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Follow the Praying Mantis

Updated: Sep 6, 2023


A Letter from the President


Hop in, everyone. We're following the praying mantis. According to an old French legend, a praying mantis can point a lost child in the direction of home, and some of us might need a little direction.


At Poetry Church this past Sunday (organized by member and Columbia community outreach coordinator Al Black), I read a poem about how I've been trying to protect our peach trees by hatching praying mantises. They are "the most feared predator in the insect world," and are supposed to eat all the bad bugs. I ordered my mantis case, placed it in an elbow crease of one of the trees, and started waiting and watching. For weeks, I have gone out to water and to wonder whether two hundred little green and yellownymphs are going to emerge.


So far, my midwifery has been unsuccessful, and I think my chances are not good in this heat. I'll have to try again. But for a poet, the whole adventure has been another lesson in curiosity, in paying attention, and looking deeply --- noticing, for instance, that Al was wearing mantis green on Sunday.


All performers and poets in attendance:


Moses Oaktree

Tamara Miles

Jane Zenger

TK Cani

Al Black

and singer/songwriter, Josh McGill


Now, if you follow the mantis back to July with me, you'll discover that I spent a week in New York City, where you can find poetry on the subway train:


(photo by Amalia Cheverly)


I stayed with my friend Amalia, a filmmaker and all-around talent who lives on Wall Street. When I realized that her apartment is on the 27th floor, I immediately thought of another friend (Mark Burns') poem about throwing a poem from the 27th floor -- so, of course, I had to do it.


The window from which I threw a poem... (my own photo).


While there, I was also able to take a stroll through Central Park and have my photo made with a statue of Robert Burns and recite some lines from his poems in my best Scottish dialect:


Here’s freedom to them that wad read,

Here’s freedom to them that wad write!

There’s nane ever fear’d that the truth should be heard,

But they whom the truth would indite.


Back home, I started reading former board member Yvette Murray's wonderful book of poems, Hush Puppy. I've even sung some of the lines to myself out in the greenhouse, where I've set up a small desk among the plants and near my old red chair.


I've read poems from the Georgia Poetry Society's journal, The Reach of Song, too and from our own Yearbook. Why have I not included a photo of me reading the PSSC Yearbook?Because our dog Missy chewed it up. Yes, the dog ate my yearbook. I've had to order another one, and you can, too! I'll feature the yearbook next month.


On July 9, I was honored to read and listen to poetry by several amazing women in response to the artwork of Ginny Merrett at 701 Whaley. The event was called "Tall Women," and once again, it was organized by Al Black. My poem was about a painting called "Minerva" that looks uncannily like me before I went gray...


"Minerva" is the painting on the right... (my photo)


Ginny kindly gifted me a painting, too!


The day before that, we had a Poetry Trails event at Edisto Memorial Gardens, hosted by the program creator and board member Tina Baumis along with organizer Janet Kozachek. (Janet has written more about this event and the ekphrastic event in the "Members in the News" section, so please tune in.) Thanks to Tina's ever-present journal, we have a complete list of attendees, some of whom are featured in the images I took below.


Hugo Krispyn

Ann Humphries

Donna Lais

Shelby Manor

Dr. Kalu Kalu

Elizabeth Robin

Caflin Kennerly

Janet Kozachek

Tamara Miles

Christina Baumis


Elizabeth and her beautiful dog companion; Hugo, and Tina


Shelby and Ann



Tina and Janet


Shelby


Dr. Kalu and Janet



Caflin and Janet


And that's about all for July... it was a low-key month before we gear up for the busy fall.


I should have included Ellen Jenks' wonderful poem "Healing Time" in last month's newsletter. As you may recall, her poem won the Poetry Prompt Contest. Congratulations again to Ellen. Enjoy...


The Healing Time

By Ellen Jenks


Dry leaves crackle

And a twig snaps beneath my feet.

A bush by the path rustles loudly:

A startled rabbit bolting.

Resting on a boulder, stil hot

From the day's sun, I listen.


A meadowlark trills a lonely symphony

From a nearby tree..

"Who, who, whooo", queries an owl,

As geese honking in the sky

Wend their way north.


The waters in a stream close by

Murmer and gurgle as they flow to the sea.

A frog croaks.

A fish leaps from the depths

Then splashes back in.

A cricket chirps


The breeze that has been whispering

Through the leaves of the trees freshens:

Harbinger of an impending storm.

""Rurt, rrrr, rurt, rrr, rrrrrr!" A rooster warns.

Distant lightening, rolling thunder.

"Plip, ssss, plip, ssss!" The first two raindrops

Strike the hot boulder and sizzle away.


Time for me to go.

But the savage beast within me,

Awakened by the day's stress

And cacophony

Has been soothed into quiet repose

By the only music that can achieve this miracle:

Nature's music never fails

To calm my agitated soul.


And... I failed to update the prompt for July, but I still had submissions (thank you). So... I will be featuring the July winner as well. I have remembered to post the August prompt. Please see the Poetry Prompt Contest at the bottom of this newsletter.


Also, Ann Herlong-Bodman made us aware that an unedited version of her prize-winning poem appeared in the Yearbook, so it has been corrected in the digital version, and we'd like to provide it here in full with corrections.


The Audubon Prize, 2023, Poetry Society of South Carolina


If we really cared


about the monarch,

we could begin

with embryos

traveling on the wind

dodging cars,

yellow school buses

and the new gas station

on the corner—


milkweed embryos cradled

in flossy tidbits of filament—seed

wrapped in fluffy white fiber

soaring across parking lots,

bridges, shopping malls,

airport runways

and sport stadiums large

as cities themselves—


milkweed seed searching

for a roadside habitat,

Asclepias syriaca

seeking soil, blessed soil,

fertile or not, any soil will do

in a world of concrete.


Rivers and rivers of concrete.


We can’t say we didn’t

know. We can’t say we didn’t

care. We don’t think about it

like it’s worth a poem.


Rivers and rivers of concrete.


News about an event I've been advertising on the website has arrived from Steve Gordy:


"It is my regrettable duty to let you know that our "Festival of Books and Authors" scheduled for October 21, 2023 here in Aiken has been cancelled. We had to do this because a major reorganization of the Center for Lifelong Learning is underway and we could not get the volunteer support needed to stage this event.


We are still hoping to do this at a later date (February or March, 2024 are possibilities). If we get a definite reschedule date, you'll be among the first to know."


Finally, last month, I mentioned that there had been omission of a poem from my narrative called "To the Roof of the Greenhouse" in Jasper Magazine. Cindi Boiter, Editor of the magazine and Executive Director of The Jasper Project, as well as Associate Publisher at Muddy Ford Press, has asked me to express her regret for the error "on behalf of the labor of love that is Jasper." We don't mind a bit.... grateful to be included! Grab a copy, Columbia folks, and also get your poems into Fall Lines, as the deadline has been extended!


 

Member Spotlight: Debra Conner

By Jim Lundy


If you have received your copy of the 2023 Yearbook, you probably noticed that one name comes up as the winner of more prizes than any other: Debra Conner. The 2022-2023 calendar year was an extraordinary one for Debra. She won roughly 40% of all prizes she was eligible to submit to. The last time this happened was twenty-six years ago when Dennis Ward Stiles won 40% of the prizes offered in the 1996-1997 calendar year. So who is this amazingly talented poet?


Debra Conner was born in Ohio into a family with no tradition of going to college. “It was not on my radar,” Debra recalls. “I worked for years as a title clerk (typing up car titles), and in a grocery store for many years before I thought about college.” She was always a reader and imagined that she might be able to write poetry, so she decided to take a class in creative writing at the local community college. On the first day the professor announced, “I don’t give A’s. This is a very hard class.” Nevertheless, when the first assignment was returned, there was a handwritten note at the top of Debra’s paper: You have a lot of talent, what are you planning to do with it? This had a profound affect her: “That one comment totally changed my life.” After two years at the community college, she transferred to the University of Virginia in Charlottsville and graduated with a BA in English at the age of 30. From there, she enrolled in the low residency MFA program at Warren Wilson College.


Debra and her husband, Glenn Conner, moved across the Ohio River to West Virginia, where they would live for the next 40 years. She taught for a while at a two-year college, but her life took a new direction when she happened to attend a Chautauqua-style presentation by someone speaking in the persona of Willa Cather. “I thought it was enchanting. I decided it would be a wonderful thing to do,” she remembers. Although she had never acted before—even in a school play—she applied for a grant to the National Foundation for the Humanities and the Ohio Arts Council to present a character portrayal of Emily Dickinson and, to her surprise, she got the money. To develop the character, she began with research in Dickinson’s home town of Amherst, Massachusetts. She then developed a script based on the research. For this type of performance, she had to be able to get inside the head of Emily Dickinson so thoroughly that she could answer audience questions in character after each performance of the script. “At first I made all the mistakes you can make,” she admits. But over time she became very good at performing as Emily Dickinson. Eventually she would develop other characters such as Zelda Fitzgerald, Titanic survivor Edith Russell, Margaret Mitchell, and Dr. Mary Walker, the only woman ever to have won the Congressional Medal of Honor. Nowadays, Debra is no longer portraying Zelda and is tapering off her performance schedule, but she is still a member of the SC Humanities Speaker’s Bureau, which funds performances around the state.


Debra and Glenn were on vacation in Summerville, SC, visiting friends in 2015. By then, they already had begun to think about moving somewhere with a warmer climate and into a house that needed less maintenance than their 1920s home in West Virginia. On a lark, they contacted a realtor and looked at a few houses. Six weeks later, they returned to South Carolina to close on the house they still live in today.


A friend from graduate school knew Susan Laughter Meyers, who also lived in the Summerville area, and told Debra to contact her when she got settled in. Anyone who knew Susan knows that this is quite possibly the best introduction into the literary life of the state anyone could have been given. It was through Susan and her ties to the Poetry Society that Debra started getting serious about writing poetry. “Susan was the most gracious, welcoming person who ever walked this planet,” she asserts. Soon, Debra became active in Richard Garcia’s Long Table Poets group, making new, meaningful friends. Meanwhile, Susan was whisking her away to poetry readings, art exhibits, and Poetry Society events around the state.


Debra first became a member of the PSSC during the 2015-2016 calendar year and has been a member ever since. But it would not be until she attended Zoom workshops by a North Carolina women’s group during COVID that she began a serious discipline of writing poetry. At each meeting, every two weeks, the participants were required to have new work to share with the group. “This got me off the ground. I began writing a series of persona poems in the voice of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald.” She now has a completed manuscript of their lives told in poetry and is currently shopping for a publisher. It was poems from that collection that she submitted to win the Susan L. Meyers Scholarship prize. Because of her personal connection to Susan, winning that prize means more to her than all the others.


Debra had already been a member of the Poetry Society of South Carolina for six years before she entered a contest in 2021. She won the Forum Prize that year by audience vote. She also won a single prize the following year. None of this could have prepared her for learning how successful she would be in the 2022-2023 season, with six wins and one honorable mention. “At first I thought that there must have been some kind of mistake,” she confesses, “I can’t believe it. I feel like I’m living a charmed life.”


Although Debra no longer drives at night and cannot often attend PSSC events in person, she watches through Zoom whenever she can. This past May, she and Glenn were in West Virginia at their remote cabin and could not get a signal to Zoom the PSSC Forum Meeting. She ended up driving to the Dollar Store parking to get a few bars of signal to hear about her wins, which included the Forum Prize where her poem was discussed and won. “I sat there under the yellow light of the Dollar Store sign listening, and I couldn’t believe it.”


When asked about her thoughts on belonging to the oldest state poetry society in the country, Debra sums it up by saying, “People were so friendly, you’d meet them in a very welcoming environment… it was like having old friends immediately. I have made some sweet friends through poetry.”

 

In Memoriam: D. Oliver Bowman (1931-2023)

When Oliver Bowman passed away in his sleep on July 25 at the age of 92, the Poetry Society suffered the loss of one of our finest, most beloved central figures. Generations of Poetry Society members have experienced his friendship and graciousness, from his first appearance before the group in 1963 right up to the time of his unexpected death. When I got the sad news, my impulse was to write a eulogy that could express the magnitude of this loss, but I soon realized it was an impossible task. His impact on the Poetry Society as an organization is incalculable, and it is dwarfed by the individual stories and memories each of us who knew him hold dear. Beyond the Poetry Society, Oliver held a place of esteem in numerous circles, from the thousands of Citadel cadets he taught, to the patients of his psychology practice, his work in community theater, his work and leadership in professional psychology organizations, as a member of the congregation of St. Stephen’s Church, and his financial support of varied, untold causes and organizations.


I last saw Oliver in person in late March when I interviewed him for my PSSC Newsletter column “Member Spotlight,” which appeared in April. As with every other time I conversed with him since we first met in 2005, time flew by unnoticed. When I got home, I realized that our short interview was over three hours long, just a fraction of which made it to the finished column. Although age had slowed him down a bit, he was still walking five miles a day, reading for hours in the morning sun, and doing what for him was probably his favorite part of life: engaging with people. Oliver was an artist when it came to conversation, and he was even better at listening than talking. I saw Oliver one last time by way of Zoom on May 19 for the board meeting of the South Carolina Academy of Authors. As always, Oliver was never one to dominate a conversation, but when he spoke it was with wisdom, discernment, and experience.


Over the years, I noticed that Oliver used the word “gentleman” to assign his highest level of esteem for a man’s character. You could tell by the way he said it—with reverence—that the quality that encompasses the word was the best thing a man could aspire to be. My first impulse to write the perfect eulogy for Oliver was a futile task; his life was too large to summarize and the loss is too unfathomable. So, perhaps the best thing I could say, the best way to do any justice to his memory whatsoever, is to say this: Oliver Bowman was a true gentleman.


- Jim Lundy


Click here for Oliver's obituary in the Post & Courier: Oliver Bowman Obituary

 

Main (Traditional) Program for the Upcoming 2023-2024 Calendar Year

*Other events such as regional workshops, readings, etc. will be listed separately on our website and featured in the newsletter when possible.

Readings are at 7 p.m., on the 2nd Friday of each month with rare exception. They are free and open to the public. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Unless otherwise specified, events take place at the Charleston Library Society, 164 King Street, Charleston, SC 29401 and are also Zoomed live. An alternative location referenced for some events is Gage Hall, part of the Unitarian Church, 4 Archdale Street, Charleston, SC.


Workshops are at 10 a.m. on the following day (Saturday). They are $10 for members and $15 for non-members, with the exception of Zoom attendees (observation only) and students, who may attend free. Payments are made at the website using the Join Us (and Workshops) tab. Details are subject to change, so always consult our website for the most current information. Members have also received a complete program with your Yearbook.


Our first event of the year is happening soon!


September 8 and 9, 2023: Rebecca Aronson

with opening reader Katherine Williams


Rebecca Arson is the author of Anchor (Orison Books 2022, Ghost Child of the Atalanta Bloom, winner of the 2016 Orison Books Poetry Prize and finalist for the 2017 Arizona/New Mexico Book Awards and the winner of the 2019 Margaret Randall Book Award from the Albuquerque Museum Foundation, and Creature, Creature, winner of the Main-Traveled Roads Poetry Prize (2007). She has been a recipient of a Prairie Schooner Strousse Award, the Loft's Speakeasy Poetry Prize, and a 2018 Tennessee Williams Scolarship to Sewanee.


She has work appearing recently or soon in The Laurel Review, In the Tempered Dark: Contemporary Poets Transcending Elegy, Crosswinds, Plume, and others. She is co-founder and host of Bad Mouth, a series of words and music. She lives in Albuquerque with her husband, teenage son, and a very demanding cat. She teaches writing at Central New Mexico CC.


Saturday seminar/workshop:


What Lies Beneath: Revision as Excavation

In this approach to full-draft revision, we work on re-seeing the whole poem, shifting the poem’s focus, discovering a new set of images and associations, or retelling the poem’s central story. In this workshop, we will dig into drafts to discover other layers and facets of the poem’s subject and imagery. In a series of three to five exercises (depending on time) we’ll explore, expand, and excavate a draft to discover its branches, ghosts, and doppelgangers. Bring one poem draft you are ready to explore and significantly rewrite.


More details about each of the coming events as well as Zoom links for readings and workshops will be provided in the revelant month's newsletter and on the website.


October 13 and 14, 2023: Sarah Cooper

November 10 and 11, 2023: Willie Kinard III

December 8 , 2023: Annual Holiday Party and Member Showcase

January 12, 2024: Members' Open Mic

February 9 and 10, 2024: Maya Marshall

March 8 and 9, 2024: Angelo Geter

April 12 and 13, 2024: Tarfia Faizullah

May 10 and 11: May Forum with John Hoppenthaler


Join us as you can for any or all events! It's going to be a magnificent program. Thank you to Danielle DeTiberus, former Program Chair for putting it all together for us one more time! Opening Readers for October-May will be added as they are selected.

 

Members in the News (and the occasional new feature, "Flashbacks")

 

The Academy of American Poets is awarding a combined total of $1.1 million to its 2023 Poet Laureate Fellows. These 23 individuals who serve as poets laureate of states, counties, and cities across the nation will receive $50,000 each to lead public poetry programs in their respective communities in 2023–24. The Academy will additionally provide $114,500 total in matching grants to help secure pledged support of the Fellows’ projects from twelve local 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations. This year’s recipients include 2 laureates representing Columbia and Greenville respectively: Jennifer Bartell Boykin, Poet Laureate Fellow, Columbia, South Carolina Jennifer Bartell Boykin will partner with The Watering Hole to conduct debate slam poetry workshops with Columbia youth that will culminate in a debate slam at the Soda City Poetry Festival. The festival—open to the public and poets of all ages—will also feature panels, readings, a book fair, open mics, an ekphrasis pop-up, and more. Some of the youth who participate in Boykin’s workshops will offer a presentation about their experiences at a festival panel. Boykin is the author of Traveling Mercy (Finishing Line Press, 2023), which will be published under the name Jennifer Bartell. She teaches creative writing and English at Spring Valley High School. A Spectrum Scholar (American Library Association) and an Augusta Baker Scholar (University of South Carolina), she has fellowships from Callaloo and The Watering Hole. Glenis Redmond, Poet Laureate Fellow, Greenville, South Carolina Glenis Redmond will work with the Metropolitan Arts Council to launch “Verse and Visual,” a project pairing ten poets with ten visual artists for an ekphrastic collaboration; commission ten poets to write work inspired by Greenville City Parks; present local and regional poets at Artisphere, Greenville’s largest arts festival; aid the Arts in Public Places Commission to appoint Greenville’s first youth poet laureate; continue both her Little Free Libraries project and Unity Park Poetry workshops with the City of Greenville; and—in partnership with the Peace Center—convene past and present poets laureate Jaki Shelton Green, Joy Harjo, Ed Madden, and Crystal Wilkinson for a Poet Laureate Reading in Greenville on May 10, 2024. Redmond is a Cave Canem Alumni and the author of six books of poetry. Her recent book The Listening Skin (Four Way Books, 2022) was long listed for the PEN American Open Book Award and the Julie Suk Award. Her honors also include South Carolina’s highest arts award, the Governor’s Award, and she was inducted into the South Carolina Academy of Authors. As a Kennedy Center Teaching Artist, she has created and facilitated poetry workshops for school districts across the country. She is the inaugural poet laureate of Greenville. Full information here in the PRESS RELEASE. Gilbert Allen has new poems in Appalachian Journal, Fall Lines IX, and Twelve Mile Review. Online, you can see his triolet about the sad situation at the Travelers Rest Public Library at https://newversenews.blogspot.com/2023/06/travelers-rest-library-gets-threatening.html . Janet Kozachek has provided a narrative related to two of the July events that included several members: The Poetry Trails event for July took place in the Edisto Memorial Gardens in Orangeburg, SC. On Saturday, July 8. In attendance were; PSSC president Tamara Miles, Board Member Christina Baumis, Community Outreach Coordinator Janet Kozachek and PSSC members Elizabeth Robin and Ann Humphries. Our guests included Orangeburg Mayor pro tem Dr. Kalu Kalu, Hugo Krispyn from Friends of the Edisto, Donna Lais, Shelby Manor, and Caflin Kennerly. Despite the heat, we managed to find just enough shade to present our poetry in the Sensory Garden, the Rose Garden and along the Edisto River Boardwalk. Mayor pro tem Dr. Kalu delightfully surprised us all by composing and delivering a poem on the spot with a coming of age theme. The very next day, Poetry Society president Tamara Miles, and Community Outreach Coordinator Janet Kozachek performed with an all woman cast of poets and singer/song writers for Al Black’s Mind Gravy Ekphrastic Poetry event for Ginny Merrett’s exhibition, Tall Women, at 701 Whaley Center for Contemporary Art in Columbia, SC. Also presenting were; Columbia Poet Laureate Jennifer Bartell Boykin, Maria Collum, Kristine Hartvigsen, Michal Rubin, Jane Zenger and singer/song writers Alyssa Stewart and Alison Trotter. Kristina Hartvigsen also read a poem by Cindi Boiter. The event was both energizing and moving. By serendipity and not design, poets Tamara Miles and Janet Kozachek both composed poetry to the shades of Dante they perceived in Ginny Merrett's collage art.

Creator of Mind Gravy Poetry, Al Black, is on his way to hosting 1,000 poetry reading events in South Carolina, going back to 2011. The event at Cool Beans Coffee in Columbia with poet Nicola Waldron and musical performer Steven Bennett, marked event number 950. Al expects to reach his goal of 1,000 events by March, 2024.

 

Libby Bernardin shared an upcoming event that also features several members:


A workshop with Glenis Redmond concerning“Place-based Poetry.” is scheduled for Sept. 28th from 4:30-6:30 in Greenville. Save the date, and watch for more details next month. Thanks to Nancy Taylor for putting this together!


What events or publications have you got coming up?

 

And... we're still looking for guest housing for our program poets this fall, so let me know if you can help!


The praying mantis seems to be leading us to Every Corner, Every County...


Thank you,


Tamara

 

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 winner for July is Eugene Platt with his poem, "Musing at the Music Barn!" Our judge, Jessy Hylton, described the reasons for her choice:


"This poem was my favorite because of the complexity of the narrative voice. It manages to reflect on a moment of youth in a way that doesn't lose either the importance or innocence of the moment. We often don't realize how significant moments like this are until they've passed."


Enjoy...


Music at the Music Barn


In a far corner of Charleston’s liveliest venue,

where shyness and acne have relegated me,

my seat shakes with vibrations of a Mersey beat.

My body moves in imitation

of the undulations of foreign bodies

as I, a minor, cuddle a forbidden beer.

I search their chirpy sounds

and follow their famous faces to see

if there is any way we may be related.

I decide, that in a shared desire to create,

even if not born and bred brothers,

we are at least kindred spirits,

and far enough removed so that

effusive fan mail could be sent

without fear of embarrassment.

Hearing this heralded band from England

beats dancing at the high school sock hop

where my mom gullibly believes me to be.

By the time I get home, she’s sure to be asleep

or at least too tired to question me tonight—

and I need to write those lads from Liverpool.

Meanwhile, music communicates,

though as the poet John Donne wrote,

“more than kisses, letters mingle souls.”


Congratulations, Eugene!


This month's prompt, in keeping with the theme of this newsletter, is travel (or direction). Submit a poem or piece of flash fiction on your experiences with travel or in taking a new direction in life. You could even write about the praying mantis. Take this in any direction you want. We'll announce the winner in September.


Send the poems to everycornereverycounty@gmail.com, and let me know which county you are in!

 

Copyright © 2023 The Poetry Society of South Carolina, All rights reserved.


Photo credit: unknown

Editor: Tamara Miles


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