a painless
new surgery for cataracts. I never
had a minute until my brother's cat
that ate the canary grin drove all day
through a storm with a loaf of bread
and the image of the two of us
on our backs and staring at the heartbeat
of fire punishing the ceiling until daybreak
erased everything we knew our father
never let us close to. We didn't
do that. He had business
further north and I had already
invented a new father better than my own
who was just as lonely as the son
he invented to keep him company
for the last minutes of moonlight before morning.
Roger Weingarten's chapbook, Greatest Hits: 1972-2002, was published by Pudding House Press in 2003. He is the author of eight collections of poetry: Ghost Wrestling (1997); Infant Bonds of Joy (1990), and Shadow Shadow (1996), all published by David R. Godine; The Vermont Suicides (1978) and Ethan Benjamin Boldt, published in 1975 by Alfred A. Knopf and reprinted in 1987, with an introduction by Mark Jarman, by Story Line Press; and What are Birds Worth (1975;The Cummington Press). His poems have appeared in American Poetry Review, The New Yorker, Poetry, The Paris Review, The New Republic, Ploughshares, The Prague Revue, The Kenyon Review, and elsewhere. He has co-edited six poetry anthologies, including Manthology: Poems on the Male Experience(University of Iowa Press, 2006) and New American Poets (2005), Poets of the New Century (2001), and New American Poets of the '90s (1991), all published by David R. Godine. He edited Ghost Writing, a short story collection (Invisible Cities Press, 2001) and co-edited Open Book: Essays from the Postgraduate Writers' Conference (Cambridge Scholars Press, 2006). Poetry Consultant for David R. Godine, 1987-1994, he is General Editor of the Invisible Cities Press Poetry Series, and Contributing Editor for Interpoezia, an international online and print journal presenting poems in Russian and English. His awards include a Pushcart Prize, a Louisville Review Poetry Prize, a National Endowment for the Arts Award, and an Ingram Merrill Foundation Award in Literature. He has lectured, taught and read at writers' conferences, poetry festivals, and universities nationally and internationally. He founded and teaches in the MFA in Writing and the Postgraduate Summer Writers' Conference at Vermont College of the Union Institute and University.