Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Farewell to Three Poets Named John

Year 2008 ends with southern readers and writers forced to say farewell to three of our finest poets, all three named John. They are: (1) Jonathan Williams born March 8, 1929 in Asheville, North Carolina who died March 16, 2008 in Highlands, N.C. (2) John Foster West born December 10, 1918 in Wilkes County N.C. who died May 2, 2008. (3) physician poet, John Stone born February 7, 1936 in Jackson, Mississippi who died at his home near Atlanta on November 6, 2008.

Jonathan Williams, John Foster West, and John Stone were sons of the south, yet each became internationally known, making his mark as a poet. Poetry was greatly loved by these men, but being a poet was only a part of each of their profound lives.

Besides being an accomplished poet, Jonathan Williams was a world famous publisher and owner of The Jargon Society Press, the most renowned small presses in America. Many writers began their careers under his patronage, including Robert Creeley. Robert Duncan, Denise Levertov, Mina Loy and Jeffery Beam. Williams’s published work includes: An Ear in Bartram’s Tree (1969 U.N.C. Press), Blues& Roots/Rue & Bluets (1971 Grossman; 1985 Duke University) Quote, Unquote (1989 Ten Speed Press) A Palpable Elysium: Portraits of Genius and Solitude (2002 David ) The Magpie’s Bagpipe (1982 North Point) Blackbird Dust (2000 Turtle Point) Jubilant Thicket: New and Selected Poems with over 1000 of his poems (2005 Copper Canyon Press.) The Jargon Society archives are housed in Poetry and Rare Books at State University of New York, Buffalo, New York.

John Foster West is one of the most well known poets of the Southern Appalachian Region. Although I did not know him well, he invited me to read at Appalachian State as poet of the creative writing program in 1985. I have never forgotten his friendly southern manner. West was “the beloved teacher” to his students. He taught English for forty-two years before retiring from Appalachian State University in 1991 as professor emeritus. John Foster West’s poetry collections are: This Proud Land, Wry Wine and High Noon at Pompeii. He was well known for his novels: Time Was (Random House 1965) Appalachian Dawn (Random House 1973 ) The Summer People (1989 Appalachian Consortium Press) The Ballad of Tom Dula (1990 Moore Publishing). His novel, Time Was was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. John Foster West’s papers are housed at Appalachian State University.

Dr. John Stone was Professor Emeritus of Cardiology at Emory University in Atlanta. He also taught English Literature at Emory and at Oxford University in England. His death this past fall stunned many. Only family and close friends knew he was ill. I first met John Stone at Callanwolde Fine Art Center in Atlanta when he served on the Poetry Committee. I heard him read his poems and speak at writing conferences many times around the south. Most recently, I heard him as the Byron Herbert Reese Speaker at Harris College. Those who knew John Stone say he loved and studied poetry all of his life. Dr. Stone had been heard to quote William Carlos Williams in saying that "he was married to medicine but that poetry was his mistress." As a poet, John Stone’s work was widely published. Louisiana State University Press counted him as their own. L.S. U. Press is where you will want to go if searching for his poetry collections: The Smell of Matches, (1972, and 1989), In All this Rain (1980) Renaming the Streets (1985) Where Water Begins: New Poems and Prose (1998) Music from Apartment 8: New and Selected Poems (2004) . In 1990 Dell published In the Country of Hearts: Journeys in the Art of Medicine, a collection of
essays . The book was reprinted by LSU Press in 1996. Dr. Stone co edited On Doctoring: Stories, Poems and Essays (Simon & Schuster 1991). More than 200,000 copies have been distributed to American medical students.

Jonathan Williams, John Foster West, Dr. John Stone: They are gone, these three phenomenal poets. They will be remembered. Their words shall endure.

Friday, December 26, 2008

AULD LANG SYNE - WHAT DO THESE WORDS MEAN?

Auld Lang Syne - What do these words mean?

Auld Lang Syne, sang throughout the world on New Year’s eve, was first published by Robert Burns, the Scottish poet in the 1700s. This was not his original thought. He said he “took it down from “an old man.” In fact, the first verse did exist in tradition, but Burns added other verses. The poem/song as we know it is attributed to Robert Burns. It was published after his death in 1796.

Scots spread the song though out the world. In 1929, Guy Lambardo, a Canadian band leader made Auld Lang Syne popular when he played it at the the New York New Year’s celebration.

In my life, I’ve sang Auld Lang Syne on New Year’s eve. I interpret Auld Lang Syne to mean: “Because we never want to forget old friends and that special time long ago, where ever I am and where ever you are, we’ll drink a 'cup of kindness' as a toast to the memories of that time gone by.”

Remembering old acquaintances and special times is necessary to some of us, to me for certain. Some of us cannot under any circumstance wish anyone a happy new year, until we have first gone through the process of “Auld Lang Syne.

For all of you who share history of any kind with me and I with you, “for 
Auld Lang Syne,” I wish you a Happy New Year.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

APPALACHIAN CHRISTMAS BOOKS for Children and Young Adults will be  listed below  in detail for the next ten days only. This list was prepared by Judy A. Teaford, Mountain State University. 
For more info, see www.AppLit.com, Tina L. Hanlon, Ferrum College

BRIDGE ON THE RIVER KWAI by Nancy Simpson

All those times, all those bridges, 
Georgia to Florida, sand
in his shoes, red clay in his pocket,
I wonder what passed through my father's mind.

He never said much about hurricanes
or corn, except that you pull it not pick it
One summer in Georgia I promised to pull
all the corn in ten acres he planted.

Indolent girl, red clay in my pocket,
I remember a movie in east Atlanta.
Prisoners built a bridge across water,
building, building the whole movie.

I was too young to know why
they blew it all to pieces in the end.
This morning a half drowned woman wakes me.
I open the window.  She has come many miles

across water.  Her memories are mine.
She gives me one starfish, one mango
and reminds me how I climbed the tree
when the flood came, after the hurricane.

I give her anemone for starfish.
I give her a mountain, the safest place to be.

from  NIGHT STUDENT

H E R I T A G E by Nancy Simpson

Sun and moon at the same time,
my boy looks up saying Carolina sky
is different from sky in Vietnam.
Nguyen Quoc Phong, Nguyen Quoc Phong,
he writes his name on the fogged windshield.
The anniversary of adoption, he asks

too many questions.  I try to explain
day and night. We are somewhere between
home and his dad's new house,
coconut cake on the back seat
and presents tied with white ribbon.
That is not enough.

He wants to know how separate worlds revolve.
the crossing of paths at certain days of the year.
I apologize, driving us south,
remembering the day I reached half-way
around the world, $1600.00 in my fist,
believing I could give him the sun and the moon.

from  NIGHT STUDENT

Sunday, December 7, 2008

CHRISTMAS PRESENCE, The Newest Book on My Shelf

The Phillips and Lloyd Book Store in Hayesville offered only a little wiggle room Saturday with many people lined up at the counter to buy books.  I found my way to the back meeting room
where Brenda Kay Ledford, Carole Thompson and Nancy Sales Cash were signing copies of the new anthology which holds their short stories and essays,  CHRISTMAS PRESENCE. I bought a copy for myself and had them sign it.  Christmas Presence is edited by Celia H. Miles and Nancy Dillingham, published at Catawba Press. It presents stories, essays and poems by 45 western North Carolina women writers.  

This anthology has something for everyone. I enjoyed the poems. I read them first.   There are many good memoir essays:   "I'll Be Home For Christmas" by Nancy Purcell, "The Christmas Catalog" by Nancy Sales Cash, and "Memories of Wartime Christmases" by Mary D. Marsh which is set in the blitz of 1940.   I enjoyed the humor in Brenda Kay Ledford's  "Miss Bessie Mae and the Christmas Biker." 

What I like best about the book is that most of the writing is set here in the Appalachian Mountains.  My favorite short stories are,  " A Bag of Sugar for Paula" by Carole Thompson,  "Grand Pa and the Snow Snakes" by Penny Morse and "A Logging Camp Christmas" by Exie Wilde Henson.   The strongest and best essays are:  "And the Animals Knelt" by Celia Miles, "The French Harp" by Glenda Barrett and "Jewish Christmas" by Jessica Harriot.  

The more I read, the more I find to like.  The more read, the more I mark pages and plan what I will read to my family on Christmas Day.

Copies of the book can be ordered at Catawba Publishing Company (704) 717-8452
and are for sale at Phillips and Lloyd Book Store in Hayesville, NC.