So not only did you teach me about writing memoir, you also taught me about reading and thinking about how others write memoir. Thank you so much! Rebecca
Showing posts with label memories. Show all posts
Showing posts with label memories. Show all posts

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Kathryn Stripling Byer, poet, a friend to many, an activist and advocate

In honor of Kathryn Stripling Byer, first woman Poet Laureate of North Carolina, 2005 - 2009, who passed away today from cancer

I met Kathryn in 1998 at the John C. Campbell Folk School and bought her poetry book, In the Midst of the Harvest, one of my very favorites.

We had a connection even before we met. She and I grew up about 30 miles from each other in SW Georgia. Her memories of the farm where she lived often find their way into her early poems. They take me right back to  my childhood.

I was fortunate enough to take a few classes with Kathryn, who became a friend, and she was generous to help me with my poetry. She wrote a nice blurb for my chapbook, Now Might as Well be Then. She featured me on her blog where she posted several of my poems.

In 2014 she and I worked on a writing conference held in Sylva, NC at the Jackson County Library. She would never take any payment for what she did for NCWN-West which she was instrumental in bringing to fruition. 
On May 6, 2017, she taught a two hour workshop for our one day conference, A Day for Writers. She  was frail from the chemo treatments, but she insisted she could do it and she did. Her evaluations were outstanding with most just wishing it had been longer.

She said she was glad she did it and even talked about the  next time she taught this class. I was concerned about her health, but she seemed to  feel she was going to be fine. Doctors often hide the hard truths, I think.

I admired her for her forthrightness and down to earth personality. She never let ego interfere with her relationships with writers and was quick to compliment others. She offered a helping hand to any poet who was serious about their work. Although family was of utmost importance to her, she attended writing events all over the country and in other countries as well. 

Her poems have been put to music in a number of ways. You can see them on YouTube. 

She was not afraid to speak out about injustice and had definite opinions about government and those in power. She was an advocate for our environment, civil rights for all, and for peace. She was an influencer who was respected by writers and non-writers. She wrote letters to those in congress and made her voice heard on issues about which she was passionate. She did her research and I, like many who followed her, knew we could count on her when she spoke or posted online.

I am in awe when I realize I was friends with such an important and good person,  one who has  touched so many lives in one way or another, and I just took it for granted. If I sent her an email, she would answer promptly. I knew Kay was one who would do all she could for our writers and even for a stranger who was in need. 

We will never know what all she did for NCWN-West as she helped members and the organization stay afloat in the early days. If she had a friend who needed help getting a book published, and a book that Kay felt was worthy, she would not rest until that book was accepted by a publisher. 

I believe the poetry of Kathryn Stripling Byer will be lasting, and she will be known by generations to come. Hers was a voice stilled too soon. I am sad for myself and for her family and I am sad for those who will never have the opportunity to know her. 

The Still Here and Now
For Ruth
Wesleyan College, 11/6/04

This fragrance I’ve never been able to name,
floating past on the skin of an eighteen year old,
still invites me to stand on the loggia again,
afternoon ticking down into dark,
asking What am I doing here?
lost among strangers with hair more
bouffant than mine, clothing more stylish.
Soon I’d learn the words for what I couldn’t find
in my closet: Bass weejuns, madras, and Villager.
As for the name of that scent mingling
now with aroma of barbecue served on the porch,
it would have to be French, I imagined,
Ma Griffe, L’air du Temps, Insouciance,
not my mother’s stale Emeraude clinging to me
from our goodbye embraces. Now dusk would be
shrouding my father’s farm, doves mourning
out in the empty fields. I knew my way back
to all that. Don’t think for a moment I didn’t
wish I had the courage to set out for home.
But just then the sun set. The lamps bloomed
like story book tulips. The campus unfolded
around me its labyrinth that like a medieval pilgrim
I’d walk until I reached the center where I’d find
no Rose Window as I saw later at Chartres
sifting light down upon us, but tall classroom windows
that shook when the Rivoli train passed. I still walk
those pathways at night, dreaming arias spiraling
forth from the practice rooms, each dorm a beehive
of desk lamps and phones ringing endlessly.
Time, say some physicists, does not exist.
Sheer Illusion. Each moment a still frame,
as though in a movie reel unspooling out to the edge
of the universe. Each now forever.
So let my first afternoon darken to first night.
Inside a small room overlooking a golf course
and woodland, a small bed waits,
heaped with my unpacked belongings.
I slowly walk toward it, my nostrils still seeking
a fragrance I now name Siempre because
the next day I sit down to learn Spanish,
not French. In my best cursive
I write my name on each blank sheet I’m given.
The ginkgo trees flutter their luminous handkerchiefs:
Buenos Dias, Bonjour, Wilkommen.

Again and again I come back
to the start of this journey. I stand looking down
at the fountain, as if to say Here I am.
There you are, water sings to our gathering voices.
The loggia is filling with girls wanting supper,
and now she whose fragrance awakened my senses
so many years back brushes by and the wake
of her passage still trembles around me.

Friday, January 6, 2017

What topics for writing are hiding inside your closets, drawers, boxes in your home?

The dreary, dark days of winter can be a blessing for writers or it can dim creative inspiration. Today is a dark day with warnings of snow this weekend. I  have my essentials for spending a few days in hibernation. For many years the gray days of winter depressed me, but this year I am enjoying my stillness, my solitude at home with my buddy, Lexie, sleeping in front of the heater. I might take a nap myself, later.

Earlier today I was motivated to submit some poems for publication and that prompted me to revise some poetry. It is too easy to let our writing slide down the scale of importance during the holidays and during the dismal days of winter. But don't let that happen. Use this time to go through old photographs, albums, files of clippings we have saved to find topics on which to write. 

No matter what your genre, you might need something to prompt an idea. I use my winter days to clean out and de-clutter my closets, desk drawers, and kitchen. Often objects I see or discard bring back a memory of something or someone I could write about. An old beer can opener reminded me of the time Barry and Stu bought some beer cheese for a picnic in the mountains. They assumed that since they liked beer, they would love beer cheese. NOT. The beer cheese smelled so bad, neither of them wanted to taste it. That odor had permeated the entire trunk of the car. We laughed and laughed. Barry and Stu made more jokes about the cheese and we still laugh about that day.

Yesterday, while culling old Christmas Cards I had saved, I came across notes and letters from friends who live far away. Bill, from California, has been a friend for many years. He and his twin sister were in high school when Barry and I stayed at his home while his parents went away on a trip. Bill likes to refer to us as his baby sitters.

Bill's yearly notes included his memories of working at Zoellner Music with Barry, moving pianos on Christmas Eve, when Barry and I were in our twenties. Later at my family's business, Hercules Bumpers in Pelham, GA. Barry worked in sales and Bill, after going to college, came to work in sales also. Barry trained Bill and Bill became an excellent salesperson for Hercules Bumpers down in New Orleans. Bill introduced me to eating crawfish and sucking the heads. Ugh!

I had some good laughs reading Bill's Christmas notes from many years ago, but some of those cards included bad news. His delightful mother died and left her husband, Wotan, sad and alone. Years later Bill lost Wotan, and sent us a magazine in which his stepfather, the violinist, was featured. In his nineties, he played the classical pieces he first learned when he was four or five  years old. He enjoyed playing for his friends at the assisted living facility where he recided when he died.  

I think I will write about Barry and Wotan and Bill, an interesting relationship that lasted for years after their working together ended.

What might you find in your house that will motivate you to write? A book or a movie? A video of a special event? Use what is in your house, in your drawers or closets to find your topic.