30 November 2013

Helen Losse enjoys her view of the world...

The following Poetry Corner feature was originally published in the Independent Tribune in September 2010.

Negating Natural Erasers

I walk the rocky road after midnight,
moon overhead, feel dew descend,
land on dusty weeds at the road’s
edge. The soft wind will strive to
negate my walk, blow my scent away.

I will write my name in dark sand
near the ocean, hum a tune that can’t
be heard over the breakers. They will
wash away all evidence that I walked
here. Can I prove them wrong —

from now on — by writing love songs?

-- by Helen Losse

Helen Losse has a window to the world. And she’s not afraid to use it.

Losse, a poet and editor, writes a blog called “Windows Toward the World” -- in reference to the place where many of her poems originate. “The view from the window gives me a place to start,” Losse explains. “I can go anywhere from my back yard.”

Losse has composed hundreds of poems over the years. She is the author of a book of poems entitled Better With Friends (Rank Stranger Press, 2009) and two chapbooks, Gathering the Broken Pieces and Paper Snowflakes. She is poetry editor of Dead Mule, an online journal of southern literature.

“Much of the imagery in my poems can be seen out my window,” she explains, taking some poetic liberties with the actual contents of her yard. “Trees, deer, wind, grass, rivers, the ocean, the cabin our family had in Oklahoma when I was a child, the ocean, the Mulberry Tree at the back of our yard when I was a child -- all appear in multiple poems. The mountains and the coast of North Carolina provide rich settings that appear over and over.”

Losse traces her interest in poetry back to her earliest memories of childhood. “I was exposed to poetry as a child without being told it was poetry,” Losse says. “My mother read and quoted nursery rhymes and songs, and sometimes she read poems she had known from her childhood—poems her mother had read to her. I had no idea I was listening to poetry. I just liked listening to my mother recite and sing.”

These days, Losse still appreciates the music of poetry. “Poetry can present useful and powerful ways to look at life,” she says. “Important ideas (and ideals)—such as love and hope—can be expressed through images and in the musical element of human language.”

This combination of music and imagery is what – Losse believes – makes poetry so special. “Imagery and musicality are exaggerated in poetry,” she explains. “These images and music can change the world. Because images are not judgmental, they allow readers to bring their own experience to the poem in an honest way.”

Losse’s poem, “Negating Natural Erasers” was inspired by her memories of evening walks she took with her mother, father, and older son Troy the year she was pregnant with her younger son. “My husband had left Troy and me in Missouri to spend about six weeks with my parents,” Losse recalls. “While there, we often spent part of the week at my parents’ trailer on The Grand Lake of the Cherokees near Grove, Oklahoma. The trailer was in a quiet, rural retirement village, where many of the residents walked in the cool evenings. The ‘rocky road’ and the ‘dusty weeds’ were located there. The ocean scene was an extension of the lake scene—connected by the presence of water.”

Like other poets and writers, Losse is inspired by the mystique of the sea. “I love the ocean because its vastness puts life in perspective,” she explains. “The tide and the wind wash away much that “proves” we were here -- and thinking about something that big and powerful opens me up for large questions.”

“Negating Natural Erasers” addresses some of these large questions. “I can make my mark on the landscape, but will it remain?,” Losse asks. “Is making and leaving a mark on humanity more important than the one we make on nature? Can I change the world so that it is a better place when I leave it than when I came? How? Is it ‘by writing love songs?’”

In this case, Losse points out that “love songs” are more than the catchy tunes we hear on the radio. “I meant ‘love songs’ in the broadest way one can imagine,” she says. “An ode to the ocean is a love song, for example.”

When she’s not writing her own poetry, Losse is busy reading and editing the work of others. As poetry editor of Dead Mule, Losse appreciates the place poetry holds in this region of the country. “The poetry scene is North Carolina is vibrant,” she explains. “The more poets I meet, the more I feel I am a part of something large and diverse -- something that matters.”

Poetry matters, Losse believes, because of the unique perspective of those who write it. “Poets—in their search for truth—can say things no one else can, because poets are not bound to a particular set of doctrines or world views,” Losse says. “Poets can bring truth and, therefore, social change to the world in ways no preacher, columnist, historian, or teacher can. Poets challenge the status quo.”

As a poet, Losse wants to do her part. “I want to share the hope that is in me through my poetry,” she says. “I want to explore and discover ‘truth’. I want to allow others to think with me and to come to see that the truth matters so much more than the facts.”

From her window, Helen Losse sees a variety of images and possibilities. She also sees an opportunity to make a difference in our lives. “I want to share the hope that it is possible for us to be human together and live in peace. I write to make the world better.”

• Read Helen Losse’s blog, “Windows Toward the World”
• Read a variety of southern fiction and poetry at Dead Mule

Bill Diskin is director of admission and financial aid at Cannon School in Concord. He can be reached at wdiskin@cannonschool.org.

29 November 2013

The Poetry of "lighght"

The following essay was originally published in 2005 in Rapportage, the journal of the Lancaster Literary Guild.

Aram Saroyan discusses his career, his father, and his battle with congress…

Ars Poetica

A poem should be palpable and mute
As a globed fruit,

As old medallions to the thumb,

Silent as the sleeve-worn stone
Of casement ledges where the moss has grown--

A poem should be wordless
As the flight of birds.

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs,

Leaving, as the moon releases
Twig by twig the night-entangled trees,

Leaving, as the moon behind the winter leaves,
Memory by memory the mind--

A poem should be motionless in time
As the moon climbs.

A poem should be equal to:
Not true.

For all the history of grief
An empty doorway and a maple leaf.

For love
The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea--

A poem should not mean
But be.

-- Archibald MacLeish

Aram Saroyan credits the final line of Archibald MacLeish’s “Ars Poetica” as the inspiration for his controversial, one-word poem, “lighght”.

By manipulating the spelling of “light” to “lighght,” Saroyan believes he found a way for his poem to be, not mean. “Part of the aim seems to have been to make this ineffable (light) into a thing, as it were -- to change it from a verb (the agency of illumination) to a noun that yet radiates as light does,” Saroyan explains. “The double ghgh seems to work in that way.”

That double ghgh, it turns out, also ignited a firestorm of controversy in the U.S. Congress that many believe still smolders today, some forty years later. After poet and editor Robert Duncan published “lighght” in The Chicago Review in 1968, George Plimpton included it in the second volume of The American Literary Anthology, which he published in 1969 with the help of an National Endowment of the Arts grant. “It’s only after that,” Saroyan explains, “that the political brouhaha occurred. They [some members of Congress] felt it somehow violated a puritan ethic…that one word could receive $750.”

In 1970, when Representative William Scherle, a Republican from Iowa, learned that the NEA had supported Saroyan’s work on “lighght”, he started a national campaign to expose NEA recklessness and remove NEA Chairperson Nancy Hanks from her post. According to Sabine Magazine, “One Congressman at the time said of Saroyan’s poem ‘If my kid came home from school spelling like that, I would have stood him in the corner with a dunce cap.’”

Plimpton, for his part, did little to calm the controversy. Sabine reports that when he was asked by a congressman what “lighght” meant, Plimpton replied, “You are from the Midwest. You are culturally deprived, so you would not understand it anyway.” Saroyan learned later that Plimpton was so upset by the negative treatment of the NEA brought forth by Congress that Plimpton personally went to Iowa to successfully campaign against the re-election of Representative Scherle. Hanks remained at the helm at the NEA for several more years.

So, while Aram Saroyan had unwittingly become a lightning rod for the anti-NEA movement, he certainly never intended his work to be at the epicenter of controversy. “I was a 22 year old writer,” he explains, “involved with the minimalist movement that was mostly apparent in visual art and in music at that time…not so much in writing. At some point, I became interested in the question ‘How does one make light palpable?’” After experimenting with several options, Saroyan focused on the spelling of “light” and the potential power of the silent gh. “The extra gh gave the word extra weight. So, the question became, how many gh’s do you add?” As members of congress accused him of making a mockery of art and language -- and doing so at the expense of American taxpayers, Saroyan was sincere in his approach to the craft of his minimalist poetry. “ ‘Lighght,’ resulted from an aesthetic decision informed by everything I had done up to that point.” Saroyan explains.

Looking back, Saroyan remembers that he was not terribly concerned about the controversy surrounding his poem. More so, he was troubled by the darkness of the Vietnam War that threatened to snuff out the creative beacons of artists everywhere. “What troubled me most at the time,” Saroyan explains in “Flower Power” an essay he wrote some 30 years after “lighght” was published (www.ubu.com, 1999), “was a recognition that my work comprised a sensibility that was being fiercely challenged, not to say effectively obliterated, by the surge of world events.”

No doubt, Aram Saroyan, Saroyan’s first collection of poetry (published by Random House in the Spring of 1968) landed in bookstores at a critical period in American history. “My book appeared just after the winter that saw the heaviest American losses in the war in Vietnam---500 or more American lives lost each week---and arrived simultaneously with the murder of Martin Luther King,” Saroyan recalls. “It stood on the bookstore shelves when Robert Kennedy was murdered after his victory in the California presidential primary.”

As a result, there wasn’t much room for “lighght” in the American consciousness. “These events made it hard to entertain the innocently benign, anarcho-pacifist perspective at large in the pages of the book,” Saroyan notes. “A perspective nurtured in that decisively apolitical cadre of the sixties culture that didn't care a cracker-jack-toy-prize for politics. ‘Make Love Not War,’ we declared, but the way things worked out, we were summarily swept to the sidelines as the planet grew swiftly darker and darker that spring.”

Like so many artists in the late 1960s, Saroyan was left to deal with the impact of world events on his work and the influence these events might have on his future. “As a poet, I knew instinctively that I'd come to the end of something,” he says. “For a while I thought it was the end of being a poet at all--and it was another five years before I wrote again, this time in a decisively non-minimal mode.”


Since his dramatic and controversial entrance onto the American literary scene in 1968, Aram Saroyan has solidified his reputation as an internationally respected writer, poet, memoirist, and playwright. Among the collections of his poetry are Aram Saroyan, Pages, and Day and Night: Bolinas Poems, his largest collection of poems, which was published in 1999. Saroyan’s prose books include Last Rites, a book about the death of his father; Artists in Trouble, Starting Out in the Sixties; and Friends in the World: The Education of a Writer (Memoir). Saroyan, a faculty member of the Masters of Professional Writing Program at The University of Southern California, has completed his sixth play entitled “At The Beach House,” which is scheduled to debut in Los Angeles on October 7, 2005.

Aram Saroyan visited Lancaster in the spring of 2005 as part of the Lancaster Literary Guild’s 2004-2005 Lecture series. All who attended his lecture that evening – and met with him afterward – would agree that Saroyan’s demeanor is kind, thoughtful, and sincere. He speaks easily of his relationship with his father, the writer William Saroyan. “My father had a powerful impact on my writing,” Saroyan explains. “He gave me a big head start. I’d be headed down these cul de sacs with my writing and he’d be there telling me to turn around and go back! He was hell on wheels as a father though.”

The elder Saroyan is perhaps best known for his plays “The Time of Your Life” and “My Heart in the Highlands”, his novels The Human Comedy, and The Laughing Matter, and his collection of short stories My Name is Aram. His work also includes the memoirs Here Comes, There Goes You Know Who and Not Dying. A prolific writer, Saroyan had more than 60 titles to his credit when he died in 1981.

Looking back, Aram Saroyan is grateful for the time he spent with his famous father. He remembers fondly a time in 1966 when they were together in London. “We were working in a room together. I was reading his short stories. He was doing some work of his own. It occurred to me at that point that my father’s books were to the 1930s what Bob Dylan’s albums were to the 1960s.”

Today, Saroyan believes his father’s work is still relevant and important. “My father was a terrifically gifted artist. I believe he’s currently underrated in American letters,” Saroyan says. “The best of his works are first-rate contributions to our literature. My Name is Aram is an extraordinary stylistic achievement.”

Last spring, while visiting with a group of high school students at York Country Day School in Pennsylvania, Aram Saroyan was asked if he had received any advice from his father. “He was a wonderful teacher by example…not too much by explicit instruction. But, I do remember he encouraged me to pursue longer writing,” Saroyan laughed, the topic of the one-word poem controversy still fresh on the minds of the students. “And he did give me some advice that I follow to this day. He said, ‘Come up with a daily, achievable goal of writing – a page, or two pages…and try to do it at roughly the same time every day.’” Before the next student question, Saroyan added, quietly and partly to himself, “I was lucky to know him.”


Has the lingering controversy surrounding “lighght” been a good thing for Saroyan’s career? “I don’t think about it much,” he says. “Whether it’s a one word poem or a novel, I am still swimming against the current. Once you’re identified as a one-word poem writer, there is an inertia that takes over. But I feel privileged that I could write this poem. I feel lucky to be in America. Think about it as if this had been in Russia. Instead of being sent off to Siberia, Random House called.”

Saroyan doesn’t worry much these days about being remembered solely for his minimalist poetry – and for his notorious run–in with congress. “I am a much more traditional writer today,” he says. “Being older, the question becomes ‘where’s the adventure now?’ I have gotten a gratifying response for the past thirty years as a mainstream writer.” In spite of all the controversy, Saroyan still enjoys talking about his famous poem. “The poem has a rather pristine history -- the sincerity of it and of the award,” he says, appreciatively. “These poems remain part of a minimalist concrete modernist movement and some of these poems are now in textbooks.” Saroyan’s explains. “My poem ’Eyeye’, which was the predecessor of “lighght” by one year, for example, is currently included in Frances Mayes’ anthology, The Discovery of Poetry.” And in the August 1981 issue of Mother Jones magazine, George Plimpton said Saroyan’s “lighght” “…may be one of the most important poems of the 20th century.”

In this age of infinite electronic choices, Saroyan has discovered that his 1960s minimalist poetry remains accessible – though not always in the form it was intended. “…I recently found my thirty-year-old, long out-of-print book (Aram Saroyan), on the Internet in its entirety sans the first poem [a fourteen word poem entitled “a man stands”], which may have been considered too long-winded, as it were,” Saroyan explains in his essay, ‘Flower Power.’ “The book [entitled Aram Saroyan], appears as part of an international survey of avant-garde poetry in which it figures as one of three "historical" documents.”

Ironically enough, as Saroyan points out, “the book has been retyped and I was astonished to find the poem “lighght” misspelled” (lightght). And this, Saroyan explains, demonstrates a valuable lesson regarding the poem. “When it is misspelled, you see that it doesn’t work. It did not achieve what it was meant to do.”

Saroyan has continued to experiment with “lighght”. In doing so, he has discovered at least one possible alternative to his original approach to the poem. “Embossing the word light, without the extra gh, would also work to give it physical reality, heft as a noun,” Saroyan realized some years ago, while designing a family Christmas card. “It was a lesson to me that, if you embossed the word, the extra gh was unnecessary.”

Bill Diskin is Poet Laureate of York, PA and Director of Admission at York Country Day School. His last piece for Rapportage was a profile of writer Cathryn Clinton in the Spring 2005 issue.

28 November 2013

Concord poet has seen the region grow

The feature below originally appeared in the Independent Tribune in September 2009.

September 13, 2009

The Old Red Barn

The old red barn sits down by the river,
The tin roof glistens just like silver.
For many years it has been standing tall,
An old ad about Burma Shave is still seen on the wall.

I remember the fields where we brought in hay,
We had to harvest it without delay.
The old red barn would guard the yield,
Just like the knight got protection from his shield.

The harvest of the corn was next on the list,
We shucked the corn and made it ready for the grist.
The old red barn received the corn meal right away,
Just like a girl receiving her first bouquet.

The old red barn is still in its place,
There is no corn, nor hay, not even a trace.
The people are gone that once made it thrive,
In your minds-eye they were like bees in a hive.

The old red barn has closed its door,
No one comes to visit any more.
I look back as I walk away,
The old red barn seemed to be weeping that day.

- by Lynn Glover, Concord, NC.

For many people, scenes and images from our daily lives are often the source of inspiration and art.

And while interstates, strip malls, and cell phone towers tend to dominate the landscapes we witness on our daily commutes these days, some local folks are still able to envision a time before the Target and Sam’s Club went in up by the highway.

Lynn Glover has witnessed a variety of scenery changes over the years in Cabarrus County. And Glover, who loves to spend his time writing and playing golf, has found a way to share his memories of this growing region.

In 2008, at age 73, Glover published his own book of poems, entitled Poems From the Heart. While Glover has written in and about many places over the years, more than fifty percent of the poems in Poems From the Heart were written in Concord. “I have written on board ship, in barracks at naval bases, at Treasure Island Navy base in San Francisco, at the beach,” Glover explains. “Today I write mostly at home or in my back yard.”

Among the poems in the book, “The Old Red Barn” recreates images that likely dominated the landscape of the pre-developed Cabarrus County region. Glover uses rhyme and metaphor – two common poetic devices -- to bring the barn to life for his readers. The images of the old barn “guarding” the hay and “receiving” the corn harvest offer the reader a glimpse of what that old red structure meant to the families that lived near it.

Glover has been writing poetry for a good long time. He remembers dabbling in poetry a bit around the age of eight, but he has a vivid memory of becoming more serious about writing poetry when he was seventeen. “I first started writing poetry at the request of one of my teachers Miss Doris Jo Campbell,” Glover recalls. “She asks me to write the senior class poem and I did. I‘ve been writing ever since then.”

Glover recognizes the importance of his role as a writer – and does not take for granted the cultural significance of poetry. “I think the soothing rhythmic flow leading to the climax of a short story is something society should not have to miss out on,” Glover explains. “It also is meaningful to present society because of the folks that started writing in societies many years ago. We must keep this going and I do believe poetry is making a come back.”

When he’s not writing himself, Glover loves to read the works of Robert Frost, Edgar Allen Poe, and Robert Louis Stevenson. He considers Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” as one of his favorite poems.

Glover encourages others to give poetry a try. And he has an answer for those new to writing and poetry who might wonder what makes a poem a poem. “Telling a rhythmic story that the reader can understand, by pulling that reader into the story where he becomes a part,” Glover says. “That makes the poem a poem.”

Fortunately for his readers, many of Glover’s poems are rhythmic stories that recall and preserve a simpler, and perhaps more scenic, time in the history of Cabarrus County.

Bill Diskin is Director of Admission and Financial Aid at Cannon School in Concord.

27 November 2013

Poet Maureen Sherbondy loves coffee and writing...

The poetry feature below was originally published in the Independent Tribune in November 2009.

Family Jewels

Now when she visits
she brings me things –
a ruby pin, a cameo broach
wanting to impart jewels
to her daughter
with her still-live hand.

I store these mementos in a tin
unable to wear them yet,
how can I pin the prospect
of her future death
upon my chest, gold and cameo
reminders of what will soon be gone.

-- Maureen Sherbondy

Maureen Sherbondy loves coffee. And she loves writing. So it is not a surprise that she seeks ways to combine the two. “I write six days a week,” she explains. “In the morning after I‘ve exercised and had lots of coffee. I revise my work in the afternoon.”

These daily coffee-induced writing sessions have resulted in a number of awards and accolades. Sherbondy’s aptly titled book of poems, “Praying At Coffee Shops” (Main Street Rag), won a Next Generation Indie Book Award for poetry in 2009.

Sherbondy’s work has also won both first and second place in the Deane Ritch Lomax Poetry Award (Charlotte Writers' Club) and first place in the Hart Crane Poetry Award sponsored by Kent State University. She recently read her poetry on National Public Radio's “The State of Things”.

And while the awards and recognition are something she appreciates, Sherbondy is motivated to write for other reasons. “I hope to create something from nothing,” she explains. “[I hope] to interpret the world in a unique way, to impact others in a positive way.” Sherbondy’s poems “Famous” and “Questions for the Hotdog Record Keeper”, for instance, explore the fascinating worlds of celebrity and hotdog eating contests -- in both unique and positive ways.

Sometimes, however, her writing turns more serious and personal. She wrote her poem, “Family Jewels”, for example, after a recent visit from her mother. “When my mother visited recently, she gave me one of her favorite pieces of jewelry,” Sherbondy explains. “This is what people begin to do when they are in their later years. I recalled that my grandfather started giving away important papers and photographs just a few months before he died. I realized that my mother wouldn't be around forever and I was very upset by this.”

Coincidentally, it was gifts from her mother and grandfather that started Sherbondy down this path as a writer and poet in the first place. “I wrote poetry at an early age,” she explains. “My grandfather gave me his old typewriter and I was always typing poems and stories. My mother gave me the book ‘Reflections On A Gift Of Watermelon Pickle’, an anthology of poetry, and I read this book so often that I memorized several of the poems.”

And it was an elementary school teacher who eventually gave Sherbondy her permanent poetic license. “My fourth grade teacher told me that poetry doesn't have to rhyme and a whole world opened up for me,” she recalls.

Today, Maureen Sherbondy is a teacher herself. She has just been accepted to the Creative Writing Program at Queens University of Charlotte and will begin the Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program in May. She has been teaching publishing and poetry classes and would like to teach more in the future.

Given her life-long appreciation for poetry, it is no wonder that Sherbondy could not imagine living in a world without poetry. “In our fast-food nation, poetry and art are very important,” she explains. “A society void of poetry leads to the decline of society. I wouldn't want to live in a country where poetry doesn't exist. Poetry helps us make sense of the world, it reminds us of our humanity.”

Like other poets and writers, Sherbondy admits that she has some concerns about the current state of language in our culture. “We have all these new platforms to deliver our voices -- Blogs, Twitter, Facebook, e-journals -- but I see very little meaningful content. It's like a continuous diet of deep-fried cardboard.”

Sherbondy does her part, though, to foster an appreciation for language and poetry. She organizes poetry readings, writing groups, and belongs to both the North Carolina Poetry Society and the North Carolina Writer’s Network.

And when she’s not busy writing and promoting poetry, she reads. Her favorite poets include Li Young Lee, Denise Duhamel, Robert Bly, Sharon Olds, Louise Gluck, and Billy Collins.

She encourages aspiring poets and writers to start with accessible poets like Collins.
She points to his animated poetry videos on YouTube as a great place to learn about poetry. “Billy Collins writes very accessible poetry,” she says. “And watching the poems come to life visually is an excellent way to become engaged in poetry.”

Given her life-long passion for writing, reading, and sharing poetry, it makes sense that Sherbondy considers poetry central to who she is. “Poetry forms the spiritual backbone of my life,” she says. “Writing guides and informs my daily existence.”

The coffee, in the end, is just an added perk.

Bill Diskin is the Director of Admission and Financial Aid at Cannon School in Concord, NC. He can be reached at wdiskin@cannonschool.org

Poetry resources mentioned in this article:

Charlotte Writers Club
North Carolina Poetry Society
North Carolina writer’s Network

28 September 2013

An interview with Charlotte, NC poet, Lisa Zerkle

Lisa Zerkle has served as president of the North Carolina Poetry Society, community columnist for the Charlotte Observer, and co-editor of Kakalak: Anthology of Carolina Poets. Zerkle currently lives in Charlotte with her family.

Piedmont Poetry Project: What do you hope to achieve with your poetry?

Lisa Zerkle: To me, a poet’s first job is to notice. Our second job is to convey. A journalist seeks to be objective, while a poet seeks the opposite. I want someone who reads my work to recognize part of their emotional selves. I want them to think, yes, that’s exactly how that feels.

PPP: What poets do you read?
LZ: I’ve studied (and love) now-deceased poets like Elizabeth Bishop and James Wright, but day-to-day, I prefer to read contemporary poets like Ellen Bass, Sharon Olds, Marie Howe, Kay Ryan, A.E. Stallings (her ease with form is remarkable), Billy Collins (he is a joy to hear live), W.S. Merwin, Lucia Perrillo, Sarah Lindsay (Twigs and Knucklebones is a favorite), among others.

PPP: What are your earliest recollections of poetry in your life?
LZ: My fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Woodward, had our class go through Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky line by line. She compiled what we thought the poem meant. Our class performed this interpretation as a play, complete with student-made costumes, for the rest of the school (I was the frumious Bandersnatch). It was a compelling illustration of the power of imagination and words. I still love that poem.

PPP: Why is poetry important in our society?
LZ: I’m for anything that increases the level of empathy in the world. At its best, poetry helps articulate what it means to be human -- when you read a poem you get at felt experience. Poetry is particularly appropriate at times of celebration and grief, but some of my favorite poems are ones that describe an everyday happening.
In our ever-busier world, poetry has the advantage of being concise. As Rita Dove says, "Poetry is language at its most distilled and most powerful ... like a bouillon cube: You carry it around and then it nourishes you when you need it." You can’t read a novel in one sitting, but a poem can transport you or make you laugh or cry, often in only one page.
I find intellectual and creative fulfillment in poetry, the way I imagine others do from music or art. There are others out there like me who perhaps haven’t found their way to poetry just yet. When they do, I want them to experience the rich, vibrant expansion of the world that I did.

PPP: What advice do you have for others who might want to get started writing poetry?
LZ: That’s easy: read. If you want to be a good writer of poetry, you must also be a good reader of poetry. If the last time you read poetry was in high school, connect with current work from contemporary poets. Look for magazines and literary journals that have a national distribution, but also seek out the regional and local publications (print and online) that feature poetry.
Participating in a writing group or class where you receive honest, but specific, constructive advice, is invaluable. The North Carolina Poetry Society, North Carolina Writer’s Network, and Charlotte Writers’ Club are all excellent resources for people trying to connect to other writers.

PPP: When do you write?
LZ: I have three teenagers who participate in many activities. I keep a portable “poetry bag” with drafts, revisions, and background material ready to go at all times. I’ve written poems at the karate studio, the rock climbing gym, in the library, the oil change garage -- you get the picture. I’ve seen a quote that says something along the lines of, If you wait for the perfect time to write, you’ll never write a word. True for me. I find if I work on a poem, even for a short while, my mind will continue mulling it over and I’ll have something to add when I next sit down to write. There have been times when I’ve been able to block out writing time on a regular, weekly basis. That’s a great practice if you can make it work with your schedule. I’ve learned to carry a small notebook with me everywhere. If a phrase occurs to me while I’m walking or driving, I’ll lose it if I don’t write it down.

PPP:Is there a particular place that you like to write?
LZ: See above! When not writing on the move, I write at a desk next to a window, surrounded by books of poetry.

PPP: What inspires you?
LZ: Snippets and scraps. I’ll hear something on the radio, read an article, or come across a phrase I can’t get out of my head. This is where my poems sometimes begin. My writing groups also inspire me. They are open to criticism and dedicated to finding exactly the right word. Editing is a different, but related, skill to writing poetry. Helping others fine-tune their work has helped me look at my own writing with an agnostic eye. And I’ll say it again, because it’s key -- reading good work of all genres.

PPP: What is your opinion of the poetry community in Charlotte and surrounding areas?
LZ: We are fortunate to have an active, dedicated group of poets in our area. I’ve found the community supportive, welcoming, and professional. Writing poetry in a banking town can seem somewhat arcane. It helps to find your people.
Park Road Books has been a steadfast supporter of local poets. Main Street Rag and Iodine are two well-regarded literary journals based out of Charlotte. CPCC’s Sensoria Festival always has a strong presence from local writers, including poets. Charlotte Viewpoint, an online magazine, regularly publishes local poets and writers.
My one beef -- and it’s a big one -- the audience for poetry readings and events tends to be other writers. It will be a good day when the public-at-large shows robust support for literary events.

PPP: Where has your poetry been published?
LZ: My chapbook, Heart of the Light, has just been published by Finishing Line Press. Press 53 featured my work in one of their Spotlight anthologies a few years ago. Poems have also been published in Nimrod, poemmemoirstory, Main Street Rag, Pine Mountain Sand & Gravel, Pinesong, Crucible, Literary Mama, among others. I have work forthcoming in Charlotte Viewpoint, The Ledge Magazine, and Sixfold.

04 September 2013

Charlotte poet Lisa Zerkle featured in Independent Tribune

Lisa Zerkle
Charlotte, NC poet, Lisa Zerkle, recently published her first chapbook of poetry entitled Heart of the Light.

Zerkle's the subject of this month's Piedmont Poetry Project feature in the Independent Tribune

21 July 2013

An Interview With Poet Hannah Newberry

Hannah Newberry is a poet, songwriter, and musician from Raleigh, NC. Below are Hannah's unedited responses to questions she was asked as part of the Piedmont Poetry Project.

Piedmont Poetry Project: What do you hope to achieve with your poetry?

Hannah Newberry: I hope that people read my poetry and can relate to it. I hope they think about things that they had never thought about before. I hope I can bring something to their attention, and I hope my poetry alters their perspective. I hope people act on the ideas expressed in my poetry. Art can't change the world, but it can change people who can change the world.

PPP: What are your earliest recollections of poetry in your life?

HN: Does Dr. Suess count? After Dr. Suess and Shel Silverstein, I remember finding a book of poems from my mother's high school library. It's mostly children's poems, but I remember flipping through it and falling in love with Ogden Nash. I loved everything he did, but The Tale of Custard the Dragon became my favorite poem. I remember skipping over everything in that book that didn't have his name on it. I suppose that was my first recollection.

PPP: Why, in your opinion, is poetry important in our society?

HN: It's an outlet. It's a means of education about the important things that they never teach you in school, like how feelings sound when you write them down, and how words paint some of the most beautiful pictures that could never be captured with a camera or a paintbrush. It's an expedient to making people question everything. Poetry can change the people that make up society, therefore changing society. And society is always in need of change.

PPP: What inspires you to write?

HN: Plenty of things inspire me. Sometimes a thought comes to my mind and I center an entire poem or song around that thought. Sometimes I'll ask someone else what to write about (and I get everything between lions playing ukuleles and paranoid schizophrenia) and I write about it. That's how "Darling" came about. Sometimes I write from other people's perspective, sometimes I just get angry and vent in poetic form. I challenge my own creativity and imagination. People inspire me quite often. A lot of the time though, I draw inspiration from the internet. There are plenty of strangely inspiring things on the internet.

PPP: When do you write?

HN: Every day. I've just started a 365 project, and now I'm writing either a poem or a song every day- sometimes both. Sometimes I write three songs a day. I used to have writing binges where I'd write something really good every day, and sometimes multiple poems or songs a day, and that would go on until I'd lose all my inspiration or motivation and I'd have a writer's block for about the same amount of time. And then it would repeat. But I try to write as often as I can. That's how you get better.

PPP: Is there a particular place that you like to write?

HN: I write everywhere. I write in the car, I wake up in the middle of the night and write in my bed sometimes, I've written a poem with eyeliner on a napkin when I was hiding from people in the bathroom. I write during class. I write anywhere I can, especially when I'm inspired and I have a good idea. I just like to write, so I do it every where.

PPP: What poets do you read?

HN: Edgar Allen Poe, Shakespeare, Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, and of course, Ogden Nash. But I don't just read dead white people's poetry. I go to local poetry readings a lot, and I read things I find online. I'll read just about any poem, but I just happen to read a lot of poetry by dead white people.

PPP: What advice do you have for others who might want to get started writing poetry?

HN: Start now. I started when I was eight years old, and that's put me years ahead of people my age that are just starting to write now. Lots of people say they don't want to try it because they know they won't be good at it. That's so disappointing, because first of all, that's not the reason to write poetry. No one starts writing because they think they'll be good at it. But once you get going, and figure out your own voice and style and what inspires you, there are so many beautiful things that can be written, but not if you don't start now. Write right now.

PPP: Have you noticed any trends or patterns in your writing over the past 5-10 years?

HN: Most of my poems are written either in anger or sadness. But I seldom feel the same way when I begin writing a poem as I do by the end of it. People always tell me to write happier things, but it's easier said than done. Happy poems are hard to write. And no one likes them because it's hard to relate to them sometimes. And sometimes, an angry or sad poem can make me happier than a happy poem. It's comforting knowing that someone else feels the same way I do. But when I read a happy poem, I just get sad that I'm not as happy as that poet.

PPP: Share a comment or two about life, writing, or anything else that you'd like.

HN: Poetry is medicine.

Read more about Hannah Newberry and her writing (including her poem, "Darling") in the May 28 edition of The Independent Tribune.