The Charleston Writers' Group: 98 years of le mot juste
Photos of Writers' Group moderators:
Clelia P. McGowan: 1922-1924, Arabella Mazyck: 1924-1953,
John R. Doyle, Jr.:1947-1975, Kinloch Rivers: 1975-1989,
Constance Pultz: 1989-2010
Harriet Rigney: 2010-2012, Susan L. Meyers: 2015-2017,
Lisa Hase-Jackson: 2018-present.
Last month saw three historic firsts for the Poetry Society of South Carolina—not an easy thing to do when your organization is a hundred years old. In that time, we’ve seen and done just about everything you can imagine, and things you can’t imagine. But history was made on the 13th of September with the first regular Society meeting that could be attended by anyone anywhere in the world, the first workshop that was equally accessible on Saturday the 14th, and the first Writers’ Group meeting with the same egalitarianism on the 26th. All this was made possible by www.Zoom.com and made necessary by COVID-19.
That first paragraph would have been puzzling to the founders of the Poetry Society. None of that would have been possible in 1920. The last sentence would have been indecipherable. We live in a different world from the one they inhabited. Still, they would recognize a few things in the Poetry Society of 2020. We still publish the annual Yearbook, hold contests, have meetings, and meet to critique each other’s poems.
The origins of the Poetry Society of South Carolina lie in two small groups of Charleston poets who met after World War I to push themselves to become better poets. When they united to begin the PSSC, they envisioned a close-knit group of poetry enthusiasts meeting regularly, some of whom were interested in writing their own poetry. The educational component of the group was at its core, even if the active writers were vastly outnumbered by those who just liked putting on formalwear and hobnobbing with the most elite members of Charleston’s high society every month.
To provide the actively writing members an experience akin to those two original critique groups, the first Writers’ Group met on March 22, 1922. They called themselves the “Poetry Group,” a name that would change half a dozen times before the name we use today finally stuck. The group was led by Mrs. Clelia Peroneau McGowan (1865-1956) and met every week at 7 St. Michaels Alley, the home of her next-door neighbor Elizabeth Warren Jones. Its members contained the best writers in the city, including Beatrice Witte Ravenel, DuBose Heyward, Hervey Allen, and Josephine Pinckney. Over her long life, McGowan made her mark not in poetry, but as a groundbreaking civic leader. She was active in the Women’s Suffrage Movement as the president of the League of Women Voters, then became the first woman appointed to public office when she served on the State Board of Education under Governor Robert Cooper. Through her appointment, she led efforts to improve education for African Americans across the state. She was the first woman elected to Charleston City Council and later secured funding to start the Charleston Free Library in 1931. She remained active in many charitable organizations and other causes until she retired from those activities at the age of ninety.
Her group met for three seasons but McGowan stepped down as moderator at the close of the meeting held on April 14, 1924. Her successor was Miss Arabella Shackleford Mazyck (1867-1953) of the Charleston Library Society. Meetings were held at her home, 116 Church Street, and eventually followed her when she moved to 25 State Street many years later. During four years of World War II, the Writers’ Group under Mazyck was the sole activity of the Poetry Society. She was the librarian at the Charleston Library Society for forty-nine years and ran the Writers’ Group for almost thirty years. She was still hosting the group up to the last few months of her life. In her obituary, she was described as “hostess, critic, and fairy godmother to those who jot down hasty couplets on discarded envelopes, quatrains on grocery bags, and free verse on short sheets of wrapping paper.” At her funeral, her pallbearers were all members of the Poetry Society.
In October, 1947, five years before Mazyck’s demise, the executive board was concerned that her Writers’ Group, which operated on an invitation-only basis, was not serving the needs of the Society’s newer, less-accomplished poets, and/or those interested in modern poetry, all of whom were not invited to participate. A Citadel Professor of English, John R. Doyle, Jr. (1910-1998), was enlisted to start a second group. They met weekly at the Charleston Free Library, 94 Rutledge Avenue, and the sessions were open to absolutely anyone who showed up. It was a livelier and younger group that thrived under Doyle’s professorial approach to the sessions. Soon, there were defectors from Mazyck’s group. When she died, her group was folded into his. That unified Writers’ Group ran until Doyle’s retirement from the Citadel, a total of twenty-eight years from when Doyle first began.
One of Doyle’s shining-star poets was Kinloch Rivers (1925-1989), the man who holds the record for winning the most PSSC contests of anyone in its 100-year history. He took over moderating duties of the Writers’ Group when Doyle retired to his native Virginia in 1975. Writing literally ran in his blood; Rivers was the great-grandson of William Gilmore Simms on his mother’s side. Rivers trained in the Navy Reserves during World War II but was never deployed in combat. By the time he took over the Writers’ Group, he worked as a guidance counselor at North Charleston High School. He ran the Writers Group for fourteen years.
Kinloch Rivers suffered a litany of serious health problems over the years, and even a roll-over automobile accident, but he could always be depended on to run the group without fail. He took an early retirement and moved to Salisbury, North Carolina, but made the long commute to Charleston every month to continue his moderating duties. Rivers died suddenly on April 27, 1989 while in Charleston to present a poetry workshop that was to occur two days later. He was sixty-three. To honor his Lou Gherig-like attendance record and steadfast dedication to the group, the Writers' Group held the workshop on the 29th as scheduled because they knew Rivers would have wanted them to.
Succeeding Rivers as Writers’ Group moderator was Constance Pultz (1913-2010), an active poet in the Writers Group under Kinloch Rivers. She was a retiree to Charleston, born in Yonkers, New York, and raised on the South Shore of Long Island. She was a ground-breaking author of short stories that appeared in national magazines during the 1940s. Since arriving in Charleston, she lived at the Confederate Home, 62 Broad Street, and meetings of the Writers’ Group were held there. Pultz, who was crippled by polio as a young child, increasingly lost mobility over time and moved to an assisted living facility in Mount Pleasant in her later years. Meetings continued there until she passed away at the age of ninety-six.
There was no heir apparent to succeed Pultz as moderator. Eventually, Harriet McDougal Rigney (born 1939) took on the position, hosting the Writers’ Group at her house on Tradd Street. She is a native Charlestonian, past president of the Poetry Society, and is related to four past presidents through blood or marriage. After college, she worked as an editor for several large publishing companies in New York City. She returned to her home town in the late 1970s. She met writer James Rigney, who wrote under the pen name Robert Jordan, and worked with him as his editor. They eventually fell in love and married. Later, he became the author of one of the best-selling fantasy-novel series, The Wheel of Time.
The Writers’ Group was faltering in the later years of Constance Pultz’s leadership, and was showing no signs of improving once Rigney took it over. Few people availed themselves of the opportunity to come to the monthly sessions, and the future of the Writers’ Group was a constant source of worry and discussion at board meetings. Nobody wanted the PSSC’s oldest tradition to die on their watch, yet all attempts at truly reviving it had been unsuccessful. Rigney signaled that she was ready to turn the group over to new management.
With no volunteers for full-time leader stepping forward, the board decided to organize the group under a rotating list of moderators and to hold the monthly meetings at the the Charleston Library Society’s French room. While it carried on this way for a while with some signs of improved attendance, the experiment ultimately failed. Suspecting that the format itself was not what people were looking for, the Writers’ Group morphed into a quarterly workshop run by past president Susan Laughter Meyers (1945-2017). It ran that way until her untimely death, once again leaving the Writers’ Group’s future in peril.
The savior of the moribund group arrived in an unexpected way. During the presidency of Frances Pearce, a survey was sent out to assess the amount of interest there still was in the Writers’ Group among the Poetry Society membership, and what format best suited the needs of those who might be interested. One survey question asked if the respondent was interested in volunteering in any way. Lisa Hase-Jackson, who holds an MFA in poetry from Converse College and an MA in English from Kansas State University, said that she would be interested in moderating the Group. The first meeting under her leadership took place on March 24, 2018, ninety-six years and two days after the first meeting was held under Clelia P. McGowan. The group met thereafter on the fourth Saturday of the month almost without exception until the COVID-19 shutdown brought meetings to a stop. But last month, on September 26, the group made history by meeting virtually through Zoom. Future meetings will continue this way indefinitely, until it is once again safe to meet in person.
Unfortunately, since this writeup is already too long for the Newsletter, I cannot go into the history of other writers' groups that were operated by Poetry Society members around the state, such as the Pegasus Poets of Anderson and the Columbia Workshop of Columbia. Perhaps I will cover them in the future. With Zoom technology, it is now possible for those of you around the state to participate in the original group. If you are interested in being part of the history of this amazing group by participating in its future, your first opportunity is coming up this month on the 24th. Instructions on how to access the Writers’ Group can be found below.
We also want to see you at our October monthly meeting on the 9th featuring Erin Adair-Hodges, followed by her workshop on the 10th, both to be held virtually through Zoom. I realize that mentioning these events at the end of a long history of the Writers’ Group makes them sound like a mere trifle, but they are a big deal and we spend a lot of money to bring them to you. Please avail yourself of the opportunity to ‘attend’ without leaving the safety and comfort of your own home. I will be there to start the meeting, if you want to catch a glimpse of the guy who writes these long, monthly essays.
The PSSC October Meeting
Our October 9 meeting will take place virtually. The feature is Erin Adair-Hodges. She will be joined by Isabel Prioleau. This will be live-Zoomed at 7:00 and then available for viewing from our Youtube channel later on.
Erin Adair-Hodges is the winner of the 2016 Agnes Lynch Starrett Prize for her first poetry collection Let’s All Die Happy, published as part of the Pitt Poetry Series in 2017. A poet/essayist born and raised in New Mexico, Erin earned an MFA from the University of Arizona. Her first accepted poem won The Georgia Review’s Loraine Williams Prize. Her work has also appeared in Boulevard, Crazyhorse, Green Mountains Review, Kenyon Review, and Prairie Schooner. Erin is currently an Assistant Professor of Poetry at the University of Central Missouri and the Poetry Editor of Pleiades.
Isabel Prioleau is a poet based in Charleston, South Carolina. You can find some of her work in The Post and Courier, The Eunoia Review, and Sienna Solstice, and she was recently a commended poet for the 2020 Adroit Prize for Poetry.
We will start promptly at 7:00 Eastern time. You should start the process of joining the meeting five or ten minutes before 7:00 so you do not miss anything. Instructions to join the 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 "October 9 PSSC Meeting") 2. You will be taken to the Zoom website and a dialog box will open. 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. October 9 PSSC Reading Alternate instructions for joining the meeting live: 1. Go to our website: PoetrySocietySC.org 2. Find the event and click on "RSVP." 3. You will be taken to the event page. Click on "RSVP" there. 4. Supply a name and email address when prompted. 5. You will be sent a link for the meeting by email. Use that link to join the meeting on the night of the reading.
PSSC Workshop with Erin Adair-Hodges October 10, 10:00 a.m. to noon
Our workshops are normally ticketed events. However, we have decided that they will be free for current members of the Society as long as we are forced to meet online due to COVID-19. Workshops are interactive for the participants and instructor so attendance on Zoom will be limited to 25 people. To register: Click on the link below to register through Zoom: Register Through Zoom
Alternately you may register this way: 1. Go to our website: PoetrySocietySC.org 2. Find the event and click on "RSVP." 3. You will be taken to the workshop's event page. Click on "RSVP" again. 4. Supply a name and email address when prompted. 5. You will be sent a link for the meeting by email. Use that link on 10/10 to join the workshop. Erin Adair-Hodges will lead the workshop on Saturday, October 10 at 10:00 to noon. The topic is as follows:
There Be Dragons: Courting Risk In Poetry Erin Adair-Hodges talks about what it means to genuinely take risks when writing poems, to be willing to sail to the edge of the map? In pursuing this question, seminar attendees will look at tricky syntax, lyrical wanderings, and the sonic conflagrations of various poets.
Oct 17: PSSC Ed Madden workshop:
Topic: Ed Madden Workshop
Time: Oct 17, 2020 10:00 AM Eastern Time (US and Canada)
What Time Is Made Of How do we write about time, how do we capture the work and texture of time? Not just the turn of season and day and year, but the phenomenological experience of time? What clocks run our worlds—especially now that the clocks of the world and the workdays of the week blur and bend. How do we remember? How can we use temporal markers (like those from popular culture) to remember, reconstruct, recover something of all we have lost? That sounds so conceptual, but we all know that time is material. It matters, it moves. In this workshop, we will look at selected poems addressing time and memory, poems that try to represent what time is made of, how we experience, and poems that point to and manipulate the work of memory. We will use these poems as prompts for writing our own poems representing the work of memory and the matter of time. Ed Madden is a professor of English at the University of South Carolina, where he teaches Irish literature, creative writing, and gender studies. He is the author of four books and four chapbooks. He is currently the poet laureate of the City of Columbia. In 2019, he was selected as one of the 13 inaugural poet laureate fellows of the Academy of American Poets, and he received a two-month visiting artist residency at the Instituto Sacatar in Brazil. The Poetry Society of South Carolina is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting. Join Zoom Meeting https://us02web.zoom.us/j/85490489777?pwd=alBYeVJRM0Z3T1hldzZHMVlEcXRiUT09 Meeting ID: 854 9048 9777 Passcode: 045530
Emrys Poetry Journal is open for submission of poetry, fiction, & non-fiction. Submitted poems will be considered for the Nancy Dew Taylor Poetry Award ($250). To learn more, visit https://www.emrys.org/emrys-journal-1
The Blue Mountain Review’s LBGTQ Poetry Chapbook Prize is currently open for submission, judged by Jessica Jacobs and Nickole Brown. 1st Place receives 100 copies of the book and $200.00. 2nd Place receives $100.00. 3rd Place receives $50.00. All those who place will be interviewed in the Blue Mountain Review and on the NPR show, Dante's Old South. To learn more, vis
Pádraig Ó Tuama is the staff poet and theologian at The On Being Project and hosts the Poetry Unbound podcast. He was formerly a leader of the Corrymeela community in Northern Ireland. His books include Daily Prayer with the Corrymeela Community, Sorry for Your Troubles, and a poetic memoir, In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World. onbeing.org
The PSSC Writers' Group
Lisa Haas Jackson has secured a private Zoom account that will allow the Writers' Group to meet for two hours with no risk of being "Zoom-bombed." If you wish to participate, email Lisa at firstname.lastname@example.org to get on the invite list. Each month you will receive an invitation via email with sign-in information and a password. Once signed in you will be routed to a waiting room before being admitted into the meeting. These precautions will eliminate the possibility of non-invitees entering our meetings and bombing us with unwanted media. Meetings will be held on the third Saturday of the month from 10 a.m. to noon. For the rest of 2020 the dates are October 24, and November 28. No meeting in December. The dates for 2021 will be set in January.
If you missed the September PSSC Meeting when it was originally broadcast on Zoom, you can now watch it on Youtube any time you want. Click on the link below to view:
It is Time to Renew Your Membership
The mission of the PSSC is to promote poetry and poets. When it became clear that the format of our 2020-2021 calendar year would change dramatically due to COVID-19, we decided to honor all commitments we had with scheduled poets for honorariums. Therefore, our expenditures for the upcoming year will be the same as they would have been if the virus had not dramatically altered the format of the readings and workshops. In short, we need your financial support this year as much as any other.
The 2020-2021 Calendar Year began on July 1st and runs through June 30, 2021.
Joining or renewing is very easy. You can do it online at our website, or through the U.S. mail at:
The Poetry Society of South Carolina P.O. Box 1090 Charleston, SC 29402 Thank you for your support.
We are currently in the process of preparing the 2020 Yearbook for printing. It will be mailed to all members of the 2019-2020 calendar year in October. If you have moved since you joined or renewed your membership, please send us your new address. It makes us sad to get Yearbooks returned as undeliverable.
MEMBERS IN THE NEWS Terri McCord's new volume of poetry, The Beauts, is now on preorder with Finishing Line Press. Presales are welcome and help determine initial press run. Collection is due out November 20th. If you want autographed copy, she will take orders and send to Finishing Line Press and make sure you receive your copy, hand delivered if necessary, but probably through the U.S. mail. Contact Terri at email@example.com. Eugene Platt's new book, Nuda Veritas, is now available at Buxton Books and at the Gibbes Museum Store. https://limerickwriterscentre.com/product/nuda-veritas/ 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 Youtube channel. There is no obligation to record the video, it is only there as an offer if the winner feels comfortable doing it. The September Poetry Prompt Contest asked that you write a poem or piece of flash fiction on the topic of the possibilities of change that have arisen from the needs of the global pandemic that we are experiencing. Seeing the bright side of COVID-19, as it turned out, seemed to be very difficult topic. We received exactly two entries. By responding to an unpopular prompt topic, they are both winners and are printed below. Let's hope the October prompt gets more responses. Here is the October prompt: I had a dream this morning that I was invited to play clarinet in a Charleston Symphony Orchestra concert at very short notice. I dug out my clarinet case from the closet and started trying to reacquaint myself with it, while I tried to remember how to read music. [In real life I did play clarinet in school, but I haven't so much as looked at it since I graduated high school in 1983. I have completely forgotten how to read music.] I could tell I didn't remember much about playing the clarinet or reading music anymore, but I figured that it would come back to me once I sat down to perform. Unfortunately, the dream ended there, so I don't know how it turned out. As I contemplate the dream this morning, I was struck with how much confidence I had that I could rise to the occasion. It occurrs to me that the message of the dream is that we have abilities that are buried deep within us that we might not even know are there. In trying times, we find our inner strength, muster up courage to dive head first into situations that seem impossible to survive. Years ago I read an intriguing philosophy (Buddhist, perhaps?) that we repeat our lives on an infinite loop, therefore we already know how to do everything we need to do, from growing our bodies to adulthood, to solving every problem that comes our way by simply remembering how we did it millions of times before. In this scenario, we are fully equipped at birth to do what we need to do for the rest of our lives. Perhaps this is akin to the saying, "Jump, and the net will appear." For this prompt, consider an inner well of strength, knowledge, or courage that lies deep inside us that is as innate as the body's ability to grow hair or mend broken bones. Write a poem or piece of flash fiction that relates to this. Take this theme of the power within in any direction you wish. Respond to this email with your submission by the end of October to be considered for inclusion. Send your submissions to FlatBlueSky@hotmail.com on or before October 31. The winners of the September Prompt Contest: After the Pandemic When this pandemic is over With more folks working from home, They cannot say they're working late To take another on a date And leave their spouses alone. by Ellen Jenks
Coronavirus, History Forever Changed Eve baked Adam’s apple pie after Serpent delivered the apples from the Serpent’s tree, and ever since, at three or four years old, kids haven’t asked, “What’s your name?” but in different idioms and tongues, though the meaning in all of them’s the same, “Will you show me you yours? I’ll show you mine.” Not prurience, curiosity. After the Garden, and Eve’s apple pie, (that’s when the fig leaf first was needed), the simple ritual of doffing swaddling has helped inform young lives about the “birds and bees”, for with loin cloths off, curious observers can carefully note morphological anomies with ease, and the naïve shock of this discovery enchant’s them from that day until their grave is weeded. This was true for every day and every era from the Garden of Eden until our own, but with coronavirus and the ubiquitous masks that must be worn by all, as asked, babes no longer care about unfamiliar parts, only what hides behind a playmate’s mask, not to be removed, so maybe no more birds or bees, and if not, no new generations born! © Charles N. Lord