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"Brave Enough to See It"

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

A Letter from the President



Happy New Year 2023! At the holiday party in December, I said it was a time for memories and wishes, and our member showcase certainly brought them. Let's have another grand night with the Open Mic on January 13th! Scroll down to the 2022-2023 Program for details.


The new year is time for dreams and visions. I have a vision for the Poetry Society of South Carolina, and I'm asking myself and you, "Are we brave enough to see it?"


My vision is multilayered. It includes growing our membership and our sense of community. The spring contests will be open soon, and it's a great time to invite people to join and submit their poems as well.



I've been reading Marcus Amaker's "The America I Know Could Use a Good Cry," where I find "The courage of black ghosts who haunt American dreams," and Emily Dickinson's "To Fight Aloud is Very Brave," which references the courage of facing our own sadness. At other times, we simply need to be brave enough to ask a question we've been holding back. "Oh, lonely heart so timid of approach," writes Claude McKay in "Courage," "what is your word? What question would you breach?"


(This is a space for you to reflect on the question you've been wanting to ask somebody. ______________________________________________.) I've made my way back around to a concept I shared in an earlier newsletter, the art of asking a more beautiful question.


Among my beautiful questions are these: "How can the Poetry Society suprise our communities? In how many ways can we bring people joy within our membership and without?" I was talking with one of my international students today about Warren Berger's approach to beautiful questions (inspired by E.E. Cummings: "Always the beautiful answer who asks a more beautiful question"), and he pointed out the similarities to Design Thinking. In Design Thinking, the first step is to empathize: to find out what clients/users/members need. The board and I are in this stage, and I hope we return to it often. Once we've researched and defined the needs, the next step is to challenge our assumptions. Only then are we prepared to create and implement solutions. The primary beautiful question of Design Thinking is "How might we...?"


For me, courage is a continual decision to try the outrageous, as Edgar Guest advises in "It Couldn't Be Done."


Somebody scoffed: "Oh, you’ll never do that;

At least no one ever has done it;"

But he took off his coat and he took off his hat

And the first thing we knew he'd begun it.

With a lift of his chin and a bit of a grin,

Without any doubting or quiddit,

He started to sing as he tackled the thing

That couldn't be done, and he did it.


So when Eugene Platt sent me an orchestral flash mob video for my birthday, I had an idea. We need a poetry flash mob! Who's in? This could be so much fun...


There's a good opportunity here for failure, I often tell myself with a smile, remembering Edison's claim that he hadn't failed when he tried many times to invent something; he'd only found ten thousand ways that didn't work. And... again, I turn to Susan Laughter Meyers, who reminds us that we have a choice to "backtrack in the safety of a path already taken" or "stumble through ferns and mud,/clotted roots, the thick/of mosquitoes, a limestone bluff," and do whatever it takes to move forward. Those lines are from Susan's " Two Friends Hiking at Old Santee Canal."


Hey, let's go hiking... or at least take a walk together at the next Poetry Trails event on January 14. The contest is still open, so please send poems!


I had three productive meetings recently: one with Randy Spencer, discussing the possibility of being on a Fall Lines committee together.If you're not familiar with Fall Lines, it is a literary journal presented by The Jasper Project in partnership with Richland Library and One Columbia for Arts and History. You can read a wonderful reflection by Cindi Boiter, Executive Director of The Jasper Project here. I had a poem published in one of the first issues of Fall Lines, and I have a fondness for the journal and the folks who produce and edit it. Randy and I met at the Chapin Branch Library, and I was able to introduce myself and offer to collaborate with the library as well.


My second power meeting was with Lucinda Clark, the president ofthe Georgia Poetry Society. We met at the Aiken County Library and had so many ideas that we were running over each other trying to share them. Lucinda heads up the Poetry Matters Project. She shared information about a poetry contest and reading in recognition of women veterans, and introduced me to Dr. Nicole Sciarrinno and others associated with it. We'd like to do something similar with the PSSC, continuing with the Charleston V.A. while also bringing in the Dorn V.A. in Columbia. Lucinda also shared an opportunity for South Carolina poets to be featured on a Georgia radio show. I'll be working on these opportunities and others with Lucinda as a brilliant and brave partner.


When I mentioned this to Jim Lundy, he reminded me of the close association between the Georgia Poetry Society and the PSSC in the past, so now we are revisiting that relationship and strengthening it.


Finally, I met with our grants coordinator, Ashley Crout, and former board member Curtis Derrick, who is graciously helping us with grant planning by providing some wisdom from previous years. Curtis put me in touch with Maria Martin, former treasurer, to gather helpful documents/records from the pre-Covid days. I feel like I am gathering up bits and pieces of PSSC history all the time and allowing it to inspire our next hundred years. Those who came before us lit the way.


It's New Year's Eve as I finish up this letter, and the dogs and I are hiding out in the bedroom with the fan turned up high so we don't hear the fireworks. They don't feel like being brave when it comes to all that. David and I just returned from our annual after-Christmas vacation with my daughter and son-in-law, the best four days of the year. I've got big dreams for the year including a Poetry Festival at The Living Room at Jubilee Circle in October. I'm signing folks up now for a whole day of poetry events, so please let me know if you'd like to be on stage or giving a workshop. This is going to be something a little different.


Okay, take a break to practice saying Happy New Year in Ukrainian, then it's on to Part 2 and the Member Spotlight, brought to us by Jim Lundy.




Переможного Нового року! - Have a Victorious New Year!


(If you are interested in learning Ukrainian, there are wonderful lessons here. Talk about brave people! Ukrainians have a custom of making a wish at midnight on New Year's Even, and they are brave enough to see it come true.)

 

Part 2 Now, our member feature for January, provided by Jim Lundy: Member Spotlight: Mary Holman Pinckney


The Poetry Society has had multi-generational members from several families, but as far as one could describe a familydynasty, there is really only one to consider: the family of charter member Susan Smythe Bennett, wife of PSSC founder John Bennett. Members of her Smythe family, by birth or by marriage, served on the Poetry Society’s board for nearly 40 volunteer years, with 5 presidents among them. From its founding in 1920, John and Susan Bennett, and Susan’s extended family, were the engine that kept the PSSC from faltering through the challenges of the over-ambitious 1920s, the Great Depression, and the Second World War. During the the decade of the 1990s, John H. Bennett Jr., the grandson of John and Susan Bennett, led the PSSC as president through some of its most impecunious years and served on its board in four other positions until his untimely death in 2000. Later, Harriet Stoney Popham Rigney, Susan’s great-niece, led the organization as president, served on the executive board, and returned the PSSC to financial stability. It is safe to say that the PSSC would not have survived the last century without this family.


Mary Holman Pinckney is a long-time member of the PSSC and one of the more far flung Smythes. She is the great-great-niece of Susan Smythe Bennett and second cousin-once-removed to both John Bennett Jr. and Harriet Rigney. Born and educated in Savannah and raised on a fourth-generation Pinckney farm in Beaufort County, Mary grew up hearing stories of her great-grandmother, Hannah McCord Smythe Wright, and reading the books of her great-great Uncle John Bennett. “Charleston may have been 100 miles away by road, but it was there in our front room on the bookshelves and at the dinner table in the stories from my aunts, mother and grandmother.”


With the surname Pinckney, people tend to incorrectly assume that her ties to Charleston are all in that line, not her maternal line. “My father was a descendant of the William Pinckney line, the ones that stayed home, minded the lands for the more famous political cousins, and then moved south of town,” she told me humorously—and she should know; Mary is an archivist and genealogist ("one of many," she demurs) for portions of her extended family, one that counts among its ranks some of the most important civic leaders, authors, preservationists, and groundbreaking men and women of South Carolina. And it is no small feat to keep the expansive family trees straight in a clan that recycles names over and over (for example, there are seemingly endless numbers of “Augustine Thomas Smythes” and “Louisa McCords” peppering the Smythe family tree for nearly 200 years).


After deciding to attend the College of Charleston in 1986, Mary was introduced to all of her Charleston cousins by her grandmother, Mrs. Augustine T. Smythe Wright (Mary), at Susan Adger Bennett’s funeral. After growing up, “down in the country,” Mary was ready for life in town and her mother’s second cousin, John H. Bennett Jr., soon took Mary under his wing. A tribute in John’s memorial booklet states “John had a genius for the form we call family.” Mary thrived under that genius. It was through John’s connection to the Poetry Society that Mary attended her first poetry meeting in the spring of 1987. As an English major at the College studying in warfare in literature, she had reverence for the beauty of poetry but no confidence in her own ability to write it. She remembers feeling intimidated by the group and all their experience and familiarity with the craft of poetry. At that time in the PSSC’s history, a college-age person was a rarity among the largely middle-aged and older membership, and she found another welcoming family within the organization. In Charleston, with her relatives and the Poetry Society, she found her home.


Following graduation, Mary stayed in Charleston, happily living on the third floor in John Bennett’s house at 95 Rutledge Avenue and considering a career in law, before moving to Washington D.C. to work on Capitol Hill. She eventually became a management consultant. Traveling the world and working in Germany, Japan, Pakistan, and England and throughout United States for the better part of 30 years, she estimates that she moved over two dozen times in her career. “I was married to my career,” Mary says, “married to my passport, and having a grand time of it all.”


Preparing to jump off of the corporate merry-go-round in 2016, she found and purchased a Victorian cottage in Edgefield, South Carolina, a town that is home to her father’s maternal ancestry. Regaining a foothold in South Carolina led to her restoring an overgrown Smythe ancestral cemetery at Lang Syne Plantation in Fort Motte. Lang Syne had been in the hands of her ancestors since the Federal Period and was famously the home of Julia Peterkin, the only South Carolinian author to have won the Pulitzer Prize in Literature (and a member of the PSSC).


Nowadays, newly married to Charles, a wonderful man from “off,” and living in the Washington, DC, area, she has traded the solo wandering of Earth and that Victorian cottage for some excellent companionship. “Unicorns are real. Miracles do happen. It is possible to find love and get married for the first time in your fifties,” she attests. She credits her success in finding love to the examples of happy marriages around her and the good advice from one Smythe cousin in particular: “Go do what gives you joy, and that joy will give you peace. That peace will make you ready for love.”


Mary and Charles are looking forward to a chance to move back home to Charleston someday, sooner than later. She has adjusted her consulting career to begin spending time organizing the extensive collection of her family letters and getting more serious about her writing (maybe even some poetry) while introducing that new husband to all things Charleston. Mary retains her great fondness for the Poetry Society and has kept up her membership as a memorial to her much-loved cousin, John H. Bennett Jr. She has recently renewed the prize she previously sponsored in his honor which will appear again next calendar year, rewarding the winner with $250 for a poem regarding the characteristics he embodied—kindness, generosity, and respect.


(Thanks, Jim, for this marvelous profile).


Please keep the RSVP's coming for the Open Mic, Poetry Trails, and our upcoming program poets! Renew your membership if it has lapsed, and bring a friend to the fold via the Spring contests. Let's see if we can get a hundred new members in 2023, and shake up poetry in South Carolina.


Brave enough to see it,


Tamara Miles

President


 

2022-2023 Program

For those who are new: the Poetry Society's official calendar runs from September to May. The traditional program of readings for this year is provided below. Scroll down for more information on individual poets and visit the PSSC website for greater detail and to RSVP. The events are the second Friday of the month and the Saturday that follows it. Each poet presents a reading and seminar. With the exception of February and March, all events will take place on the second Friday of the month at the Charleston Library Society. February and March locations are to be determined. September 2022: Melissa Crowe October 2022: Han VanderHart November 2022: Jaki Shelton Green December 2022: Holiday Party January 2023: Member's Open Mic February 2023: Tarfia Faizullah March 2023: Jill McDonough April 2023: Raena Shirali May 2023: Glenis Redmond


Bring in the new year by getting on stage and sharing your best poem!


January 13, 7 p.m. (doors open at 6:30 p.m.)

Non-members can join and sign up at the door!

Charleston Library Society, King Street


You can also join us on Zoom if you can't make it in person:


Topic: January Open Mic

Time: Jan 13, 2023 07:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada)


Join Zoom Meeting

 

And more guest poets in 2023! February 10 and 11: Tarfia Faizullah Please note that these events will be held in the sanctuary of the Unitarian Church at 4 Archdale Street, Charleston (Friday) and at Gage Hall, same address (Saturday). Reading, Friday, 7 pm Seminar, Saturday, 10 am - 11:30 a.m.

Tarfia Faizullah is the author of two poetry collections, REGISTERS OF ILLUMINATED VILLAGES (Graywolf, 2018) and SEAM (SIU, 2014). Tarfia’s writing appears widely in the U.S. and abroad in the Daily Star, Hindu Business Line, BuzzFeed, PBS News Hour, Huffington Post, Poetry Magazine, and many more.

 

March 10 and 11: Jill McDonough

Please note that these events will be held at Gage Hall,

4 Archdale Street, Charleston.

Reading, Friday, 7 pm

Seminar, Saturday, 10 am-11:30 am

Three-time Pushcart prize winner Jill McDonough is the recipient of Lannan, NEA, Cullman Center, and Stegner fellowships. Her most recent book is Here All Night (Alice James, 2019). She teaches in the MFA program at UMass-Boston and offers College Reading and Writing in Boston jails.

 

April 14 and 15: Raena Shirali

For these events, we will return to the Charleston Library Society, King Street.

Reading, Friday, 7 pm

Seminar, Saturday, 10 am


Raena Shirali is the author of two collections of poetry. Her first book, GILT (YesYes Books, 2017), won the 2018 Milt Kessler Poetry Book Award, and her second, summonings (Black Lawrence Press, 2022), won the 2021 Hudson Prize. Winner of a Pushcart Prize & a former Philip Roth Resident at Bucknell University, Shirali is also the recipient of prizes and honors from VIDA, Gulf Coast, Boston Review, & Cosmonauts Avenue. Formerly a Co-Editor-in-Chief of Muzzle Magazine, Shirali now serves as Faculty Advisor for Folio—a literary magazine dedicated to publishing works by undergraduate students at the national level. She holds an MFA in Poetry from The Ohio State University and is an Assistant Professor of English at Holy Family University. The Indian American poet was raised in Charleston, South Carolina, and now lives in Philadelphia.

 

May 12 and 13: Glennis Redmond

Charleston Library Society, King Street

Reading, Friday 7 pm

Seminar, Saturday 10 am


Glenis Redmond is a performance poet, a Kennedy Center Teaching Artist, and a Cave Canem alumni. She is the author of three books of poetry: Backbone (Underground Epics, 2000), Under the Sun (Main Street Rag, 2002), and What My Hand Say (Press 53, 2016). She will have three more books published in 2022: Listening Skin (Four Way Books), Three Harriets & Others (Finishing Line Press), and Praise Songs for Dave the Potter, Art by Jonathan Green, and Poetry by Glenis Redmond (University of Georgia Press). She is presently working on a seventh collection, Port Cities: Portals of the Second (Domestic) Middle Passage.

 

Members in the News

Gilbert Allen's "Inside Story" was featured on Your Daily Poem on National Recycling Day. You can find it at https://www.yourdailypoem.com/listpoem.jsp?poem_id=4271 . A new poem is in the current issue of EPOCH (volume 70, number 1). His short story "Carma" recently appeared in Eclectica: https://www.eclectica.org/v26n4/allen.html . Evelyn Berry's debut poetry collection Grief Slut has been accepted for publication by Sundress Publications. Her poem "yes i've seen the future & i promise i'm still alive," appeared in the latest issue of Fatal Flaw Magazine. Richard Taylor's article on Jim Lundy and his history of the PSSC will appear in the January (Winter 2023) issue of The Main Street Rag. Richard Allen Taylor Author, ARMED AND LUMINOUS available from http://mainstreetragbookstore.com/?product=armed-luminous          

And you? What are you up to? Send me word. I'm planning to go to Every Corner, Every County.

 
 

Hey-ho, we now have PSSC hats. I love my PSSC mug for sipping espresso, and Tina Baumis looks fabulous in her long-sleeve shirt. Take a look at what else is available. A portion of the proceeds goes to the Poetry Society. You can look sporty and support the important work of the Poetry Society with each purchase. Click here to visit the website. You can also pick up a copy of The History of the Poetry Society of South Carolina from Amazon --- and if you enjoy it, please leave a review.


 

The Poetry Prompt Contest is a monthly contest where we encourage you to submit a piece inspired by the new prompt found below. The winning poem or flash fiction is published in the following month's newsletter. We also offer the winner the opportunity to record a video of him or herself reading the poem to be posted to the Poetry Society's Youtube channel. There is no obligation to record the video, it is only there as an offer if the winner feels comfortable doing so.


The Prompt Contest will take a hiatus until further notice. Stay tuned..

 

Copyright © 2022 The Poetry Society of South Carolina, All rights reserved.


Photo credit: unknown

Editor: Tamara Miles


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