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"Like a Man Bearing a Gift"



A Letter from the President


Happy December, Friends.


I've been working diligently this week to prepare for a beautiful Holiday Party for you all tomorrow at 6 p.m. in Columbia at The Living Room. Please note this is a change from the original Friday night plan. We did this so people could come more easily from Charleston and other areas. More on that later. Some thoughts for today:


A few years ago, I decided to do a 100 Day Project. I would paint, and by doing so, teach myself to paint. This is the way I've approached many subjects: I have no idea how to do it, but I know how learning works. I've been a college teacher for over 25 years. We have a sign at OCtech that says, "The one who does the work does the learning." (Disclaimer: As a teacher, I am aware that it would be best to have one... but sometimes it doesn't work out because of the hours I keep and everything else in life.)


So, I bought acrylic paint and canvases, and I started. I watched Bob Ross and followed his basic techniques for about the first 50 paintings. Some of the paintings were absolute disasters, and some were okay, but eventually I got tired of painting trees, water, barns, badly drawn mountains, and so forth. I realized I'd been longing to paint animals. I found some photographs as "templates" to follow, and I was amazed to discover that I could paint a polar bear, an elk, an elephant, a zebra, a lion... and I kept going. I started having more fun. Ultimately, I completed a hundred paintings, and I gave them all away through the Art Abandonment Project.


This one went to a friend in Australia who loves polar bears:


As you can see, I like projects. Another time I did NanoWriMo, and I wrote a new draft of my memoir/creative non-fiction book in a month. 50,000 words. It meant writing at least 1,500 a day. I entered a contest to have an artist create my book cover, and it was an honor to see it done. I've always tried for things that seem impossible.


Projects give me focus and determination as well as pleasure and pain. Every Corner, Every County is no exception. I think of dozens of ways to do it, and I try them one at a time with the support, creative efforts, and hard work of the board and the dedication of our members. When there's no money for a particular approach, I tell myself we'll find a way to do it eventually, and I believe. The board also has many ideas we can put to work. I especially want to thank our program manager, Jessy Hylton, who will be spearheading the new program in 2024-2025. Jessy is highly motivated!


We all find our motivation in something. Sometimes, it arrives with grief and all its silences --- its restlessness and insomnia. Recently, David and I lost our beloved dog Reacher, after weeks of trying to save his life with vet visits and hospitalization. The first day, it hurt so much I couldn't speak. But I am starting to realize that grief is another project... a lifelong one, and it comes strangely like a man bearing a gift. Unwrapping it, I find what I loved, still love, looking back, saying go on, go on. We've received Reacher's ashes, and will spread them in the woods behind the house where he played so happily, off leash, in snow and sun. Today, I read the poem I linked above, "Laying the Fire," and held fast to this line:


A breath of ash

pours continuously over his shoulder

from the pan he carries before him

like a man bearing a gift

in a picture of a man bearing a gift.


Now, the board and I come bearing a gift.



Please come to our party, which is a celebration of the year, and of every one of you. Allow us the time to mingle with you an express our gratitude. Bring a winter poem. We'll be giving the stage to poets. If we don't have time for all of them, you can leave your poem in the Mail Box we are providing, and we'll do something special with it. It will be a project. If you don't have a poem, we'll invite you to write down something you enjoyed this year about the Poetry Society. We'll have appetizers and drinks, and listen to music.


You're going to love The Living Room, and I may even do a little piano improv... because I don't know how to play, but I've been teaching myself by playing. :>) I make a lot of mistakes, and I'll never be able to play the same tune twice -- but sometimes I discover beauty along the way. I've recorded a lot of takes, raw, with my sighs and laughter, just to document my progress. The other day I was holiday dreaming at the piano. All we need is a little creativity now and then to keep us alive. Whatever you're creating, keep going.


Can't wait to see you! Tamara

 

November


November featured just a couple of events, but they were great.


We had Al Black's Mind Gravy poetry and music at Cool Beans Coffee.


Thank you to Al Black for putting this event together and hosting, and to all the fabulous talent that came out to perform. Josh McGill provided music again (so good!), and the featured poet was Lee McEachern, reading from his book Beloved, We are One. Lee and Maris Burton read a poem together, and Candace Chellew also brought a guitar and sang to us. Candy Guilds and Maria Collum had poems to share, and others sang and performed throughout the evening. If you're in Columbia, come out to this regular Wednesday event!





On November 4, we were hosted by the Orangeburg County Library for a reading and open mic, organized by Janet Kozachek. Thanks to Al Black, Maria Collum, Candi Guilds, Jo Angela Edwins, Charles Watts, and others from the community who read!



November 10 and 11, the Charleston Library Society hosted our traditional reading and workshop, which featured Willie Lee Kinard III and Cassie Premo Steele (opening reader)! Thank you to Jim Lundy for the Friday night photos, and to the wonderful poet Judith Reese, who attends almost every workshop by Zoom.


I'll be back with a December report in the next newsletter, but let's move on to the Writer's Group, Jim Lundy's Member Feature, and Upcoming Events, followed by Members in the News and the results of the latest Poetry Prompt contest.




 

Member Spotlight: Elizabeth Robin

By Jim Lundy


Elizabeth Robin has spent a large part of her life living in places that did not feel like home. “I spent the first ten years of my life out of the country. I was a Navy brat,” she told me, “and it has made me the way I am, the way I think.” Her father, a Bostonian career Navy man who would eventually be a veteran of four wars, and her mother, the first person from her Alabama family to go to college, met in the Navy and insisted that Elizabeth and her older brother mingle with other children in the various countries where they were stationed. They were taught to respect other cultures. By the time she was 10, she spoke 4 languages. Even after returning to the United States, the family kept moving wherever the Navy took them. “Each place we moved to I started all over as an outsider. I never had that ‘who you know’ thing, so I had to learn to impress on my own merits.”

Elizabeth had not quite figured out what she wanted to be by the time she started college at William and Mary. She changed her major four times by the time it was over, ending up with a double major in psychology and English, but without a practical career path. A friend suggested she get certified to teach, and while immersed as a student teacher in the classroom setting, she discovered she loved interacting with children. “By the time I had been teaching for ten years I was good at it,” she told me, only half joking. “At the time there was not a lot of focus on how to do lessons; I had to learn as I went.”

She married her college boyfriend and they had two children together, a son and a daughter. Her life’s pattern of moving frequently continued during this marriage as her husband’s employer, a large pharmaceutical company, relocated them to 4 different states. Over an 8-year span, she had taught in 3 different high schools. By the time that marriage ended, Elizabeth was an outsider once again, living in New Jersey, where she knew nobody and was the new, last-hired employee.  Once again, her ability make an impression paid off, staying 25 years at that high school, teaching honors English and at-risk children, a pairing she describes as “the ceiling and the basement.” There she met her second husband, who was also an English teacher at the school, and they had one daughter together.


By 2010, Elizabeth had spent 33 years as a teacher, 25 years in New Jersey, and was no closer to feeling like it was home. When her first grandchild was born in England that year, the school system’s strict vacation policy made it entirely impractical to plan international trips to visit the newborn. Elizabeth and her husband decided to retire so they could travel at will—and move from New Jersey. They relocated to Hilton Head Island to be close to Elizabeth’s brother, who had been her best friend for her whole life.

With her teaching career and New Jersey in the rearview mirror, Elizabeth began writing full time, starting with a teaching memoir inspired by Pat Conroy’s The Water is Wide. She wrote with zeal but realized quickly that she was completely naïve about the business side of getting published. She reached out to a former student for advice who told her she needed the support of a writers’ group. She found Hilton Head’s Island Writers’ Network online and was at their open workshop sharing 5 minutes of her manuscript the very next night. This was the start of a fruitful relationship with the group that continues to this day.


Elizabeth’s husband passed away only six years into their retirement and was preceded in death by her brother just 15 months earlier. This enormous, crushing loss in such a short timespan was the impetus of a solo camping road trip that ultimately covered 19,317 miles and 24 states over the span of 105 days. She describes it like this: “I had to figure out how to be alone.” Her manuscript documenting her grief and the journey, Travels with Byron, is still in need of a publisher.


“I always saw myself as writing one best-selling novel after another, each one made into a blockbuster movie,” she told me—again, only half joking. But when visualizing this future, she realized she would have to give book tours and speak publicly, something she was not at all comfortable doing. She organized an open mic for practice. It met once a month for 7 years, ending this year. With all that microphone time, she is now comfortable in front of an audience. The current and eventual needs of the successful writing career she envisioned have led to many examples like this of moving from a newbie to a leader in Hilton Head’s writing community.


Like so many, Elizabeth came to writing poetry later in life to process profound loss. She wrote her first poem in 2012 after her brother was diagnosed with leukemia. A chapbook of poems arising from that period, Silk Purses and Lemonade, was published by Finishing Line Press in 2017. A second about her husband, Where Green Meets Blue, came out in 2018, also with FLP. She has been bringing the poetry of her fellow Hilton Head writers to the public through such projects as the Hilton Head Poetry Trail, a series of signs with QR codes at 26 stops around the island. Anyone who happens upon one can scan it with their smartphone to hear and read a poem by one of the island’s poets. Some of the poems have been accessed well over a thousand times—an audience almost unheard of for most poets, even well-known ones. For someone who once worried she would be bored during retirement, Elizabeth is, in her own words, “insanely busy.”


Elizabeth first heard about the Poetry Society of South Carolina through Miho Kinnas, fellow poet and friend on the island, and first became a member during the 2017-2018 calendar year. She credits attending events produced by the PSSC as improving her poetry. “Every time I attend a reading, I learn a lot. I have seen people who do things in a different way.” She remembers a Poetry Society workshop given by Ray McManus as where she learned that “you can tell a story in a poem.” She also feels the Poetry Society is important for networking. This year, a little more than a decade after she wrote her first poem, her first full-length volume of poetry, To My Dreamcatcher, was published by Finishing Line Press. The outsider has become a leader, and the woman who never felt completely at home has the home she has always wanted in Hilton Head Island.

 

The Holiday Party 

December 9, 2023

with winter poems by members and guests

The Living Room

6729 Two Notch Road, Suite 70

(in the corner, left of Very's Restaurant)

Columbia, SC 


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 exceptions. 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. Finally, please note the changed location of our annual holiday party. We will host this party for the first time in Columbia, at The Living Room.


Workshops are at 10 a.m. on the following day after the guest reading (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.


December 9 , 2023: Annual Holiday Party and Member Showcase

January 12, 2024: Members' Open Mic

February 9 and 10, 2024: Maya Marshall with Richard Allen Taylor

March 8 and 9, 2024: Angelo Geter with Miho Kinnas

April 12 and 13, 2024: Tarfia Faizullah with Elizabeth Robin

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 lining up the main readers for us one more time, and to Jessy Hylton, current Program Chair, for organizing our Opening Readers! 



 

Members in the News

and other Community Events

                                                 

Please join us for the launch of Ed Gold's new book Sundown on Monday, December 11 at Buxton Books, 160 King St., Charleston. It begins at 5:30. There is a reception after the reading and it's free. 


New member Loli Molina Munoz shared these words:


Last night Ed Madden launched his most recent poetry book A Story of the City. Al Black and Jennifer Bartell Boykin read poems, and Lee Snelgrove read the introduction of a book that reminds us that the stories of the city are our stories. Last night I felt like a belong, after ten years living in SC, and Ed Madden, Jennifer Bartell, Al Black, Cindi Boiter, and many others made it possible.


Glenda Bailey-Mershon is giving a workshop via Zoom (and Tamara will also be hosting at The Living Room, if you want to join her there for hot tea.) Please register here.


Jessy Hylton has shared the following message:


Everyone, I hope you are having a restful holiday season. While some of you know me as the program director for the Society, I also run a weekly reading series at Between the Antlers in Georgetown. I am scheduling into 2024, and I wanted to give any of you all the opportunity to come out and read. Afterwards, we have a brief break and an open mic. While the series doesn't have the funds to pay readers, we do offer a free meal and free beer/wine for your time. I've also worked out a deal with the Baxter House B & B for discounts if you want to stay in the area for the evening. Please let me know if you're interested in reading with us in 2024.


The Living Room, a community event center that also houses the Columbia Hub of the Poetry Society, will now be offering classes of various kinds: poetry, art, enrichment, spiritual development/interest, gardening, yoga, guitar, and more. Tamara Miles will soon be teaching some classes, as will Glenda Bailey-Mershon and others. More to come on that soon. Would you like to teach a class? You are not limited to the subjects mentioned here. Tell us what you have in mind and whether you want to teach in person or online: everycornereverycounty@gmail.com


What events or publications have you got coming up?

 

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


Find Society merchandise below, followed by the Poetry Prompt Contest.


 

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.


Thank you to everyone who submitted a poem this month, and to Jim Lundy, who served as the judge for our latest contest. The winner: "Poet's Life," by Kari Moss of Oconee County!


Here are some thoughts from Jim, followed by the complete poem:


"Reading this, the winning poem, I'm struck with the imagery first, which is nicely done, but there's dark undercurrent lurking, a sense of menace. Mosquitoes, snakes, drowning... all part of a poet's life."


Poet's Life


Still Water

Life is at stake over a puddle.

Each ripple an inner shimmy.

Carry a blanket, cover your shoulders, eat the crowd,

and expect understanding.

How quickly we learn when drowning!

Doubt crushes hands like ocean waves.

Remember this.

Mosquitos thrive near still water.


Mosquitos

Masquerading until a buzz hovers

Over an ear like

Stealthy snakes in tall grass

Quick to slither unseen and

Underestimated until

Insignificance beckons annoyance and

Touching is as practical as protection

Or living off blood through

Skin


(Congratulations, Kari!)


This month's prompt, in keeping with the theme of this newsletter, is "gift". An alternative could be "improvisation." Submit a poem or piece of flash fiction related to one or both of these themes. Take this in any direction you want. We'll announce the winner in January.


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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P.O. Box 1090

Charleston, SC 29402


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