It's National Poetry Month (but you wouldn't know it from my letter)
Alfred Kreymborg, Vachel Lindsay, John Jacob Niles, Carew Rice, Tom House,
A Letter From the President
By my own estimation, I have written about 70 of these “A Letter from the President” thingamajigs by now, and at the end of every month, as my own self-imposed but inviolable deadline approaches, I start wringing my brain like a sponge to see what, if anything, will drip from it to write about. Well, April is National Poetry Month so I tried to think along those lines. Absolutely nothing came out. Let me tell you about my brain: it cannot be forced; it finds its own inspiration, usually at the last minute. About 3:15 A.M. last night as I laid awake with all my various hamster wheels spinning out of control, I came up with a single, unrelated idea: I would write about the Poetry Society’s relationship with music.
If you’ve only been around the group for the last decade or so, you probably think the Poetry Society of South Carolina is all poetry, all the time. But that hasn’t always been the case. Music was formerly a significant, recurring component of the Society’s programming. This goes way, way back. Alfred Kreymborg, an American polymath genius, provided his own musical accompaniment on the mandolute at his reading on November 15, 1923. At the time, the mandolute was a relatively new instrument combining the strings and tuning of the mandolin with the body of a lute. Kreymborg was great at just about everything he set his mind to. If you look up his publication credits, you will find he was the author of about 50 books, but you are just as likely to see his name come up in books about chess; he played chess at a near-professional level.
Vachel Lindsay was famous for being the foremost American practitioner of “Singing Poetry.” He sang, chanted, whispered, and shouted his poems when performing. When he read for the PSSC in 1931 it was just 9 months before he took his own life by drinking a bottle of lye, but his influence lives on. In the movie Dead Poets Society, Lindsay’s poem “The Congo” is chanted by the students in the cave where they meet. You can hear Lindsay himself performing the poem here. You must take the time to do this. You can thank me later.
As unique as Vachel Lindsay was, I’m not sure that anyone ever got up in front of the PSSC who sounded anything like John Jacob Niles did on November 29, 1948. Niles was an important influence on the Folk Music Revival of the 1940s through ‘60s, out of which sprang Burl Ives, Pete Seeger, Dave Van Ronk, and Bob Dylan—all of whom cited him as an influence. Niles sang in an unearthly tremulous falsetto and accompanied himself on folk instruments inspired by his Kentucky heritage, many of his own design. Here, again, I insist you listen to at least a sampling of this video to get a taste of what that long-ago audience at South Carolina Society Hall would have experienced.
Many of you will know of Carew Rice, the famous South Carolina itinerate silhouettist who captured the profiles of thousands of South Carolina children for their proud parents to hang on the living room wall. He was a member of the PSSC and a member of the Writers’ Group, long distance from his home in Green Pond, SC. What you may not know (unless you've read my book) is that he became interested in ballads in the early 1950s and wrote over 200 of them in the space of 2 years. I’m not saying they were good, I’m not saying they were bad, but when you crank out that many ballads in a short time I can’t imagine that any were exactly “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Whatever the quality was, he sang a bunch of them to the PSSC in December 1953. So far, I have not heard a recording of Rice singing, nor have I had the chance to read lyrics to any of his songs, some of which appeared in this rare book. If you want to get me something for Christmas you could not do better than this book.
Also appearing in the musical oddities category was Gloria Roddey, Ph.D. She owned a private club called The New Blue Angel Society Cafe at 434 King Street in the days when downtown rents were still cheap enough for weird little businesses to afford them. There she presented cabarets, poetry readings, and classical music. Her presentation to the PSSC was written to be a future Spoleto Festival show but was never accepted. Entitled The Poetry of Julietta and Her Stage, it was sung in November 1986 by Roddey’s business partner Mimi Jolicoeur with musical accompaniment by Benjamin Heyward on keyboards and Alex Bell on synthesizer.
I was not around for the performances of Kreymborg, Lindsay, Niles, Rice, or Roddey. However, I was fortunate enough to be in attendance on February 11, 2005 when Tom House performed for the PSSC at Second Presbyterian’s chapel. This would have been one of the first Society meetings I attended. The first half of his appearance was a poetry reading, which I thought was just ok. Then he broke out his guitar and played songs from his album This White Man’s Burden, which had been picked by music critic Greil Marcus as his sixth favorite release of 1998. I cannot overstate how important that album has become to me since buying it after that reading. In my mind, Tom House is one of the best singer-songwriters who ever lived.
Rich Ferguson, a poet from California, did an entire performance poetry reading from memory in 2012 accompanied by Chris Clary on electric guitar. The individual poems blended seamlessly from one to the next with no break in the music or indication that one poem was ending and another beginning. It was mesmerizing. I have never seen or heard anything quite like it, either before or since. This video will give you a taste of his performance art.
In addition to those standouts, there have been many poets who sang a song or two as part of their reading. Some that stick out in my memory are Doug Van Gundy, a poet from Appalachia who played his fiddle for us; Paul Allen, who focused on his brilliant songwriting for his appearance in 2006; Keith Flynn, who always sings some acapella songs during his readings, most recently for us in 2021; and Kurtis Lamkin, who sings and plays the kora as part of every reading to great effect.
Do you have a favorite musical memory from a PSSC reading? I’d like to hear about it. Do you have any ideas about what I should have written about for National Poetry Month? I'd like to hear them, too.
The PSSC April Meeting Poet Khalisa Rae with Abigail G. Fitzpatrick
Friday, April 8, 7:00 P.M. EST
164 King St., Charleston, SC 29401 This meeting will take place in person at the Charleston Library Society and will be simultaneously live Zoomed.
All our readings are free and open to the public. Join this meeting in person at the Charleston Library Society, or view it on Zoom.
Khalisa Rae is a poet, journalist, and educator in Durham, North Carolina, that speaks with fierce rebellion. She is the graduate of the Queens University MFA program, where she studied under renown authors, Claudia Rankine and Ada Limon. In 2012, her poetry chapbook, Real Girls Have Real Problems was published by Jacar Press. Her love for poetry and performance has led her to be an active member of the National Poetry Slam(NPS) community since 2010, and the host of various poetry open mics. Khalisa went on to start the women and femme poetry organization, Poet.she Performing Arts in Greensboro, NC after graduating from N.C. A&T University in 2011. Upon relocating to Wilmington, NC, she started the Athenian Press- a BIPOC bookstore and resource center for women, femme, non-binary, and trans writers and artists. There she taught as an English professor and held the role of Community Outreach Director at the YWCA, among other advocacy titles with various nonprofits. Her work has been published widely and speaks to womanhood, anti-racism, identity, and generational trauma. Her essays are featured in Autostraddle, Catapult, LitHub, as well as articles in B*tch Media, NBC-BLK, and others. Her poetry appears in Frontier Poetry, Florida Review, Rust & Moth, PANK, Hellebore, Sundog Lit, HOBART, Flypaper Lit, and countless other places. She was a finalist in the Furious Flower Gwendolyn Brooks Poetry Prize and a winner of the Fem Lit Magazine Contest, White Stag Publishing Contest, and the Bright Wings Poetry Contest. Currently, serves as the founder of Think in Ink: A BIPOC Collective and the Women of Color Speak Reading series. She is also the Assistant Editor at Glass Poetry and a workshop facilitator at Catapult. Her debut poetry collection, Ghost in a Black Girls Throat is forthcoming from Red Hen Press April 2021 and Unlearning Eden from White Stag Publishing. Abigail G. Fitzpatrick is an MFA candidate and Woodfin Fellow at the College of Charleston. She writes poetry, nonfiction and flash fiction pieces. When she is not reading or writing, she is playing with her two rescue bunnies or arguing with her mother over FaceTime.
April 8, 7:00 PM EST
In-Person Event: Charleston Library Society, 164 King St., Charleston, SC 29401 This will also be live Zoomed Easy Instructions to join the Zoom meeting live:
1. On the night of the meeting, before 7:00, click on the link below (i.e. click anywhere on the blue text of "April 8 PSSC Meeting") 2. You will be taken to the Zoom website and a dialog box will open (give it a second or two!). 3. In that dialog box will be a button "Join Zoom Meetings." Click on it. 4. You might be asked to select a screen name if this is your first time in Zoom. 5. You are now in the waiting room and will be let in when the meeting it starts.
April 8 PSSC Meeting Alternate Easy instructions for joining the meeting live: 1. Go to our website: PoetrySocietySC.org 2. Page down to "Reading with Khalisa Rae." Click on "RSVP" there. If you'd like to join the meeting without any of the easy shortcuts above: Topic: Reading with Khalisa Rae Time: Apr 8, 2022 07:00 PM Eastern Time (US and Canada) Join Zoom Meeting https://us02web.zoom.us/j/86873587696?pwd=djFZRGphM0svT3VZdS96VS80U2ZRQT09 Meeting ID: 868 7358 7696 Passcode: 601894 One tap mobile +19292056099,,86873587696#,,,,*601894# US (New York) +13017158592,,86873587696#,,,,*601894# US (Washington DC) Dial by your location +1 929 205 6099 US (New York) +1 301 715 8592 US (Washington DC) +1 312 626 6799 US (Chicago) +1 669 900 6833 US (San Jose) +1 253 215 8782 US (Tacoma) +1 346 248 7799 US (Houston) Meeting ID: 868 7358 7696 Passcode: 601894 Find your local number: https://us02web.zoom.us/u/kb1VzU7VZM
Outside the Canon: On the Places and Poetic Forms of the Black Southern Poetry Seminar
Saturday, April 8, 10:00 AM EST
About the Event
The Southern writing tradition has always been the fertile ground for fire. Dry weeds exist, yet the soil is rich. For me, the South is a living, breathing thing: a ghost, a bay window, a river’s edge, a magnolia tree, a stained-glass hymn. Like many great poets that came before me, I am not a native of the South. I migrated to the Southern states to feel connected to my ancestors and find language and culture; to be more attuned with Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison, Nikkey Finney, Maya Angelou, and more. What links these great Southern Black poets is their ability to capture the light and the darkness of the South. Each rendered the region as a dichotomy of beauty and pain: music in melancholia, the trauma, and tumbling hills. All exist here, and this juxtaposition always defined the execution of their work. This seminar will explore the poetic and craft of the Southern Black writing tradition.
Regional Opportunities for Our Members:
The Petigru Review is open for submissions from SCWA members for the 2022 issue from 4/1/22 until 7/31/22. Members can submit at a discounted rate and the magazine will pay a $5 honorarium upon publication to each accepted author or artist. We are looking for cover art, book excerpts/chapters, nonfiction, fiction, flash, and poetry. Complete guidelines can be found on our website and Submittable. We will be open to non-member submissions beginning May 1. For those who are impatient or would like to submit again in the same category, we are also offering expedited submissions for an extra fee. Please feel free to reach out to the Managing Editor, Maria S. Picone, with any questions (email@example.com).
The Petigru Review is looking for volunteer staff for the summer 2022 reading period. This is a great opportunity to learn more about literary magazines and the submission process, improve your editorial lens, and get involved with the organization. We are especially looking for readers from marginalized groups. We estimate a commitment of no more than 2 hours per week during our reading period (May through August), but we are happy to be flexible about the time commitment. Please contact Maria S. Picone, Managing Editor to arrange an interview: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tea & Poetry at Waccamaw Library Poetry Reading by Libby Bernardin and Glenis Redmond
April 21, 10:00 AM Glenis Redmond explores the living histories of ther Afro-Carolinian roots. Her work has appeared on NPR and PBS. A Cave Canem poet, she has several books, including What my Hand Say. She has won the Governor's Award for the Arts, and in April 2022 will be inducted into the South Carolina Academy of Authors. Since 2005, Libby Bernardin has conducted poetry workshops for the Georgetown County Library System, concentrating on development of poetic elements. She is the author of Stones Ripe for Sowing (2018, Press 53) and two chapbooks, including The book of Myth, selected by Kwame Dawes. She has published in many journals, including the Asheville Poetry Review, Southern Poetry Review, and Kakalak. She has won awrds from the Poetry Society of South Carolina and the North Carolina Poetry Society. She is a lifetime member of the Board of Governors of the SC academy of Authors. Her book House in Need of Mooring is forthcoming from Press 53 in October 2022.
The April Poetry Salon will take place on April 11th from 7-8pm.
This month for the poetry salon, we're doing something special to commemorate National Poetry Month. Please bring one (1) poem to read and share at the meeting. The poem should be relatively brief (1-2 pages) and not your own poem. It can be of any style, content, or form. We'll take turns sharing some of these favorite poems. Each participant will also have a minute to talk about why they love the poem they're reading-- this might pertain to content, form, technique, or particular lines. We look forward to sharing poems and getting to know new poets! Email email@example.com for details on how to join through Zoom.
Poetry at McLeod presents Malcolm Tariq
23-24 April 2022, 11 a.m.
McLeod Plantation Historic Site
325 Country Club Dr, Charleston
Reading, 4/23, 11 a.m.
Poet, playwright, and scholar Malcolm Tariq grew up in Savannah, Georgia. He earned a BA and MA from Emory University and a PhD in English from the University of Michigan. He is the author of Heed the Hollow (2019), winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize and the Georgia Author of the Year Award, and Extended Play (2017). Tariq completed a playwriting apprenticeship at Horizon Theater Company, was a 2020-2021 resident playwright with Liberation Theatre Company and a finalist for the 2018 Princess Grace Fellowship with New Dramatists, and his plays have been developed by Working Title Playwrights. His poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in CURA, Vinyl, Nepantla, Tinderbox, and The Iowa Review. A former programs manager for Cave Canem, he is a senior manager for Prison and Justice Writing at PEN America. Tariq lives in New York.
Seminar, 4/24, 11 a.m.
Docupoetry, or The Practice of History in Poetry
How do we go about seeing the unseen? How can a poem carry the weight of history? Docupoetry—socially engaged works of art that converge with journalism—can address these questions using oral history, photographs, court records, legal documents, etc. Considering work by Alice Walker, CD Wright, Natasha Tretheway and others, participants will work with historical and personal artifacts to uncover deeper meaning and new understandings. Participants may bring their own such artifact.
Talk More About Poetry: A Column by Brian Slusher
If you want to be a memorable poet, consider having a great name. Last month, I discussed Starkey Flythe, whose name is flavorful and sticks to my brain like the hook of a radio song (I confess disappointment at the sound of Brian Slusher, which I have pondered changing to Smithfield Kosloski, but that is another essay). The poet I consider this go-round has a fantastic handle: Kit Loney. It makes me think of a gunfighter or a cabaret singer, a name both tough and tender. But a name isn’t enough if you want to be an excellent poet, and Loney has the prizes to prove her excellence–according to Jim Lundy’s The History of the Poetry Society of South Carolina, she has won seventeen prizes so far. One of her winning poems that I find particularly memorable, excellent, tough, and tender is “Ballad” from 2014.
Art has two functions: to comfort or to provoke. Similarly, an artist can choose to fulfill expectations (in poetry, using regular rhyme, meter, or form) or defeat expectations. I’ll never forget a poem I read as a youngster titled “Sonnet” that looked right, with fourteen lines neatly arranged, but the contents were a cold description of conception out of a science book–no music, no rhyme or meter, no turn. It surprised and challenged me to question my assumptions about the form and why the writer would ambush me in such a way. Loney does a similar thing with “Ballad.” The title sets the expectation of “a plot-driven song, with one or more characters hurriedly unfurling events leading to a dramatic conclusion.” But what we get has almost none of the markers of the form: no single narrative, no chunky stanzas, no consistent rhyme and meter. The lines are musical, but not in the way of a structured song. We do get the violence, nature, and supernatural elements common to ballads from the top: “The thirty-seventh time you drowned me in the river.” The poem proceeds to render (with one perfect exception at the poem’s conclusion) in unrhymed couplets startling vignettes of a “you” and an “I” dying for each other, spiced with memorable images like “The echo of my voice in the cave of your heart” and “Your promises and pretty mouth a hive of maddened bees.” So, what does this rebellion against the form add up to? Of course, a poem is not a math problem to be solved, but there is a totality of effect Loney creates. There is a repetition of “time” in the poem as though these events will happen again and again, and the you and I of the poem are unnamed and therefore universal: this is the ballad of all romance, a circular drama of passion and loss, common and inescapable to each of us. In a sense, the poem does adhere to the ballad’s rule of narrative in that it tells the story of this Moebius strip of human longing and its consuming nature. That is the ballad’s work, to remind us of the timeless beauty and thrilling helplessness of our desires, that all our “letters steeped in blood” and “Fiddle walk flame” will dissolve into a “little nest of bones and fur the mouse leaves when it dies.” Yet Loney’s “Ballad” also implies that while our passions flood us, pull us under, it doesn’t matter that we drown thirty-seven times–we always come back to the river. If you enjoyed ”Ballad,” there are plenty more of Loney’s poems on the PSSC website, such as “Beatissimus Thomas,” “Madame Butterfly and the Down Syndrome Kid,” and “The Wind of Your Name, Sophia.”
Brian Slusher is a long-time member of the Poetry Society and one of the winningest current members, with over twenty PSSC prizes to his credit. Contact Brian Slusher with your thoughts and comments on this column at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you missed the outstanding March reading with Atsuro Riley and Arthur McManus, you can watch it in its entirety on our Youtube channel by clicking here.
MEMBERS IN THE NEWS
Three new poems by Evelyn Berry can be found in Jasper Writes. Evelyn Berry and Julia Wendell will be reading poetry together at the Tap Into Poetry event on April 18th at the Alley Tap Room in Aiken, SC. The event begins at 6:30pm. Traci Neal has won third place as 2022 State Winner for the South Carolina Career Development Association in the Poetry and Art Contest 2021-2022. She will be moving on to the national level. A decision will be made in May 2022. This is her first state win in South Carolina. The direct link for the winners is here: https://sccda.wildapricot.org/2022-pandastate-winners/ Gilbert Allen has two poems in the current issue of The Southern Review. The New Verse News featured his "Mending News" on March 16. You can read that poem at: https://newversenews.blogspot.com/2022/03/mending-news.html . Poetry Society members Helen Brandenburg, Ed Gold, Kit Loney, Susan Laughter Meyers, Deborah Lawson Scott, and Susan Finch Stevens are featured in a new coffee table book made about the Ekphrastic Project by Dutch artist Joost de Jonge. It also includes work by Richard Garcia and Katherine Williams. They were asked to write poems about Icarus, and paintings were created in response to the poems. Susan Meyers’s poem was serendipitously written about Icarus long before Volume III of the project existed and submitted posthumously by Richard. The book also includes poetry by PSSC member Evelyn Berry and former PSSC presenter Brian Turner. Richard Garcia and some of the Long Table Poets also worked with the artist on earlier volumes of the project. Linda Joy Walder's debut collection of poems Running Naked in the Snow was recently featured in the first author showcase and book signing at Charleston's independent bookseller Itinerant Literate. PSSC member Elizabeth Robin's third book of poetry, To My Dreamcatcher, is available for preorders through Finishing Line Press. This is her first full-length book, reflecting work beginning in 2018 traveling 28 national parks. The title poem, "To My Dreamcatcher," is an elegy for her late husband, George. To order: https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/to-my-dreamcatcher-by-elizabeth-robin/ Elizabeth Robin will emcee a Kick-Start Poetry Month reading on April 7 at the Hilton Head Library at 4 pm with 8 poets: Elizabeth Abrams, Michael Bassett, Ella Faessler, Deidre Johns, Miho Kinnas, Bernard Snyder, Alex Yucas, and a TBA student from Hilton Head High School. Elizabeth Robin brings Ukweli contributors, including Herb Frazier, Susan Madison, Jonathan Haupt and Gloria Holmes, to the Coligny Theater on Hilton Head Island to discuss their work on April 9. Randall Ivey of Union, South Carolina, recently had his short story, "The Gift of Gab," published in Still: A Journal. In November, his story "The Brief, Miserable Existence of Gay Dobbin" appeared in The Adelaide Literary Magazine. Debra Conner's poem "Hawk's Nest Tunnel, 1930" was published in Ashville Poetry Review, Volume 28. Eugene Platt's poem "Waiting for the Train at Ballybrophy Junction" was featured in the latest issue of the newsletter of the Irish and Irish-American Studies program at the College of Charleston. PSSC President Jim Lundy was interviewed on the Contribute Your Verse Writing Podcast for his book about the history of the Poetry Society of South Carolina. It can be heard here. His earlier interview for Walter Edgar's Journal can be heard here. Members, please send poetry-related news to: Flatbluesky@hotmail.com To make this easier on us, please provide your news in a format that is exactly the way you want it to read in the Newsletter.
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. The March Poetry Prompt Contest asked you to write a poem or piece of flash fiction that captured the feeling, beauty, and magic of springtime. This proved to be an unpopular topic--perhaps it was too early for most poets to have come down with spring fever. We received only three entries. Eugene Platt's poem "The Dogwood Blossoms Disregard Social Distancing" was a uniquely COVID-inspired take on the annual appearance of dogwood blossoms. Randall Ivey's poem "May Day Haiku: 1921" captured the excitement of the flight of a bluebird through the porch; it is gone as suddenly as it had appeared and leaves us with a single, vivid picture of the event. And lastly, Ellen Jenks's poem "On the Arrival of Spring" captured the sights, sounds, and feel on the skin of the arrival of spring in a way that brought it to life in our imaginations. The judge picked Ellen Jenks as the March Prompt winner and you can read her poem below. Here is the April Prompt: This newsletter is going out on April Fools' Day. I cannot say I enjoy April Fools' Day pranks very much. For the most part they are done artlessly and end up causing bad feelings until "April Fools" is finally announced at the end (but the bad feelings linger). One group that does April Fools' jokes very well is NPR, which usually buries a farcical story in their morning or afternoon news programs Morning Edition or All Things Considered. They don't give it away after the story ends. The way I usually come to know that it was a fake news story is as the implausibility and stupidity of the story builds, I remember the date and chalk it up to April Fools'. For the April Prompt, your task is to write a foolish poem or piece of foolish flash fiction. This can mean just about anything, such as a past foolish action, a foolish plan, or maybe your piece will use foolish words and language. Or you might want to write about fools. That could be the fool in love, someone who was duped, one of the many fools found in literature, etc. If none of this works for you, perhaps you could write a poem about the origins of April Fools, which nobody agrees on. This could encourage fanciful interpretation. Send your submissions to FlatBlueSky@hotmail.com on or before April 30. The winner of the March Prompt Contest: On the Arrival of Spring By Ellen Jenks A Mockingbird sits atop the power line Providing a single-throated concert, Its beauty piercing this soul of mine. Birds begin nests in restless budding trees, And on my skin softly whispers The first warm, gentle southern breeze. The mating dance of the animals has begun With the preparation of shelters Needed for the birthing of their young. In my yard, the first flower I see arise Is the lovely yellow daffodil As she lifts her arms and head to the sky. The scent of impending rain permeates the air As infant leaves on the trees unfurl To catch the sunlight before it disappears. Winter's icy grip has released the earth Allowing Springtime to arrive, And with Spring, Nature's glorious rebirth.
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