The poetry feature below was originally published in the Independent Tribune in November 2009.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Poetry resources mentioned in this article:
Charlotte Writers Club
North Carolina Poetry Society
North Carolina writer’s Network