It's Like Déjà Vu All Wrong Again
Updated: Aug 1
A Letter from the President In the last years of her life, my maternal grandmother’s mind was rearranging her memories before freeing them from their cage and letting them fly away forever. I remember one particularly delightful afternoon we spent with her during one of the last times I visited Detroit. She began to tell us the story of her mother and aunts’ immigration from Hungary—then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire—to the United States in the first few years of the 20th century. The tale started out accurately enough, with the right names in the right places, but then it wandered off from reality. Before long, the steamship that carried the four babushka-wearing sisters across the Atlantic became a ship exclusively of women because “men and women could not travel on boats together in those days, you see.” A few more minutes into the story, her future father appeared on the boat; the law prohibiting men “could not be enforced in international waters, you see.” As the boat approached Ellis Island, suddenly my grandmother herself was on the steamer. She described how beautiful the Statue of Liberty looked from the deck of the ship and how blue the sky was that day. In reality, she was not born until 1917, and her parents did not travel together from the Old Country, they met in America. The other day, I found an error in my manuscript of the history of the Poetry Society of South Carolina. It was nothing too Earth shattering, just a simple omission: I wrote that Anne Montague Stoney was just days away from giving birth to her first child in July 1928. I knew she was pregnant when she backed out of some volunteer duties on the Yearbook, and I assumed she gave birth to a single child—which is normally a pretty safe assumption. Unrelatedly, I happened to be looking for something among the letters of John Bennett when I spotted a random sentence mentioning that “Arthur’s wife excused herself from editorial labors, and, yesterday, gave birth to twin girls, one blonde and one brunette.” I fixed the manuscript accordingly, and when the book comes out it will attribute the correct number of offspring to Anne’s delivery that hot, July day. But if a book’s otherwise careful author can add or subtract a human life with a few keystrokes, it started me thinking about the Historical Record in the abstract. After a little Googling, I learned that the concept that history should focus on facts is a relatively modern philosophy. The ancient Greeks believed that the stories of history should be used to make the reader a more moral human being, so historians openly manipulated true events to that end. For example, it was commonplace to invent speeches for historical figures and carefully select subjects that taught good behavior, while ignoring bad examples. This wasn’t limited to Classical Greece: the 1806 myth by biographer Mason Locke Weems—passed off as history for generations—that George Washington chopped down his father’s cherry tree is an example of how malleable history has been in glorifying virtues for thousands of years. In my own life, I think I was a freshman in college before I realized that history is not simply a collection of facts; it is the interpretation of facts, and sometimes it occurs through warped lenses. My exposure to Dystopian literature in high school prepared me for the idea that governments can suppress facts and lie through propaganda. Then, the professor of my World History 101 class, who was cynical about every single so-called fact, taught that there are always many ways to reflect on the historical record. As they say, “History is written by the victors.” Also, as Henry Ford said, “History is bunk.” Aristotle wrote, “[History] speaks of things which have happened, and [poetry] of such as might have happened. Hence, poetry is more philosophic, and more deserving of attention, than history.” I’m not sure I agree, but poetry can certainly help us process our emotions in these fraught times. We are emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic into a new era. The world has had a chance to question history, think about the status quo, and we’re now envisioning what comes next. It’s a work in progress and it can be unsettling. But if you’re vaccinated and ready to experience what is more “philosophic and deserving of attention,” the Sundown Poetry Series is back this year as part of Piccolo Spoleto. Details can be found below.
As for my grandmother, death took her quietly in the summer of 2002. By then she was no longer moored in time or place; she traveled freely within every year of her life and experienced everyone she ever knew at any age she ever knew them. I like to imagine her in the years before her death frequently revisiting that passenger ship on its way to Ellis Island, standing on the deck with her teenaged future mother and sisters on a sunny day when the New York skyline first came into view. I bet grandma's two grown daughters joined her on some trips, or maybe they became little girls wearing matching ribbons in their hair like they were in the 1940s. Perhaps even I was there with my sisters on occasion, either as children or college students. And then we would all gasp when we first spotted the Statue of Liberty, its torch impossibly high above the deck of our ship, our lives and the 20th century stretching out before us like that vivid blue sky over the Land of Opportunity. Jim Lundy President, PSSC
The Poetry Society is supported by South Carolina Humanities, a not-for-profit organization; inspiring, engaging, and enriching South Carolinians with programs on literature, history, culture, and heritage. Poetry Events Featuring PSSC Members in June:
Piccolo Spoleto Sundown Poetry Series Runs June 1 - 11, 6:30 Pm - 7:30 PM, Gibbes Museum of Art, Lenhardt Garden, 135 Meeting Street, Charleston, SC 29401.
Featuring: Al Black Valerie Nieman Randy Spencer Kurtis Lamkin Lola Haskins David Axelrod Kwoya Maples Grace Ocasio Ren Ruggiero See our events listings for more information.
Derek Berry and Len Lawson will be speaking on the panel "Deep Roots: Genrational Connections to the Past," jointly sponsored by the NC Humanities and SC State Library, alongside Ayla Samli, Jaki Shelton Green, and Hannah VanderHart. The panel will take place June 24th at 12:30pm on Zoom. Derek Berry, John Byrne, and Regina Duggins will be headlining the Park Circle Pride Poetry Night on June 3rd from 5:30-7:30pm. The reading will take place at Commonhouse Aleworks in North Charleston, SC. A limited open mic will follow.Would You Like to Sponsor a Contest?
Poetry contests are the Society's oldest tradition. Prizes have been awarded in every year of the PSSC's 101 years of existence. We are currently in need of sponsors of poetry contests. If you would like to sponsor a prize beginning in the 2021-2022 contest year, please respond to this email for details. Contests can be named in honor of a person (living or dead), for a specific type of poem (sonnet, haiku, limerick, etc.), or for a specific theme (nature, Lowcountry, social action, etc.). The prize-winning poems are printed in the Yearbook under your contest name along with attribution of the contest's sponsor(s). Your prize contribution is tax deductible. All contests for the upcoming year must be finalized before the 2021 Yearbook is printed, therefore we will need to hear from you before July 15.
If you missed the May Forum Meeting with Keith Flynn, you can watch it asynchronously on our Youtube Channel. Click on this link.
Member Spotlight: Longtime Poetry Society member Libby Bernardin served for a number of years on the arts-in-the-schools roster. She studied at the Haden Dream Institute in Charlotte, North Carolina, learning about dreams, symbols and mythology, which often influence her poetry work. She is retired from teaching English at the University of South Carolina and is a Lifetime Member on the Board of Governors for the South Carolina Academy of Authors. For the month of June, the winner of the Poetry Prompt Contest (see below) will receive a copy of her latest book, Stones Ripe for Sowing. Excerpts from a review of Stones Ripe for Sowing by Curtis Derrick. This review in its entirety can be found in the most recent issue of Ashville Poetry Review: Stones Ripe for Sowing by Libby Bernardin supplies poems of bountiful art. There’s a great blossoming—truths, harvested from the long growing season of a life loved and lived deeply. The touchstones that line her path are familiar ones: loss, love, yearning, hope, fulfillment, stubbornness, happiness, friendship, the outright joy of simple things. The elegiac current is strong, but there’s an equal and reassuring current of renewal that releases you from the undertow of grief. Bernardin writes first and foremost from a steadfast faith in the cycles of Nature, and in the particular nature of South Carolina’s coastal Lowcountry. Given her overall sensibility, there’s little surprise her book both begins and ends with garden poems. The success of these (and others throughout the book) is beautifully enhanced by her keen use of plant symbolism. For Bernardin, the natural world is no mere backdrop for human experience. She reminds us it is the ground for our experience literally, and metaphysically, we must feel ourselves grounded in it. Her reverence towards the profusion of natural wonders in her imagery make the volume read like a devotional book with prayers, hymns, and meditations. Stones Ripe for Sowing is composed by a woman blessed with a wealth of experience and with complete sovereignty of mind and spirit. Readers of a certain age will find kinship, solace, and inspiration. Younger readers will find the means to evade certain lies. MEMBERS IN THE NEWS Eugene Platt reports that the June 2021 issue of Drawn to the Light Press includes his poem "An Inauguration Day Lunch" on page 20. A striking photo by his cousin Mickey Bell graces the front cover. Issue 3 June 2021 – Drawn to the Light Press Sandra Marshburn reports, "My poem, "Four Days after 9/11" has been published in the anthology, Never Forgotten: 100 Poets Remember 9/11. The book is available from The North Sea Poetry Scene Press." Gilbert Allen's poem "Bees in Lavender" was featured on Verse Daily on May 2. He also has work in the current issues of Appalachian Journal and Eclectica. Pat Riviere-Seel announces that Main Street Rag Publishing Company will publish her book When There Were Horses in the fall, and it will sell for $14 + shipping. But you can get it for the special presale price of $8.50 + by placing an advance discount order at the MSR Online Bookstore before it goes to press. Pre-order a copy with this direct link: Preorder. Robert Lee Kendrick's poem "Sift, Mix, Blend" has been published by Concho River Review, his poem "Planted" has been published by Valparaiso Poetry Review, and his poem "Gewrinclod" was published by Tar River Poetry. Congratulations to Marjory Wentworth for winning the South Carolina Governor's Award for the Arts. Read about it here. The Film Shooters Collective's National Poetry Month project ("Ekphrastic Magic") included Terri McCord’s poem written for the project, and all poems and photographs are on the way for exhibition at the Revela'T Festival in Spain. Mary O'Keefe Brady's poem "Bathgate in the Bronx" is forthcoming in the Bronx Memoir Project Volume V Anthology. Derek Berry has recently published the poem "radish spirit visits the bath house" in the latest issue of Impossible Archetypes, the poem "chandelier" in beestung, and the poem "a bacchanal" in Carolina Muse. Their poems "genderfluent," "nest," and "delirium in c sharp minor" were published in May as part of the Jasper Writes series, a new initiative of the Columbia-based arts non-profit The Jasper Project. Derek Berry read as part of the "Paper and Steel" Ekphrasitc reading in May alongside Al Black, Omari Fox, Tamara Miles, and Star Smauldon at the Orangeburg County Center for Fine Arts in May. Members, please send poetry-related news to: Flatbluesky@hotmail.com Poetry Prompt Newsletter Contest
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. June's winner gets a signed copy of Libby Bernardin's book Stones Ripe for Sowing. The May Poetry Prompt Contest was to write a poem or piece of flash fiction on the topic of Motherhood. We had five outstanding entries: Ellen Jenks submitted the poem "The Mother;" Joan Fishbein sent "Being the Case;" Linda Sarkany's poem of four haiku, "Mothers," was aptly titled; Jackie Morfesis submitted "Angel;" and Louise Weld, whose poem "Old Woman Working" won the contest. She will receive a signed copy of Nuda Veritas, the new book by Eugene Platt. Louise Weld's poem can be found below. Here is the June prompt: After May's focus on motherhood, this month we will give equal time to fatherhood. Father's Day is June 20. Wouldn't you like to give your father--or his memory--a poem instead of a tie this year? We hear, "The boy is the father of the man." Germans say Vaterland (fatherland) rather than motherland. In the 1950s and '60s for some reason, there were numerous TV shows featuring single dads (The Andy Griffith Show, My Three Sons, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, Bonanza, Family Affair, Gidget, Beverly Hillbillies, etc.). More recently, the term "biological father" has become a commonly used term as families have become more non-traditional. We speak of "The Father of ___" for great achievements in scientific and intellectual pursuits, such as "Hippocrates, the father of medicine." We speak of Father Time and Father Christmas, the Founding Fathers and God the Father. Your June challenge is to write a poem or piece of flash fiction on the broad topic of Father / Fatherhood. Take this topic in any direction your creativity roams. June's winner gets a signed copy of Libby Bernardin's book Stones Ripe for Sowing. Send your submissions to FlatBlueSky@hotmail.com on or before June 30. The winner of the May Prompt Contest: Old Woman Waking In the shingled cottage a woman older than she wants to be lies sleeping the sleep of exhausted bone, her breath as sweet as song, her mouth open, softly snoring. Upstairs her middle-aged son listens on the intercom to this ocean lapping his shores in the predictable way of waves. She sighs and mutters in her dreams. He strains to understand if she is calling him, his own anxious mothering turning and twisting him out of his sheets. He goes downstairs in the gray dawn,. But still she sleeps, ebbing and flowing against the brittle hold of her ship, planked in pine and poetry. Oh yes, she has had plenty to say to her children, about the craters they have left behind. Old age has tuckered her womb. The sea stretches in its customary growls, it has been roaring at the stars all night. Now dawn fades into a dreamscape. She’s a slim, shiny haired child, her skin back-lit by the moon, perched before the moment of herself, then diving straight into black water, lighting it with the fluorescent shape of a bird. Willets and sanderling skitter the dim shore, darting anxiously from the paws of waves. Under the dock a heron stands alone and silent, waits in the soft day. -Louise Gwathmey Weld
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