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NORTH CAROLINA L I T E R A RY RE VI E W ONLINE

2018

NORTH CAROLINA ON THE MAP AND IN THE NEWS

IN THIS ISSUE Reviews of books by writers who put North Carolina on the map

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Fiction, Poetry, Essays, Literary News

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and more . . .


COVER COLLAGE DESIGN by NCLR Art Director Dana Ezzell Lovelace top left: Asheville, “looking up the Swannanoa Valley” (NC Postcard Collection, NC Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC Chapel Hill) 2nd row: Loray Mill Strike in Gastonia (Associated Press), Biltmore House (Durwood Barbour Collection of NC Postcards, NC Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC Chapel Hill)

Published annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association © COPYRIGHT 2018 NCLR

3rd row: Randall Kenan speaking at the March 2016 gathering of writers in Raleigh; also pictured, Allan Gurganus, second from left (photograph by Tom Rankin); birthday card to Governor Pat McCrory published by the Writers for a Progressive North Carolina in the News & Observer in October 2016 (courtesy of Boone Oakley; Creative Director David Oakley, copywriter Mary Gross, Art Director Eric Roch von Rochsburg); “Silent Sam” Confederate Monument on the campus of UNC Chapel Hill (Durwood Barbour Collection of NC Postcards, NC Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC Chapel Hill) bottom row: one of many such North Carolina postcards (find the full NC Postcards collection here); and Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, 1908 (Durwood Barbour Collection of NC Postcards (P077), NC Collection Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC Chapel Hill

COVER DESIGNER NCLR Art Director DANA EZZELL LOVELACE is a Professor of Graphic Design at Meredith College in Raleigh. She has an MFA in Graphic Design from the Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. Her design work has been recognized by the CASE Awards and in such publications as Print Magazine’s Regional Design Annual, the Applied Arts Awards Annual, American Corporate Identity, and the Big Book of Logos 4. She has been designing for NCLR since the fifth issue, and in 2009 created the current style and design. In 2010, the “new look” earned NCLR a second award for Best Journal Design from the Council of Editors of Learned Journals. In addition to the cover, Dana designed the fiction in this issue.

ABOVE Asheville, “looking up the Swannanoa Valley” (NC Postcard Collection, NC Collection

Photographic Archives, Wilson Library, UNC Chapel Hill)


NORTH CAROLINA L I T E R A RY RE VI E W ONLINE

2018

NORTH CAROLINA LITERATURE NORTH CAROLINA ON THE MAP INAND A GLOBAL CONTEXT IN THE NEWS IN THIS ISSUE 6 n North Carolina on the Map and in the News includes poetry, prose, book reviews, and literary news Karen Willis Amspacher Alton Ballance Margaret D. Bauer Robert Beatty Barbara Bennett David Blevins Teresa Bryson Wiley Cash James W. Clark, Jr.

Mae Miller Claxton EbzB Productions Julia Franks Barbara Garrity-Blake Allan Gurganus Leah Hampton Alex Harris Anna Dunlap Higgins-Harrell Vivian Howard

Joanne Joy Janet Joyner Kristina L. Knotts Randall Kenan Robert Morgan Savannah Paige Murray Rain Newcomb Reynolds Price Ron Rash

Terry Roberts Lorraine Hale Robinson Margaret Sartor Bland Simpson Leverett T. Smith, Jr. Walter Squire Ali Standish Zackary Vernon Daniel Wallace

54 n Flashbacks: Echoes of Past Issues includes poetry, prose, book reviews, and literary news Alex Albright Joseph Bathanti Christina G. Bucher Sally Buckner Kathryn Stripling Byer L. Teresa Church F. Brett Cox Mark Cox Thomas E. Douglass

Wilma Dykeman Annie Frazier Donna A. Gessell Garrett Bridger Gilmore June Guralnick George Hovis Sarah Huener Gene Hyde Danny Johnson

Glenis Redmond Rosalind Rosenberg Steven Sherrill Marty Silverthorne Shelby Stephenson Hannah Crane Sykes Gregory S. Taylor Eric C. Walker Gertrude Weil Emily Herring Wilson

John Kessell D.G. Martin Michael McFee Kat Meads Susan Laughter Meyers Lenard D. Moore Pauli Murray James Larkin Pearson Barbara Presnell

110 n North Carolina Miscellany includes poetry, fiction, book reviews, and literary news Margaret D. Bauer Christina Clark Gabrielle Brant Freeman Alice Fulton

Irene Blair Honeycutt Patricia Hooper Celeste McMaster Grace C. Ocasio

Laura Sloan Patterson W.A. Polf Nicole Stockburger Hannah Crane Sykes Michele Walker

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Art in this issue

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Alec Campbell-Barner David C. Driskell Jensynne East Rachel Elia Courtney Johnson

Phoebe Lewis Carol Retsch-Bogart Heather Evans Smith Donald Sultan Sallie White


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North Carolina Literary Review is published annually in the summer by the University of North Carolina Press. The journal is sponsored by East Carolina University with additional funding from the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association. NCLR Online, published in the winter, is an open access supplement to the print issue. NCLR is a member of the Council of Editors of Learned Journals and the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses, and it is indexed in EBSCOhost, the Humanities International Complete, the MLA International Bibliography, and the Society for the Study of Southern Literature Newsletter. Address correspondence to Dr. Margaret D. Bauer, NCLR Editor ECU Mailstop 555 English Greenville, NC 27858-4353 252.328.1537 Telephone 252.328.4889 Fax BauerM@ecu.edu Email NCLRuser@ecu.edu NCLRsubmissions@ecu.edu http://www.NCLR.ecu.edu Website Subscriptions to the print issues of NCLR are, for individuals, $15 (US) for one year or $25 (US) for two years, or $25 (US) annually for institutions and foreign subscribers. Libraries and other institutions may purchase subscriptions through subscription agencies. Individuals or institutions may also receive NCLR through membership in the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association. More information on our website. Individual copies of the annual print issue are available from retail outlets and from UNC Press. Back issues of our print issues are also available for purchase, while supplies last. See the NCLR website for prices and tables of contents of back issues.

Cover design by Dana Ezzell Lovelace ISSN: 2165-1809

Submissions NCLR invites proposals for articles or essays about North Carolina literature, history, and culture. Much of each issue is thematically focused, but a portion of each issue is open for developing interesting proposals – particularly interviews and literary analyses (without academic jargon). NCLR also publishes high-quality poetry, fiction, drama, and creative nonfiction by North Carolina writers or set in North Carolina. We define a North Carolina writer as anyone who currently lives in North Carolina, has lived in North Carolina, or has used North Carolina as subject matter. See our website for submission guidelines for the various sections of each issue. Submissions to each issue’s special feature section are due August 31 of the preceding year, though proposals may be considered through early fall. Issue #28 (2019) will feature writing from and about North Carolina’s African American Writers. Read more about this topic on page 75 of this issue. Please email your suggestions for other special feature topics to the editor. Book reviews are usually solicited, though suggestions will be considered as long as the book is by a North Carolina writer, is set in North Carolina, or deals with North Carolina subjects. NCLR prefers review essays that consider the new work in the context of the writer’s canon, other North Carolina literature, or the genre at large. Publishers and writers are invited to submit North Carolina–related books for review consideration. See the index of books that have been reviewed in NCLR on our website. NCLR does not review self-/subsidy-published or vanity press books. Advertising rates $250 full page (8.25”h x 6”w) $150 half page (4”h x 6”w) $100 quarter page (3”h x 4”w or 4”h x 2.875”w) Advertising discounts available to NCLR vendors.


N C L R ONLINE Editor Margaret D. Bauer Art Director Dana Ezzell Lovelace Poetry Editor Jeffrey Franklin Fiction Editor Liza Wieland Art Editor Diane A. Rodman

Founding Editor Alex Albright Original Art Director Eva Roberts

Graphic Designers Karen Baltimore Stephanie Whitlock Dicken Assistant Editors Christy Alexander Hallberg Sally F. Lawrence Randall Martoccia Editorial Assistants Michael Ryan Smith Omar Sutherland Interns Harley Beechner Amber Colbert Elizabeth Grimsley Samantha Grzybek Autumn Gunsley Hannah Hensley Melissa (Max) Herbert Kristen Williams

EDITORIAL BOARD James Applewhite Professor Emeritus, Duke University

Ronald Wesley Hoag Professor of English, East Carolina University

Laurence Avery Professor Emeritus, UNC Chapel Hill

Elizabeth Hudson Editor, Our State magazine

Christina Bucher English Rhetoric and Writing, Berry College

Paul C. Jones English, Ohio University

Paula Gallant Eckard College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, UNC Charlotte

Anne Mallory English, East Carolina University

Gabrielle Freeman English, East Carolina University

Joan Mansfield Art and Design, East Carolina University

Guiseppe Getto English, East Carolina University

Kat Meads Red Earth MFA program, Oklahoma City University

Brian Glover English, East Carolina University

Sean Morris English, East Carolina University

Rebecca Godwin English, Barton College

Amber Flora Thomas English, East Carolina University

Jaki Shelton Green SistaWRITE

Scott Romine English, UNC Greensboro

George Hovis Professor of English, SUNY Oneonta

Helen Stead English, East Carolina University Mary Ann Wilson English, University of Louisiana at Lafayette

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The Notorious and the Noteworthy in the Old North State by Margaret D. Bauer, Editor Inspired by our state’s notoriety after nationally unpopular legislation, former intern Ellen Franks suggested this year’s special feature topic. In 2016, the North Carolina General Assembly passed House Bill 2, more commonly known (throughout the country) as the Bathroom Bill. ECU students are proud of our “Leadership University” and would prefer that the state lead in anti-discrimination rather than discriminatory legislation against transgender people. As professors sometimes do, I used the student staff members’ dismay over our state’s sudden national disrepute as a teaching moment, pointing out to them that, even in the middle of the darkest chapters of our history, we have much to be proud of here in North Carolina, including an incredible number of talented writers who use their pens (or keyboards) to fight back against discrimination. Have you been to an Allan Gurganus or Bland Simpson reading lately? They are among the many literary stars of the Old North State who take advantage of their time at a podium to call on the rest of us to resist threats to the reputation and well-being of North Carolina. Another notorious event in North Carolina to receive national news coverage, this one from the more distant past, the mill strikes of 1929 inspired many writers, most recently, Wiley Cash, whose new novel is reviewed here. Other reviews in this special feature section are of recent books by several writers who put our North Carolina homes “on the map.” North Carolinians can find writers to be proud of, to brag about, from the western end of the state that produced Robert Morgan and Ron Rash to Eastern North Carolina, where Reynolds Price was born and to which Vivian Howard returned to open her restaurant, produce her television show, and write her cookbook/memoir. After watching her PBS series, people from all over started mapping their route to Kinston, which they had very likely never heard of prior to viewing A Chef’s Life.

North Carolina is certainly on the map as a vacation destination as well, whether tourists are heading to the Biltmore in Asheville or the beaches of the Outer Banks, and as you’ll find in other reviews here, these places also inspire writers. Between the mountains and the coast, the first public university in the country to hold classes, UNC Chapel Hill, boasts Big Fish author Daniel Wallace, as well as Bland Simpson and Randall Kenan among its faculty, just to name those UNC writing professors featured here in reviews and award news. Read, too, about Allan Gurganus, who writes about a “place between places”; through his fictional Falls, NC (and his international reputation), readers the world over know Rocky Mount, his hometown. Some of our writers who have made the news recently are not (yet) so well known, but their successes assure us that the next generation of North Carolina writers will continue to make us proud, and their North Carolina–set stories will reach audiences beyond the state, as evidenced by some of the awards you’ll read about here. Former Doris Betts Prize winner Leah Hampton, for example, shares with us another award-winning short story, which we place in this section both because of the prestige of the award (her $50,000 prize certainly made the news) and because the history-making 2016 presidential election plays a role in the story. Here, too, we include a poem by second-time Applewhite Prize finalist Janet Joyner because she alludes to the nation’s crumbling “Infrastructure” (the title of her poem) and a Confederate monument, two subjects found “in the news” recently. Enjoy the reviews, literary news, fiction, and poetry in the pages that follow, and then subscribe or renew to receive the 2018 print issue, which will include interviews with Vivian Howard and Allan Gurganus, an essay by Bland Simpson inspired by a conversation with Dr. William Friday, and Margaret Maron’s reflection upon finishing her last Deborah Knott mystery – about how this series took her across the state to enjoy many of the state’s gifts that put us “on the map.” n


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NORTH CAROLINA ON THE MAP

and in the News 8 Allan Gurganus: Two Tributes Homage to THE Allan Gurganus

by Margaret D. Bauer Celebrating Allan Gurganus, “Our Author” by Leverett T. Smith, Jr. 13 Crafting Local Souls: The Metafiction of Allan Gurganus by Zackary Vernon 19 Foodways and the Story of North Carolina

a review by Joanne Joy Vivian Howard, Deep Run Roots Randall Kenan, ed., The Carolina Table 23 Lift Every Voice a review by Walter Squire Wiley Cash, The Last Ballad 26 The Biltmore’s Unlikely Hero

a review by Teresa Bryson Robert Beatty, Serafina and the Black Cloak 28 Infrastructure a poem by Janet Joyner art by Carol Retsch-Bogart 30 With Eyes to See It a review by Zackary Vernon Ron Rash, Above the Waterfall

33 Redemption in the Imprisoning Mountains a review by Savannah Paige Murray Ron Rash, The Risen 34 Terry Roberts Receives James Still Award

37 Sea, Sand, and Human Hands a review by Alton Ballance David Blevins, North Carolina’s Barrier Islands Karen Willis Amspacher and Barbara Garrity-Blake, Living at the Water’s Edge 39 Bland Simpson Receives 2017 Caldwell Humanities Award

42 Boomer a short story by Leah Hampton art by Donald Sultan 47 Giving Fictional Shape to History a review by Kristina L. Knotts Robert Morgan, As Rain Turns to Snow and Other Stories 49 Wolfe Award Goes to Debut Novelist 50 Inside the Mind of Reynolds Price a review by James W. Clark, Jr. Alex Harris and Margaret Sartor, Dream of a House 53 Extraordinary Misadventures a review by Barbara Bennett Daniel Wallace, Extraordinary Adventures 54 North Carolina, My Kith, My Home by Ali Standish 56 Exemplary EbzB Team Receives Hardee Rives Award presentation remarks by Lorraine Hale Robinson 57 2017 Parker Award Winner Pays It Forward

35 In it for Life a review by Anna Dunlap Higgins-Harrell Mae Miller Claxton and Rain Newcomb, eds. Conversations with Ron Rash

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE 58 n Flashbacks: Echoes of Past Issues poetry, prose, book reviews, and literary news

103 n North Carolina Miscellany poetry, fiction, book reviews, and literary news


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ALLAN GURGANUS:

TWO TRIBUTES

Adapted from tributes presented at the North Carolina Writers Conference Rocky Mount, 29 July 2017

COURTESY OF JANE HOLDING

Homage to THE Allan Gurganus by Margaret D. Bauer I am so honored to have been asked to pay tribute to one of the writers we Eastern North Carolinians boast about. “Where in North Carolina did I land?” my friends back home in south Louisiana might ask. Louisiana people go to Florida, not the Outer Banks, for the beaches, but a few like me might have gone to summer camp in the mountains. “No, it’s nothing like that where I live,” I tell them. “I moved to Eastern North Carolina, about forty miles from where the author of Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All is from.” Wherever you are in the US – and lots of places beyond, that title will ring a bell. So yes, indeed, I am proud to have been asked to be among the speakers to honor this world-widely beloved writer tonight. I’m not going to introduce to you a writer who needs no introduction, but I am going to remind you of some of his works that you simply have to read again, starting with the story this wonderful, sweet man read the first time I met him about twenty years ago now! When I was just a child professor, playing dress-up in Alex Albright’s too big to fill shoes as the new editor of the North Carolina Literary Review, Allan Gurganus – the Allan Gurganus who wrote Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All – came to speak at ECU. So awestruck in those days, before learning that my new home state was chock full of the literary stars of my reading pleasure, I probably didn’t say two words to him. My younger self, much like the old lady standing in front of you this evening, a selfconfessed writer groupie, would sit mesmerized during a reading, nodding my head and wearing a silly grin on my face, reflecting how much I relish these opportunities to hear the writer on a stage behind the voices on the

ABOVE Margaret Bauer paying tribute to Allan Gurganus, sitting

here with Jane Holding, at the 2017 North Carolina Writers Conference (Read Holding’s tribute in the NCLR 2018 print issue.) Read about NCLR Editor MARGARET D. BAUER in the North Carolina literary award coverage elsewhere in this issue.

page. But unlike the old lady in front of you, I was far too intimidated to speak more than cliché pleasantries to these writers. – I have since learned to leap onto the stage before anyone else can get to him to beg for the privilege of publishing the story (and don’t get in my way or you might find yourself toppling off the stage). Anyway, I don’t remember if I had the nerve to say more than “thank you for coming, I enjoyed the reading” that night so many moons ago, but I do remember the story Allan read, “Nativity, Caucasian.”1 And I encourage you to reread that story first thing tomorrow – not tonight. You’ll get yourself all worked up with laughing and won’t be able to settle down to sleep. Here’s just the opening to remind you of what I am talking about, as well as to show you his genius for capturing a time and place. Just listen for how his selective (and hilarious) word choices reflect the post-world war two era’s attitude toward pregnancy.

1

“Nativity, Caucasian” is collected in White People (New York: Knopf, 1991); subsequently cited from this collection. The story was originally published as “Nativity, Caucasian: The Day Mother Nature Played Her Trump Card” in Chicago Tribune 6 Dec. 1987: web.


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COURTESY OF JANE HOLDING

(“What’s wrong with you?” my wife asks. She already knows. I tell her anyway). I was born at a bridge party. This explains cer tain frills and soft spots in my character. I sometimes picture my own genes as crustless multicolored canapés spread upon a silver oval tray. Mother’d just turned thirty and was eight and one half months gone. A colonel’s daughter, she could boast a laudable IQ plus a smallish independent income. She loved gardening but, pregnant, couldn’t stoop or weed. She loved swimming but felt too modest to appear at the Club in a bathing suit. “I walk like a duck,” she told her husband, laughing. “Like six ducks trying to keep in line. I hate ducks.” Her best friend, Chloe, local Grand Master, tournament organizer, was a perfect whiz at stuffing compatible women into borrowed seaside cottages for marathon contact bridge. “Helen precious?” Chloe phoned. “I know you’re incommoded but listen, dear. We’re short a person over here at my house. Saundra Harper Briggs finally checked into Duke for that

My reading can’t do this story justice, but you know who can? Allan Gurganus. And when we decided to add an audio component to NCLR’s 2008 humor issue, “Nativity, Caucasian” was the story I asked Allan to read for us. By then, I was much less shy about asking than I might have been if this story had not already been published by the time I first heard him read it a few years before – in the Chicago Tribune no less, and then, of course, in his White People collection. I had learned in the decade since then something else about North Carolina writers – how incredibly generous they are. And the bigger the star, the larger the generosity (in most cases). Allan arranged for himself to go to WUNC to have a professional recording made of him reading this story, and now anyone who still has a CD player can experience what I did when he introduced that story to me. We call it lagniappe in Louisiana, for the story is, as Fred Chappell might put it, “an elegant sufficiency,” but hearing Allan read it, now that is lagniappe.2 As I say, after several years serving as NCLR editor, I got pretty good at those leaps to the stage to beg a writer for a story, poem, or essay, and as soon as Allan finished giving his keynote address for the Eastern North Carolina Literary Homecoming one year, I asked if we could publish it in NCLR. With his usual kind magnanimity, he responded something along the lines of, “Of course, my dear, I wrote it for NCLR.” Now think

radical rice diet? And not one minute too soon. They say her husband had to drive the poor thing up there in the station wagon, in the back of the station wagon. I refuse to discriminate against you because of your condition. We keep talking about you, still ga-ga over that grand slam of yours in Hilton Head. I could send somebody over to fetch you in, say, fifteen minutes? No, yes? Will that be time enough to throw something on? Unless, of course, you feel too shaky.” Hobbyists often leap at compliments with an eagerness unknown to pros. And Helen Larkin Grafton was the classic amateur, product of a Richmond that, deftly and early on, espaliers, topiaries, and bonsais its young ladies, pruning this and that, preparing them for decorative root-bound existences either in or very near the home. Helen, unmistakably a white girl, a postdeb, was most accustomed to kind comments concerning clothes or looks or her special ability to foxtrot. And any talk about the mind itself, even mention of her wellknown flare for cards, delighted her. So, dodging natural duty, bored with being treated as if pregnancy were some debilitating terminal disease, she said, “Yes. I’d adore to come. See you shortly, Chloe. And God love you for thinking of me. I’ve been sitting here feeling like…well, like one great big mudpie.” The other women applauded when she strolled in wearing a loose-cut frock of unbleached linen, hands thrust into patch pockets piped with chocolate brown. (All this I have on hearsay from my godmother, Irma Stythe, a fashion-conscious former nurse and sometimes movie critic for the local paper.) (47–48)

ABOVE Self-confessed writer groupie Margaret Bauer posing

with Allan Gurganus and Jane Holding after the tribute banquet

2

NCLR’s Mirth Carolina Laugh Tracks, the CD component of the 2008 issue, which focused on North Carolina humor, is still available for purchase. The Chappell quotation is from “The Beard,” which appears in I Am One of You Forever (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 1985) and which Chappell allowed NCLR to publish in 1998.


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can hear spoken by vacationers to our tourist attractions, brings his readers into the homes and churches and schools and stores and fields and streets they do not visit during their beach or mountain vacations. Like the many people who pass through the real North Carolina on their way to the beach or the mountains, I thought all of North Carolina was like the Western North Carolina camp I attended half a dozen summers of my youth – a cool escape from hot Louisiana. Where are the mountains? I wondered as my plane from Indiana, where I was teaching in spring 1996, approached the Pitt Greenville airport. Clearly, I was as ignorant about North Carolina as the tourists who come to stay in the mountains or on coast and don’t know about all we have between. I had always told my parents that someday I would live in North Carolina. And after a year in Indiana, where it was still snowing in March, arriving here to blooming azaleas that reminded me of my native Louisiana, I was ready to come “home.” No one warned me, as Allan’s naughty narrator is warned as she plans her move from Ohio to Florida in “My Heart Is A Snake Farm,” to “Be careful where you first settle. Danger is, once you’re sprung from these fierce [in my case Indiana] winters, the first place you find in the [Old North] State you will – like some windblown seed – take fast tropic-type root.” I have deep roots here now – they’ve been digging in for over twenty years, and I am so proud to say I am from Eastern North Carolina, birth place of such storytellers as Allan Gurganus, who calls it “the place between places that secretly becomes more a place because, stuck out on our own, we’ve found a way to impose high standards and to enjoy the hell out of whatever we could bring-up-by-hand here among ourselves out here amidst our fields and just that stone’s throw off the highways leading to the spots others founds important” (“Now” 12). I join you all today in thanking Allan for the gift of his stories, which introduced me and so many others to the backstory of this region, from the parlor and the kitchen, the street and the field. And Allan, I read some advice you gave to writers in a Daily Beast interview: “Read your work aloud daily. Read it once a week to your friends. Provide the wine yourself.”5 Well, I will provide the wine (or really good bourbon if you prefer) any time you need someone to listen to you read your work. n

PHOTOGRAPH BY MARGARET BAUER

about it – this is a writer who publishes in The New Yorker and The New York Times – you know, venues that pay. While we at NCLR have always depended upon the kindness of – well, let’s say strange writers who give their essays titles like his “Now the Feds Are Paying Us Not to Grow Our Best-Known Carcinogen, What?” Putting his “Now What” question another way in the subtitle, he asks, “What Shall We Eastern North Carolinians Export?”3 Storytelling is “what,” according to Allan, and I hereby declare him the Mark Twain of Eastern North Carolina – indeed North Carolina storytellers – with a twenty-first century bawdiness that might make the old riverboat pilot blush. I’m thinking here about Allan’s New Yorker story “My Heart Is A Snake Farm,” in which we witness a retired librarian’s transition into libidinous motel owner, undaunted by the possibility that Buck’s “prize Burmese python [might] wind up in [her] . . . Parnassus Palms dresser drawers.”4 But back to the essay I was lucky to land for NCLR, as in most of his fiction, that essay celebrates the region I now call home, Eastern North Carolina, to outsiders only “a series of piglet teat exits off a highway,” Allan points out, visited by people on the way to the Outer Banks, stopping only, “if they needed a hospital or gas or a cleanly restroom” (“Now” 8). So much of Allan’s writing, which has been translated into many of the different languages you

3

“Now the Feds Are Paying Us Not To Grow Our Best-known Carcinogen, What?; or, What Shall We Eastern North Carolinians Export?” NCLR 16 (2007): 7–14; quotations from this essay will be cited parenthetically.

5

Noah Charney, “Allan Gurganus: How I Write,” Daily Beast 16 Oct. 2013: web. ABOVE Allan Gurganus at the North Carolina Writers Conference,

Rocky Mount, 29 July 2017 4

“My Heart Is A Snake Farm,” New Yorker 22 Nov. 2004: web.


North Carolina on the Map and in the News

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CELEBRATING ALLAN GURGANUS, “OUR AUTHOR”

I think I can best celebrate Allan Gurganus by telling the story of the publication of Allan’s Good Help by the North Carolina Wesleyan College Press in the months before Alfred Knopf published Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All nearly thirty years ago.1 In the summer of 1987 Wesleyan’s administration decided to sponsor a college press and asked me to direct it. In my plans for the Press, I had discounted the possibility of publishing work by Allan because of his ties to New York agents and his need to make money from his writing. We weren’t in a position to pay him what he could earn in New York. In addition, at the time Allan offered us the typescript of Good Help, the North Carolina Wesleyan College Press could hardly be said to exist. We had not yet published anything, and as its Director, I didn’t even know what I didn’t know about publishing. Publishing Allan’s story Good Help gave us a good shove toward being a Press. His gift was not just generous, it’s a good illustration of his affection for this area, what he called in a letter to me “my adored community,” meaning, I then supposed, the people who had nurtured him in Rocky Mount when he was growing up. For the NCWC Press, this gift was truly “Good Help.” Allan didn’t just hand us the typescript of Good Help and go home to New York. He stayed with it and worked at all aspects of its publication, from design to distribution, writing me letters of suggestion and complaint when he couldn’t be in North Carolina. As we planned the design of the book, we realized that Allan had skills as a visual as well as a literary artist. Consequently, and not knowing what we were asking, we asked him to provide a series of drawings that would enhance the narrative. Allan was enthusiastic about doing this, finding in doing the drawings “a personal revelation,” his ideas about “line and narrative now happily commingled.” This particular contribution made Good Help, along with Blessed Assurance,2 unique among Allan’s books, the text and drawings playing off one another. This produced a book that now seems a tribute to Allan’s skills in both the literary and visual arts. Poker-faced, the book’s title page simply reads “With Illustrations by the Author.”

1

2

Allan Gurganus, Good Help (Rocky Mount: North Carolina Wesleyan Press, 1988); quotations from this edition cited parenthetically; Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All (New York: Knopf, 1989).

Allan Gurganus, Blessed Assurance (North Carolina Wesleyan Press, 1990); later included in White People (New York: Knopf, 1991).

COURTESY OF ALLAN GURGANUS AND LEVERETT T. SMITH, JR.

by Leverett T. Smith, Jr.

Distribution was quite another problem. Did we have mailing lists? Well, sort of. There was a very general “Arts” mailing list at the college, but basically, we had little idea how to tell the world that we had a book to sell. Allan provided us with his mailing list, adding name after name, and to our delight, many wanted to buy the book. A mailing list started to form around these names. But Allan was never really happy with our efforts at distribution, complaining at one point that only his friends were learning about the book. Because he had many friends, we did sell out the edition, but the problem of distribution stayed with the press for the rest of its life. Our conversation about distribution did produce a keynote of the whole enterprise. In the midst of a page-long discourse on various methods of distribution, Allan stopped to ask, “We’re all making this up as we go, no?” We certainly were.

ABOVE A Blessed Assurance illustration by Allan Gurganus,

featuring Vesta Lotte Battle


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COURTESY OF ALLAN GURGANUS AND LEVERETT T. SMITH, JR.

By 1988, the year Good Help was published, the title page described Good Help as “being a chapter from Oldest Living Confederate Widow Tells All forthcoming from Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.” Sensibly, the title page underlined the story’s relation to the novel. As Allan put it in a letter, Good Help was “an ambassador for my novel.” Just so, but clearly an ambassador for other things, too. Confederate Widow is a great bundle of stories, interconnected in one way by the voice of the narrator, Luci Marsden. Good Help in our edition was identified on the title page as one of these stories, but it is also an early G u r g a n u s n ov e l l a . This literary form that Thomas Mallon calls “the commercially perverse, neither-thisnor-that form of the novella,”3 has occupied Allan for some forty years. It has proven just the right vehicle for Allan’s stories and heroic storytellers within stories, Luci Marsdan and Maimie L. Beech the first of these. For Allan, the teller is always as important as the tale, if not more. Maimie L. Beech of Good Help is, among other things, one of Allan’s heroic storytellers. Here she is described: Till school spoiled things, Maimie might sit – with some beautiful picturebook opened in her lap, a living baby tucked snug under either arm and – free as air or water – spin out any tale she chose. It felt like swimming and walking at the self-same time – a promenade along some river’s glassy lid. Her lore was partly fairy tales like one about a poppa-king whose golden touch proved butterfingered.

Her lore was

partly Bible rehash, part neighborhood gossip from Baby

3

Thomas Mallon, “Big Talker: The Voices of Allan Gurganus,” New Yorker 7 Oct 2013: web. ABOVE A Good Help illustration by Allan Gurganus, featuring

Maimie L. Beech with Bianca

Africa downhill, partly whatever stepping-stone-footholds the pretty pictures gave. Her finger was careful to skim to and fro, fro and to – a dorsal fin keeping her afloat. (21)

Of course, heroic as Maimie is, it is Luci Marsden who is telling Maimie’s story, and the two are connected first by similarity of name and then by Luci’s concern for Maimie’s fate. In one of the few times Luci Marsden enters Good Help, she imagines Maimie’s watery end: “I imagine Maimie smelling the river, sighing many Psalms aloud, practically chugging them. I see her noticing the moonlight wavering on water like some flaming path or giant tongue. I imagine her good shoes testing water’s temperature. I hear Famous Maimie Beech saying to the river, to the night and world – ‘Open up. It’s me’” (56). Finally, the vast advertising campaign Knopf was mounting for Confederate Widow brings us to the question of Allan’s ambition. Before Confederate Widow, Allan had been a tenured college professor, a writing teacher, and had done his own writing on the side. He was, as he put it, “eager to be a full-time writer, not a hobbyist.” He wanted “to earn a living via writing.” As we worked on Good Help, Allan began to sign his letters to me “Your Author.” This was clearly to encourage me, but it was more than that. In calling himself “author” he also was trying a new role for himself. As the publication of Confederate Widow approached, so did the possibility of Allan’s “earning a living by writing.” And this entailed not just earning his living by writing, being an author, but being an authority, becoming a full-time investigator of and spokesman for that “adored community” he has since imagined so forcefully, both in his books and in his life. So, thank you, Allan, first of all for your generosity and your concern for the cultures of eastern North Carolina. Thank you for your multiple artistic talents, and your concern that they integrate and complement each other. Thank you for your long-time interest in the novella form and for showing us its possibilities. Thank you for being “Our Author,” for all your good help in service to your “adored community.” n

LEVERETT T. SMITH founded the North Carolina Wesleyan College Press in 1987 and served as its director until 1994. He is Professor of English at North Carolina Wesleyan College, where he is also curator of the Black Mountain College Collection. Read his interview with Jonathan Williams in the 1995 issue of NCLR.


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COURTESY OF ALLAN GURGANUS

Crafting Local Souls:

The Metafiction of Allan Gurganus by Zackary Vernon

On at least two occasions, I have heard Allan Gurganus say, “I rewrite to be reread.” Re-reading some of his fiction in the past few weeks has not only been a great pleasure, but has also made me reflect on what it means to rewrite and rewrite and rewrite, what it means to craft prose that is deserving of careful scrutiny time and time again. Gurganus is often referred to as a “writer’s writer.” The meaning of this, on one hand, is clear if one peruses the many laudatory reviews by fellow authors published in top magazines and journals or if one reads the ebullient endorsements from heavyweight writers that appear on the covers of his books. On the other hand, though, I think Gurganus is a writer’s writer because he often writes about writing – not in how-to nonfiction pieces for aspiring writers, but in the fiction itself.

ABOVE “Halloween’s Herald of Democracy” Allan Gurganus, as Zackary Vernon calls him in his

essay about the author’s “legendary Halloween show” (in NCLR 2014), Hillsborough, NC, 2017


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These metafictional narratives, therefore, offer fiction about fiction, stories about the art of telling stories.

Gurganus’s latest book, Local Souls, for example, is comprised of three novellas, all of which reflect on how exactly one goes about crafting literature. These metafictional narratives, therefore, offer fiction about fiction, stories about the art of telling stories. This theme has gone largely unnoticed by critics, except for a few passing references, for instance in Jamie Quatro’s glowing review of Local Souls in the New York Times or in William Giraldi’s illuminating essay in the Oxford American.* That Local Souls is a metafictional book becomes immediately apparent once one begins reading. In the beginning of the lead novella, “Fear Not,” the first-person narrator describes going to a high school production of Sweeney Todd with a friend whose child is in the play. The narrator, we soon learn, is a writer who has just finished and sent to a New York agent his epic Civil War novel. (This should sound familiar.) Having completed the epic, the writer says that he needs “another project . . . a new subject,” particularly after, in his words, he has “shot [his] bolt on the Civil War” (16, 21). The narrator and his friend Jemma soon see in the audience an attractive and visibly flirtatious young couple, an anomaly among the otherwise sullen, aging parents. This immediately opens the floodgates of the writer’s imagination; his “narrative capacity” is not apparently as “exhausted” as he had assumed after finishing his Civil War tome. “[A]ren’t all real writers always writing?” he queries (17). This short narrative – a writer intrigued enough to explore a stranger’s life – serves as the frame for the novella. What follows is a fifty-page story, told in third-person, comprised of our writer-frame narrator speculating about the life circumstances that led this energetic, striking young couple to be at this particular production of Sweeney Todd. So from the beginning we know this novella is metafictional – a writer writing about a writer who is writing a seemingly true story in order “to understand this better.” And the narrator assures us that the story of the young couple is true, well researched, and comes “as close to Documentary as any trained liar ever dares go.” This near-documentary is, according to the narrator, “at least 81% . . . true” (21–22). The story concerns a woman who is reunited with a son that she put up for adoption after having him eighteen years earlier when she was only fifteen. The woman and her long-lost son, once reunited, seem to enter into an incestuous affair. If you haven’t read this novella, you should; it’s so darkly, so deliciously, so salaciously tragic that it feels downright Greek. It also has, as the story suggests, a sense of Russian literature’s determinism; Fate, in this narrative, comes with a capital F.

form ABOVE AND OPPOSITE RIGHT From the author’s illustration of Falls, NC, which appears inside the cover of Local Souls

* Allan Gurganus, Local Souls (New York: Liveright, 2013); subsequently cited parenthetically; Jamie Quatro, “Talk of the Townies: Local Souls,” New York Times 11 Oct. 2013: web; William Giraldi, “The Dead Give Him Stories,” Oxford American 82 (2013): web.


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Allan Gurganus deserves his reputation as a writer’s writer, first for the beauty and depth of his stories, but also, I would argue, for the writerly advice embedded in books like Local Souls.

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But what is the point of all this? Why write a novella about a writer speculating about incest, a tale that seems to come from “ancient texts and hillbilly legends” (84)? What is Gurganus positing here about fiction, about literature? The writer-narrator suggests that his task is to try to breathe “real life into these local souls” (22). The language here is biblical; and the writer is, therefore, within his own world, a godlike figure. I see no narcissism in this, though, and that’s not the point. The point is that we are, in a sense, all gods of our own imagination. We are, regardless of life circumstances, free to imagine what we will. The narrator of “Fear Not,” anticipating his next project, states, “I already sit imagining a hundred ways one person might tell another such a saga. So many questions live hidden in it. First, you’d gather all known facts. Once grasped, those might offer you a new way of knowing. After documenting, you must imagine inward, capturing some fraction of the costs to them, the reward of it” (84). The message that I think Gurganus wants us to take away is that narrative, whether in literature or simply in the content of our daydreams, leads to an empathic capacity. It is increasingly difficult to judge others’ choices if we can imagine ourselves capable of the same victories, the same burdens, and even the same shortcomings. The next novella, “Saints Have Mothers,” continues in this metafictional vein. Although there are no such immediately obvious writers writing about writing in this novella, the theme continues in subtler ways, in characters’ thoughts and conversations. The novella’s first-person narrator Jean is an intelligent divorcée who once published a single poem in The Atlantic. Jean’s daughter Caitlin is altruistic to a fault, precocious and often pretentious in her drive to always do good unto others, even going so far as to give her mother’s shoes away without permission. The crux of the drama in “Saints Have Mothers” occurs when Caitlin is presumed dead while on a summer trip to Africa. Following her daughter’s apparent death, Jean seems to find new meaning in her own life, playing the grieving mother and honoring a daughter who she often found impossibly self-righteous. In this regard, “Saints Have Mothers” is similar to the previous novella in that it investigates taboo topics: the first novella is about how incest might transpire quicker than we would have imagined, and the second novella is about how parents can resent and even dislike their children more than they would care to admit. In one scene in this novella, Jean pilfers through Caitlin’s room and discovers one of her daughter’s to-do lists, which includes a rather heady series of questions: “Are novels even valid this late in human history? Can the simply Personal be separated now, teased out, from the general warp-woof of utter Globalism? Fantasy, always a distortion? Argue Escapism’s morality, pro-con” (100). In other words: are novels relevant anymore? Has the personal and the local been superseded, eclipsed by the global? Is literature anything more than an escapist’s retreat from the real world?


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[O]nce published, the stories no longer belong to and can no longer be protected by the writer; they exist in and of the world, for readers and critics to do with what they will.

The answers to Caitlin’s questions eventually come from her mother Jean. Contemplating poetry and comparing her own to her daughter’s, Jean decides that the best work must contain form and content, style and substantive ideas. Jean’s poetry had always gotten stuck on the aesthetic. The most profoundly important work, though, she suggests, must “[make] shapes from the worst of the mess of the world” (111). Thus, it is the function of literature to give artistic shape to the mess that surrounds us, while also bringing us pleasure in and insight into that mess. Local Souls’ final novella “Decoy” also frequently ventures into the terrain of metafiction. “Decoy” is told, like the other two, in first-person, in this case through the perspective of Bill, an insurance salesman with a heart defect who spends much of his time obsessing over his relationship with the town’s doctor. After Doc retires, he neglects friends such as Bill in favor of pursuing his new hobby, carving duck decoys. Bill, who is married but clearly also in love with Doc, records Doc’s meteoric rise to fame in the niche market of professional decoy carving. Throughout the narrative, Doc’s making of decoys becomes an elaborate metaphor for writing fiction. Doc’s decoys are perfect replicas of the ducks that are native to his little corner of North Carolina, not unlike the writer in the opening novella who “trie[s] breathing real life into these local souls” (22). The parallels between sculpting ducks and writing people become especially apparent when Bill ponders why Doc’s only subject is ducks: “Me, now, if I could sculpt or write, as a subject, only people would interest me. Why they do stuff! There’d be so much to know! But, making decoys, hadn’t he just been doing further xerox copies of known imitations of what started as pure waterbirds? With human portraits, no two can ever look alike” (311). Despite their simulacratic qualities, Doc’s decoys become so good, so life-like that they eventually capture the attention of New York agents, and rather than selling his decoys locally, they are all promised to far away metropolitan collectors and museums. This trajectory to duck decoy greatness parallels the careers many writers wish they could obtain; the end literary product, based on the local, is ideally bound for New York success.

empathy


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However, before they can make their flight north, Doc’s masterpiece ducks are lost when a flood devastates the town and takes with it all of Doc’s decoys, swept out of his workshop and into the raging river. The decoys, no longer safe in the artist’s studio, are then destroyed by the elements, ravaged by the world. This flood and the loss of Doc’s best decoys parallels the sending out of a writer’s dearest stories, his most agonized-over words. And, of course, once published, the stories no longer belong to and can no longer be protected by the writer; they exist in and of the world, for readers and critics to do with what they will. Doc’s decoys are not kindly received following their alluvial birth into the world. The few that actually come back to him return utterly destroyed, and as a result Doc becomes increasingly unhinged. Bill notes, “people who love something too much, live at greater risk. And yet, that’s bound to be the one sane way forward. Surely our determination to never lose what we’ve made to love, that, in itself, means an early sort of decoy death” (315).

ABOVE The author’s illustration of

Falls, NC, which appears inside the cover of Local Souls


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reception LIVERIGHT PUBLISHING CORPORATION PHOTOGRAPH BY MARGARET BAUER

Following the metafictional current of the novella to its close, Gurganus seems to suggest that after sending one’s treasured work out into the world, we must know that it will run the risk of being mistreated, of being destroyed. And yet this risk is worth it, the “one sane way forward” being the most dangerous – putting one’s work out into the world, despite the fear of how it will be received once it leaves the safety of the studio, the sanctum of the workshop. To conclude, these are the literary lessons that, as I understand them, Gurganus offers in Local Souls’ three novellas: One, empathy is inevitably engendered by narrative, and narrative is inevitably engendered by empathy. Judgment becomes increasingly difficult to maintain when one has inhabited the minds of others. Two, form must never be sacrificed for content, and content must never be sacrificed for form. The two must exist concurrently, the one buttressing the other. Three, the reception of one’s work by the world is a gamble, but one worth pursuing, a game worth playing. To not would mean a lack of vitality, a life not truly lived, a career unchallenged, and thus a certain kind of death. In short, the three novellas taken together seem to suggest: this is what literature does (inspire empathy); this is what literature looks like (a marriage of form and content); and this is how it feels to send one’s well-wrought darlings out into the unknown (lost to you and subject to the all-too-often cruel whims of the world). Allan Gurganus deserves his reputation as a writer’s writer, first for the beauty and depth of his stories, but also, I would argue, for the writerly advice embedded in books like Local Souls. It’s all there: why to write, how to write, and what to expect once one has written. n

ABOVE Zackary Vernon delivering this essay

at the North Carolina Writers Conference, Rocky Mount, NC, 29 July 2017

ZACKARY VERNON is an Assistant Professor in the English Department at Appalachian State University. Read his interview with Ron Rash and Terry Roberts, along with an essay on Allan Gurganus in NCLR 2014. In 2015, Vernon received the premiere Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize for “Boone Summer: Adventures of a Bad Environmentalist,” which was published in NCLR 2016. This essay was delivered on a panel at the 2017 North Carolina Writers Conference in Rocky Mount, NC, after which he interviewed Allan Gurganus for the print 2018 issue of NCLR.

STEPHANIE WHITLOCK DICKEN has been designing for NCLR since 2001 and served as Art Director 2002–2008. For this issue, she designed this essay and several of the tributes and award stories. Her designs of the book reviews and sidebars in back issues of NCLR Online are now used as models for the student staff members to have the opportunity to work on layout. She teaches graphic design at ECU and Pitt Community College. For twenty years, she has also designed books for both independently and traditionally published authors.


North Carolina on the Map and in the News

FOODWAYS AND THE STORY OF NORTH CAROLINA a review by Joanne Joy Vivian Howard. Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2016. Randall Kenan, editor. The Carolina Table: North Carolina Writers on Food. Hillsborough, NC: Eno Publishers, 2016.

JOANNE JOY has an MA in English from UNC Charlotte and a certificate in Technology and Communications from UNC Chapel Hill. She is currently working on a project to document and preserve recipes in North Carolina. VIVIAN HOWARD, originally from Deep Run, NC, is a chef and television personality. She is the star of A Chef’s Life, which is currently in its fifth season. In 2016, Howard won the James Beard Award for Outstanding Food Personality and a Daytime Emmy for Outstanding Directing in a Lifestyle/Culinary/ Travel Program. In 2017, she was named a Tar Heel of the Year by the News & Observer. Read more about her in the 2018 print issue. RANDALL KENAN’s books include A Visitation of Spirits (Grove Press, 1989), Let the Dead Bury Their Dead (Harcourt, Brace, 1992), and Walking on Water: Black American Lives at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century (Alfred A. Knopf, 1999). Among his honors are a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Writers Award, the Sherwood Anderson Award, and the North Carolina Award for Literature. In 2018, he will be inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame. Currently, he is a professor in the English and Comparative Literature Department at UNC Chapel Hill. Essays featuring Kenan can be read in NCLR 2006, 2008, 2011, and 2012, and he was interviewed for NCLR Online 2017.

Southern food is trendy. Across the country, highly praised establishments from San Francisco to Brooklyn serve up Southern culture through staples like fried chicken, greens, and biscuits. Southern food is iconic and its widespread popularity offers the opportunity to tell the stories of the people who claim diverse traditions across the region. Arguably, food born of the South is linked to a profound sense of place and identity. Likewise are the foodways specific to the regions of North Carolina. Two new books – in very different genres – shed light on what food traditions mean to the people of the state. The collection of essays in The Carolina Table: North Carolina Writers on Food, edited by award-winning fiction and nonfiction writer Randall Kenan, gives us an expansive view of North Carolina food culture and identity, while highly acclaimed chef Vivian Howard of Kinston, NC, zeroes in on her community in Lenoir County and Eastern North Carolina through the lens of foodways in her cookbook/memoir, Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South.

Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, The Physiology of Taste; Or, Meditations on Transcendental Gastronomy, 1825, trans. M.F.K. Fisher, 1949 (New York: Knopf, 2009) 15.

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identity in The Carolina Table: North Carolina Writers on Food. This collection of personal narratives is a healthy exploration of how food and memory are inextricably woven into the fabric of individual and regional identity. Edited by Randall Kenan, the collection, penned by diverse writers, cooks, and scholars with ties to North Carolina, is a testament to the notion that foodways are truly transformative. The thirty essays are not just stories about food. Rather, as Kenan notes, each narrative embodies “The story of the Tar Heel state through food” (7). As the writers recall personal experiences, food is the vehicle for celebrating formative relationships: Marianne Gingher and her cakebaking grandmother, Ruth; Nancie McDermott and her chicken pie-toting great aunt Julia; Wayne Caldwell’s mother, Ruby, who equated his fullness with being “safe and loved” (30). As journalist John Egerton wrote in his iconic book, Southern Food: At Home, on the Road, in History, “Because it is such an integral part of the culture, Southern food provides an excellent entree to the people and their times.”2 Whether intentionally or not, each writer makes profound connections between the ingredients or dishes and the experiences with the people in each of their lives. Many of the essays, like Crook’s Corner chef Bill Smith’s “Hard

“Tell me what you eat, and I shall tell you what you are.” This sentiment, thrust into the English vernacular by celebrated writer, M.F.K. Fisher in her 1949 translation of The Physiology of Taste,1 describes how food facilitates 1

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John Egerton, Southern Food: At Home, on the Road, in History (New York: Knopf, 1993). A well-respected journalist in the South whose career spanned decades, John Egerton organized members of the Southern food community to found the Southern Foodways Alliance at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture at the University of Mississippi in 1999. His founding mission, to document and preserve the foodways of the South, became the foundation for further study of race, class, gender, ethnicity, and social justice of the region through the lens of food.


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ABOVE Some of the goats raised by

Tom Rankin and his wife, Jill McCorkle

through her work at the community college and the family newspaper, Parker’s childhood experiences at the family table were a reminder that sometimes it’s “who” we eat with, instead of “what” we eat, that matters. Jaki Shelton Green reminds us in “Singing Tables” that food creates community for her in other ways as she professes, “I am surrounded by generations of cooks, their wisdom, their laughter, and their flawed and perfect recipes lifting my hands and heart” (13). While some of the narratives connect an ingredient or dish to a memorable moment in time, like Green, many recall those who came before. Past generations molded and shaped not just culinary expertise, but as Jill McCorkle suggests in “Remembering the Cake,” unbreakable ties to home and the people we love, long after they have passed. In her essay, McCorkle draws a clear line between her first memory of her grandmother and the failing memory of her own mother. The pound cake she brings on most visits to her mother in a nursing facility facilitates a connection to the past for her mother. Notable in this collection are not only the ties to memories of the Old South, but also the inclusion of experiences in the New South. Food influences from outside the state’s borders facilitate connections in surprising ways.

Sophia Woo sums it up best in her telling of her food truck adventures in “Vulnerability.” A North Carolina native, Woo’s frequent trips to visit family in Taiwan led to her decision to buy a food truck to bring the richness of community through the food of her ancestry to people in America. She recounts her realization that “[f]ood is our way to connect to our surroundings and connect with people” (83). After winning the national “Great Food Truck Race” contest, Woo and her business partner continue their mission to connect with people in the Triangle through traditional Asian fare. In “On Food and Other Weapons,” Diya Abdo recalls the connection between food and love in her own Palestinian heritage and how the same sentiments translate for the Syrian refugee family that she sponsors. Tom Rankin writes of raising goats that largely supply a growing immigrant population of Spanish-speakers, Africans, and Asians and of the meticulous art of Halal processing. In his essay, “Raising Goats to their Rightful Place,” Rankin contemplates the PHOTOGRAPH BY TOM RANKIN

Crab Stew,” include heirloom recipes to root themselves in place across the diverse landscape of North Carolina. The process of catching, cleaning, and cooking crabs near Smith’s homeplace on the Outer Banks goes hand in hand with the sensory pleasures of the place itself: “Late in the afternoon there comes a moment when the sun is still hot, but the wind starts to come in off the sea. Heat radiates up from the sand as the breeze cools you at the same time. When this happens, tension magically leaves my neck and shoulders for a second. I feel like I am where I belong” (73). While there is no recipe included in “Orange You Glad,” Emily Wallace describes her place through her own food traditions, simultaneously giving us a history lesson on Nabs while schooling us on the Down East rural traditions of tractor brand loyalty: “We were solidly an Allis-Chalmers and Kubota family because we were an orange family, one sustained on the likes of pimiento cheese, cheese puffs, and Cheez-Its” (88). The common thread among all of the essays is that there is no singular experience – the “where” and the “what” are communal. Community can also be found at the North Carolina table in nontraditional ways. In “Let’s Cook, EXCLAMATION POINT,” memories like Michael Parker’s developing fondness for Hamburger Helper in the 1970s remind us that while regional foodways and resulting traditions can be formative, our associations between food consumption and loved ones are powerful. With a mother who, rather than cooking elaborate weeknight meals, instead served


North Carolina on the Map and in the News

ABOVE The Bar-B-Q Center in Lexington, NC

PHOTOGRAPH BY AUTUMN GUNSLEY

hierarchy of animals and the status of goats with meaningful metaphoric undertones. Paul Cuadros invites us in to share in the story of his love of Peruvian chicken in “Pollo a la Brasa Keeps Turning in North Carolina.” The well-received spread of this cuisine allows food to become a vehicle for expression and shared experiences between cultures. Each of these narratives highlights how influences from outside the South continue to contribute to the region’s evolution through exposure to diverse cultures and enriching personal experiences. Several essays laud the iconic foodways of leaders across the state. Professor of American Studies at UNC Chapel Hill William Ferris pays tribute to the long-standing traditions of Mildred “Dip” Council of Mama Dip’s in Chapel Hill and her influence on the region. For Ferris, Mama Dip represents both the connection to the Southern food of the past – things like fried chicken livers, sweet potatoes, biscuits, and sweet tea – and to the history of life in the South. And, of course, no conversation about North Carolina foodways is complete without the mention of (and often debate about) barbeque. Daniel Wallace’s essay, “The Mesopotamia of Pork,” celebrates the traditions of barbeque in the Piedmont. The Bar-B-Q Center in Lexington is a family-owned institution that has been slow-roasting pork shoulders since 1961. Housed in the same simple brick building that Wallace claims belongs next to Julia Child’s kitchen in the Smithsonian, its longevity is a testament to the community’s commitment to the long-standing food traditions of the region while also embracing the new.

Each region of the state is well represented as Kenan describes the breadth of experiences in the collection and the geography that it covers: “We feel that our toes are digging into the beach sand while our heads are peering over Mt. Mitchell” (8). Each narrative paints distinct, yet collective, pictures about what the state gives to each author in the form of sustenance, both body and soul. A common theme across the essays is evident: The foodways of North Carolina and its people are formative and rich with experiences. While exposure to the diverse experiences from Murphy to Manteo gives us a bird’s-eye view of what life through food is like across the state, the focus of a single region, or even a single county, is an opportunity to tell a deeper story. Chef Vivian Howard does just that in her acclaimed, nearly six-hundred-page book, Deep Run Roots: Stories and Recipes from My Corner of the South. With a writing style that

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feels like she is talking to us across the kitchen table, Howard captures the essence of the foodways of Lenoir County and Eastern North Carolina and how they are inseparable from the people in the region. Her true journey began with the smell of “rank feet and rotten roughage” (417). Howard’s bold move from her big city life in Manhattan back to her roots in Eastern North Carolina to open a restaurant has taken unexpected turns, both to her benefit and to the region’s. She has said that opening an upscale restaurant like Chef and the Farmer in one of the most unlikely places in the world – the economically depressed Kinston, NC – was a risk. Initially, the food she wanted to cook, recipes inspired by her training in New York, was not the food that the community necessarily wanted. It took her some time to find her “voice” through food by finally honing in on local ingredients. Since she learned to connect with her community through food, she has become an ambassador for the way of life of the people of the region, to celebrate the local ingredients and food traditions, along with the people who cultivate them. That smelly sandwich bag of collard kraut that Howard describes in the introduction to the “Collards” chapter sent her headlong into an exploration of her native foodways. Her curiosity eventually inspired the award-winning PBS documentary, A Chef’s Life, which she co-created with childhood friend, producer Cynthia Hill. Not surprisingly, the cookbook has already earned Howard several prestigious nods, including a nomination for the James Beard


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throughout Deep Run Roots is on target with Howard’s description of life in Eastern North Carolina. The images of the people are colloquial, and the photos of the ingredient arrangements are successfully rustic. Notable, too, are the paintings of each ingredient that introduce the chapters. One of the most personal and compelling visual presentations is one of her mother, who has been afflicted with rheumatoid arthritis since she was a child, making deviled eggs. The four close-up frames of her mother’s deformed hands performing this tedious task are a powerful testament to the importance of the dish in the community. Howard has said that she wanted to exalt her mother by including her and this recipe in particular. True to Howard’s unconventional ways, the book signing tour was an event in itself, with more than forty stops across the eastern United States in a food truck. The ticketed events included both the book and a small meal – a sampling of dishes from the cookbook like the Party Magnet cheese ball, pimiento cheese grits, and traditional sausage-stuffed pig’s appendix called a Tom Thumb. Her work in telling the story of Eastern North Carolina through food traditions, both on A Chef’s Life and in her prose, is formidable and important. As Howard has said, “By raising our food traditions up, shining a light on them, and validating them, we’ve been able to give people a pride in the place they come from.”3 Like many of the writers in The Carolina Table who make connections between identity and their own experiences with food and memory, through her collection of recipes and narrative voice in Deep Run Roots, Howard successfully tells her own story. n

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Foundation Book Award and top honors in the International Association of Culinary Professionals Award (IACP), cookbook awards in four categories, including best cookbook for 2016. Those praises are well deserved. While technically in the cookbook genre, the book feels like the autobiography that Howard has had lurking deep within her soul for years. The passion she carries for the people of her community and the foodways that they celebrate emanate from her writing. The fifteen-page introduction, which she encourages the reader not to skip, includes a healthy explanation of her journey in writing the book, along with side notes and instructions for things like preparing a canning bath. The well-crafted narratives that anchor each ingredient chapter, along with the expansive headnotes in every recipe, are personal and informative.

The cookbook is organized untraditionally by twenty-four ingredients that are local to the region. The account of her life unfolds with each one. Howard writes that the organizational result is “driven by story” more than any other reason, but there are three additional ways a reader can choose a recipe: a standard, well-illustrated table of contents, a recipe guide organized by food categories, and an index. Many of the recipes are simple, featuring the ingredient of the chapter. Many are traditional Eastern North Carolina fare that introduces the reader to the customary foodways of the region. True to Howard’s gifts as a chef, the majority of the recipes elevate the simple ingredients and timehonored recipes to make the dishes her own. Each recipe is well written and easy to follow. Imagery is always an important component of a good cookbook. The photography and styling

ABOVE Introduction to Howard’s Deep Run Roots

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Vivian Howard, “The First Lady of Carolina Cooking: How 500 Pounds of Blueberries – and Returning Home to the South – Gave New Life to Chef Vivian Howard,” Saveur 21 July 2016: web.


North Carolina on the Map and in the News

LIFT EVERY VOICE a review by Walter Squire Wiley Cash. The Last Ballad: A Novel. New York: HarperCollins, 2017.

WALTER SQUIRE earned a PhD in English from the University of Tennessee, specializing in American literature and critical theory. His 2001 dissertation on “The Aesthetic Diversity of American Proletarian Fiction” included a chapter on the Gastonia mill strike novels, adapted from his 2000 NCLR essay on the female authors of these books. He taught at UNC Charlotte for almost a decade before joining the faculty at Marshall University in 2010 where is an Associate Professor of English and Director of the Film Studies program. His other publications are on American mad scientist films, cinematic depictions of teachers, Disney adaptations, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. WILEY CASH grew up in Gastonia, NC, and lives in Wilmington. He earned a BA from UNC Asheville, an MA from UNC Greensboro, and a PhD from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. He is the author of two other novels, New York Times bestseller A Land More Kind than Home (HarperCollins, 2012) and This Dark Road to Mercy (William Morrow, 2014; reviewed in NCLR Online 2015). Read more about him in an interview published in NCLR 2013.

Events live on beyond their historical moment in language, whether through speech or the written word. Perhaps second only to the trial, conviction, and execution of Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti, the 1929 strike at the Manville-Jenckes owned Loray Mill textile mill in Gastonia, NC, is the most (in)famous event in American labor history, in large part due to the words produced during and immediately after the strike. Despite the significant attention devoted to the Loray Mill strike of 1929, conditions were not considerably different than those at other Southern textile mills and during other textile mill strikes. One significant difference between other 1929 strikes and the one at the Loray Mill, however, was the presence of organizers, led by Fred Beal, from the Communist Party-affiliated National Textile Workers Union (NTWU). The Communist Party publications Daily Worker and Labor Defender made the events of the Gastonia strike national as well as international news, leading to coverage of the strike by such mainstream periodicals as Harper’s and the New York Times. Significantly, with the exception of the Gastonia Daily Gazette, which decried the actions taken by striking workers, almost all press accounts expressed sympathy for the striking workers and later the trial defendants, regardless of political orientation. One of the journalists to come to Gastonia during the strike was veteran labor reporter Mary Heaton Vorse. Vorse subsequently wrote the first novel to be based on the strike,

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Strike! (1930), completed even before the jury reached a verdict in the trial of union members. Strike! was followed by Sherwood Anderson’s Beyond Desire (1932), Olive Tilford Dargan’s Call Home the Heart (1932; written under the pseudonym Fielding Burke), Dorothy Myra Page’s Gathering Storm (1932), Grace Lumpkin’s To Make My Bread (1932), and William Rollins’s The Shadow Before (1935). These six novels are collectively known as “the Gastonia novels,” for they are based upon events during the Gastonia Loray Mill strike, even though The Shadow Before takes place in Massachusetts and Beyond Desire in Georgia. In the four novels written by women, though, women’s organization of and participation in the strike come to the forefront. Those written by Southerners – Dargan, Lumpkin, and Page – begin with women deciding to move their families to the mill towns. The family labor system within the mills gets much attention in these novels, leading to women with children to agitate for schools in the mill towns. Foremost among the organizers in these novels are those based upon the actual historical figure Ella May Wiggins. Although best known now for her ballads, such as “The Mill Mother’s Song” (posthumously known as “Mill Mother’s Lament”),1 she was instrumental in organizing African American workers in Bessemer City, where she worked as a spinner at American Number Two mill. Each of the Gastonia novels written by women, with the exception of Dargan’s, include versions of “The Mill Mother’s Song,” and they all provide accounts of Wiggins’s murder.

1

NCLR included the lyrics of “The Mill Mother’s Lament” in NCLR 2000, within the layout of Walter Squire’s essay on the Gastonia mill strike novels.


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While the previous Gastonia novelists commemorated Ella May Wiggins, Wiley Cash places her on center stage, beginning The Last Ballad with her voice, her history. Whereas the Gastonia novelists of the 1920s and 1930s were primarily concerned with class consciousness, through the voices of Ella May Wiggins and other characters, Cash highlights place, race, gender, and relationships, in addition to class. We see Wiggins before she becomes class conscious, and yet she already highlights the burdens placed upon her by her gender and class, and through those burdens she unites with her African American neighbors long before she hears any northern organizer making an argument for the necessity of racial equality. In fact, the historical Wiggins was murdered not for being a ballad singer but for her unionization of African American workers. The Last Ballad is an amazing novel, with chapters told from the perspectives of numerous characters, including Ella May Wiggins; her now elderly daughter, ABOVE Ella May Wiggins (1900–1929)

Lilly; a mill owner, Richard McAdam, and his daughter, Claire, and wife, Katherine; and Hampton Haywood, an African American labor organizer, among others. If there’s one flaw to the novel, it’s that Cash intrigues us with the voice of a character but then shifts to a new character who intrigues and onto yet another character who intrigues so that we are left wanting more from voices he has at least momentarily abandoned. This approach, however, highlights that any moment, any place is a collection of voices, people, and experiences, complicating the position-driven nature of contemporary media, which can manifest itself in historical studies, too. Cash’s implicit suggestion that every voice is important, especially those least frequently heard, produces much needed empathy. The earlier Gastonia novelists used literature as a means of political persuasion, perhaps with the desire to boost workers into class-consciousness, but, considering the time, economic, and educational constraints placed upon workers, much more likely the intended audiences were middle-class readers upon whose sympathies the texts preyed. Cash instead uses literature to build bridges of compassion. This is perhaps best demonstrated in the relationship between Ella and Katherine McAdam, the wife of a mill owner who seeks out Ella, develops a friendship with her, and assists her in helping the African American organizer Hampton Haywood escape town. Katherine never develops class consciousness, nor does she meditate upon how her wealth is dependent upon the exploitation

of mill laborers, not to mention white supremacist hierarchy, but she does feel intensely for Ella, her empathy inspired by their shared experience of having lost children. That reaching across class divide on the basis of shared experience extends Ella’s bridging the racial divide through her sharing space with her African American neighbors and co-workers. The effect of the multiplicity of voices is that The Last Ballad achieves a dialogic polyphony akin to what the literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin saw operating in the novels of Fyodor Dostoevsky. Rather than the diverse expressed thoughts, backgrounds, and experiences culminating in a synthesis, Cash’s characters retain complications and contradictions that reveal their full humanity. Figures in the proletarian Gastonia novels of the 1930s tend to fall within neat moral categories – the noble labor organizers and striking mill workers, corrupt mill owners and other members of the bourgeoisie, and, in between, residents held under the sway of a capitalist and racist system that doesn’t benefit them. However, mill owners in The Last Ballad are offered the chance of redemption, as when Richard McAdam participates in Hampton Haywood’s escape. In other cases, owners are shown to be victims themselves, and organizer and worker prejudices display an incomplete radicalization. The Goldberg brothers who run the mill where Ella works escaped European anti-Semitism to awake their first morning in North Carolina “to the orange glow of the six-foottall wooden cross afire in their front yard” (12). The Protestant power structure of Bessemer City situates the Goldbergs as “white but not American” and compels them “not to treat their workers OPPOSITE RIGHT The surviving children of

Ella May Wiggins


North Carolina on the Map and in the News

any better than any other mill . . . [nor] pay them a better wage” (13). In their new home, the Goldbergs suffer anti-Semitism from above and below, for while waiting to be reprimanded by one of the brothers, Ella begins to compose “The Mill Mother’s Song” to the tune of “Little Mary Phagan,” the latter a murder ballad written during the 1913 trial of Leo Frank, a Jewish superintendent of an Atlanta pencil factory. Frank was convicted, (historians as well as contemporary reporters from outside Georgia believe wrongfully) for killing the thirteen-year-old employee Mary Phagan, and he was lynched after the death sentence was commuted to life in prison. That Ella could simultaneously resist white and class supremacy yet participate in religious discrimination reveals both the complexity and empirical subjectivity of her character. Her knowledge of the world is derived through personal interactions. By living among African Americans she daily witnesses the sameness of her and their experiences and relationships, but her only contact with a Jewish person is as an employee treated little differently from the machinery she maintains. The partial knowledge upon which Ella operates demonstrates the importance of multi-vocal prose. No one character has a complete vision of all people’s struggles and joys. Nor can an omniscient narrator effectively communicate the emotional lives of characters, as reportage flattens feeling into generic categories. Through ample use of free indirect discourse navigates between the pitfalls of both firstand third-person narration. We are not confined to individual characters but still have access to the particular nuances of their desires, memories, disappointments, and fears

expressed through the language of their thoughts. This particularity separates The Last Ballad from earlier Gastonia novels, which tended to collapse workers’ perspectives into singular depictions of poverty and exploitation, which, while necessary for encouraging middle-class readers’ sympathy, could also result in a sort of literary slumming. Cash records suffering but also Ella’s joy in her relationships with her children and her neighbor Violet, and the pleasure of sitting on the steps of her cabin with her newfound friend Katherine, listening to “night sounds: the chirps of crickets, the occasional frog, the gurgle of the creek off in the woods where it was fed by the spring” (239). Such moments effectively stave off the tendency of the privileged to focus on lack, as noted by Nikiki Giovanni in her poem “NikkiRosa”: “and I really hope no white person ever has cause / to write about me / because they never understand / Black love is Black wealth” (ll. 27–30).2 The one character who speaks directly to readers, albeit in epistolary form through letters she

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writes to her nephew Edwin nearly eighty years after the strike and its aftermath, is Ella’s eldest child, Lilly, who is Edwin’s and our living connection to the past. Since her contribution to the novel is through writing, remembrance, and retelling the words of others, she simultaneously illustrates the slippage of experience into history, flesh into text, and how human kindness can transcend even death. She recounts a visit, a few years after her mother’s murder, from someone claiming that Ella May was “a hero. Not just to me, but to a lot of people.” Lilly concludes, “Edwin, I’m eighty-seven years old, and to this day that’s the only kind thing I’ve ever heard anyone say about my mother” (369). And yet those words provide her some solace and enough pride for her to want to pass them along. The events of the Loray Mill strike of 1929 are well recorded in historical studies as well as contemporary journalistic accounts, novelizations, and song. The Last Ballad adds kindness, joy, love, and the possible of redemption to the tragedy and loss of those events. n COURTESY OF MILLICAN PICTORIAL HISTORY MUSEUM

2

Giovanni’s 1968 poem “Nikki-Rosa” is collected in The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni, 1968–1998 (New York: Morrow, 2003) 53.


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THE BILTMORE’S UNLIKELY HERO a review by Teresa Bryson Robert Beatty. Serafina and the Black Cloak. New York: Disney Hyperion, 2015.

A native of southern Pennsylvania, TERESA BRYSON received her BA in English with a concentration in writing from Shippensburg University and her MA in English with a creative writing concentration from East Carolina University. While at ECU, she served as an NCLR editorial assistant and began work on her first novel. She has also served as a national spokesperson and educator for the American Beekeeping Federation. ROBERT BEATTY is a New York Times bestselling author of the popular children’s series Serafina, which has won the prestigious 2016 Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize. The latest installment of the series, Serafina and the Splintered Heart (Disney Hyperion, 2017), recently earned a starred review in Kirkus Reviews. Beatty currently lives with his wife and three daughters in Asheville, NC.

The Biltmore Estate, George Vanderbilt’s summer home in Asheville, NC, was completed in 1896. The Biltmore’s location in the Blue Ridge Mountains made it an ideal place for the Vanderbilts to escape from the city, host important and influential guests, and have parties. It is also an ideal setting for Robert Beatty’s debut mystery/ thriller novel for young readers, Serafina and the Black Cloak. Twelve-year-old Serafina, daughter of the Biltmore’s electrician, has lived in the basement behind the boiler for as long as she can remember. Her days are filled with exploring the estate and grounds, and her nights are occupied with completing her job as Biltmore’s C.R.C. (Chief Rat Catcher). The job, assigned to her by her father, is one she takes very seriously and she prides herself on keeping the kitchen rat free. Aside from her nightly duties, Serafina is free to do as she pleases, but her father has two rules that she must always follow, no matter what. She is not ever to go into the dark woods that surround the Biltmore,

especially at night, and she must not let anyone, other than her father, see her. If she is seen, she must not, under any circumstances, say who she is or where she lives. “Sometimes she liked to imagine what she would say if she met Mrs. Vanderbilt face-to-face. Hello, Mrs. V. I catch your rats for you. Would you like them killed or just chucked out? Sometimes she dreamed of wearing fancy dresses and ribbons . . . sometimes, she longed not just to listen secretly to the people around her, but to talk to them” (12–13). The rules have kept Serafina safe but she longs for friendship, to speak to the children that visit the Biltmore, to be seen. Serafina’s safe but lonely life is forever changed when she hears men’s dress shoes clicking against the basement floor. Curious as to who is disturbing her nightly duties, she follows the footsteps and sees a man dressed in a black cloak floating a few inches above the floor. Serafina witnesses the man snatch – and the cloak absorb – one of the

ABOVE The Louis XVI Room, Biltmore House & Gardens (made in

Switzerland by Atelier Graphique H. Vontobel, Feldmeilen), Asheville, NC


North Carolina on the Map and in the News

undetected throughout the house. These questions drive Serafina’s remarkable – and not cliché – journey of self-discovery. Braeden, like Serafina, struggles to find where he fits in. Even in a mansion full of people, he feels alone and would rather be with his dog than attend the parties his aunt and uncle host. He, like Serafina, wants someone to finally see him and accept him. Serafina and the Black Cloak tackles complicated issues, from class division to self-acceptance, thoughtfully and without preaching. Serafina recognizes that her upbringing was different from Braeden’s, and even though she sometimes longs to wear soft slippers or velvet dresses, she would not trade her life of living in the basement and catching rats for all the sweets in the Biltmore’s kitchen. She embraces her talents, like being able to see in the dark and track footprints, and it is her rat catching skills that make her able to protect Braeden and search for the missing children. This novel, which is the first in a series, is marketed for children and pre-teens. However, the second

ABOVE The Banquet Hall, featuring two of the Goeblin tapestries,

Biltmore House & Gardens (made in Switzerland by Atelier Graphique H. Vontobel, Feldmeilen), Asheville, NC

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half of the book, especially the last few chapters, drifts away from the mystery/thriller foundation and into horror. That being said, the frightening elements reflect the gravity of the children’s situation without being too graphic. But perhaps this is a series that parents will want to read with their children. Serafina and the Black Cloak is an ambitious and impressive debut novel. Serafina is memorable and inspiring in a way that few characters are. Her courage and persistence not only make her a role model but also remind us that it is not only the battles we win, but the battles we dare to fight that define us. n

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children visiting the Vanderbilts. As children continue to disappear, Serafina pleads with her father to help her find them, but he dismisses what she saw as a nightmare or one of the many stories she creates. Serafina vows to find the children and stop the man, and along the way finds an unlikely ally and possibly her first friend in Braeden, the nephew and surrogate son of the Vanderbilts. Together, Serafina and Braeden search for the mysterious man in the black cloak, hoping to stop him before he takes anyone else. Beatty excels at weaving the plot together and keeping the reader in suspense. As Serafina and Braeden work together the constant need for secrecy puts them both in dangerous and frightening situations. The stakes are even higher after it becomes clear that the man in the black cloak’s next target is Braeden. Serafina, fearful that she will lose her only friend, makes a bold decision and risks everything to save Braeden and free the missing children. While the plot keeps the reader’s attention, it is the characters who drive the novel. Serafina, though still a child, sees things that others do not and can be admired for her convictions, her refusal to let evil win, and her compassion for others. “Just because something looked different didn’t mean you just threw it away. . . . She couldn’t help but wonder what kind of world it was out there” (53). Throughout the novel she questions why she is different from everyone else, from her appearance, thin features and yellow eyes, to her ability to move

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FINALIST, 2017 JAMES APPLEWHITE POETRY PRIZE BY JANET JOYNER

Infrastructure

Mine, like the nation’s, is crumbling. This morning I forgot how to get to the Honeybaked Ham store that’s been here for decades. What’s more, once there, I couldn’t remember whether we like it with bone, or not. And getting home was just hot guessing without the GPS-ing cars now provide to guide us in reaching, as well as phoning, home – a notion that is also in flux. My first one, the one I left, had sat there for over one hundred years, a cradle redux, nest for our eggs full of those cells that convey the crux of what’s unique in our strands of tribal DNA; its beams, joists, and clapboard but a reincarnation of tree, of oak, pine, and cedar felled from the forests, the very same swamps that did see the British soldiers tremble, when Marion’s name was told; had sat there in the middle of that tiny town with the moss of its trees facing north, in Confederate tandem with that bronze Soldier planted smack dab in the middle of Main Street; with its one Post Office housing the little tarnished, copper boxes and one big, shining-brass spittoon; its one livery stable, next door to the grocer with a telephone and free delivery; its one bank with the one dentist office upstairs; and its one dry-goods emporium where Flora McIntyre,

JANET JOYNER’s prize-winning poems have been honored in Second Spring, Flying South, The Yearbook of the South Carolina Poetry Society, Bay Leaves of the North Carolina Poetry Council, and The Southern Poetry Anthology: North Carolina. Joyner was also a 2015 Applewhite finalist, and her poem “Women’s History Month” appeared in NCLR 2015. Her first collection of poems, Waterborne (Logan House, 2016), received the Holland Prize.


North Carolina on the Map and in the News

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COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

legendary, and congenitally frugal, once succumbed to a promotional packet of ten laced, linen handkerchiefs. Indecisive as she was impecunious, Flora returned them, then reclaimed them, and surrendered again, like weak flesh to temptation, so many times that Mabel Loomis from the ladies’ department was heard to exclaim, “Dear Lord, here comes Flora McIntryre again. I don’t know whether she’s got ’em, or I’ve got ’em.”

Finding Balance (mixed media collage of handprinted papers, Japanese sumi ink, and acrylic paint, 29x36) by Carol Retsch-Bogart

Ah, but how did I get here from ham?

Chapel Hill resident CAROL RETSCH-BOGART recently retired from her private psychotherapy practice and from Duke University after thirty years in the Employee Counseling Program. She earned a BA in English and Psychology from the University of Cincinnati and an MSW from Ohio State University. Her art education includes workshops at Penland School of Crafts in Spruce Pines, NC, as well as at Cullowhee Mountain Arts at Western Carolina University. She exhibits primarily at FRANK Gallery in Chapel Hill and has also exhibited at the Horace Williams House in Chapel Hill and the North Carolina Crafts Gallery in Carrboro, among other places. She is a member of the Orange County Artists Guild, the International Encaustic Artists, and the Durham Arts Guild. In 2017, she received an Emerging Artist Grant from the International Encaustic Artists. See more of her work on her website.


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WITH EYES TO SEE IT a review by Zackary Vernon Ron Rash. Above the Waterfall. New York: Ecco, 2015.

ZACKARY VERNON, originally from Pawleys Island, SC, earned a BA in English from Clemson University. From there, he moved to North Carolina to enter the master’s program at North Carolina State University, then completed his PhD in English at UNC Chapel Hill. Currently, he is a member of the faculty at Appalachian State University. In 2015, he received the premiere Alex Albright Creative Nonfiction Prize for “Boone Summer: Adventures of a Bad Environmentalist,” which was published in NCLR 2016. RON RASH, who was raised in Boiling Springs, NC, earned a BA in English from Gardner-Webb University and an MA in creative writing from Clemson University. Currently, he is the John Parris Distinguished Professor in Appalachian Studies at Western Carolina University. He is the author of seven novels, six collections of short stories, and five collections of poetry. His numerous honors include the O. Henry Prize, the James Still Award, and the North Carolina Award for Literature. He has been regularly featured in NCLR.

For more than a decade Ron Rash has been hailed by critics for being one of the most significant contemporary Southern and Appalachian writers. With the publication of his 2015 novel Above the Waterfall, I believe Rash also deserves to be among the ranks of the nation’s most insightful environmental writers. The novel is told in first person, alternating between the two main characters, Becky and Les. Three weeks prior to his retirement as a sheriff, Les becomes embroiled in controversy when a stocked trout river on the grounds of an upscale resort in western North Carolina is poisoned, killing a high number of prized trout. The primary suspect for the crime is Gerald, an irascible but kindhearted old man who has become a friend and father figure to Becky. A superintendent at the Locust Creek Park, located on the Blue Ridge Parkway, Becky is psychologically unstable, after living through a deadly shooting when she was in elementary school and subsequently enduring emotionally unavailable parents. So when Gerald, the closest thing to family that Becky has, is accused of poisoning the river and is facing serious jail time, she defends him with a fierce loyalty. Becky also enlists the help of Les, with whom she has a recurring romantic interest, to investigate and hopefully exonerate Gerald. Throughout the novel, Les’s narration is sparse and often feels like Southern noir, similar to a James Lee Burke novel. Becky’s lyrical ruminations are reminiscent of early Annie Dillard, and they are in turns haunted by her past and compelled by her appreciation of the natural world around her. Although a painter and connoisseur of the visual arts, especially the work of Edward Hopper, Les

is no wordsmith. Becky, however, creates passages so rich in detail that it is possible to visualize them as paintings. Rash makes this parallel between the visual and the literary arts particularly clear in a scene in which Becky equates the techniques of Vincent Van Gogh to that of Gerard Manly Hopkins: “I walk down the loop trail, pass foxglove past bloom. Midsummer their flowers dangled like soft yellow bells. I’d wished them a breeze so they might silently ring. The same yellow as Van Gogh’s sunflowers. Vincent’s thick paint, like Hopkins’ thick sounds” (26). As this passage demonstrates, the characters in Above the Waterfall are obsessed with landscape, and throughout the novel Rash chronicles the transition in western North Carolina from agriculture to tourism (and generally ecotourism). In an epigraph-like section that precedes the novel’s first chapter, Becky states, “I sit on ground cooling, soon dew-damp. Near me a moldboard plow long left. Honeysuckle vines twine green cords, white flowers attached like Christmas lights. I touch a handle slick from wrist shifts and sweaty grips . . . But this plow has wearied into sleep. How long lying here? Perhaps a decade” (3–4). The meadow in which Maggie sits, once part of a patchwork of Appalachian farms in the area, now belongs to the Blue Ridge Parkway, a 469–mile stretch of interconnected national parks designed to bolster tourism in the region. When Becky later observes the meadow from the vantage point of a peak above it, she imaginatively transforms the darkening space below into the Lascaux caves in southwestern France, where some of the most well preserved examples of Paleolithic cave paintings have been discovered. She says,


North Carolina on the Map and in the News

Lascaux. What wonder to have made such a descent. Tar-pitched torch wood swabbing stone with light. Swerves and drops and slant downs. Dark rushing up behind each step. Then to find them there in the cave’s hollow core – bison and ibex, but others lost elsewhere to the world: saber cats and woolly mammoths, irish elk. All live-motioned in the wavering light, girthed by curves of stone. Amid it all the runic human handprint. Where less art’s veil between us and the world? How strange that Hopkin’s quill scratches let me see more. Invisioning before seeing. But the first message there inside the cave walls. What wonder yet echoes from the world’s understory. (4)

This beautifully crafted passage reveals several themes that reverberate throughout the entire novel. First, in imagining the original explorers descending into the Lascaux caves, Becky summons forth a whole lost world of animals, some now endangered and some extinct. Centrally located within this menagerie is the “runic human handprint,” a symbol of humans’ connection to these animals and also perhaps a dark harbinger of the role they will play in the extinction of some of them. This passage also brings up the question of how art helps or hinders our perceptions of reality and, more specifically, the natural world. Becky suggests that art – the cave paintings for prehistoric humans or the poetry of Gerard Manly Hopkins for her – can lead to a heightened awareness – an “invisioning” – of the world around us. Becky’s last sentence in this section – “What wonder yet echoes from the world’s understory” – provides an evocative pun in that “understory” suggests both underground caves as well as a sort of pre-history of humans’ relationship with the natural world and how that relationship is often inspired and mediated by art.

While Becky is by far the most compelling character in the novel and one of the most interesting in Rash’s entire body of work, and while her conceptions of deep time and environmental sensitivity are not replicated elsewhere in the novel, other characters do similarly meditate on the environmental and cultural transitions that the region has recently undergone. Les, like Becky, notices the ways in which western North Carolina has changed as a direct result of the tourist industry. In describing the resort, Les states, On the left, the woods fell away, replaced by grass as manicured as a golf green, farther back the stone lodge itself. With its sixty rooms and three stories, the building parted the woods like a battleship, the same gray color and every bit as solid. A crazy idea, people had thought, turning the Tucker family’s best bottomland into a tourist destination, but Harold Tucker had known what he was doing. (28)

Here we see that in a single generation Harold, the resort’s owner, has transformed his family’s best farmland into a playground for tourists from outside the region. The lodge itself invades this onceidyllic farmstead like a battleship, and its fields have been replaced with lawns so manicured they resemble a golf course. The principal draw for the resort’s guests is its stocked trout fishing river. Les describes the tourists as looking like they are posing for an Orvis catalog, while Gerald, whose property borders the resort, is said to look like “he just walked off the set of Deliverance” (17). As a result, Gerald terrifies the tourists, and the resort’s manager is constantly expelling him from the property. Gerald cannot stay away from the resort’s river, however,

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because he is obsessed with the speckled or brook trout that live there. The only trout native to the region, speckled trout are being replaced by rainbow and brown trout that are more desirable to the majority of tourist anglers. The speckled trout, though, seem to represent a last vestige of authentic Appalachia and thus to some are enticing. These trout exist “above the waterfall,” a literal and metaphorical space in the world of the novel that evokes a sort of backwater wherein the purportedly authentic, as opposed to the fake and commercialized, facets of the landscape and culture still exist. Locals, especially Gerald, have a romantic fascination with the speckled trout, and Gerald becomes a suspect for their poisoning precisely because he often ventures onto the resort property, above the waterfall, to visit them. Rash is careful not to insinuate that all that is designed for the consumption of tourists is commodified simulacra. Rather than copies of copies of what tourists expect (for example, rainbow trout), the region still contains elements that are exceptional (speckled trout), and these tend to be natural, not cultural. Rash suggests in Above the Waterfall, as he has in previous works, that engaging with such natural environments has tremendous therapeutic potential. For Becky, who is traumatized by witnessing a mass shooting while in elementary school, this has been true since she was a child. Reminiscent of the protagonist of Sarah Orne Jewett’s famous 1886 short story “A White Heron,” Becky goes to live on her grandparents’ farm as a child to overcome the traumas of her past. While there, Becky’s connection to the mountainous landscape


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enables her at least partially to heal. She states, “I had not spoken since the morning of the shooting. Then one day in July my grandparents’ neighbor nodded at the ridge gap and said watershed” (13). So moved is she by visiting the granite rock face that appears to be shedding tears that Becky herself has a kind of watershed moment, slowly but surely overcoming her trauma and regaining the ability to speak. The assertion in Above the Waterfall that a positive relationship with the natural world can lead to the health of individuals and communities is not unique in Rash’s body of work. The novel is, however, unique in that the environmentalists present are far more extreme than those in any of Rash’s previous works. Most notably, Becky’s ex-boyfriend, Richard, who over the course of their relationship becomes a homicidal environmental warrior, is described as a “terrorist” twice (9, 99) and an “ecoterrorist” once (10). In a memory that Becky has of Richard, she notes how a rather ordinary protest over a coal company’s negligence toward human and nonhuman life turned violent when Richard physically assaulted a coal company worker. Richard had become more extreme over the years, and Les explains that he hatched a scheme that, if it had worked as planned, “would have killed more people than Ted Kaczynski and Eric Rudolph combined” (9). Richard’s eye-for-an-eye philosophy eventually led him to rationalize the killing of people who harm the environment, and he even began to think of children as acceptable forms of collateral damage. To be clear, Rash does not condone Richard’s approach to

environmental preservation, nor does the novel suggest that radical environmental groups like Earth First! or Earth Liberation Front are effective. But the very fact that a so-called ecoterrorist can make it into the pages of a Rash novel is significant. With the world currently facing unprecedented environmental concerns – from carbon emissions and climate change to the loss of biodiversity and rising sea levels – activist tactics are bound to become more radical, particularly if legislative measures either are not put into place or are not implemented. However, Rash refuses to privilege Richard’s perspective, and instead Becky gets the final word when it comes to protecting the environment. While she is certainly as radical as Richard when it comes to a desire for environmental justice, Becky does not believe that the end justifies the means. Therefore, protecting the environment via illegal means, especially violence, is not part of her conservationist toolbox. PHOTOGRAPH BY MIKE BELLEME

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Instead, she uses her role with the park service to educate people, especially children, about the sacredness of the natural world. On one occasion, she asks a group of schoolchildren, “If you had a friend who’d never seen a fish swimming in a stream, what would you tell that friend the fish looks like?” (24). The children respond eagerly, making comparisons between a fish and flag, for instance. The point of this scene is that Becky has opened the children’s eyes in a new way, enabling them to engage with nonhuman life in a manner that they have never experienced before. In this regard, Becky becomes similar to the cave paintings and the Hopkins poems that she mentions in the opening of the novel. Becky, like the paintings and poems that precede her, works to draw people closer to the natural world, a bridge collapsing the distance between the two and showing, as Hopkins says, “HOW NEAR AT HAND IT WAS / IF THEY HAD EYES TO SEE IT” (23). n


North Carolina on the Map and in the News

REDEMPTION IN THE IMPRISONING MOUNTAINS a review by Savannah Paige Murray Ron Rash. The Risen: A Novel. New York: Ecco, 2016.

SAVANNAH PAIGE MURRAY is pursuing a PhD in Rhetoric & Writing at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. She recently completed her master’s degree in Appalachian Studies at Appalachian State University, where her thesis examined John Ehle’s use of the post-pastoral in his “Mountain Novels” set in western North Carolina.

OPPOSITE LEFT Ron Rash at his home in

Sylva, NC, 2015

Although born in Chester, SC, for novelist, poet, and short story writer Ron Rash, home was always the mountains of North Carolina. Over the past decade, Rash has become the voice of these mountains, a writer who reminds readers of the value, legacy, and promise of Appalachian culture. As John Lang describes in Understanding Ron Rash, Rash works to “commemorate Appalachian history and culture,” an impulse that arises “not from nostalgia but from his conviction of that culture’s ongoing relevance to fundamental human concerns.” Lang emphasizes that loss, mortality, and familial bonds are all “central to Rash’s literary vision, one that is simultaneously, self-consciously regional and universal.” Rash believes that writing well about one place holds truths for all places and people. In his essay on “The Importance of Place,” Rash asserts “one of the most interesting aspects of literature is how the most intensely regional literature is often the most universal.”* In his latest novel, The Risen, Rash delivers a regional murder mystery that poses universal questions about loss, mortality, and familial bonds, and leaves readers wondering what happens to those who do not achieve the life they once desired. In The Risen, readers meet protagonist Eugene Matney, an alcoholic writer who cannot seem to put words to page as easily as he can put his lips to a liquor bottle. Eugene is well-acquainted with loss. Estranged from his only daughter, divorced from his wife, and alienated from his community,

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Eugene is a man haunted by the missteps of his past. When an unidentified corpse is discovered in Eugene’s hometown of Sylva, NC, he begins to seriously contemplate the sins of his youth, as a teenager who discovered sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll in the summer of 1969. For Eugene this loss of innocence came in the form of Ligeia Moseley, a redheaded “mermaid” who seduced both Eugene and his older brother encouraging Eugene to sneak Quaaludes from his grandfather’s medical office and buy beer before meeting up with her down at Panther Creek. But forty-six years later, when Eugene reads the headline “Remains Identified as Jane Moseley” and realizes that Ligeia never successfully left town as she had planned but had in fact died by their old hangout along Panther Creek, he “crawled into that whiskey bottle and stayed there” (10). Eugene tells us in the novel’s opening line that “[f]rom the beginning, Ligeia’s ability to appear or disappear seemed magical” (5). But unfortunately for Eugene, Ligeia has never disappeared from his memory, and the version of his future self that Ligeia inspired haunts Eugene nearly half a century after her disappearance. Throughout the novel, Eugene addresses readers in the first person, flitting back and forth between memories of his brief but intimate affair with Ligeia and the present-day worries elicited by the discovery of her corpse. Between memories of childhood and the pains of adulthood, there is an endearing common

* John Lang, Understanding Ron Rash (Columbia: U of South Carolina P, 2014): 4–5; Ron Rash, “On Writing: The Importance of Place,” Marly Rusoff Literary Agency: web.


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thread, Eugene’s love of literature. Because Rash himself is an avid reader, his work is often rich with intertextuality. Readers can discover a striking resemblance to Lady Macbeth in the protagonist of Rash’s novel Serena (2008), allusions to the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins in Above the Waterfall (2015), and direct references to James Dickey’s Deliverance in Rash’s One Foot in Eden (2002). Additionally, readers of The Risen find a novel centered on the psychological toil of murder, much like Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. With additional nods to literary giants like Steinbeck, Hemingway, Poe, and London, Rash’s The Risen is ripe with literary connections. Eugene seems to have inherited his love of literature and letters from his mother as he tells us, “[T]he book she cherished most was Look Homeward Angel.” Eugene’s mother encouraged her sons to read because she wanted them to “see there could be more” within them than the career in medicine that

their over-bearing grandfather, who was also a physician, aggressively pushed them toward (30–31). Unlike his older brother, who did become a doctor, Eugene tells us that he went to university thinking “that, like Wolfe, I might write my own small-town novel” (90). As a young man, Eugene saw writing as his ticket out of his small hometown and out of the landscape that surrounded it. He hoped that much like Thomas Wolfe, he too “could escape the ‘imprisoning mountains’” (156). Eugene and Ligeia bonded over this shared desire to flee, and they began to daydream about abandoning the mountain environment for someplace with more sun and sand. The dramatic irony that neither Eugene nor Ligeia left western North Carolina is not lost on readers. Eugene never did follow in the footsteps of Thomas Wolfe, and the discovery of Ligeia’s body demonstrates that she never made it to Miami as she so desired. Instead, Ligeia’s last words to Eugene come to haunt

Congratulations to Terry Roberts for receiving the James Still Award for Writing about the Appalachian South. The author’s ancestors have lived in Western North Carolina since the Revolutionary War; he grew up in Weaverville and now lives in Asheville. Both of his award-winning novels are set in Hot Springs in Madison County. His third novel is forthcoming in 2018. Read an interview with Roberts about his first novel, A Short Time to Stay Here (2012), in NCLR 2014,* and, in NCLR Online 2014, an excerpt cut out of an early draft of that novel, which he shared with our readers. Roberts has written about Elizabeth Spencer and John Ehle for NCLR, and we are so pleased to see his work regularly awarded since he turned to writing his own fiction. n

* Roberts and Ron Rash were interviewed by Zackary Vernon about their World War I novels, both set in the German internment camp in Boiling Springs, NC.

COURTESY OF TERRY ROBERTS

TERRY ROBERTS RECEIVES JAMES STILL AWARD

readers with their prescience: “If I don’t return to the ocean, I’ll just die” (159). When I first read The Risen, I found myself wondering what this book means for those of us who stay in Appalachia and other regions often considered “backward” or “isolated”? Does this mean that we too will end up dead like Ligeia, or perhaps wishing we were, like Eugene? In some ways, I found this novel surprising and out of step with Rash’s legacy as a writer who works to “commemorate Appalachian history and culture” (Lang 4). But The Risen is not so much about Appalachia as it is about the universal struggle over mistakes and their aftermath. Although Eugene never did make it to Paris to write like Thomas Wolfe once did, ultimately there is a tale of redemption in The Risen. Rash offers readers a story about loss, mortality, the problematic nature of family life, and a glimpse into a world where, even if it comes 46 years late, we do have the choice to redeem ourselves through kindness and decency. n

ABOVE Terry Roberts with former Still Award winner Ron Rash at the SouthWord Literary Feast, Chattanooga, TN, 3 Nov. 2017


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“[T]here are a lot of people who are in writing as kind of a hobby and then there are people who are in it for life. I think the people who are in it for life can’t stop.”—Ron Rash (Conversations 20)

IN IT FOR LIFE a review by Anna Dunlap Higgins-Harrell Mae Miller Claxton and Rain Newcomb, editors. Conversations with Ron Rash (Oxford: University Press of Mississippi, 2017).

ANNA DUNLAP HIGGINS-HARRELL grew up in Blowing Rock, NC, a small town in the highlands of Watauga County. She earned her PhD from the University of Tennessee and is now a Professor at Gordon State College in Barnesville, GA, where she also serves as Director of the Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning. She has published several essays in NCLR based on interviews with North Carolina writers, including Ron Rash, and for the 2016 (twenty-fifth) issue, revisited her subjects and published an update featuring all of them. MAE MILLER CLAXTON is a Professor of English at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, NC, where she teaches classes in Southern, Appalachian, and Native American literature. She is the editor of Conversations with Dorothy Allison (University Press of Mississippi, 2012), a contributing editor to the Heath Anthology of American Literature (Cengage Learning, 2009), and co-editor of the McMichael Anthology of American Literature (Prentice Hall, 2003). Her scholarship focuses primarily on Eudora Welty, and she served as president of the Eudora Welty Society from 2010 to 2012. Her recent work is on Appalachian writer Horace Kephart and the Native South. As the Hunter Scholar for 2012– 2013, she is developing a number of projects from the Kephart collection in Hunter Library.

How would an editor prepare a collection of interviews with Ron Rash, the Appalachian author of five collections of poetry, six collections of short stories, and seven novels? That question is exactly what I asked myself when I first heard of the approximately two-hundred page Conversations with Ron Rash, a collection of twenty-two interviews edited by Mae Miller Claxton and Rain Newcomb. After all, there are so many interviews, covering so many years and so many stages of the author’s career: there are the ones in little-known journals when Rash himself was barely known; there are interviews in regional periodicals as the career began to garner the attention of scholars of North Carolina literature; there are pieces in Southern literary journals as the reputation continued to grow; then came the post-Serena (2008) explosion of interviews in a multitude of acclaimed national news sources, followed soon after by a growing collection of interviews conducted overseas. How indeed would anyone go about the project of selecting? While I cannot say how many countless hours of work such an editorial endeavor took, I can vouch for the worth of the outcome. For a compilation of interviews spanning sixteen years, Conversations with Ron Rash is a very compelling and cohesive text,

a work so saturated with Rash’s voice that it reads much like one of his novels. Part of what makes Conversations such an effective addition to Ron Rash scholarship has to do with the medium itself. The collection is a fascinating study of the history and nature of the Ron Rash interview. Although beginning on Appalachian soil with an interview that originally appeared in the Mossy Creek Reader, the interview locale in this new edition moves from there to places like Boston and then to Australia and France. Even the methods of interviewing Ron Rash add details to this story of the author’s career. A few of the interviews were conducted by phone, first with the overworked teacher in his office at TriCounty Technical College, then later with Rash, the John Parris Chair of Appalachian Cultural Studies, tucked away in his mountain cabin near Western Carolina University. One is an NPR Broadcast with Rash set up in borrowed studio space at Clemson University. Other interviews are face to face: Jeff Daniel Marion speaks with the little-known poet at the Appalachian Center on the campus of Carson-Newman College; Joyce Compton Brown, long-time neighbor and a mentor to Rash during his years at Gardner-Webb, interviews the writer in front of the crowd at the 2003 Ron Rash

RAIN NEWCOMB lives in Asheville, NC. She is a former lecturer at Western Carolina University. Lark Books has published several of her children’s and young adult books, including Is My Hamster Wild?: The Secret Lives of Hamsters, Gerbils & Guinea Pigs (2008); The Mad Scientist’s Notebook: Warning! Dangerously Wacky Experiments Inside (2008); The Master Spy Handbook: Help Our Intrepid Hero Use Gadgets Codes & Top-Secret Tactics to Save the World from Evil Doers (2005); and Kids’ Crafts: Paper Fantastic: 50 Creative Projects to Fold, Cut, Glue, Paint & Weave (2004).


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Literary Festival on the campus of Emory & Henry College; Thomas AErvold Bjerre chats with the writer in a hotel room before viewing the scene of the Shelton Laurel massacre with him; and Frédéerique Spill talks with the international celebrity in Paris when he was an invited guest at the Saint-Malo Festival des Étonnants Voyageurs in 2014. As that small sampling suggests, the interviewers themselves add interest to this collection. A Northern interviewer poses a couple of questions that made this particular Southern reviewer a wee bit defensive. Overseas interviewers speak of “Carolina” as if there is only one. A few of the interviewers are poets or prose writers themselves. Reading their interviews is at times a humbling experience, watching as two artists outdo each other with their vast knowledge of writers, from great canonical figures to those practically unnoticed beyond Appalachia. One interviewer has some fun with Rash by subjecting him to a few questions from the Proust questionnaire; consequently, we learn that his favorite flavor is chocolate. A handful of interviewers dive very deep, asking Rash questions that make him stop and think, a couple prompting stories and comments that appear very rarely in print. Initially, a few of the interviews left me frustrated that Rash had to once again answer a question that he had already addressed several times. Hadn’t those interviewers done their homework? And why did Claxton and Newcomb select pieces containing repeated questions? Although I at first found myself asking these types of questions,

I soon began to see the Ron Rash interview in a different light. I began to sense the need for each interviewer to hear for him or herself that although he was born in South Carolina the North Carolina highlands are Rash’s “spirit country,” to listen as he describes the ways in which the Appalachian landscape taught him that the natural world is “a place of mystery, a place of wonder,” to experience first-hand Rash’s story of his grandfather’s reading of The Cat in the Hat, those now famous first moments when the artist caught a glimpse into the “magical” nature of language. Ultimately, it is when Conversations with Ron Rash takes a reader again and again into the same terrain of the author’s life and career that we especially sense the cohesiveness of the collection: the interviews evidence a beautiful leit motif. The genius of Conversations is that it collects interviews that highlight some of the most significant explanations that Rash has given about his life and his art. For me, the most telling refrains come when Rash speaks about the call of writing. According to him, there are two types of writers, those who write as a “kind of hobby” and those “who are in it for life”; of that type, Rash declares, “I think the people who are in it for life can’t stop” (20). In describing what it is like to live as one called to write, Rash often repeats himself, so much so that Conversations becomes something of a collection of “Rashisms” about his craft. He writes almost every day, even on days when he would “rather stab the

pencils into [his] eyes than write another sentence.” All of his works “begin with an image” that haunts him. Such hauntings can reach “fever” pitch; when they do, Rash knows that the image will evolve into a novel. The frequent appearance of such refrains speaks to the editorial care that went into the preparation of Conversations with Ron Rash. Claxton and Newcomb succeed in blending frequently referenced interviews with lesser known ones; in doing so, they provide a rich history of the Ron Rash interview, one that carefully documents some of the author’s most telling comments about his writing. We once again hear the voice of the virtually unknown poet as he describes what it was like to teach up to seven courses a semester at TriCounty yet still feel compelled to write every day. We once again sense the great physical and spiritual exhaustion after the completion of Serena. And we once again feel the intensity as image after image evolved into novel after novel, interviewers scheduled on a particular book tour having to deal also with Rash’s excitement about another book already in the works. Interestingly, Claxton and Newcomb themselves had to contend with this situation. While Conversations was going to print, the prolific author published both a new collection of poetry and a new novel, triggering a brand new landslide of interviews. When I think about it, perhaps that very fact points to the greatest strength of this collection: Conversations with Ron Rash makes it clear that this writer is “in it for life.” n


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PHOTOGRAPH BY RAY COUCH, AYCOCK BROWN COLLECTION; COURTESY OF THE OUTER BANKS HISTORY CENTER, STATE ARCHIVES OF NORTH CAROLINA

SEA, SAND, AND HUMAN HANDS a review by Alton Ballance David Blevins. North Carolina’s Barrier Islands: Wonders of Sand, Sea, and Sky. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017. Karen Willis Amspacher and Barbara Garrity-Blake. Living at the Water’s Edge: A Heritage Guide to the Outer Banks Byway. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2017.

ALTON BALLANCE is a lifelong resident of Ocracoke, NC, and the author of Ocracokers (University of North Carolina Press, 1989). He is also a Fellow at the North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching. DAVID BLEVINS is a nature photographer as well as a forest ecologist. He co-authored, with Michael P. Schafale, Wild North Carolina: Discovering the Wonders of Our State’s Natural Communities (University of North Carolina Press, 2011). KAREN WILLIS AMSPACHER is the director of the Core Sound Waterflow Museum and Heritage Center on Harkers Island. She is descended from Shackleford Banks fishermen and boat builders. BARBARA GARRITY-BLAKE is a cultural anthropologist and has long been interested in the twenty-one villages along the byway extending from the north end of Hatteras through the east region of Carteret County. She lives in Gloucester, NC.

water’s edge through the lens of his camera, providing penetrating views into “the best remaining natural areas on North Carolina’s barrier islands” (ix).

For someone visiting the Outer Banks of North Carolina, especially for the first time, two books will serve as perfect guides to the human and natural worlds in this place of change and adaptation. Barbara Garrity-Blake and Karen Willis Amspacher’s Living at the Water’s Edge: A Heritage Guide to the Outer Banks Byway and David Blevins’s North Carolina’s Barrier Islands: Wonders of Sand, Sea, and Sky approach life at the water’s edge from two different angles, where the lens of experience draws into focus the vast life of sea, sand, and human hands. For Garrity-Blake and Amspacher, their lens is the road and how it “is a lifeline for people living on the edge.” They also recognize that this road connecting people to places and experiences “like the sounds it crosses and the ocean it parallels, is ever-changing” (xv). Blevins, a nature photographer and forest ecologist, sees the ABOVE “Gals with Grey Trout” surf fishing

off Hatteras Island, NC

Living at the Water’s Edge is one of University of North Carolina Press’s Southern Gateway Guides, “giving you the tools and inspiration to see the region anew” (xv). The authors lead visitors and readers along the 138 driving miles of the Outer Banks National Scenic Byway, designated in 2009 as part of the National Scenic Byways program. The reason for this program and its vision of creating “a distinctive collection of American roads, their stories and treasured places” seems fitting for the Outer Banks Byway communities and the particular lens that Barbara Garrity-Blake and Karen Willis Amspacher try to represent.1 Both are collectors of stories. GarrityBlake is a cultural anthropologist 1

Quotation from “U.S. Transportation Secretary Mineta Names 36 New National Scenic Byways, All-American Roads,” press release, US Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration, 13 June 2002: web.


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PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVID BLEVINS

who has been researching and writing about fishing communities in the area for the past thirty years, particularly oral histories for the National Park Service.2 Amspacher was born and raised on Harkers Island and has deep roots in the Down East communities, with stories abounding from sound to sea, and is the founding director of the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum and Heritage Center on Harkers Island. As they write about the twenty-one communities of Down East, Ocracoke, and Hatteras, they want readers to know that their guide is “not so much a list of places to stop as a collection of voices and stories to deepen understanding of the people and places along the way” (xvi). Living at the Water’s Edge is divided into two main sections: the first, organized around the themes of water, land, people and change, and how these bind communities together; the second, around “crossings” that take travelers to different parts of the byway. Each section is supported by photographs that also represent how people, past and present, worked, played, and passed along stories to the next generation. They cover each of these communities with stories from residents, also past and present, which reflect life at the water’s edge, through good times and bad, all told with eyes and ears tuned toward how “folks not only survived but flourished, in a remarkably dynamic place” (xvi). One of these dynamic places, Shackleford Banks, speaks in a deeply personal way to Amspacher, whose ancestors once prospered there as fishermen, whalers and boat builders, before storms

and industrialization forced people off the banks inland. Whether they eventually settled at Harkers Island or other communities, these seasoned islanders adapted to their new homes, carrying with them the skills and determination to continue a life still close to the water’s edge. Few experiences highlight the Outer Banks like the crossings required to get places. Readers can consider past times when days of travel on sandy roads to inlets crossed by sailboats was the only road to access these byway communities. Even today’s modern roads, bridges, and ferries are sometimes no match for the halting forces of wind, water, and shifting sands. Still, when travelers take the time to make any of these crossings, each of the communities that awaits them hold the stories collected in Living at the Water’s Edge. Garrity-Blake and Amspacher have compiled a worthy collection that will enrich anyone’s experience, whether firsttime visitor or long-time residents looking to reconnect with their own salty roots. Of the 160 photographs in North Carolina’s Barrier Islands

Read an interview with Barbara Garrity-Blake and an earlier collaborator, Susan West, in NCLR 2005.

by David Blevins, three include people. He chooses instead to train his lens on the natural wonders of this watery world, especially those places that still reflect areas untouched by human development. Each of the sections covering the North Carolina coast from North Currituck Banks to Bird Island is introduced by beautifully and succinctly written passages that share enough information to frame the photographs that follow. His photographs show sweeping landscapes of sand, sea, and sky that inspire one to forget the roads, bridges, and ferries catering to the human world and look closer – much closer. As you spend time with each photograph, especially those that capture many of the fleeting seashore creatures, you will be introduced to Blevins’s hope that we recognize what makes each of these places unique and beautiful. He adds, “[B]ut the wonders we find along the way are only the inspiration for beauty. It is the act of appreciation that creates beauty in each mind” (ix). Like Garrity-Blake and Amspacher, Blevins recognizes the state of constant change along the North Carolina coast, selecting in his ABOVE A sunrise over Currituck Banks, NC,

photographed by David Blevins


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preface the word “impermanence” and how barrier islands are places to appreciate the “natural rhythms rather than become attached to any particular current state” (ix). It is this state of not being permanent, of being free to change, of being “surrounded by the cycles of nature” (11) that draws Blevins’s interest. The moments he captures with his photographs, though fleeting, mirror timeless scenes along these seashore stretches. Such moments are visible while looking at the sharply focused sanderlings probing wet sand or a dawn lightdrenched tide line of scattered

and broken shells, “relicts of the distant past” (2). How many of us have looked closely into the eyes of a seaside grasshopper or the whitelip globe snail? As you pay particular attention to the photographs of birds flocked together, you will keep in mind his preface statement that “we modern humans do not share our world as well as our fellow creatures do” (ix). Traveling the entire length of North Carolina’s coast today certainly reveals the impact of human hands along our seashore and the importance therefore of the places that have been set aside for these wonders of sand, sea, and sky.

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Though representing different experiences of life at the water’s edge, these three authors share an understanding that to continue loving places of constant change such as our barrier islands, we must be willing to make sacrifices, accept change, and move forward. Life at the edge of the sea can indeed be difficult but rewarding. Stories of adaptation are endless – from seasoned islanders descended from early settlers to each grain of sand. As Blevins writes, “Edges are special places, where species from one environment meet species from another” (90). n

BLAND SIMPSON RECEIVES 2017 CALDWELL HUMANITIES AWARD

ABOVE Ann Cary Simpson presents the Caldwell Award

to her husband, Bland Simpson, at the UNC Friday Conference Center, Chapel Hill, 27 Oct. 2017

COURTESY OF NORTH CAROLINA HUMANITIES COUNCIL

Bland Simpson received the 2017 John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities in recognition of his achievements as a professor, an environmentalist, an author, a musician, and a public humanities advocate. This honor will be of no surprise to NCLR’s regular readers, who have met the author wearing each of these hats in our pages: Professor Bland Simpson’s former student Nathan Dixon reflects upon his teacher’s influence upon his own writing aspirations in an NCLR 2016 issue; Simpson’s essay about the Cashie River appeared in NCLR 2011, which featured environmental writing; his books have been reviewed in several back issues; he wrote about his experiences in musical theatre in a 2009 issue essay; and he advocates for the value of the humanities in the essay that opened NCLR’s 2013 issue. You’ll find another Simpson essay in our 2018 print issue due out later this year. Currently the Kenan Distinguished Professor of English and Creative Writing at UNC Chapel Hill, Simpson is a two-time recipient of the Chapman Award for Excellence in Teaching, and he has won dozens of other awards, including the R. Hunt Parker Memorial Award for literary achievement, given by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association, and the North Carolina Award in Fine Arts, given by the state governor. He is the author of nine books, including, most recently, Little Rivers & Waterway Tales, which was reviewed in NCLR Online 2017, and he is the pianist for the Tony Award-winning band The Red Clay Ramblers and the Coastal Cohorts.

Simpson serves on the board of the North Carolina Coastal Federation and at their thirty-fifth anniversary celebration in Morehead City, he expressed his enduring commitment to the environment with this challenge to his audience: “Let us be the Clean Water State, for ourselves, for our children and our children’s children, and as an exemplar for our sister states, and for lands and peoples well beyond our borders. Fellow citizens, working together for a healthy coast, let us make our many waters living models to the world!”* Simpson has been and continues to be an inspiration to many, and he is an eminently worthy recipient of this award. n

* “Bland Simpson’s 35th Anniversary Toast,” North Carolina Coastal Federation 8 Aug. 2017: web.


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A SHORT STORY BY LEAH HAMPTON

By the time May took the frog lamps, Larry was losing Hollow Rock. First she took the big stuff – loveseat, dining table, three bookshelves. When it was just State Forest Service guys like himself putting out small brush fires, before the election, before everything burned or surrendered, there had still been dishes in the cabinets.

WITH ART BY DONALD SULTAN LEAH HAMPTON is a native North Carolinian who taught English at Western Carolina University. In 2012 she won the Doris Betts Fiction Prize with her story “The Saint,” which was published in NCLR 2013. She is currently in graduate school at the University of Texas at Austin, where she won the Keene Prize for Literature for “Boomer.” This $50,000 prize is open to UT students “to encourage the writing and publishing of good American Literature, to lend financial support to the creators of such literature, and to enhance the prestige and reputation in the world market of American writers both now and in the future.”

The first of October was warm, and they were having some usual fight. This time, when May said it wasn’t worth it, that they ought to just hang it up, instead of punching walls, Larry nodded. All right, Maybelle, he said. Then that’s what we’ll do. May didn’t understand. You want to me to go? You’ve been trying to a long time, Larry said. She blinked. What would I do? Whatever you want, Larry said. Don’t take care of me. May narrowed her eyes. What is wrong with you? A lot I reckon, Larry said. May repeated each question, rewording each time. Larry answered the same. The next morning he got called in to assist a team on the Qualla Boundary with a quick-spreading fire close to state lands. Some kids had left their cookout at one of the campgrounds. Twelve wildfires Recipient of the North Carolina Award in the Fine Arts, DONALD SULTAN was born in Asheville, NC. He earned a BFA from the UNC Chapel Hill and an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His work has been exhibited internationally in numerous solo and group exhibitions. Selected public collections include the Ackland Art Museum at UNC Chapel Hill, the North Carolina Museum of Art, the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, the Tate Gallery in London, and The Museum of Contemporary Art in Tokyo. The artist lives and works in New York, where his work appears in the collections of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Museum of Modern Art, the Guggenheim Museum, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. His many honors include honorary doctorates from the Corcoran School of Art in Washington, DC, the New York Academy of Art, and UNC Asheville. He was also honored with a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Houston Fine Art Fair in 2011. See more of his work on his website.


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his rucksack, and pulled out three pairs of wet, filthy socks. He flung them over the white porch railing. They hung limp and grey like rotting game skins. I’m moving over to my sister’s, May told him through the screen door. I’m not staying in this old place. You can have it. Larry nodded. He looked across the yard, up the dirt road to the swell of mountain behind his land, and pulled the Ben Gay out of his pocket like he was cupping a moth. The trees twinkled amber, gold. He didn’t mention that it wasn’t her house to COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

had already started up north. Larry scowled into his phone and watched amateur videos posted from Kentucky. None had more than a hundred views. He drove out to Cherokee and spent two days stopping the cookout fire before it seeped into virgin forest. The Qualla crew was spooked. It better rain, they said. Larry and four Cherokee fighters gathered on the ridge above the campground. They assessed, checked for smoke. They looked down into the narrow valley where tourists teemed every autumn. Fudge shops, neon tomahawks. Summer had been a long drought, five states wide, and October was coming in clear and mild. It hadn’t rained for seven weeks, and none was forecast. The NOAA alerts out of Asheville kept using the word “unprecedented.” Leaf season’s no good without a little rain, they said. No color. One wiry dude squatted in the leaves. We’re lucky we caught this when we did, he muttered. Whole place could go up. Cherokee was well equipped – casino money and federal grants made it easy to get things under control there. The tribe’s firehouse had a pizza oven and wifi. Larry slept in his truck both nights, even though he didn’t have to. He dreamed about May. The news and firehouse chatter were all election talk, and he didn’t want to listen. Larry felt weighted down, as if somehow the news, the Qualla fire, his troubles with May had all been his fault. So he made some silence for himself. Inside the quiet of his truck he pondered everything May had grumbled, everything they’d agreed to. He wondered how it would feel to live alone, to lose out. When he got home from Qualla, ragged and sore and reeking of smoke, May wouldn’t let him in the house. You stink, she said. Stay out here and clean off. The rays of wrinkles around her eyes had deepened. I think you got somebody, she said. Who is she? She isn’t, he said. It’s just me. Nobody else. So you’re just going to be here by yourself? We’re both going to be alone? I thought you wanted to be alone, he said. I thought I was letting you go. May smirked. You never let me do anything, she said. Larry stood on the porch. His rucksack slumped against a post, and a tube of Ben Gay peeked out from his t-shirt pocket. He squatted, dug around in

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Smoke Rings, 13 Aug. 2001 (inkjet, 22.5x22.5, edition of 75) by Donald Sultan

It hadn’t rained for seven weeks, and none was forecast. The NOAA alerts out of Asheville kept using the word “unprecedented.”


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making ready for winter, stashing most of his nuts and treats in the woodpile. Larry muttered to the squirrel as it scurried. It should have been hiding its food elsewhere; the woodpile was a bad spot, a temporary structure. Soon the boomer would lose his stores to Larry’s woodstove. Better to bury in the ground, little buddy, he said. Better to keep up in the trees. He stayed on the porch and watched afternoon light glow through the hickory trees while May thundered inside the house. The television stayed on, pundits on low boil. He checked his phone for updates, texted colleagues. He’d have to go back out soon; smoke reports were coming faster, and yellow bubbles of text popped brightly on his screen. Tellico. Ferebee. High spots, far from each other. National forest, too. Nantahala was smoldering. May burst out of the front door holding a purple end table. She’d painted it in a crafting class at the Folk Center a couple years back. COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

give. He was a Helm County native. His grandfather built this place, and Larry had whitewashed its sides, cut the grass since he was nine. May’s name wasn’t on the deed. I’ll get a job, May said. Larry shook a crust of mud off his left boot and told her that was good. I wouldn’t be doing it for you, May said. She crossed her arms and stared at him as he screwed open the tube and put the cap on the railing. Her body was elfin, her jaw a triangle. She tilted her head sideways until her chin pointed towards Larry’s socks. The cock of her head lowered a shiny blue glass earring out from behind her hair. She didn’t ask about the fire. May stood between the screen door and the oak front door, head to the side, blue glass catching light, and watched him work salve into his arms. The television bickered in the living room – one of the news channels. Her body blocked some of the arguments that roiled out of the speakers, but the voices still carried and rattled Larry’s teeth. He’s gonna win, May said, closing her eyes. That pig. Listen to him. Larry told her to turn it off. May flitted into the house and slammed the front door so hard the screen sang like a wire. He pulled a towel off the plastic laundry rack at the edge of the porch. He wiped his face, sank into a deck chair, and let his arms hang limp. The Ben Gay’s mentholated tang seeped into his muscles while he stared at the woodpile under the carport. A flick of russet darted across the top of the woodpile and wiggled between two hunks of pine. Larry leaned forward. A few seconds later the red flicker appeared again. Boomer squirrel. He was little and twitchy, all red fur, with short tufts sprouting from each ear. Larry liked red squirrels. They weren’t fat or mean like greys. Boomers had spirit, and he could swear they winked at you sometimes. The boomer flashed around some more, then darted up the hickory near the mailbox. He was

Smoke Rings, 12 Nov. 2001 (inkjet, 22.5x22.5, edition of 75) by Donald Sultan

A few seconds later the red flicker appeared again. Boomer squirrel . . . little and twitchy, all red fur, with short tufts sprouting from each ear. Larry liked red squirrels. . . . Boomers had spirit, and he could swear they winked at you sometimes.


North Carolina on the Map and in the News

I’m taking this, she said. She stomped down the porch steps, turned back. I’ll need furniture, she said. You’ve never given me a thing. He eased himself up to a stand. He was six-four, built thick and gingery, and he had just gone forty last spring. May crunched her sandaled feet across the gravel drive and popped the trunk on her hatchback. Larry kneaded the back of his neck, went inside, and slept in a dark coma for seventeen hours. A few days later, all of Helm County was put under a Severe Threat. Larry wanted to file a report to Raleigh about Qualla. Nobody was paying attention to the campfire bans; nobody was talking about Kentucky. The state office needed to get their act together; a new Parks Secretary was due in January, depending on how the votes shook out, so bureaucrats were hibernating under their log books until then. Ten thousand acres in Georgia had already burned. Twenty thousand in Virginia. The problem was getting worse, spreading, closing in on Helm County, on the whole state, from north and south. Hollow Rock, ten miles from his house, backed up onto fifteen square miles of usually damp, lush state forest. That whole expanse was a husk. Hollow Rock was more corkscrew than mountain – a massive, undulating mound of earth that separated the tourist hamlet of Chimney Gap from the state lands encircling Helm County. If any fire leaked out of Hollow into the state forest, or vice versa, it would do so in a mean spiral. Every ridge would burn, and so would the town. Everybody Larry knew would lose their home. Locals were calling 911 to report smoke here and there, tiny blazes or yard burns which town firefighters dutifully quashed. But the window was closing. The forest floor rustled itself in even the weakest breeze. Fluffed-up leaves, all papery and loose, waited to catch light. Larry thought it was as if the whole of the world was asking to be fuel. The air snapped with brittle coolness and smelled of rust. We need to dig some lines, Larry’s guys said. Need to get those helicopters in from Tennessee. Some of his state forest service team were close to retirement, others still green and young. Larry fell about in the middle, in terms of experience. They’re federal, the longtimers said. They got the resources. Those choppers need to be here. We’re worse off than anybody. Larry nodded, even though he believed everywhere from West Virginia to Georgia was the worst off any place could possibly be. The team muttered

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The forest floor rustled itself in even the weakest breeze. Fluffed-up leaves, all papery and loose, waited to catch light. Larry thought it was as if the whole of the world was asking to be fuel. to each other, counted out locations and shifts with their thick fingers. Preventive measures, they said. While we still can. By the tenth of October, he forgot what day it was. He forgot about Qualla and Raleigh. He stayed in Helm County, kept an eye on Hollow Rock. His team set prescribed burns. They pulled back tons of underbrush, cleared out the carpet of leaf litter and ripe tinder from miles of home ground. Masks covered their faces as they spent entire days in woods they had hunted since childhood, nodding and signaling to each other like pitchers and catchers. Sparks multiplied. Larry worked. Above Highway 9 a few miles from his house, he helped cut dozer lines in the dusty earth to stop the front marching down from the north. He corralled volunteers, surveyed, soaked the ground. In between, prevention efforts, state park dispatch, tower lookouts, 911, and his own instinct took him to fires all over the county. Some were weeks-old lightning strikes that waited, burning slow, gaining power on the still-damp ridgetops. Elsewhere a devil set them. After Christmas they would arrest some whack job arsonist who set at least twenty fires on purpose, but nobody knew that yet. Most of the problem was stray cigarette butts or people burning yard waste without a permit, without sense. It wasn’t something local folks had ever worried about before. They were used to morning dews and soaking rains and black, moist loam.


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Blazes foomed up like signals from the peaks, and the sky for fifty miles in any direction was a low tarp of ash. Volunteers streamed in, and October tumbled quietly out of control. The governor released the National Guard. FEMA set up evacuation stations up and down the Blue Ridge. A bunch of fighters from out west trucked themselves to Hollow Rock. They were returning a kindness from 2014, when Southern firefighters had helped save half of Oregon. Two years later the Western crews had come to Helm County to pay back the favor. None of this made the news. When he could get away, Larry would drive home, shower, eat, crash. In his sleep he heard the thrum of helicopters making retardant drops. The first thing he noticed missing was the sofa. He came out of the bathroom and stood naked and soggy in the living room and felt a weird, unfamiliar breeze to his right. It took him a moment to look in that direction and realize she’d taken it. Larry wondered which of May’s friends owned a pickup, how she’d wrestled the loveseat’s puffy, awkward body out the narrow door. She was so small. A few days later the bed in the spare room was missing, and there were no plates or bowls to eat off of. May was emptying him out. He switched from day shifts and went out in the night. Not that it mattered; either way he was gone for days at a time. He saw less and less of May, who still did not ask about the fires. He slept while she was awake; he fought fire while she slept. Night work suited him. He could see the enemy and nothing else. He could focus. Larry fought for Hollow Rock every night through November. The teams were just barely staying ahead of the threats, which were legion, fierce, and scattered. First they prayed for rain. When that didn’t come, they prayed for smoke, the death of wind, a cold fog to choke oxygen, douse sparks. Instead, the clear fall weather gave the blazes air, feeding every small hell. The forest each night went cinematic, with lit slithers of amber inching in chiaroscuro through the trees and blackness. Millions of orange cinders floated around Larry perpetually in the dark. Fire likes to jump, to send out emissaries. Each night, more ignited dander and duff – leaves, twigs, campsite detritus – swirled and arced over the ditches they dug and above the pocked, disused logging roads they used as markers, lines of defense. Embers burned bright and small, like sprites carrying the news of fire. Larry watched them with his mouth open. He wheezed inside his mask; his breaths echoed and pooled hotly on his

upper lip. Even masked, he could taste the firebrands in the scorched air. They were lighted wicks uncandled, unbound tendrils eating themselves. They passed delicately in front of him, seeking hosts, filling his view as they yearned across every thwarting gap. When it was quiet, when no one was shouting, Larry heard the trees recoil. Branches crackled; trunks creaked and flinched from the bite of flame. Most of the embers burned themselves out, dissipating into charred vapor. Some he swatted or stomped. The ones he couldn’t reach, the few that caught a wind, continued on in the thick ether, above the forest, eventually coming to rest on fresh, dry victims in the distance. One night after Halloween, a fire behaviorist came down from Virginia to direct a controlled burn near the Chimney Gap golf course. They wanted to save the condos and rental cabins, so Larry and the Oregon team filled driptorches and lit up stands of cedars on the back nine. The behaviorist said it would stop the skulking blazes from coming over the hills and taking out residential buildings. Starve the worst fronts, stall the rate of spread. It would spare the east side of town, the behaviorist told the club manager, who fretted over the grand, older oaks that lined the fairways. Kill a margin, said the behaviorist, for the greater good. Larry, the behaviorist, and a dozen Oregonians led by a burly woman named Link spent two days on the burn. When it was over, a prophylactic line of char was established across the perimeter of the country club. Link’s team roamed the cauterized stripe of land afterwards. They checked for sparks, scarred their boots, stood dazed in the carnage. Some of the Oregonians fell asleep leaning against their trucks. Others roamed the blackline still holding driptorches, which puffed contained flame from thick metal tips. Occasionally some-

The forest each night went cinematic, with lit slithers of amber inching in chiaroscuro through the trees and blackness.


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They cut our budget, Larry said. They cut it every year. Same in Virginia. Same everywhere, said Don. Plus, perfect conditions. It’s a bad fall. I feel responsible, Larry said. You didn’t light the match, said Don. I didn’t mind the matchbook, either, Larry said. If this breeze keeps up we’ll get a stack effect, said Don. That’s gonna be bad. Larry chawed his jerky and nodded once, slow. There’s too many cultivated species here, said Don, twisting towards the golf course. He pointed his clipboard at the ridge above town. COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

one would unleash a torch into a tangle of brush they’d missed. Twigs and bushes plumed in round, silent explosions. In the evening of the second day, the behaviorist stood beside Larry atop a steep hillside crawling with fire. The hilltop looked out over the state forest into distant, peaceful blue ridgelines. Below burned the worst of Helm County’s trouble. The sun set quickly, and snakes of flame downhill churned in an early twilight, moving upward towards their blackline. The behaviorist was bald, fifty, militaristic. His name was Don. Pale and thick in the shoulders, he could have been Larry’s kin. They looked down and watched the front approach. Punches of heat seeped toward them. Larry had taken off his turnout gear and tossed it in a nearby truck. He fumbled with his suspenders and t-shirt, wiped sweat from under his eyes. His eyelashes were singed and uneven. Black particulate sprinkled his brow and made grey streaks in his chin stubble. Look at it, Don the behaviorist said. A snow of ash hung around them in the sharp air. Get the hoses, Larry said. Link and two Oregonians dragged themselves up and set to work. Don sniffed and shook his head slowly. It’s not going to rain tomorrow, he said. They said it might, but it won’t. I don’t think it ever will. Larry squatted and stared down the writhing, glowing slope. Behind him, to the west, a breeze came across the fairway, cooling the blackline and tickling his back. It wafted past the trucks, past Link’s crew, over his body. It cooled his skin and pushed back the scent of smoke; then it blew through the fading sunlight and floated, thoughtlessly, carelessly down the mountainside, down into the gloom and the rising heat. Blazing tendrils of ladder fire, a full-on front that burned from root to kudzu to canopy, fed themselves on that wind. They suckled for it, raged like addicts. Remnants of twilight purpled the Oregonians’ skin as Larry watched the updrafts gorge themselves on air. Larry and Don stood on their blackened swath worrying into the abyss. The trees here were all networked into each other, a thick hash of enmeshed twig and vine. A low blanket of merciful smoke might have stifled what was coming. But the breeze came again, blithe and fresh, and the scene burned bright and hellish. This is what happens, said Don. Larry squatted, pulled a hunk of beef jerky out of his pocket. The meat was a wilted, hot lump of putty. Y’all should have done more land use planning, said Don. More management.

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Smoke Rings, 20 Oct. 2006 (inkjet, 34x34, edition of 75) by Donald Sultan

Up there? he said. You got native trees. Just looking for a reason to burn. Look who you’re telling, Larry said. They both stared down the slope again, into the coming fire. Heat pushed against them and oiled their skin. Hell, said Don, we earned it. This whole damn business. We brought it out. They waited for Link to bring the hoses. She knew what to do. His negotiations with May had looped and replayed all through the weeks of burning. If Larry was home, she asked the same questions. Called


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him a son of a bitch. Couldn’t make sense of it. Each time May spun faster, flipped her oak-colored hair and parried with more logic. She was looking for reasons, for names. Larry didn’t know how to tell her there was no reason. He didn’t know how to tell her the world was just ending; that was all. She made Larry sit down the day she packed up her clothes. It was four in the afternoon, and he’d just woken up. May’s nose barely came to his chest. It was cold out, and she had taken most of what she wanted. She sat him on a footstool in the empty kitchen. She stood, brown eyes flickering, hips at a slant. The house had now fully absorbed the sweet smell of burnt forest that Larry kept bringing home with him. It was a heavy odor, thick as pine sap in the air between them. This is it, she said. I’ll be gone day after tomorrow. Her fingernails plucked at the “I’m With Her” sticker on her water bottle. I don’t know what to say, Larry told her. I’m sorry. Two days later, the Folk Center caught fire and had to be evacuated. May heard it on the radio and stilled. She waited for Larry to get home. Can I have the frog lamps, she said. Her voice was low, half tender. She was holding one. Her little hand cupped the pewter lily pad at its base. Her other hand gripped its stem, a slim, iridescent column of crystal. The stem legs swooped up into a bulbous top – a brittle, delicate frog body leaping toward a fringed tapestry shade. The frog caught the overhead kitchen light, refracted it. Its stomach swirled a kaleidoscope of aquamarine hues onto May’s small knuckles. Larry was eating soup straight out of the can. He stood at the kitchen counter with his back to her. I’m asking, Larry. Your mom bought these for us at the Folk Center, she said. Remember? He leaned into the counter. The edge of the formica cut sharply into his hip, and he closed his eyes. He rolled a salty potato on his tongue and wished he could go back to October, back to Qualla. Back to the wet spring. I want the pair, she said. They have to match. They’ll be worth something now. Larry had spent the last thirty-six hours with a handful of Link’s crew high above Hollow Rock, in a clearing he’d never seen before. They had been digging a broad, hopeless ditch. A platoon of freakedout elk clustered at the edge of the clearing and snuffled at the fighters while they worked. The cow elks fidgeted. The bulls folded their legs underneath themselves and huddled in the dry leaves, watching

for hours, until the tiny herd finally rose together and receded into the hazy wood. Larry’s hands were black. He was on his fourth pair of boots. November was half over, and the woodpile under the carport was shrinking as the cold set in. Only local news vans dotted the street outside the fire station in town. All the state officials down in Raleigh were still hoping for recounts or high fiving each other over electoral college votes. No one knew they were here. This fire was a secret, Larry figured, some kind of evil the world was keeping from itself. In the living room, an acorn from the boomer’s stash popped inside the woodstove’s iron belly. Another one pinged against the stove wall, sharp and clear. The red squirrel hadn’t been around for weeks. Maybe he had moved his supplies elsewhere, like May had done. Or maybe he had given up and settled his squirrel brain on hunger, on letting it burn. Rain would not come. Another blaze rising out of Transylvania would soon join theirs, doubling the conflagration. In Tennessee, people were dying, suffocating in their cars as they tried to escape. That, at least, had made the papers, alongside all the stories blaming mountain people for picking the President. Larry didn’t know anyone who’d had time to vote. Larry’s lips were so chapped and raw that flakes of skin hung like torn plaster from his mouth. His fingers were so sore he couldn’t ball a weak fist. He couldn’t think of a place he loved or knew as a boy that wasn’t on fire. His clothes, his hair, his truck, everything he owned stunk of rank sweat and ash. Can I have them both, May said. I know you’re tired, Larry. But I have to ask. He put down his soup spoon. He turned to May and put a hand under her jaw. Her skin felt warm. His arms were weights. Take the lamps, he told her. The woodstove pinged again, and he breathed into May’s clean hair. Take them and whatever else, he said. Just please, honey, go on. n

This fire was a secret, Larry figured, some kind of evil the world was keeping from itself.


North Carolina on the Map and in the News

GIVING FICTIONAL SHAPE TO HISTORY a review by Kristina L. Knotts Robert Morgan. As Rain Turns to Snow and Other Stories. Frankfort, KY: Broadstone Books, 2017.

KRISTINA L. KNOTTS has a PhD from the University of Tennessee. She works at Westfield State University in the Learning Disabilities Program as a Program Advisor. She also teaches American Literature part-time. She is a regular reviewer for NCLR. ROBERT MORGAN is from Hendersonville, NC, and is now living in Ithaca, NY, where he is the Kappa Alpha Professor of English at Cornell University. He has published fourteen collections of poetry, nine books of fiction, and three of nonfiction. He has been inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame and the Fellowship of Southern Writers, and his other honors include the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award, the O. Henry short story award, the History Award Medal from the DAR, the R. Hunt Parker Memorial Award for significant contributions to North Carolina literature from the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association, and the North Carolina Award for Literature. NCLR has published his poetry and fiction, interviews with him, and articles about his work for many years.

As readers may have noticed, Appalachia has garnered attention lately – journalists, politicians, pollsters, all have tried to tap into the values and needs of rural Americans. Robert Morgan’s latest collection of short stories, As Rain Turns to Snow, would be a good place to start. Similar to Morgan’s other writings, this work shows the diversity of life in Appalachia, in particular his own postage stamp of soil, the Green River area in Henderson County, NC. This collection, however, is not a study in demographics. His stories share a strong sense of characters rooted in the geography, tradition and folklore of western North Carolina. More so than some of Morgan’s previous fiction, many of these stories look at the difficulties posed by chronic illness and aging, but all show Morgan’s impressive range as a writer. An inductee of the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame, Morgan is often praised for his female characters, most notably in Gap Creek (1999). Many of the works in this collection, however, depict men experiencing significant transitions in life, whether it be starting over after war or facing the end of life. Two works in particular, “The Burning Chair” and “The Calm,” portray older men who are alcoholics and whose addiction isolates them emotionally and socially. In “Burning Chair,” the collection’s opening story, a narrator describes in present tense as a man’s cigarette burns into his armchair while he sleeps. As the chair slowly catches on fire, the narrator explores the setting: the sleeping man, Elmer, probably a World War II veteran, is alone, weakened by illness and surrounded by clutter: stacks of books and magazines, bills, a vast array of medicine bottles and painkillers as well as a

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few gin bottles. Morgan describes the man’s isolation and vulnerability thus: “Where the rim or the bottom of a bottle is found by the firelight it seems the wet eye of an animal watching from the floor or the corner” (5). Morgan’s description is dispassionate but manages to invite empathy as the reader waits for Elmer to be rescued. “The Calm” also explores a man’s vulnerability but, unlike Elmer, this character, the narrator’s father, violently defends his right to drink himself to death, guarding his downfall with a .44 magnum. Unlike Elmer in “The Burning Chair,” who seems alone until the story’s end, the father in this story rigidly defends his self-destruction in full view of his immediate family. The father’s defiance against accepting help from his son begs the question that any family member would wrestle with: “Did Daddy have a right to die any way he wanted to? What was my ultimate responsibility? Was Daddy in his right mind enough to know what he was doing? Was I guilty already for not taking the pistol away from him?” (167). As Morgan’s story gives visceral punch to the father’s anger and self-destruction, the narrator’s son struggles to both support and intervene with his father. As Rain Turns to Snow also confronts aging and the transitions it presents, as seen in the death of a spouse in “Halycon Acres” or generational rifts in “Bird Wars.” Two stories, “Dans Les Hautes Montagnes De Caroline” and “Happy Valley,” depict senior citizens in nursing homes. While earlier Morgan stories have described aging characters such as “Death Crown” (from The Balm of Gilead Tree: New and Selected Stories, 1999), these new stories


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PHOTOGRAPH BY GLENDA BEALL

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articulate the aging person’s perspective. Aging, the stories suggest, presents another kind of isolation. For Annie in “Happy Valley,” her dementia causes her confusion about why she’s confined to a nursing home. (Readers of Morgan’s Road from Gap Creek (2013) will be pleased to hear about Annie again, though displeased to see her in this condition!) “Dans Les Hautes Montagnes De Caroline” is narrated by Stephen Morris, a senior citizen disabled by a stroke that causes him pain and has taken his ability to walk and communicate effectively to others. The story’s first sentence, like much of Morgan’s short fiction – establishes the conflict and the pathos immediately. Stephen says, “If Dannie would come home I could tell her” (83). Estranged from his daughter Dannie and with his second wife in the hospital and robbed of the ability to communicate, Stephen struggles to maintain his dignity in

his current setting. Like Annie in “Happy Valley,” this story too recalls an earlier Morgan work, the poem “Lost Flower” from the book Groundwork (1978), which recounts the journey American botanist Asa Gray took during the nineteenth century to find the flower that French botanist Andre Michaux cataloged a century prior. “Lost Flower” describes a flower thought to flourish in the higher elevations, but in fact flowered in profusion in the foothills and on the slopes. As Stephen tells us, the things we need are sometimes nearer to us than we are aware. This story’s added pathos comes from a character who can’t adequately communicate his needs and who is alienated from his family. At the story’s end, Stephen contemplates the mountain landscape he misses and while the story in some sense gives voice to a bitter man, we also see, as we do in so much of Morgan’s work, how his characters’ humanity is nourished by their love of the landscape around them. As Rain Turns to Snow is not just about aging and its extreme challenges, however. Many of its works return to Morgan’s reliable but nevertheless powerful themes about characters’ connection to the natural world as well as the

ABOVE Robert Morgan at the Blue Ridge Bookfest in

Hendersonville, NC, with former North Carolina Poet Laureate Kathryn Stripling Byer, 2009

dignity of work. Many of his most evocative pieces in this collection are those set in the past. “The Dulcimer Maker” is set just after World War Two and portrays a young mother, Annie (not the same Annie from “Happy Valley”), whose child is stricken with a high fever. Her situation is problematic: she and her husband, a dulcimer maker, live far from town and have no vehicle. Annie’s husband continues to labor over making his latest dulcimer, oblivious and seemingly unconcerned about his child’s feverish state. Her brother and brother-in-law are preoccupied with harvesting their bean crop. With dread, she urges her volatile brother Edward to drive her to town so she can take her baby to the doctor. Ironically, Edward, whose persistent anger, according to his family, is tied to an untreated fever as a child tells Annie that “[f]ever . . . never hurt a baby” (65). “The Dulcimer Maker” presents a study in kinds of work: Annie and the doctor who treats her child both work incredibly hard to do what must be done for others while the men in Annie’s immediate family are constrained by their own duties and, to some degree, their own self-interest. The young mother’s heroics in “The Dulcimer Maker” recall Julie Richards’ work ethic and determination in Gap Creek. “Distant Blue Hills” is placed just after “The Dulcimer Maker” and portrays a young white settler who is farming and hunting, all while hiding from natives who wander by, one with a blond scalp in his belt. Set in 1752 and written in present tense, the story imagines the mountains when the first


North Carolina on the Map and in the News

European settlers farmed its hills where an uneasy peace with the native peoples existed. The collection’s final story, “The Jaguar,” also highlights Morgan’s penchant for setting his works in the past. This one, set just after the end of the American Revolution recalls some of Morgan’s best historical fiction like “Brightness New and Welcoming” and “The Tracks of Chief de Soto” (both published in The Balm of Gilead Tree). “The Jaguar” recalls Morgan’s recurring theme of the courage of starting anew. This story shows a young person starting out alone in the mountains, working, trapping, hunting, building and fixing, making way for a home. The story’s protagonist, Nathaniel, back from the Revolutionary War, dreams of gaining

success and making his fortune and marrying a woman in Virginia he’d encountered. However, as he goes further into the forest, he “hoped the trail would lead into the mountains and all he’d have to do was follow it” (170). Of course, the trail isn’t so clear, literally and figuratively. Finding supplies and hanging onto his property prove challenging – his horse is stolen and trapping is difficult without multiple traps. The conflicts and difficulties he encounters – human in origin or natural – show that he must adjust his thinking. His persistence and the help he receives from a Coosa woman he encounters give him hope that he can carve out a place for himself. Morgan’s characters, whether it be Annie from “The Dulcimer

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Maker” or Nathaniel in “The Jaguar,” keep persisting through hardships – work sees them through. Morgan’s fiction is often praised for its ability to give shape to our historical past. The strength of this collection, and certainly visible in so much of his other works, is providing a narrative for histories we once knew or just barely know. Whether it be the stories of those confined to nursing homes or the earliest settlers of North Carolina, Morgan’s fiction gives dignity and a voice to ordinary citizens who want a chance to see their dreams take shape. Like Nathaniel in “The Jaguar,” Morgan can take a tiny, fading trail in the mountains and provide a vibrant, authentic story. n

WOLFE AWARD GOES TO DEBUT NOVELIST

* “Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award Goes to Julia Franks,” A Guide to Hendersonville, NC, 11 Oct. 2017. web.

COURTESY OF WESTERN NORTH CAROLINA HISTORICAL ASSOCIATION

Julia Franks, who grew up in the Appalachian Mountains, is the 2017 winner of the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award from the Western North Carolina Historical Association for her debut novel, Over the Plain Houses (Hub City Press, 2016). The novel is set in western North Carolina during the Depression; the main character, USDA agent Virginia Furman, works to help the mountain people adapt their homes and work to the modern world. The Selection Panel noted, “Without being the least bit sentimental or giving in to any stereotypes about Appalachian people, [Over the Plain Houses] tells an utterly compelling story that is deeply rooted in place.”* This novel has also been named one of Bustle’s Fifteen Great Appalachian Novels and wasincluded on Atlanta Journal Constitution’s Ten Best Southern Books of 2016. Franks, who lives in Atlanta, was also named Georgia Author of the Year in 2017 for the category of Literary Fiction. She formerly taught AP English at The Lovett School in Atlanta and is the founder of Loose Canon, an online tool for teachers and students that promotes free-choice reading in the classroom and builds literacy and communication skills in students of all ages. n

ABOVE Julia Franks with the Western North Carolina

Historical Association President Alan Tarleton and the Wolfe Award reading committee chair, Michael Sartisky, Asheville, NC, 11 Nov. 2017


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INSIDE THE MIND OF REYNOLDS PRICE a review by James W. Clark, Jr. Alex Harris and Margaret Sartor. Dream of a House: The Passions and Preoccupations of Reynolds Price. Staunton, VA: George F. Thompson Publishing, 2017.

JAMES W. CLARK, JR. is English Professor Emeritus at North Carolina State University. He serves as President of the North Caroliniana Society. His honors include the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association’s R. Hunt Parker Memorial Award for his significant contribution to North Carolina literature, for which he was also an honoree at the 2015 North Carolina Writers Conference. In 2017, he was inducted into the National 4-H Hall of Fame.

ABOVE Reynolds Price’s workspace

in his home (This and the other photographs within this review, taken by Alex Harris, are from the book and are featured here courtesy of George F. Thompson Publishing.)

The two co-editors of this stunning farewell to Reynolds Price came to know and adore him during the wheelchair era of his long, happy, and very productive life. He was the great indoors man who shared his much-befriended solitude with this married couple. Duke faculty stars themselves as photographers and writers, they highly prized Price’s preoccupation with seeing and saying, passions they shared. She is a bestselling memoirist, he the keen camera eye. The title of this exquisite book of photographs and texts, his and theirs, is taken from Price’s poem “The Dream of a House.” It opened Vital Provisions, his first book of poems (1982) and is annexed to A Whole New Life: An Illness and a Healing (1994), the author’s second memoir. In his Collected Poems (1997) this poem opens

the front door. In each publication, including this tribute in which the verse paragraphing differs slightly, a dream catalogs the poet’s collection of blessings as he is guided on a tour of a house he still has a lifetime to learn. Sharing dreams and memories became customary in the threedecades-long friendship of Price, Harris, and Sartor. The co-editors also made a habit of sharing their dreams privately, as illustrated in the first of their two essays found at the back of the book. Waking up side by side one July morning in New Mexico six months after Price’s January 2011 death, both Alex and Margaret had dreamed of Reynolds during the night. In both dreams he was troubled about his loss of sight, the uselessness of his glasses. Alex writes, “Margaret and I didn’t know how

ALEX HARRIS is a photographer, writer, and Professor of the Practice of Public Policy and Documentary Studies at Duke University. Harris’s photographs are represented in major collections, including the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, High Museum of Art in Atlanta, Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. His photographs have been exhibited widely, including two solo exhibitions at the International Center of Photography in New York City. As a photographer and editor, Harris has published seventeen books, among them, with William deBuys, River of Traps: A New Mexico Mountain Life (Trinity University Press, 1990), which was a finalist for the 1991 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction, and, with Edward O. Wilson, Why We Are Here: Mobile and the Spirit of a Southern City (Liveright/W. W. Norton, in association with George F. Thompson Publishing, 2012).


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to explain our concurrent dreams other than to be reminded that, for Reynolds Price, ‘seeing was everything’” (119). In the second of these essays, Margaret ponders, “He was also profoundly sensitive, or maybe it was sensitively profound, or both, and it showed. All the time” (139). Months before their dreams occurred, Alex catalogued the more than seven hundred photographs he had taken mostly inside Price’s Orange County house during that winter and spring (127). “But until that summer, on the morning of our shared dreams, neither Margaret nor I had thought to do the one thing that Reynolds Price had been doing for his whole life: to connect his seeing to his words” (132). For him writing always began with a visual experience. Their pairing of Price’s words with Alex’s photographs, by trial and error, eventually became this book that reveals the amazing interiors of vibrant rooms and of the exuberant artist who curated them. Reynolds had treated Alex and Margaret to a posthumous personal tour of himself and his home. His eclectic collection was displayed floor to ceiling in the salon style identified with the French Royal Academy in the seventeenth century and later adopted in the Louvre (127). The master literary stylist had made a space for everything and placed each item

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of placement under the direction of the maestro in the wheelchair? In youth Price had begun collecting by taking pictures and ordering posters of celebrities. Then and later he drew and painted on his own. His boyhood bedrooms became small museums that his younger brother, Bill, recalls as being off limits for him.1 The adult Reynolds Price, the even more passionate collector and curator, also collected himself. Consider Clear Pictures (1989), the chapters of which he considered great rooms of memory, and three other progressively detailed memoirs, one of them, Midstream (2012), left unfinished when he died. Though written and published out of chronological order, these four memoirs constitute a multi-story house of

precisely where he thought it belonged as a shaping influence on his life and work. His prose and poetry exhibit the identical genius. Alex Harris writes that he “set out to photograph every wall in every room and to take several views from different perspectives of each room Reynolds inhabited. I saw no reason to document the parts of the house upstairs and downstairs that Reynolds no longer visited in his wheelchair” (129). Bookcases, tables, even the author’s writing or computer desk, were carrying loads of books and disparate items almost to the exclusion of work space or a place to set a wine glass. The floor and the ceiling were display spaces as well. Angels flew; sensual statuary posed. One wonders who had done this exacting work

MARGARET SARTOR is a writer, photographer, editor, and curator who, for many years, has taught at Duke University. Her four published books include What Was True: The Photographs and Notebooks of William Gedney (Center for Documentary Studies/Norton, 1999), co-edited with Geoff Dyer, and the memoir Miss American Pie: A Diary of Love, Secrets, and Growing Up in the 1970s (Bloomsbury, 2006), which was a New York Times bestseller, a Washington Post Critics Choice Memoir, and a Chicago Tribune Best Book of the Year. Her photographs have been exhibited widely and are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, and Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans, among others. As a curator, Sartor has worked with Duke University, the International Center for Photography in New York City, and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

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James W. Clark, Jr. interviewed William S. Price, Jr. about his brother Reynolds Price. NCLR published two lengthy excerpts of that interview in the two 2016 issues (print and online), and the whole was published in William Price’s limited edition A Small Circle: Will, Elizabeth, Reynolds, Bill (Secret Sharer Press, 2016).


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memories, much as his fiction and poetry are a cathedral to his imagination. His essay collection published in 1987 employed the architectural metaphor with its title The Common Room. In the four memoirs, he built upon actual experiences. He had, no one will be surprised, a guiding principle set forth in Clear Pictures: “I’ve said that everywhere, my first concern was to portray the facts and any resulting truth, as clearly as I can see them. In no case have I consciously invented memories when I had none. On the contrary, some readers may regret the number of times I define the richness or absence of my recall. But loyalty to the surviving memories, or the transformations that my memory worked, was paramount.”2 Dream of a House tallies with this same high objective.

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Reynolds Price, Clear Pictures: First Loves, First Guides (New York: Scribner, 1989) 11–12; subsequently cited parenthetically.

Like his mentor Eudora Welty, Reynolds Price often went about with a camera. In Clear Pictures appear examples of his work with black and white film. The print of Mary Green, born a slave in Warren County, is a gallery all by itself. Looking straight ahead through circular glasses, Mary is wearing a tattered sweater. It

covers her right shoulder but hangs off the left one. Four safety pins are visible in the front of her dark dress. When Reynolds asks his old friend what the pins are for, Mary laughs and says, “In case I need a pin” (89). Her answer applies to him as well. Suppose he needed Jesus, James Dean, or Leontyne Price, Abraham Lincoln, Buddha, or Robert E. Lee. These icons were there, among much, much else he held very dear. Yet despite the spell of Reynolds Price’s celebrated passions and preoccupations, a paradox raises its hand and asks, “How could you leave your house, your treasured expression of seeing and saying?” In saying farewell, Alex Harris quotes Price’s Christian equanimity. The passionate collector had learned a “true secret of inestimable worth: I can leave for good, with considerable care, when that day dawns, which I hope is not soon” (135). n


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COURTESY OF WILEY CASH

EXTRAORDINARY MISADVENTURES a review by Barbara Bennett Daniel Wallace. Extraordinary Adventures: A Novel. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2017.

BARBARA BENNETT is an Associate Professor at North Carolina State University. She received her PhD in American Literature at Arizona State University and has published four books, including Understanding Jill McCorkle (University of South Carolina Press, 2000) and Soul of a Lion (National Geographic Books, 2010). She interviewed Jill McCorkle and Lee Smith for NCLR 2016 and has an article on McCorkle’s Ferris Beach in NCLR 2006. DANIEL WALLACE directs the Creative Writing Program at the University of North Carolina and has published six novels, including Big Fish (Algonquin Books, 1998), which was made into a motion picture by Tim Burton in 2003, and was later adapted into a Broadway musical in 2014. Read his short story “Everyone is Some Kind of Animal” in NCLR 2013.

ABOVE Daniel Wallace (right) with fellow North Carolina writers Randall Kenan (left) and Wiley Cash (center) at Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, 11 Oct. 2017

When does your life really begin? When do you start living a life of your own making rather than your parents’ or family’s or community’s? And how do you make it your own? Enter Daniel Wallace’s creation Edsel Bronfman, an ordinary man if there ever was one. He’s thirtyfour with no girlfriend or even potential for a girlfriend, he’s in a dead-end job doing something with data, and he lives in a terrible apartment with a drugdealing neighbor who robs him of everything he owns – including his favorite childhood cowboy hat. He’s not even sure if he’s a virgin (it’s complicated), and his only familial connection, his mother, is leaving him a bit more every day due to dementia. Despite all this, he seems content – or is it resigned? He can’t even work up enough energy to feel much of anything, not even the quiet desperation Thoreau talks of. Wallace tells us, “Bronfman’s capacity to anticipate the worst possible scenario in any circumstance was a skill he had been practicing since boyhood” (3).

And then one evening the phone rings. It’s a call most of us would hang up on quickly – as soon as we heard the caller say, “This call may be recorded for quality and training purposes” (4). But Bronfman, as everyone calls him, doesn’t get many phone calls, and he lacks the social savvy to detect a sales con. So he engages in conversation with Carla D’Angelo, Operator 61217 of a company called Extraordinary Adventures. With just a few guesses anyone else could figure this one out: Bronfman has “won” a free weekend in Destin, FL, at Sandscapes Condominiums. All he has to do is listen to a one-hour presentation on timeshare ownership. Oh – and there are two strings: first, he must bring a companion; second, he has to take advantage of the prize in the next seventy-nine days. And the plot begins. Can Bronfman jumpstart his life, find a companion, and take advantage of this opportunity that is unlike anything he has done before. Bronfman is jolted by this phone call out of his complacency and passivity. He takes a gamble on


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himself and – with stops and starts – begins to make his life his own. Faced with a deadline for a manufactured extraordinary adventure, Bronfman begins his own extraordinary adventure to get there. In effect, Bronfman has begun a quest to find his own identity. He eventually realizes, “It’s what he was looking for every day of his life, in a larger sense of the word, and what he suspected everyone was looking for: definition, the answer to who you were” (118). During his journey, he takes deliberate steps. He joins a gym.

He begins to talk to people – especially women. Wallace offers us three distinct possibilities for becoming Bronfman’s companion to Destin: Sheila, a flighty receptionist who spends her idle time deciding what animals people remind her of and who says her career goal is to write instructions for IKEA furniture. Then there is Serena, a policewoman who seems always to run into Bronfman at his worst, but whose sharp wit mitigates his humiliation. And finally Coco, the maybe-girlfriend, prostitute and/or drug user who lives next door with

Bronfman’s neighbor/burglar/drug lord. Let the hijinks begin. The novel lacks the mystical nature of some of Wallace’s earlier novels like Big Fish (1998) and The Kings and Queens of Roam (2013) but retains the same whimsy that makes us smile and feel like we’re in on the joke with Wallace himself. The characters are just eccentric enough to make us chuckle but believable enough to feel like we’ve met someone exactly like that. As with his earlier novels, the text is crisp and tight. Wallace is actually fun to read. You never know what gems he’ll throw in at unexpected times.

NORTH CAROLINA, MY KITH, MY HOME acceptance remarks by Ali Standish introduced by Amber Colbert, intern The 2017 recipient of the AAUW Award for Young People’s Literature is Ali Standish for her debut novel, The Ethan I Was Before (HarperCollins, 2017), in which a grieving boy finds a new best friend and learns lessons about loss, pain, forgiveness, and moving on after a tragedy. The award was presented on November 17 in Raleigh, at the joint meeting of the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association and the Federation of North Carolina Historical Societies. Standish grew up in North Carolina, where she first encountered writing by creating a world called “Narbithia” in her backyard – a name coined by combining “Narnia” and “Terabithia.” She claims “nature [as] one of [her] earliest teachers,” and in North Carolina, she “was lucky enough to have lots of trees and ponds and creeks to roam through.” As a young adult, Standish spent summers at Duke Young Writers Camp, which she “highly recommends to any aspiring authors out there.”* She attended Pomona College in Claremont, CA, and earned an MFA in Children’s Writing from Hollins University in Roanoke, VA, and an MPhil in Children’s Literature from the University of Cambridge. After living in Washington, DC, and Cambridge, England, where she first began writing The Ethan I Was Before, she eventually moved back to her home state, settling in Raleigh, where she now lives with her family and is working on her next novel. n n n * Quotations come from the author’s website.

Thank you so much to the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association for having me here today and to the Association of American University Women for presenting me with this honor. I’m a native North Carolinian – I grew up in Charlotte and in Greensboro – but I’m only recently returning after a long time away. This place, though, has always been home to me, no matter how far afield I travel. Jay Griffiths, who writes about childhood, speaks about the concept of kith – a seldom-used term that is now used to speak of one’s closest relations. But the word kith comes from the old English word for native country, and she uses it to describe that first landscape which we come to know and love as children, which shelters us, nurtures our imagination, kindles our sense of wonder, and shapes us with a gentle guiding hand. This place is that place for me. It’s why my favorite sound is a katydid chorus, and why I have an abiding love for fireflies and magnolia trees. I’m a big believer in this concept of kith, but I’m not sure it should be limited to the natural world. Landscapes, after all, are populated with people who form communities around shared values and stories. Stories like the folklore of the Blue Ridge Mountains, or perhaps the oldest whodunit in our nation’s history, the


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one-night stand she had with a man she only knows as Roy. They break into the room and Muriel climbs in the bed. Of course Sheila, the policewoman, is called to the scene. In one of her moments of clarity, it is Muriel who gives Bronfman his best advice. As she watches her son – so fearful that he won’t always make the best and safest decision – she tells him, “You’ve never fucked up. You’ve never given yourself permission to do something really, really stupid, and I want to live long enough to see that happen. . . . Just go out

mystery of what happened to the settlers of the Lost Colony on Roanoke Island. Stories in the works of legends like O. Henry and Maya Angelou, in the songs of incomparable musicians like John Coltrane and James Taylor. Stories of the heroes (and, for that matter, heroines) of the Greensboro sit-in movement, and stories brought to our state by the many immigrants and refugees who come here looking for a new home. All these stories weave themselves into the quilt of our state history, making it brighter, richer, more complex and more beautiful. North Carolina has a long history of preserving, honoring, and nurturing stories like these, and without that history, I am doubtful that I would have become the writer I am today. My early memories of our state include visiting the library on Providence Avenue in Charlotte, attending storytelling festivals in Asheville, hanging out in my mother’s office at the North Carolina Humanities Council, and of course, spending six summers down the road at Duke Young Writer’s Camp, learning how to harness my passion for the written word. Both the AAUW and the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association have a proud place in this tradition. The AAUW with its unwavering support for helping to uplift women’s voices, and the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association for all that its members do to preserve our history, bring light to those corners of it which might all too easily remain hidden ABOVE Ali Standish, at home with her award certificate

there and for once in your life fuck things up royally. Put your heart into it. Make a mess of things. I know you can do it. For me” (252). And he tries. Bronfman is a character worth rooting for. He’s a bit of a pitiful antihero, but one you can really get behind. Will his life turn into an extraordinary adventure? Is Destin his destiny? And if so, who will be his companion for this part of his quest? Wallace keeps us wondering till the last page, but the adventure is worth the ride. n

PHOTOGRAPH BY SHELLEY CRISP

My favorite character in the new novel, I must admit, is Bronfman’s free-spirited mother, Muriel. It’s sad and ironic that Bronfman is just finding himself while his mother is losing herself, but Wallace avoids the pathetic and instead focuses on Muriel’s own adventure in her mind. Bronfman wonders, when he visits her, “who she would show him, which one of the million new selves she had access to now that she’d lost track of who she really was” (306). On one escapade, she takes Bronfman to the motel where he was conceived on a

in the darkness, and to encourage the writers of our state to keep telling our stories. In these deeply troubled times, when truth is so often undervalued, overlooked, or manipulated for political gain, the work you do is especially important and appreciated. Because that is really what stories are about, isn’t it? At its best, fiction is an elaborate and beautifully crafted mask for truth. That’s why having access to a good story, particularly for the youngest and most impressionable among us, is so critically important in this day and age. So I want to thank you once again for honoring my truth and my story with this award, and for helping me to share it with the children of North Carolina, my kith, my home. n

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EXEMPLARY EbzB TEAM RECEIVES HARDEE RIVES AWARD

adapted from presentation remarks by Lorraine Hale Robinson North Carolina Literary and Historical Association meeting Raleigh, NC, 16 November 2017

* Quotations from Arts Council of Fayetteville/ Cumberland County website and the EbzB website.

PHOTOGRAPH BY LINDA FOX; COURTESY OF THE NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL AND CULTURAL RESOURCES

Endowed by Dr. Ralph Hardee Rives of Enfield, NC, the Hardee Rives Award for Dramatic Arts is conferred by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association in “recognition of excellent, exemplary work in and significant contribution and service to the dramatic arts in North Carolina.” Dr. Rives’s generosity provided the funding for this award, which has been presented since 2009, and the distinguished list of previous recipients includes individuals such as Bo Thorpe, William Ivey Long, and Terrence Mann, and institutions such as the National Black Theatre Festival and the Roanoke Island Historical Association for its long-running Lost Colony outdoor drama. Dr. Rives (1930–2016) was a remarkable human being – widely read, he summered in England for decades where he especially enjoyed the richness of London’s theater scene. An engaging raconteur with a love of stories and storytelling, his booming voice and vivacious personality (he himself played Governor Tryon in an historical pageant of long ago) captivated his listeners. For Ralph, stories on and off the stage were at the foundation of understanding our collective past; and further, for him, stories illuminated our present and explored the potentials of our future. The 2017 Hardee Rives Award for Dramatic Arts was presented to EbzB Productions. Founded in 1998, EbzB Productions “celebrates the profound impact of storytelling through theatre,” “touring theatrical productions to promote integrity and authenticity, self-discovery and positive transformation of individuals, artists, audiences, and communities.”* The multi-talented and multi-active co-founder, David zum Brunnen, calls himself an “impresario” whose performance credits include stage roles in the US and abroad and performances on public television. And cofounder, Serena Ebhardt, is an award-winning actress, director, playwright, and teaching artist, who is a charter inductee of the YWCA Academy of Women and a

recipient of The International Television and Video Association’s “Silver Reel” award. Accompanying them on the evening of their acceptance of this award was their “road arrangements” man and emerging vocal star, son Carlton, as well as Ian Finley, author of their recent production, Native, a twoman play about the collaboration between Paul Green and Richard Wright on dramatizing Wright’s Native Son for Broadway. EbzB Produtions has been an important storyteller for nearly two decades, with its “exemplary work” and its “significant contribution[s] and service to the dramatic arts in North Carolina.” Warmest congratulations, EbzB Productions! n

ABOVE Serena Ebhart and David zum Brunnen of EbzB Productions

receiving the Hardee-Rives Dramatic Arts Award from North Carolina Literary and Historical Association Executive Committee member Lorraine Hale Robinson (center), Raleigh, 16 Nov. 2017


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2017 PARKER AWARD WINNER PAYS IT FORWARD with acceptance remarks by Margaret D. Bauer North Carolina Literary and Historical Association meeting Raleigh, NC, 16 November 2017

PHOTOGRAPH BY LINDA FOX; COURTESY OF THE NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL AND CULTURAL RESOURCES

Also at the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association’s annual awards banquet, NCLR Editor Margaret Bauer received the R. Hunt Parker Memorial Award, which “acknowledges significant contributions to the literary life of North Carolina.” You can read more about these contributions in the story about her 2017 North Carolina Award for Literature, elsewhere in this issue. Here we include her acceptance remarks, in support of her desire to pay forward the support of the late – and much missed – Kathryn Stripling Byer. n n n

ABOVE Left to right, Carlton zum Brunnen, Margaret Bauer,

ABOVE NCLR Editor Margaret Bauer receiving the 2017 R. Hunt

Ian Finley, Serena Ebhart, David zum Brunnen, and Lorraine Hale Robinson, celebrating new awards at the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association’s annual awards banquet, Raleigh, 16 Nov. 2017

Parker Memorial Award from former North Carolina Literary and Historical Association President James W. Clark, Jr., Raleigh, 16 Nov. 2017

PHOTOGRAPH BY ANDREW MOREHEAD

Back in 1998 when my dear friend and colleague Alex Albright received this award shortly after my first issue of NCLR had appeared, I could not have imagined being so honored. A member of “Lit & Hist” in my twenty-plus years as NCLR editor, I’m familiar

with this award and know what kind of company I am now in – my mentor Jim Clark [James W. Clark, Jr., who presented the award]; the editors par excellence, Louis Rubin and Shannon Ravenel; the Paul Green scholar whose shoes are as hard to fill as Alex’s, Laurence Avery; so many of “my” beloved writers, at least two of whom I’ve had the opportunity to present this award to, Eastern North Carolina literary stars Jill McCorkle and Michael Parker; and NCLR’s biggest cheerleader, Kathryn Stripling Byer (I witnessed her at many podiums telling everyone to subscribe). Now it is my turn to pay it forward: go see Native, by the Hardee-Rives awardees you just heard about, EbzB Productions, here with the play’s author, Ian Finley tonight. I am, as I often am – thanks to having the best job I could never have imagined – in the finest company among those honored this year and in previous years. Thank you to the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association. n


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Reconnections and Remembrances by Margaret D. Bauer, Editor In this section, we welcome back writers who have published with us before (Annie Frazier, Lenard Moore, Marty Silverthorne) and take another look at subjects we’ve covered previously (Appalachian writers and war in North Carolina literature, for example). As editor, I enjoy reconnecting with people from past issues and finding out what they’ve been up to since they were last in our pages – some recently, others many years ago. Several, as you see from the reviews here, have published new books. Find their connections to previous issues in the biographical notes and footnotes with these reviews and poems, and remember that all back issues are available for purchase. I am pleased to include here too Emily Herring Wilson’s tribute to NCLR Founding Editor Alex Albright, given at the North Carolina Writers Conference last summer. I take advantage of every opportunity I have to thank Alex for creating and then passing NCLR into my hands while he went on to his next project, which was then the R.A. Fountain General Store and Internet Cafe. As NCLR is a venue where North Carolina culture is celebrated, so too is R.A. Fountain, where you can hear many of North Carolina’s talented musicians in the tiny Eastern North Carolina town of Fountain. The Flashbacks section seems an appropriate place to remember three people important to NCLR’s history, who are all gone too soon: poets Kathryn Stripling Byer and Susan Laughter Meyers and my ECU colleague Tom Douglass, who edited NCLR with Alex in its early days. Of Kay Byer, as I have said before, what an incredible advocate she was for NCLR: encouraging her audience members to subscribe, writing letters of support, planning new issue launching events. Last spring, I invited her to serve as the final judge for the 2017 James Applewhite Poetry Prize competition. She told me of her pending chemotherapy, but enthusiastically accepted the invitation to judge,

saying that by the time we had the finalists ready for her, she would be cancer-free and ready to read fine poetry. Sadly, her recovery did not go as expected. And about two weeks later, also suddenly and unexpectedly, Susan Meyers, whose poetry and reviews appeared often in NCLR, suffered a stroke and then slipped away from us as well. Quiet, calming, and always working diligently to support the poetry community in both Carolinas, the one she grew up in, the other she lived in until her passing, Susan was one of Poetry Editor Jeff Franklin’s favorite poets. “Take them all,” he wrote to me in response to five poems she submitted one year, and Fred Chappell ultimately chose one of these for the Applewhite Poetry Prize. Upon whispering this news to her at the North Carolina Writers Conference that summer, I enjoyed her modest and humble expression of surprise and pleasure. At the 2017 North Carolina Writers Conference, we were all reeling from the recent losses. You’ll find in this section tributes given to these dear ones at that event, as well as tributes to poet Sally Buckner, who has also recently passed. The East Carolina University community, particularly the Department of English – and most especially, students past and present – was similarly shocked and saddened by the news of our colleague/friend/ professor Tom Douglass’s illness about this time last year and then of his death just before the fall term began. Read here Alex Albright’s eloquent eulogy, given at the memorial held in, appropriately, Special Collections of Joyner Library, where Tom brought so many students to show them treasures in the Stuart Wright Collection, the acquisition of which he played a major role in. This ECU collection is quite a legacy to Tom. You can read Tom’s own story about that in NCLR Online 2013. You can honor Tom by visiting this collection and enjoying its treasures. Perhaps something you find will inspire future content for this section of NCLR. n


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FLASHBACKS:

Echoes of Past Issues 60 “You must always have an ‘Alex’”: How a Wrong Turn Became the Right Place by Emily Herring Wilson

84 Farm Nights a poem by Annie Frazier art by Jensynne East and Phoebe Lewis

62 In Memoriam: Thomas E. Douglass by Alex Albright

86 Beyond the Moon and the Stars a review by F. Brett Cox John Kessell, The Moon and the Other

64 A Portrait of Pauli a review by Christina G. Bucher Rosalind Rosenberg, Jane Crow 70 Chopping Weeds a poem by Lenard D. Moore art by David C. Driskell 71 Memories for Safekeeping a review by L. Teresa Church Lenard D. Moore, The Open Eye Glenis Redmond, What My Hand Say 76 Love Letters and Wedding Dress Ashes a poem by Marty Silverthorne art by Courtney Johnson 77 Growing up in the Blue Ridge: The Lives of Two North Carolina Mountain Writers a review by Gene Hyde Wilma Dykeman, Family of Earth Gregory S. Taylor, James Larkin Pearson 80 Spreading Awe: Childhood and Heritage in New Poetry a review by Sarah Huener Joseph Bathanti, The 13th Sunday after Pentecost Michael McFee, We Were Once Here 83 The Ragan Old North State Award by D.G. Martin

88 Fifty Shades of Minotaur a review by George Hovis Steven Sherrill, The Minotaur Takes His Own Sweet Time 90 New Memories of the Old Jim Crow a review by Garrett Bridger Gilmore Danny Johnson, The Last Road Home 92 Never Ceasing to Be Ourselves a review by Donna A. Gessell Kat Meads, In This Season of Rage and Melancholy Such Irrevocable Acts as These 94 In Memoriam Joseph Bathanti Remembers Kathryn Stripling Byer Barbara Presnell Remembers Susan Laughter Meyers with poetry by Shelby Stephenson 96 Sacred Anthems: Familial Relations and Military Service a review by Hannah Crane Sykes Barbara Presnell, Blue Star 98 An Overlook in a Poet’s Career: The Occasion of “Selected and New Poems” a review by Eric C. Walker Mark Cox, Sorrow Bread 100 In Memoriam June Guralnick Remembers Sally Buckner with a poem by Shelby Stephenson

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE 6 n North Carolina on the Map and in the News poetry, prose, book reviews, and literary news

103 n North Carolina Miscellany poetry, fiction, book reviews, and literary news


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“YOU MUST ALWAYS HAVE AN ‘ALEX’”: HOW A WRONG TURN BECAME THE RIGHT PLACE by Emily Herring Wilson adapted from remarks given at the North Carolina Writers Conference Rocky Mount, 29 July 2017 I appreciate Jim Clark’s asking me to be part of the program. I made my first literary appearance in Raleigh at North Carolina State with Guy Owen in the last century. This is the only organization I belong to in which we are allowed to grow old together. To say a few words about Alex Albright is easy: you’ll never meet a nicer person. He is a man of many talents – teacher, writer, founding editor, organizer – and he has been honored before for those stellar and steadfast achievements. Today at the annual July meeting of the storied North Carolina Writers Conference I have been asked on your behalf to recognize Alex – and Elizabeth – for their amazing reinvention – the R.A. Fountain General Store in Fountain, NC, which has brought lights and sounds and music and an internet cafe to a sleeping town of fewer than five hundred people. But that hardly does justice to Alex. In a letter to us, Jim described Fountain as a “community center, bookstore, museum, gallery, performance space, bioregional locus, literary hub, locavore nexus.” I can’t do better than that, especially since I had to look up “locavore nexus,” though

apparently everyone else knows the meaning. I was born before my time. North Carolina used to be a place of many small towns – most of the founding members of this organization meeting in 1950, en route to Manteo, drove through towns like Fountain that had thrived as a railroad juncture. Then, North Carolina was still a rural state of small farms and dusty roads, and families came to town of a Saturday to shop and to visit. That was before interstate highways made it possible for drivers to get to the beach on cruise control. If a map of North Carolina could be animated, I think we would see the stains of tears marking the places where a small town used to be. If not ghost towns, at least they had a sad look of being left behind. If you are old enough to have learned to drive in a gear-shift car, you have waited at the stop light in one of those small towns, giving you time to look around. COURTESY OF MICHAEL BRANTLEY

ABOVE Fountain Store at Night by former NCLR editorial assistant Michael Brantley

(This “photo illustration” won a Fuji Masterpiece Award in 2008.)


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where US 258 and NC 222 momentarily become Railroad and Wilson Streets and cross at the town’s one traffic light. On the northeast corner of the intersection, he saw a For Sale sign on the eighty-year-old Smith-Yelverton building, which had been on the market so long that the realtors had given up sales promotion a dozen years before. Upstairs . . . Alex saw sunlight flooding from tall windows across “the most gorgeous sight – all that old wood.” He thought, “If the roof is okay in this building, then my life is going to somehow change.”2

And the rest is the history of North Carolina writ small. Bless be the day that Alex Albright went back to Fountain with his wife, Elizabeth, and their life took a turn – they bought the building, the one next door, and in time restored an old house. Their son, Silas, was a bonus, born in 1999. When Alex and Elizabeth drive Silas to Boone to enroll as a freshman at Appalachian this fall, it is fair to say that Silas and the R.A. Fountain Store have come of age. Many of you have your own stories of Alex, and if you have not already been to the Fountain General Store – to play music, like Shelby and Linda Stephenson – or to listen – or to watch the dust motes dance in the light – then dodge the orange construction cones on your way back to the cities, and if you have been sitting in “Alligator Holes Down Along About Old Dock” is in A.R. Ammons’s The North Carolina Poems, edited by Alex Albright (North Carolina Wesleyan College Press, 1994; the poem was featured in NCLR 1993).

2

Leanne E. Smith, “Elizabeth and Alex Albright: Owners of R.A. Fountain General Store.” North Carolina Folklore Journal 59.2 (2012): 4-9: web.

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traffic longer than thirty minutes, follow your GPS off the beaten track and go home on a back road. I always get off I-40 at Faison, so that I can remember Linda Flowers, born and raised on a tenant farm and later an English professor at North Carolina Wesleyan College here in Rocky Mount. Alex has long harbored a hope of bringing out a new edition of Linda’s classic eulogy, Throwed Away: Failures of Progress in Eastern North Carolina (the second printing is now for sale in the R.A. Fountain collection of books on the table) and of collecting her letters and essays.3 That’s the kind of editor Alex is – always looking to save a great writer – or small town – from oblivion. If you haven’t read Throwed Away, you have missed perhaps the most haunting hymn to a small town ever written. If she were here today, Linda would rent a room from Elizabeth and Alex and make Fountain her vacation home. And it was through our mutual friend, Linda Flowers, that my husband Ed and I came to Fountain (I married Ed because he was from a small town, Leaksville, NC, where his four years of Latin in the local public high school passed muster at Harvard, I say immodestly, making the case for public schools in Linda’s honor). Ed and Linda quoted poetry to one another. She showed up at our door one late night and insisted that we come outside to admire a spider web. It was, she said, as intricate as a sonnet. After Linda died in 2000, I tried to find a place to hold a seminar in her honor, and I went to the University of North Carolina in Greensboro, her much loved school, and mine, to ask that they host it. After hours of meetings with bureaucrats and discussions of parking problems on campus, I threw up my hands, withdrew my invitation, and called Alex. You must always have an “Alex” waiting in the wings. He said, “Come to Fountain, and we will remember Linda.” And so we did. Among the friends in the audience that day was U.T. Summers, who came all the way from Rochester, NY, and whose collection of incomparable letters to and from Linda are now housed in Special Collections at the UNCG Library, and my love of our old school was renewed (it was called the Woman’s College in those days, for those of you old enough to remember). As a brilliant graduate student at the University of Rochester, Linda had lived near campus in a faculty home with Joe Summers, her professor, and his wife, U.T., and I had driven her to see them in the last year of

To call their names is to sing of the Old North State – “where the [poets] grow strong and the strong grow great.” Had I not altered those lines from the North Carolina state toast to suit who we are I would have said, “where the poor grow poorer and the rich grow richer.” But not on our watch at the R.A. Fountain General Store! A collection called The North Carolina Poems by another Eastern North Carolina poet, A.R. Ammons, edited by the famous Alex Albright, ends with a poem called “Alligator Holes Down Along About Old Dock,” in which Archie sings of the places in his native Eastern North Carolina that, as a Cornell Professor of Creative Writing in Ithaca, NY, never left his imagination – or, as he said, were “in the blood.” Archie begins, “Lord, I wish I were in Hallsboro.” He continues with a colorful list of names – Nakina, Fair Bluff, Shalotte, Gause’s Landing, Spring Branch Church, South Whiteville, New Brunswick. I will return to that poem in a few minutes.1 But hold on to hope – old-fashioned miracles do happen. As Alex tells it, on a day in the mid-1990s – as if by intent, absent-mindedness, or exhaustion from having taught at ECU and founded the North Carolina Literary Review and all the work of those two noble professions – he lost his way from Wilson going back home to Greenville, when he found himself in Fountain,

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Linda Flowers, Throwed Away: Failures of Progress in Eastern North Carolina (Knoxville: U of Tennessee P, 1990).


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wise, we will find our own ways to return North Carolina to greatness and take our inspiration from Alex: “If the roof is okay in North Carolina, our life is going to change.” Let me repeat that so that they can hear it in Raleigh: “If the roof is okay in North Carolina, our life is going to change.” Watch us raise the roof. We have some leftover nails and wood from the R.A. Fountain General Store, built to last. Now I return to Archie’s poem on “Alligator’s Holes,” where he mentions all the small towns where he grew up and end it this way: “Lord, we wish we were in Fountain.” Thank you, Alex and Elizabeth. n

EMILY HERRING WILSON’s books include The Three Graces of Val-Kill (University of North Carolina Press, 2017), North Carolina Women (University of North Carolina Press, 1999), and the editor of Two Gardeners: Katharine S. White and Elizabeth Lawrence: A Friendship in Letters (Beacon Press, 2002). She is a recipient of the North Carolina Award for Literature and the John Tyler Caldwell Award for the Humanities. She lives in Winston-Salem, NC.

ALEX ALBRIGHT earned a BA from UNC Chapel Hill and an MFA in Creative Writing from UNC Greensboro. His book The Forgotten First: B-1 and the Integration of the Modern Navy (R.A. Fountain, 2013) won the 2014 Willie Parker Peace History Book Award, given by the North Carolina Society of Historians. His other honors include the 1991 Jack Kerouac Literary Prize; the 1998 R. Hunt Parker Memorial Award for his significant contribution to North Carolina literature, given by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association; the 2007 Roberts Award for literary inspiration, given by the Friends of Joyner Library; and the 2012 Brown-Hudson Award, given by the North Carolina Folklore Society. In 2018, he will retire from a long career teaching in the Department of English at East Carolina University.

ABOVE Elizabeth, Alex, and Silas Albright in Washington, NC, 2008

IN MEMORIAM: THOMAS E. DOUGLASS adapted from remarks by Alex Albright J.Y. Joyner Library, East Carolina University, 2 November 2017 Among the indelibel memories I have of Tom Douglass is the incredible presentation he made when applying for a job here – one that Lillian Robinson later told me was the best she had ever seen by a job candidate. In it, he wove a complex and fascinating narrative about Southern literature and its landscape, war and memory, centered around a Faulkner passage from Intruder in the Dust: For every Southern boy . . . not once but whenever he wants it, there is the instant when it’s still not yet two oclock on that July afternoon in 1863 . . . and it’s all in the balance, it hasn’t happened yet, it hasn’t even begun yet, it not only hasn’t begun yet but there is still time for it not to begin.

I think of that passage now, and of the time before Tom’s cancer began, and of the time that he knew it but 3

kept it to himself, and of the loss his family has suffered and will continue to suffer. And of the absence I feel in knowing that he’s not in this world, that his Erwin office light has been extinguished – if ever you were an evening visitor to our part of old campus, it seemed, you’d see that light shining. But I also think now of him coming to my office in the old Austin City Limits and asking if I thought maybe NCLR would be interested in something on Seamus Heaney, who’d recently won the Nobel Prize for literature and was scheduled to be in Chapel Hill to deliver the commencement address at Carolina. Well, I asked him, how do we connect him to North Carolina, other than with what seemed a rather random connection via that impending commencement address. So he explained it all to me, how Kinston native Henry Pearson had

William Faulkner, Intruder in the Dust, 1948 (New York: Vintage, 2011): 190.

COURTESY OF ELIZABETH ALBRIGHT

her life. We fought all the way about the best poem by Elizabeth Bishop and the best route. I have never had a better friend than Linda, and now I have Alex. Are we surprised that it was Alex Albright who brought Linda home to Eastern North Carolina in a day of tributes at the R.A. Fountain Store we will never forget? Jan Hensley was there, of course. Isn’t he everywhere? At the end of the day, Ed and I (and Heather Ross Miller) spent the night in Elizabeth and Alex’s wonderful old house. If I had a recent inheritance from my father, as Alex did when he bought the Fountain properties, I would have bought the house next door and stayed forever. Elizabeth and I would have coffee every morning, and sometimes we would take a road trip to Raleigh, wouldn’t we, Elizabeth? Alex and Elizabeth have done a beautiful thing: they have restored history, and if we are


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2

Seamus Heaney, “Verses for a Fordham Commencement” and “A Carolina Commencement” [an excerpt], North Carolina Literary Review 5 (1996): 41–43. See also, in the same issue, Thomas E. Douglass, “Time and the Smell of the Earth: Seamus Heaney Returns to the Land of Henry Pearson,” 27–40.

3

William Carlos WIlliams, “Charles Olson’s Maximus,” NCLR 6 (1997): 28-31.

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PHOTOGRAPH BY CLIFF HOLLIS; COURTESY OF ECU NEWS SERVICES

become an obsessive collector of Heaney manuscripts and had illustrated more than a few of them. So in addition to the wonderful piece Tom wrote about Heaney and Pearson and the beautiful illustrations Pearson allowed us to use at no cost, we also wound up as the first publication for Heaney’s commencement address at Fordham in a weird exchange with Heaney’s agent, which went something like this: Tom asked the agent for permission to reprint a couple of the poems that Henry Pearson had illustrated. “Sure, for three hundred dollars a piece,” the agent said. So Tom, knowing that wouldn’t work, said, “Well how about that graduation poem he wrote? And the commencement address at Carolina?” “Oh those,” the agent said. “You’ll have to ask Mr. Heaney for permission. Which Tom did, and Mr. Heaney said sure, and here we have both the poem and the first publication from that speech.2 In addition to Seamus Heaney, Tom also, I will add, managed to bring William Carlos Williams into the fold of North Carolina writers in the 1997 issue of NCLR, which he edited.3 I got off to a good start with Tom when, the first time he came into my office, he picked out from my over-stuffed book cases a copy of Tom Kromer’s obscure Depressionera novel Waiting for Nothing. It was a well-read copy, he could tell, as he thumbed slowly through it, chuckling a couple of times at either a familiar passage or perhaps one of my notes. I had used it several times as a text for my freshman composition classes. In the next few minutes, I learned more from him than anyone, perhaps, other than Tom Douglass himself, knew about Kromer, and in that process I got just a glimpse of the depth of Tom’s knowledge of Appalachian literature, and a really strong notion of the passion he brought to the reading of it and talking and thinking and writing about it. But by far the most amazing editorial chore I’ve ever witnessed was how he managed to take a three hundred–page screed typed on a manual typewriter and sent to us unsolicited by Jake Grant, a reclusive Vietnam veteran who was living in Snow Hill. We’d later find out that Jake had gathered and sold pecans to get funds for photocopying his mauscript, and that this was the only copy other than his original. I was fascinated by its complexity and the power and urgency of Grant’s voice, but I couldn’t imagine what could be done with it. Tom shared my admiration and frustration with the manuscript and said simply, “Let me take it home this weekend and see what I can do with it.” He came back on Monday with a meticulously edited (and re-typed) piece of creative nonfiction – without changing a word of

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Grant’s raw poetic prose – that connected the industrial evils permeating the big businesses of commercially raising tobacco and hogs with Grant’s own desperate life as a trucker driving hogs to slaughter through the back roads of East Carolina, all the while haunted by a failing marriage and the little daughter with whom he is losing touch. By simply cutting and rearranging, Tom made it what we both considered the best thing we published in that issue, and it remains today one of my all-time favorites.4 Tom wanted no credit for what he had done with Jake Grant’s manuscript, and it was that selfless editing style that, I think, was at the heart of his success as editor of the University of Tennessee’s Appalachian Echoes series, which had for him the ideal job description: edit and prepare for contemporary publication a neglected or forgotten Appalachian novel. It was for this series that Tom also wrote the first biographies of Breece D.J. Pancake and Davis Grubb and brought into contemporary print such remarkable novels as Hubert Skidmore’s Depression-era novel Hawk’s Nest. As we remember Tom Douglass today, I’m reminded of an African proverb: “So long as you will say my name out lout I will be alive for you.” In this process of remembering, then, I say aloud the names of those who worked on NCLR who went on before Tom: our associate editor Bertie Fearing, our staff poet A.R. Ammons, our correspondents Linda Flowers, Jonathan Williams, and Janet Lembke, and our student editors Trish Evans and Alice Rene Cavelry. But it is Tom I most want to keep alive with us today, and I ask that you all join me in saying once more his name out loud: Tom Douglass. n 4

Jake Grant, “Smoke, Hog-Wild, Hauling,” an excerpt, NCLR 5 (1996): 243-63.

ABOVE Tom Douglass (1951–1917) with materials from the Stuart

Wright Collection in Joyner Library (Read Tom Douglass’s story about the Stuart Wright Collection in NCLR Online 2013.)


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Pauli Murray is unfamiliar to many Americans, although, to be sure, the late civil rights activist, feminist, attorney, writer, professor, and Episcopal priest has lately been garnering some much deserved attention. She was sainted by the Episcopal church in 2012. Her childhood home in Durham, NC, was named a National Historical Landmark by the National Park Service in 2016, and Yale University announced that same year that it would name one of its two new colleges after the 1965 Doctor of Juridical Science alumna. Both UNC Chapel Hill and Duke University are considering Murray’s likeness as a potential option for replacing prominent Confederate statues on their campuses.1 On the print front, Patricia Bell-Scott’s The Firebrand and the First Lady, her engaging account of Murray’s friendship with First Lady, activist, and diplomat Eleanor Roosevelt was published in 2016 to appreciative reviews in a range of publications and was longlisted for the National Book Award. In 2017, an extended piece in the The New Yorker by Kathryn Schulz titled “The Many Lives of Pauli Murray” questioned “why haven’t you heard of her?” and proceeded to introduce the readership of that magazine to the highlights of her career.2 And at last, also in 2017, historian

A PORTRAIT OF PAULI a review by Christina G. Bucher Rosalind Rosenberg, Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.

CHRISTINA G. BUCHER is an Associate Professor of English, Rhetoric, and Writing at Berry College in Rome, GA. She has published articles on Kate Chopin’s “Fedora” in Mississippi Quarterly, Gloria Naylor and Charles W. Chesnutt’s approaches to the conjure tradition in Studies in the Literary Imagination, and the poetry of Pauli Murray in NCLR 2004. NCLR also published her interview with Anna Jean Mayhew in 2013.

Rosalind Rosenberg’s extensive and much anticipated biography of Murray, Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray was published. Jane Crow is a welcome addition to Murray studies and simply to readers who are interested in the life of this most fascinating American figure. Taking her title from the term Murray coined when she was a student at Howard Law School in the early 1940s to describe the dual discrimination she experienced as a woman and a Black American, Rosenberg, Professor of History Emerita at Barnard College of Columbia University, offers what will be to many readers an introduction to the arc of Murray’s life, stunning in its diverse and significant contributions to social justice and to American society. Rosenberg particularly should be praised for bringing the details of Murray’s full life to the fore, including her struggles with gender identity and sexuality, which Murray spoke not even a whisper of in her autobiography, Song in a Weary Throat (published posthumously in 1987 and currently out of print).3 Some will justifiably quibble with how Rosenberg interprets those details and makes it the driving force of the autobiography. Some general readers may also find the biography a little too “scholarly” in its prose style and its eighty-one pages

1

The photographs of the Pauli Murray murals in Durham, NC, are featured courtesy of the Pauli Murray Project, Duke Human Rights Center at the Franklin Humanities Institute. For more on the Pauli Murray Project, visit their website.

OPPOSITE RIGHT Pauli Murray in the World, mural at 117 S. Buchanan Blvd.

Ray Gronberg, “Duke Taking Ideas on Replacement for Lee Statue, and a Durham Icon’s in the Mix,” Herald Sun 29 Sept. 2017: web ; Andrew Reynolds, “Here’s the Perfect Candidate to Replace North Carolina’s Racist Silent Sam Statue,” Huffpost 15 Aug. 2017: web.

2

Patricia Bell-Scott, The Firebrand and the First Lady; Portrait of a Friendship: Pauli Murray, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Struggle for Social Justice (New York: Knopf, 2016); Kathryn Schulz, “The Many Lives of Pauli Murray,” New Yorker 17 Apr. 2017: web.

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Song in a Weary Throat: An American Pilgrimage was published postumously by Harper and Row in 1987 by the estate of Pauli Murray. It was republished in 1989 by the University of Tennessee Press with the somewhat clumsy title Pauli Murray: The Autobiography of a Black Activist Feminist Lawyer, Priest, and Poet. Both are now out of print. (This review quotes from the first edition.)


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of notes and sources (a quick perusal of Amazon and Goodreads reviews reveals this criticism by some readers). Nevertheless, Rosenberg’s telling of Murray’s life is provocative, and the thoroughness with which she mined the trove of Murray’s private papers housed at the Schlesinger Library of Women’s History at Radcliffe College to produce this biography brings much new information to those interested in the life and work of Pauli Murray. Rosenberg, for the most part, follows a standard chronological narrative in telling Murray’s life story – from her North Carolina childhood through her heady, and often lean, first years in college in New York City, to her first unexpected practice of non-violent protest when she and her friend Adelene “Mac” McBean were riding a Jim Crow bus from the city back to North Carolina for Easter and were arrested in Virginia for refusing to move to the back as ordered by the driver. After graduating from college, Murray worked for the Workers’ Defense League, and their unsuccessful attempt to prevent the execution of black sharecropper Odell Waller inspired her desire to pursue a career in law. During law school at Howard University, Murray led other students to desegregate local lunch counters but endured the sexism of the black male law school faculty and students. Such experiences launched her lifelong battle to confront both racial and gender discrimination. Rosenberg guides the reader smoothly through a variety of experiences after Murray’s graduation from Howard: being denied admission to graduate studies at Harvard because of her gender, moving to California to attend

Boalt School of Law for graduate work, difficulty finding positions as a practicing attorney, taking a position at the brand new Ghana School of Law in a newly independent country, forays into other academic positions when she returned to the US, including an administrative position at Benedict College in South Carolina and a faculty appointment at Brandeis University. The latter brought Murray into conflict with newly “militant” black students who were demanding more courses in African American studies and more forceful approaches to social justice than Murray, a practitioner of non-violent protest, was willing to entertain, resulting in a hard-won

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tenure battle. After the death of her partner, Irene Barlow, Murray decided to give up her tenured position and enter divinity school to begin the path to ordination as an Episcopal priest, a path she finally completed in January 1976, becoming the first ordained African American female Episcopal priest in the United States. Those who have read Murray’s Song in a Weary Throat may find at times that Rosenberg’s chronological narrative cleaves a little too closely to the structure of Murray’s autobiography. (I was rereading Song in a Weary Throat at the same time I was first reading Jane Crow and found myself often not remembering what I had read


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in which book). However, it is likely that many of Rosenberg’s readers will not have read Murray’s out-ofprint autobiography, so this may be a minor concern. It is also true that Rosenberg fleshes out some events in Murray’s life that Murray did not. As one example, Murray devotes a single, brief paragraph to her residence at the MacDowell Colony in 1954: she notes a fellow resident was James Baldwin and that they were the first black writers ever to be awarded a spot at the prestigious writer’s retreat (Song 299–300). Rosenberg, drawing on Murray’s own notes and letters, reveals that Murray and Baldwin had adjacent cabins and that Murray found the thirtyyear-old Baldwin “‘intense,’ ‘sensitive,’ ‘soft spoken,’ and ‘delicately put together’” and that Baldwin often became so involved in his work that Murray had to “call out to him as she strode by his studio to be sure he got fed” (200). They also went to the movies and to a pub in the neighboring community together. Rosenberg also suggests there may have been some literary “tension” between the two. When they each shared an essay for feedback from fellow residents, Baldwin’s fiery “A Stranger in the Village” elicited more response than did Murray’s somewhat conciliatory essay on Southern white liberal Lillian Smith, “A Legacy of the South.” “White readers at MacDowell,” writes Rosenberg, “found Baldwin’s

essay ‘disturbing.’ To Murray’s dismay, they found hers only ‘interesting’” (201). Rosenberg notes, too, that at MacDowell, Murray struck up supportive friendships with Henrietta Buckmaster, the white author of Let My People Go (1941), a history of the Underground Railroad, and especially with Helene Hanff, known to many as the author of 84, Charing Cross Road (1970). This is the kind of additional information that gives readers a fuller portrait of Murray than she herself sometimes offered in Song in a Weary Throat. And readers should be especially grateful for Rosenberg’s final “Epilogue” chapter, which provides information about Murray’s life following her ordination, which is where the autobiography stops. Learning, even briefly, about Murray’s final years is enlightening. Rosenberg is a historian by training, specializing in women’s history, and is the author of the titles Beyond Separate Spheres: The Intellectual Roots of American Feminism (1983), Divided Lives: American Women in the Twentieth Century (1992), and Changing the Subject: How the Women of Columbia Shaped the Way We Think About Sex and Politics (2004). It is not surprising, then, that she places particular emphasis on Murray’s theoretical and legal work on women’s rights issues. For instance, we read of Murray’s involvement in the 1963 March on

Washington, which Murray also did not address in Song in a Weary Throat, and her bold resistance to A. Philip Randolph’s decision to speak to the all-male National Press Club just a week before the march. Upon learning that he would not cancel the speech despite pressure from both black and white women journalists who would be allowed to attend but required to sit in the balcony, Rosenberg reports Murray, using her typewriter as a weapon as she so often did, fired off a letter to the Washington Post asserting that it was “just as ‘humiliating for a woman reporter assigned to cover Mr. Randolph’s speech to be sent to the balcony as it would be for Mr. Randolph to be sent to the back of the bus’” (266). Murray was also one of several women who protested organizer Bayard Rustin’s almost total exclusion of women speakers at the march, despite the crucial role that many had played in the Civil Rights Movement. Here was blatant evidence of Jane Crow in action. “For Murray,” writes Rosenberg, “the accumulated slights surrounding the march drove home a lesson: human rights, rather than civil rights, which under pressure had devolved into rights for black men only, must be her focus. Otherwise, the black woman would always be invisible” (268). Rosenberg is at her best when she is explicating these ways that Murray practiced what is today

OPPOSITE RIGHT Pauli Murray, A Youthful Spirit, mural at 2520 Vesson Ave., inscribed:

Pauli Murray 1910–1985 Scholar, Lawyer, Priest, Civil Rights Activist, Durham Shero Erudita, Abogado, Poeta, Activista de derechos humanos, Heroina de Durham


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portions may present a hurdle for some readers. By far, Rosenberg’s most important contribution is to address directly that which Murray erased completely in Song in a Weary Throat, and that is her long struggle with her sexual and gender identity. Unless readers have sought out Doreen Drury’s 2000 dissertation, Experimentation on the Male Side: Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality in Pauli Murray’s Quest for Love and Identity, 1910–1960, which, prior to Jane Crow, offered the most thorough exploration of Murray’s gender identity and sexuality, drawing on the extensive notes Murray kept of the doctor visits and hospital stays in which she sought help to solve what she called her “boygirl” self, they would have scant knowledge of this crucial part of Murray’s identity.5 Rosenberg herself notes in her introduction that Murray was “extremely guarded” about this part of her identity and that “some of those closest to her were astonished to learn, long after her death,” that Murray was anything other than a heterosexual woman (6). According to Rosenberg (quoted in a Slate review of Jane Crow) part of the reason the biography was twenty years in the making was that family members were uncomfortable with addressing these aspects of Murray’s life, fearful that they would somehow sully her reputation as a significant American activist, attorney,

called “intersectional” feminism. In other places, however, her enthusiasm for detailed discussions of Murray’s work within such entities, such as President Kennedy’s 1961 Commission on the Status of Women or the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and their legal efforts to move forward on women’s equality, may lose some readers. With their intricate legal details about pro– and anti–Equal Rights Amendment arguments, and the complexities of adding “sex” to Title VII/the 1964 Civil Rights Act, these sections can bog down the narrative thread of the autobiography. I suspect that these portions, particularly, are the ones that have led some Goodread reviewers to remark on the “dense” style, or lament that it “reads like a doctoral thesis [sic]” or a “dissertation.”4 Now to be sure, these contributions to policy are paramount to Murray’s legacy. Her work as a graduate student and later as an attorney in hammering out strategies for using the Fourteenth Amendment to fight both racial and gender discrimination are some of Murray’s greatest achievements. Thurgood Marshall would use Murray’s arguments in shaping his own for the landmark 1954 Brown vs. the Board of Education, and Ruth Bader Ginsberg also relied on Murray’s work to argue for gender equality. And Rosenberg is writing a scholarly biography. Nonetheless, these

4

Reviews of Jane Crow: The Life of Pauli Murray, Goodreads.com: web.

NCLR 2004, featuring Christina Bucher’s essay on Pauli Murray’s poetry, is still available for purchase.

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and priest. However, time and the movement for LGBTQ rights “brought legitimacy to discussions of sexuality and gender identity. That legitimacy made publication of my book possible,” Rosenberg told an interviewer for Notches.6 It is difficult to pinpoint exactly when Murray became aware of her feelings both of identifying more with masculinity and being attracted to women. Rosenberg suggests the former was quite early, choosing to begin her introduction to Jane Crow with an eight-year-old Murray asking her adoptive mother, her aunt Pauline, to shop in the boy’s section of a Durham clothing store for a new school outfit (1). While in college at Hunter, she made “a dreadful mistake” in marrying a young man (38). Murray would later write privately, reports Rosenberg, that the

5

Drury, whose dissertation was written for Boston College, also published two articles that touch on Murray’s gender and sexuality: “Love, Ambition, and ‘Invisible Footnotes’ in the Life and Writing of Pauli Murray,” Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture & Society 11.3 (2009): 295–309; “Boy-Girl, Imp, Priest: Pauli Murray and the Limits of Identity,” Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 29.1 (2013): 142– 47. The topic is also addressed in Leila J. Rupp, and Verta Taylor, “Pauli Murray: The Unasked Question,” Journal of Women’s History 14.2 (2002): 83–87.

6

Karen Iris Tucker, “Meet Pauli Murray, a Gender-Variant Pioneer for Equal Protection Under the Law,” Slate 19 Apr. 2017. web; Alexie Glover, “A Portrait of Jane Crow: An Interview with Rosalind Rosenberg,” Notches 29 June 2017: web; subsequently cited parenthetically.


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honeymoon was a fiasco and that she was repulsed by sexual intercourse. He left town a few weeks later and eventually the marriage was dissolved. From that point on, at least through the late 1950s, Rosenberg recounts a pattern for Murray: she would become romantically attracted to a woman, the “relationship would flounder,” and Murray would suffer both a physical and mental breakdown as a result (56). She regularly sought out medical help and was hospitalized on several occasions, keeping detailed notes about her care and her probing questions about it. Rosenberg’s summary of these notes or inclusion of significant portions of them is one of the greatest gifts in Jane Crow. Murray was convinced that her “problems” were not psychological, but physical – believing she either had a hormone or glandular disorder or hidden male organs. Rosenberg speculates (one wishes with more cited evidence in the footnotes7) that Murray read extensively the work of the early twentieth-century “sexologists,” including Magnus Hirschfeld and Havelock Ellis, whose nascent theories that gender and sexuality were not necessarily binary, fueled her belief that she might be a “pseudohermaphrodit[e] with secreted male genitals” (50, 58). She sought help from endocrinologists and even found a doctor in 1944 who was willing to prescribe testosterone if her sister, a nurse, was willing to administer the injections. She was not (144). Murray was unwilling to accept a “homosexual” or a lesbian sexual

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It does not help that footnotes appear only at the end of paragraphs and that when consulting them, the reader cannot tell which sources go with which information in a paragraph.

orientation, for she believed the fact that she liked to wear men’s clothing and that the women she fell for were “feminine” and either heterosexual or bisexual indicated that she must in some way be a heterosexual male. She wrote that “other Homosexuals irritate me instead of causing a bond of sympathy” (58) and took that, too, as evidence that she herself was not homosexual. “In short,” writes Rosenberg, “none of her feelings squared with being homosexual, as she understood the term” (59). Rosenberg traces Murray’s long struggle with these issues – issues that she kept hidden from most people as she made her way through her working life – and suggests that Murray finally found some peace about them after a thyroid operation in 1954 resolved some of her physical and emotional health problems. She entered into productive psychotherapy, and she found a steadying presence in Irene “Renee” Barlow, her life partner from 1956 to Barlow’s death in 1973.

Murray’s dilemmas over her gender identity and sexuality are not easily pinned down, but readers and scholars are likely tempted to try to do so. Rosenberg takes some care to acknowledge the complexities of Murray’s situation, noting in the Notches interview that she was well aware of the dangers of imposing modern terms like “transgender” that did not even exist at the time Murray was living onto her life, and qualifying in Jane Crow when discussing Murray’s rejection of “homosexual” or “lesbian” to describe herself in the medical notes, that this was a rejection based on her understanding of those terms (58). Nonetheless, Rosenberg does determine that her reading of the evidence indicates that Murray “struggled with what we would call today a transgender identity” (Glover) and thus she centers Murray as transgender in the biography. That is the script she follows closely throughout its narrative until she asserts (again, one may wish with more convincing evidence) that Murray got to a point in her life where she came to accept her “inbetweenness.” In the introduction setting up the structure of the biography, Rosenberg writes that eventually, “[n]o longer did Murray believe that one had to be either female or male; one could be both, a person in between, more male than female perhaps, but with qualities of both” (3). But the bulk of the biography frames Murray as transgender. Certainly, seeing Murray as transgender is a possible, even viable, reading. Murray, as Rosenberg makes clear, asserts her belief that she really is male in

ABOVE Pauli Murray, Roots & Soul, mural at 1101 West Chapel Hill St., inscribed:

“It has taken me almost a lifetime to discover that true emancipation lies in the acceptance of the whole past, in deriving strength from all my roots, in facing up to the degradation as well as the dignity of my ancestors.”—Pauli Murray from Proud Shoes


Flashbacks: Echoes of Past Issues

the medical notes and did indeed seek physiological “evidence” that she was. However, it is equally possible that Murray saw a heterosexual male identity as the only way she could “legitimize” or make respectable her continual falling in love with women. Had Murray lived at a time when lesbianism was a more accepted sexual identity – particularly within black, religious circles – would she have struggled so with her feelings for women? What accounted for Murray’s resistance to the terms “homosexual” or “lesbian” that she expressed? Who were the lesbian women she either knew or read about that led her to such beliefs that all homosexual women were “butch”? Why did she equate the desire for a monogamous relationship with heterosexuality and casual sex with homosexuality? One wishes that Rosenberg might have explored in more detail why Murray “understood” the term “homosexual” as she did. A close reading of Song in a Weary Throat along with notes and letters in the Murray papers hints that it is possible Murray did have a circle of lesbian friends and acquaintances. She had a an assorment of women friends who lived independent lives, resisted traditional feminine roles and dress, and had shortened “masculine” names (Margaret “Pee Wee” Inness, Louise “Lou” Jefferson, Dorothy “Toni” Hayden). Resources such as Lillian Faderman’s Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth Century America,

ABOVE Pauli Murray, True Community,

mural at 313 Foster St., inscribed: “True Community is based upon equality, mutuality, and reciprocity. It affirms the richness of individual diversity as well as the common human ties that bind us together.”

Leslie Feinberg’s searing novel Stone Butch Blues, and sections of Audre Lorde’s Zami: A New Spelling of My Name reveal that such modes of self-representation were often subtle markers for a lesbian identity among both black and white women in the middle of the twentieth century.8 While admittedly, the time period for some of these titles is a little later than Murray’s years in New York, an exploration of such sources, as well as those about “homosexual” life in Harlem at the time Murray was living there (she was acquainted with Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen), with its drag balls and “bulldagger” blues singers, would provide an even fuller understanding, a fuller contextualization, of why Murray believed what she did about gender identity and sexuality. Such an exploration should not

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be in the service of “proving” that Murray was a lesbian either. It simply would only enhance and even further complicate – positively – Rosenberg’s compelling, engaging, but perhaps sometimes too categorical analysis of this aspect of Murray’s life and identity. Whether or not all readers join Rosenberg for the transgender narrative in Jane Crow, there is little doubt that her portrait is an important contribution to our understanding of Pauli Murray. Meticulously researched, expansive in its coverage of Murray’s many achievements, engagingly written overall, Rosenberg has given us the means to a greater appreciation of this most remarkable American, and provides a foundation for even further conversation about her significance and legacy. n

Lillian Faderman, Odd Girls and Twilight Lovers: A History of Lesbian Life in Twentieth Century America (New York: Columbia UP, 1991); Leslie Feinberg, Stone Butch Blues (Ithaca: Firebrand Books, 1993); Audre Lord, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name (Trumansburg: Crossing Press, 1982). The lives of these women are ripe for more investigation not only for their relationship to Murray but in and of themselves;


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FINALIST, 2017 JAMES APPLEWHITE POETRY PRIZE BY LENARD D. MOORE

Chopping Weeds Chopping weeds in the sun-beaten cornfield, I worked with my stern great-grandmother. It was wise to look down at the ground: the field was scorching and snakes might slither. In the windless afternoon I wiped sweat but kept steady with the sun on my face; it lurked about the skin. I looked amazed. Down the rows I considered ancestors.

© DAVID C. DRISKELL; COURTESY OF DAVID C. DRISKELL CENTER, 20172009.18.041. PURCHASED FROM THE DAVID C. DRISKELL COLLECTION.PHOTOGRAPH BY GREG STALEY; COURTESY OF DAVID C. DRISKELL CENTER AND THE UNIVERSITY OF MARYLAND, COLLEGE PARK

My nose sampling the hot air kept me right – the field’s edge red with raspberries that waited to be picked, ripe with sun. Up those long rows I trudged, spilling song. I wanted all my weeding well done, in this field just off that rocky road. I pulled so many ears of field corn as much as the cornstalks could yield.

Sunburst, 2009 (paint and ink on paper, 13.5x10.75) by David C. Driskell

DAVID C. DRISKELL grew up in Forest City, NC. He studied at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture in Maine and has a BA from Harvard University and an MFA from Catholic University. He is currently Distinguished Professor Emeritus at the University of Maryland, where the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora was established in his honor in 2001. His paintings can be found in such major museums as the National Gallery of Art and in private collections around the world. His scholarship in the history of art includes numerous books and over forty catalogs for curated exhibitions, including, in 1976, “Two Centuries of Black American Art: 1750–1950,” a seminal exhibit that laid the foundation for the field of African American Art History. In addition to many other awards and honors, he is cultural advisor and curator of the Cosby Collection of Fine Arts. In 2000, he was awarded the National Humanities Medal by then President Bill Clinton. In 2007, he was elected as a National Academician by the National Academy. See another of the artist’s works in NCLR 2012.

LENARD D. MOORE, a native of Jacksonville, NC, received the 2014 North Carolina Award for Literature. He has taught at North Carolina A&T, North Carolina State University, Shaw University, and currently, the University of Mount Olive. He has served as President of the Haiku Society of America. His poetry has previously appeared in NCLR 1996 and 2004, among many other venues.


Flashbacks: Echoes of Past Issues

MEMORIES FOR SAFEKEEPING a review by L. Teresa Church Lenard D. Moore. The Open Eye. 30th anniversary edition. Eugene, OR: Mountain & Rivers Press, 2015. Glenis Redmond. What My Hand Say. Winston-Salem, NC: Press 53, 2016.

L. TERESA CHURCH has been a member of the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective since 1995. She currently serves as archivist for the organization and has served as Membership Chair since 2002. Her play One Day When I Was Lost was awarded the North Carolina Arts Council’s playwrights fellowship in 1989. Her writings have appeared in a variety of publications, including Obsidian: Literature in the African Diaspora, Word and Witness: 100 Years of North Carolina Poetry, African American Review, Pembroke Magazine, and several issues of NCLR. She has degrees in English and English/Creative Writing from Radford College and Brown University, respectively, and a master’s degree in Library Science and PhD in Information and Library Science from UNC Chapel Hill. Read about LENARD D. MOORE with a sample of his poetry on the facing page, and read more about him in L. Teresa Church’s NCLR 2016 essay on the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective, which he founded.

Kindred threads of memory run through Lenard D. Moore’s thirtieth anniversary edition of his haiku collection, The Open Eye, and Glenis Redmond’s new poetry collection, What My Hand Say. These works are carefully stitched together with language and imagery that bring into sharp focus people, places, events, and particular moments in time. In his collection, Moore experiments with the haiku form and focuses upon the natural world, inspired, it seems by his coming of age in a rural community and time spent working in the tobacco fields of Eastern North Carolina. Redmond has lived in North and South Carolina. She also writes about rural life and culture. Her poetry trowels back layer after layer of Southern soil to unearth memories of families and communities. The Open Eye and What My Hand Say illustrate the power that African American poetry wields in preserving the past for the present and the future. The title of The Open Eye suggests the act of paying close attention to one’s surroundings. Lenard D. Moore evidences his adeptness in that regard. Through his economy of language – a main feature of haiku, of course – and his observations of nature, this collection constitutes an archive filled with poetic snapshots and lasting images. Moore’s sparse words and juxtapositions provide entrée to occurrences in the natural world in ways that cameras and other recording devices

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cannot achieve. Considering the proliferation of residential communities, shopping centers, and other commercial concerns that continually transform natural landscapes, The Open Eye is perhaps more timely now than when it was first published. Ninety-four poems are included among the book’s four sections. Each section is named for one of the four seasons of the year, inspiring readers to ponder deeper meanings of spring, summer, autumn, and winter. These chronological periods serve as guideposts for navigating the collection from start to finish and represent various phases of the human life cycle, from birth to death. These poems also evoke the five senses, at least one of which is a required element in haiku. Inasmuch as Moore identifies tangible aspects of the natural world, he implores readers to consider their own place within nature. The first poem of the book, “Spring plowing . . . / how long it lasts / the rooster’s call,” suggests birth and renewal. Images come to mind of men in earlier times, gripping plow handles and issuing commands to horses and mules. Or one might hear the more recent rumble of tractors furrowing dusty fields. Metaphorically, one might think of how we plow through some days. Spring embodies so much more than blooming flowers and trees – the croak of amphibians emerging from hibernation, and the preparations necessary for planting crops, for example. Moore also examines the nature and significance of spring in relation to factors such as the

GLENIS REDMOND is an award-winning poet, known also for her teaching. For the past dozen years, she has been travelling both domestically and abroad, sharing her talents for writing and teaching across the globe. She has received the Carrie McCray literary award and has been awarded fellowships from the North Carolina Arts Council, the Vermont Writing Center, and the Atlantic Center for the Arts. She is also a Cave Canem fellow. Her poetry has appeared in various publications, including Obsidian II: Black Literature in Review, Appalachian Journal, Appalachian Heritage, Kakalak, African Voices, and NCLR 2012 and 2014, and NCLR Online 2014.


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aging process and the passage of time. He juxtaposes images of an “Old deserted farm” and “peach petals,” “The ancient farmstead” and “rose-scented breeze,” and “the old monk” and “honeysuckle fragrance,” to foster an appreciation for springtime. The poem “sniffling the rosebud: / an old man – / the fading sun” utilizes the images of a rose and the sun to literally and figuratively invoke the sense of sight. Moore portrays an elderly man who has witnessed spring’s arrival numerous times. Now that he is advanced in years, the fragrance of the rose and the day’s diminishing light may kindle memories and cause him to reflect upon his own mortality. This poem emphasizes the tentativeness of life. Although the rose is budding and about to open into fullness, it has a fixed duration. There is no evidence to suggest that the man sniffing its perfume has any assurance of his participation in future springtimes, for his life also is one of fixed duration. Meanwhile, the poem “Sipping the new tea / his wrinkled face absorbs steam . . . / the smell of roses” contains three sensory elements – taste, touch, and smell – to introduce

ABOVE The original 1985 cover of Moore’s collection

the essence of a spring moment. Moore concludes the first section of the book with “afterglow – / lilies / just closing” and captures an image of spring flowers at the end of their blooming cycle. There is a finality in the lilies’ closing. For some other types of blossoms, however, withering petals signal the continuity of life as they give way to the formation of fruit, which subsequent poems reference. In the second section’s exploration of summer, haiku depict people, plants, and animals during a period conducive to growth and maturation. Here, Moore focuses upon some of the ironies associated with summer’s growth and development. The presence of a “rattlesnake skin hanging / from a rotten beam” reminds us that a reptile must shed its dead skin in order to accommodate new bodily growth. Meanwhile, the decayed wood described in this poem likely provides a source of shelter as well as food for the sustenance of other living organisms. The poem “Summer sunset – / old oak’s shadow lengthening / on the sunken grave” examines the concept of growth in relation to the human experience. Moore juxtaposes the image of a deceased person’s final resting place with the image of an oak tree, a species recognized for its strength and endurance. He shows the importance of particular places associated with families and communities, even when human activity has ceased. Also worthy of mention, the oak tree’s expanding shadow over the grave may symbolize the enduring memories of the person interred therein. Writings in the third section of the book evoke sentiments of the

isolation and decline peculiar to autumn. Representative poems include the following tercets: farther and farther into the mountain trail autumn dusk deepens Autumn evening: In the dried cornfield only crows eating on the moonlit road sitting autumn out alone: a stiff old owl

Finally, in the fourth section of the book, the cessation of growth is evident in every poem. Snow and cold foster a yearning for shelter and comfort, as illustrated in the following tercets: old barn the silence of a stray dog across deep snow Winter sunset; how badly he shakes on the old footbridge.

The last poem in this section of the book, “Which way to go – / the eastward trail, snow / the westward trail, snow,” evokes feelings PHOTOGRAPH BY JEFF EISEN

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ABOVE Lenard D. Moore reading at

Quail Ridge Books, Raleigh


Flashbacks: Echoes of Past Issues

of indecisiveness about the possible continuation or completion of a journey or other undertaking. Winter symbolizes death, yet, this poem seemingly embodies hope, because the seasons in nature are cyclical. Winter will once again yield to spring, warmth, new growth, and the continuity that follows. Whereas Lenard D. Moore provides snapshots of the natural world, Glenis Redmond takes a close-up look at the lives and experiences of people who inhabit the world that she knows best. What My Hand Say is a palm laid bare for reading. Every scar and crease holds a fortune of messages and meanings about African American life and history. This collection represents the hand of the poet, her parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and others, whose stories have been passed down for safekeeping. These writings traverse South Carolina. Redmond presses her soul and the soles of her feet deep into the soil of Waterloo, Greenville, Clinton, Edgefield, Cheraw, Fountain Inn, Honea Path, and Columbia. She connects links between these and other locales like a map that documents where she came from. Fittingly, What My Hand Say opens with a poem entitled “Stories,” which defines Redmond’s mission to carry on in the griot tradition of her mother and grandmother. Therein, she acknowledges that

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labor under hostile working conditions. For others, insults and indignities are a fact of everyday life. Struggles of one sort or another abound. Lives are lost through the untimeliness of accidents, lynchings, and punishment meted out by court order. The realities of inner-city violence do not go unnoticed. Redmond writes about illness and disease that ravage body and spirit. The issue of skin color is prevalent. Yet, there are instances of jubilation and victories over circumstances that people still find breath to describe at the end of a long day. “On the Way to Grandma’s Funeral” is one such example. In this poem, the funeral procession passes by several Confederate flags during the journey to the gravesite. Grieving family members comprehend what these emblems symbolize but render them unworthy of discussion. Instead, the mourners engage in lively conversation about their “top three desserts,” which happen to be “1) sweet potato pie, 2) sweet potato pie / 3) that would be more sweet potato pie.” Redmond writes that her grandmother would “be proud of how we turned our heads, / away from hate: fixed our minds on sweet thangs.” The presence of the Confederate flag is a reminder of the blatancy of racism and intolerance that still create an undercurrent of tension for African Americans and other ethnic groups in the South and other regions. COURTESY OF GLENIS REDMOND

Some hate the stories I tell, Say, Don’t go back, as if my mouth is connected to their hearts. My head bowed eyes intent on the stitch, not busy with blame – I work the pieces, render the trade I learned at my mama’s & my grandmama’s hands. We call it making something out of nothin. These stories are useful things, stitches I follow. They guide me clear, and help me stand.

Redmond honors the memories of men, women, and children who came before and after her. Necessary stories unfold throughout this collection. There are accounts of people egregiously exploited for their

Another familial voice that gives testimony in What My Hand Say is that of Redmond’s great-grandmother, whose “womb flowered 16 times.” The poem “Rachel Cunningham” describes how hard work molded and

ABOVE Glenis Redmond with her mother


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COURTESY OF GLENIS REDMOND

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Aspects of Redmond’s personal life and that of her parents are versed in the collection as well. In “Stomach Trouble,” for example, she says, Congenital defect means my first breath was snatched by trouble’s hand. It held me before I felt my mama’s embrace.

defined this great-grandmother’s entire life. She understands that her contributions and even her very existence will likely go unrecognized, but she wants nothing more than to be remembered:

Various physical ailments shadowed Redmond’s life but failed to conquer her desire to survive. She recalls her father’s love, his moments of rage, the power of his fists during fights, health issues he confronted, and, in the poem “Fight’s On,” how “As the stroke placed / the final blow: / stripped his speech.” There was no shortage of battles for Redmond’s father to contend with. “Over the Color Line” explores how he defied his own family members when they objected to the skin complexion of the woman he fell in love with: . . . Daddy’s people gave him grief for

I picked over my weight in cotton:

courting Mama with her dark skin and fly away hair

as much as any a grown man.

three hues over the paper bag test. Married her anyway.

Follow my life, it will lead you

That’s how I got here

down to where my bones are buried

in all my dark presence shining like Mama.

unknown in the soil of Waterloo. Stand at the edge of my life that blank slate, with no recording not even a tombstone. Nothing that marks that I ever lived on this land. The same land I picked all my days. Find me and my story. Find my empty slate, but let my words speak.

The collective voices of other workers in the poem “Field Cotton” also attest to the nature of the system under which so many labored, and could not escape: It was as an undertaking that works us from can’t see to can’t see, with two cotton sacks strapped across our backs, .... We know nuthin’ ’bout freedom in this heat. We got a blind eye and a deaf ear to everything, ’cept to what’s at hand. Cotton – running in straight rows the only train we was ever meant to ride.

ABOVE Glenis Redmond with her mother

Looking beyond the views that members of her paternal family held about skin color, Redmond examines the implications of race for African Americans interacting with non-Black communities in South Carolina – the state where in 2015, nine African Americans attending Bible study were murdered in their church by a young white supremacist. The ugliness of racism is no stranger to the faith community. In Redmond’s poem “College Education,” a clergyman writes a letter to a college dean, with the request: “Please ask your black students / not to return to our congregation. / They are troublemakers / breaking up our church by attending.” In the poem “Benediction,” Redmond describes the predicament of two African American motorists stranded when their car breaks down in a neighborhood not their own. An elderly white woman permits them to use her phone and call for help. Afterwards, she cautions them, “Hurry, night’s about to fall. You two / are not safe around here.” Redmond celebrates the achievements of South Carolina natives John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie and


Flashbacks: Echoes of Past Issues

Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates, respectively, in the poems “Dizzy” and “I’m Fly.” Gillespie rose from a “shotgun shack existence” to critical acclaim on national and international stages in the music world. Bates lost his leg in an accident at the cotton gin but subsequently became a renowned tap dancer. They managed to throw off the yokes of poverty that thwarted many black men’s lives in the segregated South and found ways to reinvent themselves. Unlike Dizzy Gillespie and Clayton Bates, no such good fortune awaited the youth mourned in “Chair.” George Junius Stinney, Jr.’s life ended in the electric chair, in 1944, when he was fourteen years of age. An all-white jury convicted him for the murder of two young white girls. He was the youngest person executed in the United States during the twentieth century. His trial and the authenticity of his alleged confession remain controversial. While Glenis Redmond grieves for George Junius Stinney, Jr.’s life cut short, the poem “All Is Possible” sings her praises of possibility in the life of a child named Julian Josiah: You are surrounded by

Call for Submissions 2019 issue featuring North Carolina African American Writers

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NOR T H CAROLINA L I T E R A RY REVIEW

Interviews with . . . and Critical Analyses of . . .

by August 31, 2018 Submit creative writing through our poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction 2018 competitions, as per usual. African American writers among the finalists will be published in the special feature section of the 2019 issues. Our definition of a North Carolina writer is anyone who currently lives in North Carolina, has lived in North Carolina, or uses North Carolina as subject matter. For more information, writers’ guidelines, and submission instructions, go to:

www.nclr.ecu.edu

the perfect O of love. Family willing to grow you From black boy to black man to walk into this world better than the one I/we are handing to you, like Langston Hughes wrote, I hope you’ll dream a world where love will bless the earth, because you are part of that blessing lighting the world with the brilliance of what you came to do.

Lenard D. Moore and Glenis Redmond open their eyes as observers of the world where they live and write. During that process, they extend their hands to acknowledge and embrace people,

places, and events. They remember to see, touch, taste, smell, listen, and attend to aspects of life and culture too important for loss and forgetting. n


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FINALIST, 2017 JAMES APPLEWHITE POETRY PRIZE BY MARTY SILVERTHORNE

Love Letters and Wedding Dress Ashes

COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

We walk the path between cotton, peanuts, butterflies dancing at the end of their season. I pull Chloe’s rattling Radio Flyer full of Aunt Jane’s keepsakes, pickaxe and shovel down to the creek bed. We unload our tools to dig a grave for Aunt Jane’s memories so the ashes of her wedding dress and love letters can join the sorrowful voices of crows high up in the tupelos.

Fire I, 2011 (carbon pigment print from cliché-verre, 88x110) by Courtney Johnson

Houston native COURTNEY JOHNSON is an Assistant Professor of Photography in the Department of Art and Art History at UNC Wilmington. She earned her BFA with Honors in Photography and Imaging from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and her MFA in Studio Art from the University of Miami. She is one of the leading scholars on the photographic cliché-verre technique. Her work has been featured in solo exhibitions in New York, Miami, San Francisco, and Richmond and is included in numerous permanent collections, including the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; the University of Central Florida; the Museum of Art Fort Lauderdale; Tuanku Fauziah Museum and Gallery, USM, Penang, Malaysia; and FOTOMUSEO, the National Museum of Photography in Bogotá, Columbia, where her work was featured in the 4th International Biennale of Photography, FOTOGRAFICA BOGOTÁ 2011. See more of her work on her website.

Chloe is not comforted by the heron lifting up out of the brown ditch water or the hawk’s circle of calligraphy. She needs answers about Aunt Jane’s wanting her hand-stitched wedding dress and Uncle Billy’s love letters burned and buried at the back of their farm. She wants to know if every ash is a baby phoenix rising to be with Jesus, why Aunt Rebecca is crying as she pours more gas in the grave. Why am I wiping my tears with Uncle Billy’s blue bandana? Why Aunt Rebecca hums a hymn about a New Home Over in Glory? What will happen if the creek rises and downpours drown the ashes, fade the blue ballpoint looping of Uncle Billy’s love letters? How will Chloe explain this October Saturday to her school friends who believe in the black words of the Bible and are afraid of Hell’s Fire?

MARTY SILVERTHORNE earned degrees from St. Andrews Presbyterian College and East Carolina University. He has received the BunnMcClelland Award and a Poet Laureate award from the North Carolina Arts Council. He is the author of seven chapbooks, and his poetry has appeared in several issues of NCLR, as well as Tar River Poetry and Pembroke Magazine, among other venues. Read another one of his poems selected as a finalist for this competition in the 2018 print issue.


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GROWING UP IN THE BLUE RIDGE: THE LIVES OF TWO NORTH CAROLINA MOUNTAIN WRITERS a review by Gene Hyde Wilma Dykeman. Family of Earth: A Southern Mountain Childhood. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016. Gregory S. Taylor. James Larkin Pearson: A Biography of North Carolina’s Longest-Serving Poet Laureate. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books, 2015.

GENE HYDE is Head of Special Collections at UNC Asheville. He holds an MA in Appalachian Studies from Appalachian State University and has worked in Appalachian Special Collections for nearly a decade. GREGORY S. TAYLOR earned a BA in History from Clemson University, an MA from the University of Alabama, and a PhD from the University of Mississippi. He is the co-author of The North Carolina State Prison for the Images of America series (Arcadia Publishing, 2016).

Those of us in the mountainous, western reaches of North Carolina have plenty of reasons to embrace North Carolina’s “Writingest State” moniker. Indeed, the state’s Appalachian Mountains have produced some of the state’s finest novelists and poets, including native Appalachian authors Thomas Wolfe, Robert Morgan, Wilma Dykeman, John Ehle, and former North Carolina Poet Laureates Fred Chappell and James Larkin Pearson. The North Carolina mountains are also home to many authors who have adopted the region as home, a list that includes Ron Rash and Gail Godwin as well as several former North Carolina Poet Laureates: Joseph Bathanti, Catherine Smith Bowers, and Kathryn Stripling Byer. Two recent volumes describe the lives of North Carolina mountain writers, providing insight into how their Blue Ridge childhoods helped shape their writing careers. Gregory Taylor’s James Larkin Pearson: A Biography of North Carolina’s Longest-Serving Poet Laureate relates the relatively unknown saga of the largely selftaught Wilkes County native who served from 1953 to 1981 as the state’s second poet laureate. Wilma Dykeman’s Family of Earth: A Southern Mountain Childhood is a recently discovered memoir of Dykeman’s childhood in Beaverdam near Asheville. Born in 1879 near Moravian Falls in Wilkes County, James Larkin Pearson came to verse naturally, reciting his first poem at age four during a winter ox wagon trip with his parents. While his precocious rhyming initially amused his parents, they soon considered it problematic and tried to stop his poetical sensibilities by, as Pearson later related, shaming and

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beating his penchant for rhyme out of him. Their efforts failed, and Pearson later related that he always had pencil and notebook with him as he plowed, always “working out a poem” in the midst of his farm work (10). Pearson grew up in the heavily agrarian world of Wilkes County in the late nineteenth century. Despite other pursuits, literary and otherwise, his farming roots were something that were a constant source of inspiration and, often, fiscal solvency. As a youth, he became a talented carpenter and sometimes relied on this skill to pay the bills. Above all else, though, Pearson’s passions were poetry, printing, and publishing, and it was the latter two that provided his preferred way of making ends meet. Pearson became enamored with publishing as a youth, taking his first job as a writer/journalist with the Ashe County newspaper, Plain Truth, in 1901. He worked for several small newspapers and went on to found several himself, the most important being The Fool Killer, where he served as publisher, editor, and primary journalistic voice during the 1920s, even printing the paper on a press he owned. Throughout his life he promulgated his views through his various newspapers, revealing himself as somewhat of a Socialist with anti-Catholic tendencies. He argued vehemently for temperance and against tobacco use, and held highly individualistic views about religion. He was antiwar and even went after the Ku Klux Klan in 1915, attacking their racial prejudice as well as their “heathenism, barbarism, national prejudice, and devil worship” (66). His columns, with their mixture of wit, outrage, sarcasm, and empathy, found a limited


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national audience, and resulted in correspondence with such national figures as Socialist presidential candidate Eugene V. Debs and author Upton Sinclair. As a poet, Pearson was heavily influenced by the Fireside Poets, finding his inspiration in the works of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, John Greenleaf Whittier, William Cullen Bryant, and Oliver Wendell Holmes. His early desire was “to grow up and take Longfellow’s place” (10) in his vision of the American poetic pantheon, and Longfellow’s adherence to meter, structure, and rhyme shaped Pearson’s work. Pearson railed against modern poetry that shunned nineteenth century rules, disavowing everyone from Whitman in the nineteenth century to a whole range of twentieth century poets: “[T]o be a poet is to be a skillful and careful craftsman, not just a slapdash wordslinger with loose ends flapping all over the place” (186). Pearson found a statewide and national audience for his traditional poetry that often evokes his PHOTOGRAPH BY CHARLES MATHIS

pastoral upbringing. Indeed, his most famous poem, “Fifty Acres,” is a quiet evocation of the charms of farm life. In 1952, he won the Poetry Council of North Carolina’s Sir Walter Raleigh Award for Poetry, and in 1953 was appointed Poet Laureate by Governor William B. Umstead, a post he held until his death in 1981. Despite his statewide fame as a poet in the early twentieth century, Pearson’s poetry was largely self-published and remains hard to find. His story is a compelling and fascinating tale of a selfmade man who had an unquenchable need to speak his mind as a poet and publisher. Gregory Taylor’s biography of Pearson is a meticulously researched narrative that relies heavily on Pearson’s unpublished autobiographical work, Poet’s Progress, and the Pearson archives at Wilkes Community College, and includes extensive quotations from Pearson’s work. Taylor’s biography is an important addition to our understanding of Pearson and his unique place in the heritage of North Carolina literature. In contrast to Pearson, who is little known today outside of scholars of North Carolina literature and residents of Wilkes County, Wilma Dykeman’s literary fame extended nationwide. Her first major publication was her landmark historical and environmental work, The French Broad, which was published in 1955 as part of the famous and extremely popular “Rivers of America” series. Dykeman went on to publish numerous books, both novels and nonfiction. Her novels include The Tall Woman (1962), The Far

LEFT James Larkin Pearson, age ninety-two,

working from his home in Fairplains, NC

Family (1966), and Return the Innocent Earth (1973), and her dozen works of nonfiction examined her native Appalachia, the modern South, and race relations. In 1957, her book Neither Black Nor White, co-written with her husband, James Stokely, won the Sidney Hillman award as the best book that year on world peace, race relations, or civil liberties. Dykeman’s accomplishments were recognized with a long list of honors. When she died in 2006, accolades and obituaries poured forth in the New York Times and scores of regional academic journals and newspapers. Her bibliography is well known and beloved. Given her legacy and productive career, it’s therefore a delightful surprise to hold Family of Earth: A Southern Mountain Childhood, a previously unpublished memoir chronicling Dykeman’s youth on Beaverdam Creek, a lovely tributary of the French Broad River just outside of Asheville. After Dykeman’s death in 2006, her son, James Stokely, Jr., found a two hundred–page memoir hidden in his mother’s papers. As her son notes in the introduction, Dykeman mentions writing Family of Earth in 1943 but put the manuscript away where it “was lost for the remainder of the author’s life.” Family of Earth documents, year by year, Dykeman’s life from her birth to the death of her father when she was fourteen years old. Written when she was in her early twenties, this beautifully crafted narrative is a quiet reflection on the importance of home and family, her developing awareness of nature and natural cycles, and her keen sensitivity to her Appalachian community and neighbors.


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Dykeman’s Beaverdam Creek was a microcosm of the larger world, one where she breathed deeply of her parents’ union of “the religion of nature and the philosophy of loneliness” (6). Hers was a world of observation and reflection, of reading and rumination, all taking place in a house enveloped by hills, fields, and moving water. “Each portion of the place,” she relates, “was a continent entire, with its scurrying lives and growing plants. Each moment lived in any part was a reflection of all time, and made the measurements of clock and calendar seem strangely without meaning” (7). On page after page, Dykeman’s rich pastoral imagery brings the natural world alive, and shows the early development of the masterful environmental voice that later emerged in The French Broad. In a valley filled with neighbors scattered here and there, Dykeman states that “our lives lay more with the mountains than the people, for we knew them with more kinship and more intimacy.” She writes of a time “when time

ABOVE Wilma Dykeman, age fourteen, with

her father, twelve days before his death

was something limitless and gentle,” when she “used to sit for hours beside our pond” studying and reveling in how frog embryos emerged as tadpoles (9). Her house is a place of solace and reflection, guided by her father’s sage understanding of nature, his love of reading and knowledge, and his awareness of the “adult realization of every man’s innate aloneness.” Dykeman accepts that her father viewed this as the nature of humanity’s place in the world, clarifying that this awareness is “not so overwhelming if you have lived in the mountains, for something in your spirit, since childhood, has whispered this was so. The unfelt wind howling behind the hills, the starkness of November rains, the call of nightbirds through the silence, all are testaments to the final realization of loneliness” (82). Despite this, the Beaverdam valley is populated, and her narrative is filled with encounters with others, including ministers, other children of different social classes, mountaineers who were close to destitute, and African Americans who were mistreated by their employers. The balance between interacting with neighbors and surrendering to the beauty of the natural world is an ongoing, engaging tension in Dykeman’s youth. Dykeman’s natural investigations are filtered through her selfawareness of the importance of imagination, and she finds ongoing joy and wonder in the natural world. When she’s younger she considers the creek by her house as symbolic of unexplainable natural mysteries, noting that “[c]hildren are apt to inhabit a world of symbols” (100). Count-

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less natural events trigger her reflections, including her first camping trip with her parents in a nearby field, the abundance of different ferns and flowers in the valley, the threat a nearby forest fire has on their home, her passion for butterflies and her scientific approach to butterfly collections, watching a partial eclipse, and the differences between different kinds of wasps and mud-daubers. A conversation with her mother about the role of yeast in baking bread becomes “one of my first lessons in biology” (78). At times Dykeman’s language transcends her youth, as when she describes the simple act of swinging, where “above, the sky was blue and liquid and the air was sweet around, and underneath the earth smelled warm of sun and age.” She went on to say, “In those times we felt as if we had touched some inner well of unknown earth-like vigor and cosmic energy. We had become alive” (36). This is the language of a precocious writer in her early twenties, reflecting on the act of swinging as a child. It’s one of many examples of such language in this beautiful book. Topically, there’s much here that would fully flower in her later, mature work. Her eye for her Appalachian neighbors and their relationship to each other and the land, her keen awareness and appreciation of nature, and her sensitivity to the plight of African Americans and the horrors of racism – all of these are explored as she begins to find her voice. There’s so much to relish and much to savor in this gem of a book by one of Western North Carolina’s most important writers. n

NCLR 2010, featuring North Carolina Appalachian Literature, is still available for purchase.


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We see the world once, in childhood. The rest is memory.—Louise Gluck

SPREADING AWE: CHILDHOOD AND HERITAGE IN NEW POETRY a review by Sarah Huener Joseph Bathanti. The 13th Sunday after Pentecost. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2017. Michael McFee. We Were Once Here. Pittsburgh: Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2017.

SARAH HUENER received her BA from UNC Chapel Hill and her MFA from Boston University. Her poetry has appeared in Four Way Review and Journal of Compressed Creative Arts. Her poem “to Pluto” won the 2016 Randall Jarrell Poetry Prize and was published in storySouth.

Childhood is irretrievable; for many of us, this truth is our first real understanding of the passage of time. Yet childhood experiences have a profound effect on how we act and react throughout our lives. It’s in our early years that we form our own idiosyncratic habits and patterns of perception. In turn, these sensitivities must be reconciled with the silent codes we learn as children – codes of family, of gender, of the mountains and of the city, of fellowship and of the church, and also of inclusion and exclusion. Our sense of the world and means of communication are formed simultaneously, and often before self-awareness. The latest books of poems from Michael McFee and Joseph Bathanti explore this formative time and the insights it produced both then and after several intervening decades. These are two poets with distinctive voices, voices that observe their youth, but which are also wiser than the past selves we meet within their pages. Our turbulent moment in history forces us to reexamine (and reconstruct) what it means to be American. These two books are vivid and masterful records of times and places we might do well to remember: places that no longer exist (and in some cases, never did); places that resonate far beyond their kitchens and bedrooms, yards and streets. The further we are from its inception, the more we appreciate finding a shared idiom. McFee’s We Were Once Here and Bathanti’s The 13th Sunday after Pentecost depict past worlds that are vivid enough to be instantly recognizable to some. To the rest of us, the poems are an invitation to visit and stay awhile.

Michael McFee is a poet of the South. In We Were Once Here, he has collected for us vignettes and parables, cigarette butts and dip cans. Humble as this may sound at first, McFee’s choice of subject proves to be unerring. In one of the final poems of his first section, we learn that the “Dead Man’s Pinch” is what his great-aunts used to call those little inexplicable bruises (the kind you don’t remember getting). The poem’s imaginative thought-path takes us from description to dark fancy, ghostly forefathers pinching children to test their “ripeness for the afterlife.” Here death and heritage are one and the same. McFee the child may have been judged unripe, but McFee the poet is very much awake to death. The second, middle section of the book is devoted to the final months of a cancer patient, seen through the eyes of her uncle and caretaker. It’s not uncommon to hear a complexion described as “ashen” – but McFee’s speaker opens the front door to his niece and is forcefully reminded of an actual pressed-ashes figurine in a Mount St. Helens gift shop. The figurine is in the shape of a bear. This psychological precision is the other key to McFee’s skills of expression – physical description can only go so far. Near the section’s close, in “Cremation,” McFee uses singlesentence lines to underline the strange meticulousness of the process. It’s as if they’re fed to us one at a time. The poem records the end of a body with a great solemnity that is nonetheless human: “Her body lay under a cloth, in its Minimum Alternative Container. / . . . / We kept staring through thermal


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glass till somebody shut the doors.” The lines hover somewhere between fortune cookie fortunes and sentences for diagramming, their regularity straining against the bald strangeness of our mortuary rituals. These odd and perfect associations and impressions are impossible to invent. This is all the insight we have into what lives in others’ heads. At these successful moments, the images are detailed to a level precisely balanced between familiar and explained. That balance is key to these poems’ ultimate effectiveness; neither momentum nor signification must be sacrificed. Essentially, the poem must be just intelligible. And many of these show how powerful it can be when specificity is sparingly invoked. McFee’s descriptive power is at its best in this book; for example, the end of “Roadside Table” sounds like it could be the closing sentence of the Great American Novel: as cousins skipped flat rocks to the far bank or waded on shivering legs into the river and cigarette smoke rose toward the understory and the ripening barrels hummed electric with bees and watermelon seeds shone blackly under the laurels.

I can’t think of a better description of growing up in twentieth-century, rural America. The details speak for themselves. The balance between clarity and momentum is a tricky one. When this collection falters, it is into what

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I might call over-clarity, which is sometimes of the emotional kind. Quickness – in the sense of alive as well as rapid – is at odds with assured comprehension. The occasional truism can overpower the reflective tone so successfully cultivated throughout the book. Conversely, since so many details are sympathetically resonant, others seem flat by comparison, particularly in poems set in the recent past – as is often the case. Time and distance can be helpful, and memory itself often the best guide. The poems from furthest away are strangest and most potent. McFee and Joseph Bathanti alike have looked (back) at stories, and seen the raw materials of history in them. They have the perspective, in addition to the perception, to learn what’s strange, what’s important, what’s bigger than itself. We Were Once Here chronicles the folklore of home and the bittersweetness of heritage through curation. Bathanti’s storytelling is kinetic. The 13th Sunday after Pentecost is a representation of how every day was, rolling on within a vast machine. The book’s first section, Omega Street, takes us just there – the Pittsburgh neighborhood of Bathanti’s youth, complete with baseball games, kitchen food, and local characters. With setting firmly established, the anchoring middle section moves through the speaker’s confessions of sin or ignorance, growing up in a confusing, culturally rich and contradictory America. The section is fittingly called “Confiteor,” after a penitential prayer in the Catholic mass. Its poems are like sections of a dollhouse or miniature rooms in a museum, painstakingly crafted and frozen in time – as if at any moment someone might walk in and set the table. Bathanti, like McFee, favors free verse. Though unrhymed, unmetered poetry may seem liberating, the name is deceptive. It is – paradoxically – sound and rhythm that ensure these free verse poems hold together. In “Angel Food,” Bathanti writes of lurking in the kitchen as a cake bakes, secretly wishing it ruined so that he will be allowed to eat it. The speaker’s iambic wish “to lift / then slam a sash,” comes to life even further with assonance, embodying the physical act by giving one vowel sound to one

A native of Asheville, NC, MICHAEL MCFEE has taught classes in poetry writing at his alma mater, UNC Chapel Hill, since 1990. He is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including Earthly (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2012; reviewed in NCLR 2002); which received the 2001 Roanoke-Chowan Award for Poetry, and That Was Oasis (Carnegie Mellon University Press, 2012; reviewed in NCLR Online 2013). His honors include the Thomas Wolfe Memorial Literary Award, the James Still Award for Writing About the Appalachian South, and the R. Hunt Parker Award for Significant Literary Achievement.

ABOVE Michael McFee reading his essay for Amazing Place: What North Carolina Means to Writers at Motorco in Durham, NC, 7 Apr. 2015


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action, and another to the other: lifting is one movement, slamming a second. Certainly this is not a formal poem, yet it seems to be quite pinned in place by the structure hidden beneath its surface. This mix of linguistic skill, familiar subject, and subtle structure makes these poems powerful, and it’s often an understated power. Simplicity is surprisingly rare and underrated. Back in the cake kitchen, “it was ours immediately.” It doesn’t take long to read this simple line; yet it nonetheless says much more than, for example, “they gave it to us right away.” In this way Bathanti creates moments of descriptive simplicity. His crispness is devastating. I’ve mentioned before the movement of these poems, a powerful and successful part of the writing. Bathanti’s style has the momentum and momentousness of a prose poem. Often this is good; sometimes it irks me, and makes me unconvinced of the lineation. I would be interested to read Bathanti in more varied forms. Still, his content is vivid in its own right. “Before Vietnam, naked was the vilest thing on earth,” he writes in “Goldfinger.” This explains why his younger self wasn’t allowed to see the movie, but also tells us something about the climate of the times. Life being the subjective creature it is, the struggle between synchronicity and meaning is a familiar one as we see in Bathanti’s “The 13th Sunday after Pentecost” poem:

I smoked cigarettes and set fires, studied stolen pictures of naked women, dreamt of being loved forever. The Dodgers beat the Yankees four straight in the World Series.

It could not have happened other than it did: the day on the Table of Moveable Feasts, the television special on abortion, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s recent speech coexist necessarily. It’s as if correlation and causation are commingled with association and signification. The present day collides with the worlds of the past in 13th Sunday’s third and final section, as the speaker’s parents reappear in a recognized but altered space as recognized but altered selves: the mother’s cane is “racked above the bed” and at night his father nods in the living room, “flesh-colored hearing aids / like fetuses curled in his ears.” Even the speaker has changed. In this section, familiar context melds with a more contemporary voice that’s wiser and perhaps a little tired. In “Haircut,” the youthful speaker’s father takes him to dinner after a dreaded haircut: “With his pocket knife, / he diced pears into his Chianti, / and fed them to me on a spoon. / He wouldn’t die for half a century, / but I missed him already.” Bathanti filters these experiences so recognizably the book seems almost to take place all at once – but what we hear in the last section is an adult’s voice and an adult’s troubles. The section marks an overall shift to the recent past, where new folklores

Former Poet Laureate of North Carolina JOSEPH BATHANTI earned BA and MA degrees from the University of Pittsburgh and an MFA from Warren Wilson College in North Carolina. He teaches at Appalachian State in Boone, NC. He is the author of several books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction, including The Life of the World to Come (University of South Carolina Press, 2015; reviewed in NCLR Online 2016), Half of What I Say is Meaningless: Essays (Mercer University Press, 2014; reviewed in NCLR Online 2015), Concertina (Mercer University Press, 2013; reviewed in NCLR Online 2015), and Coventry (Novello, 2006; reviewed in NCLR 2008).

PHOTOGRAPH BY MARIE FREEMAN; COURTESY OF APPALACHIAN STATE UNIVERSITY

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appear (“Owls in daylight – an Appalachian omen – preside the transverse beams”) just as old ones resurface (“bury in the yard / a statue of Saint Joseph”). From one of the book’s final poems, “Burying Saint Joseph”: He ignites the subterranean quartz and hiddenite. Pooled above him, on the parched earth surface, glows a crown of milky light. Black Widow spiderlings flash their scarlet fetish, and scatter in the rosemary. The house sells in a fortnight.

The first specimen of hiddenite, a variety of spodumene, was found in Alexander County, NC. Though nearly all of Bathanti’s book is fixed in a neighborhood in Pittsburgh, in the above (and some other later poems), the setting feels distinctly different.

ABOVE Joseph Bathanti reading poetry to an Appalachian State University audience, Boone, NC, 2015


Flashbacks: Echoes of Past Issues

I hear echoes of Western North Carolina – growing up, we always just called the western part of the state “the mountains.” In these same mountains are McFee’s roadside tables and hilltop graveyards. Not just the time, but the time and place shift over the course of these books. Just as the saint’s day and the Yankees have something psychologically in common, so do time and place in our own histories. We look back on them as inextricably linked: don’t we use them to push the limits of our memories, remembering what year you had Thanksgiving at your

house based on when you lived in that particular apartment? With only the smallest amount of uncut nostalgia, these poets offer us real pieces of the past. They do this in a manner so alive and unvarnished, many of these poems have not had the time to brush the dust off or compose their faces. In “Fingal’s Cave,” McFee writes of being part of a legacy of artist-travelers who visited a place and were awed, then later tried to produce “something / that might make people feel what they felt here, / but failed.”

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Bathanti, too, is conscious of his own role as storyteller. His epigraph to Omega Street is from the book of Revelations: “I am Alpha and Omega, the first and the last: . . . What thou seest, write in a book . . . .” Their stories are larger than themselves, shining toward us. Their vivid details are anchors. Samuel Taylor Coleridge writes in his Biographia Literaria: “The simplest and the most familiar things / Gain a strange power of spreading awe around them.” In these insistent documentary poems, McFee and Bathanti have harnessed that power. n

THE RAGAN OLD NORTH STATE AWARD presentation remarks by D.G. Martin North Carolina Literary and Historical Association

COURTESY OF NORTH CAROLINA DEPT. OF NATURAL AND CULTURAL RESOURCES

Raleigh, NC, 17 November 2017

A biography of Goldsboro’s Gertrude Weil would be welcome at any time. Born in 1879 into a family of German Jewish immigrants who had quickly achieved extraordinary success as merchants, entrepreneurs, and community leaders, Weil, who never married, became an unapologetic progressive, leading the struggle for women’s suffrage and playing critical roles in the ABOVE Gertrude Weil (far left) and fellow suffragists, circa 1920

League of Women Voters and other organizations’ efforts to address attention to the problems of health, education, hunger, labor fairness, and racial justice – all the while tending to her family and local community responsibilities. All this is important. But in the hands of Leonard Rogoff, master historian of the Jewish experience in North Carolina and author of the classic Down Home: Jewish Life in North Carolina (University of North Carolina Press, 2010), the Weil biography, Gertrude Weil: Jewish Progressive in the New South (University of North Carolina Press, 2017), becomes much more. In his new book, Weil’s story becomes a new and important window into the history of North Carolina and of the nation during the middle years of the twentieth century. The book helps us see differently and more clearly the complex and sometimes contradictory challenges faced by North Carolina progressives like Weil and her friends Frank Porter Graham and Terry Sanford and their political hero, Weil’s neighbor, Charles Aycock. So this book is not only a tribute to an extraordinary woman, it is a much needed light on a period of our history that historians still struggle to understand – and for such an important contribution to the understanding of our heritage, the Ragan Old North State Award for Nonfiction this year goes to Leonard Rogoff. n


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FINALIST, 2017 JAMES APPLEWHITE POETRY PRIZE BY ANNIE FRAZIER

Farm Nights when i walk to the barn at night i wear a headlamp

COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

like a miner like a surgeon and sometimes i am searching under towering live oaks for a lost halter buried in sand bandaging a leg smearing ointment on flesh sliced open who knows how plunging inflamed hooves into bags of ice every two hours when that’s what’s needed

Always Watching (digital painting, 15x20) by Jensynne East

Emerald Isle, NC, native JENSYNNE EAST is pursuing a BFA with a concentration in graphic design. After graduation, she plans to work as a graphic designer and a freelance illustrator. She says she is inspired by artists like Tim Burton, Andy Warhol, and Salvador Dalí. North Carolina Art Editor Diane Rodman selected East’s art for publication with the poem saying, “The soft glow of the flashlight plays up the depths of the shadows and puts emphasis on the artist’s choice of perspective – the spider’s – cleverly presenting the idea that the spiders are always watching, everywhere, even outside of the headlamp’s beam.”

ANNIE FRAZIER grew up in Raleigh, NC, and now lives in Florida. She has an MFA from Spalding University, and her fiction and poetry have appeared in apt, CHEAP POP, Crack the Spine, STILL, and NCLR. Her honors include three Pushcart Prize nominations and one Best of the Net nomination. Her first published story (in NCLR 2014) was a finalist in the 2013 Doris Betts Fiction Prize competition. She won second place in the 2015 James Applewhite Poetry Prize competition, and the poem was published in NCLR 2016. Read another finalist and her honorable mention poem from the 2017 competition in NCLR 2018.


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COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

and in the dark my footsteps owl hoots equine nose-blows the only sounds

Reminiscing in Half Light (digital, ink on watercolor paper, 9x12.5) by Phoebe Lewis

i sweep the headlamp’s beam across the field to see light flashed back to me thousands of tiny sparks blue and scattered through the grass spiders’ eyes watching

These works of art were created for the NCLR/Student Art Collaboration Competition, organized by NCLR Art Editor Diane Rodman and ECU Art Professor Joan Mansfield. For a second year, Joan had her art students respond to art forthcoming in NCLR, this time poems by two of the finalists in the 2017 James Applewhite Poetry Prize, this one and Christina Clark’s poem in the North Carolina Miscellany section. From eleven submissions in response to this poem, Diane picked first and second place works to be featured with the poems.

PHOEBE LEWIS is from Winston-Salem, NC. She is working toward a BFA with a concentration in Animation. Selecting it for second place, Rodman noted of her piece, “Viewers of this work enter the scene. They stand beside the speaker in the barn, look up and out the barn door, and see far across the distant field and sky. The illusion of depth and space created by the artist is the making of her fine illustration.”


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BEYOND THE MOON AND THE STARS a review by F. Brett Cox John Kessel. The Moon and the Other. Raleigh, NC: Saga Press, 2017.

F. BRETT COX’s fiction, poetry, essays, reviews, and plays have appeared in numerous magazines and anthologies, including a stor y in NCLR 2001. With Andy Duncan, he co-edited the anthology Crossroads: Tales of the Southern Literary Fantastic (Tor, 2004). He is a member of the Cambridge Science Fiction Writers Workshop and currently serves as Vice-President of the Board of Directors of the Shirley Jackson Award. A native of North Carolina, he is Professor of English at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont. He lives in Vermont with his wife, playwright Jeanne Beckwith. A longtime Professor of English at North Carolina State University, JOHN KESSEL is also one of the most highly regarded of modern science fiction writers. HIs most recent book is “The Baum Plan for Financial Independence” and Other Stories (Small Beer Press, 2008; reviewed in NCLR Online 2010). Read an interview with him in NCLR 2001 and one of his non–science fiction short stories in NCLR 2006.

ABOVE John Kessel reading at NCSU,

Raleigh, NC, 29 Mar. 2017

In John Kessel’s new novel, The Moon and the Other, it is the year 2149. There are just over three million people living on the moon in twenty-seven colonies. While lunar colonization began with the goals of scientific exploration and economic exploitation, eventually – perhaps inevitably – some of the colonies focused on utopian goals, attempting to create better societies that corrected the mistakes of the past. Two of the most prominent of these are Persepolis and the Society of Cousins. Persepolis, with half a million inhabitants the largest of the lunar colonies, maintains a relatively liberal and secular but still traditional Persian society, prerevolutionary Iran without the Shah: “a tribute to the human aspiration to bring the world under graceful rule” (12). The Society of Cousins offers a more radical vision based on the fundamental precept that male aggression and violence is biologically inherent and that a peaceful and just society can exist only with such toxic masculinity rigorously controlled. Thus, the Society offers a matriarchy in which men are cared for, protected, able to join with the women in a more or less polyandrous lifestyle (including group marriage), and free to pursue what lives they choose. But they are denied the right to vote unless they surrender their indulged lifestyle and take lowlevel maintenance jobs, and if they father children, they cannot assert primary parental rights – restrictions designed to prevent them “from combining into . . . powerful, status-driven coalitions” (52). From these two disparate colonies come the novel’s four main characters, all of whom are, to one degree or another, dissatisfied with their lives and their societies. In Persepolis, we have Erno, a young man exiled

from the Society of Cousins for participating in an act of civil disobedience that turned deadly, now leading a hardscrabble existence at the lower end of Persepolian society, and Amestris, daughter of one of the richest and most powerful businessmen in Persepolis. When Amestris encounters Erno after the latter is caught at fault in an industrial accident while working for one of her father’s companies, she marries him and elevates him to executive status – partly out of sheer physical attraction, partly out of her desire to adjust her status within her father’s empire. From the Society of Cousins comes Mira, a young woman who jabs at the staid elements of the matriarchy with popup video graffiti even as she bitterly grieves the accidental death of her brother, and Carey, a privileged male whose memoir of being a teenaged boy among the cousins, Lune et l’autre, combined with his achievements as an Olympic athlete, have granted him longterm celebrity status. Carey sleeps with Mira and assists her with her subversive activities, but their activities, both sexual and political, seem to mean more to her than to him. All four characters navigate their complicated relationships in the context of increased unrest and intrigue in their colonies: Carey’s legal challenge over custody of his son (an unprecedented and deeply divisive action for a male Cousin), a referendum to extend the franchise to male Cousins, a team of observers from the Organization of Lunar States sent to the Society to evaluate whether or not men are truly oppressed, a clandestine mission of industrial espionage to acquire the Cousins’ scientific research to further the aims of the


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Persepolis capitalists, conflict and controversy as to whether or not that research will yield a weapon that threatens the other colonies. All of this is covered, exaggerated, and encouraged by pervasive social media, represented by Hypatia, a charismatic commentator whose unceasing critique of the Society reinforces her own celebrity, and Sirius, a talk-show host and selfstyled investigative reporter who is in fact a genetically modified, or “lifted,” dog. The preceding summary may make The Moon and the Other sound like a new entry in the honorable science fiction tradition of sharp-edged social satire, a la Kurt Vonnegut, Jr., the collaborative novels of Frederik Pohl and C.M. Kornbluth, or the extraordinary explorations of James Morrow. At the same time, it clearly falls in the equally well-established tradition of novels of lunar exploration, from H.G. Wells to Robert A. Heinlein to the contemporary science fiction novelist Ian McDonald. Kessel, a professor of English who came of age within science fiction fandom, understands both traditions deeply. One of the many pleasures of the novel is his deft presentation of the nuts and bolts of the lunar colonies; everything is utterly plausible and, as far as this English professor can tell, perfectly correct. And the novel is fully engaged with its political and sociological ideas, almost startlingly so, as Kessel presents, and critiques, the Society of Cousins from almost every imaginable angle. But satirists, to make their points, traditionally stand back from their subjects, viewing the follies of humanity through a diagnostic lens. Kessel’s novel does the exact opposite, fully immersing the reader in the deeply messy complications of its characters’ lives. As it turns out,

this is exactly the right approach to keeping the novel’s many moving parts from flying apart, and, in terms of fictional technique, a bravura performance. Kessel modulates his four main points of view perfectly: we get to know Erno and Amestris and Mira and Carey very well indeed, with Erno and Mira in particular emerging as two of the most fully-realized characters I have ever encountered in a novel, science fiction or otherwise. Kessel takes equal care with his supporting characters; figures such as Hypatia and Sirius, who could easily devolve into cartoons, are as complex as the main players. (Sirius especially develops in unexpected ways.) Indeed, in a novel where dozens of named characters are on stage, often several at a time, there is never any problem recognizing who is who, and how they figure into the story. And, as with all successful fiction, the author’s decisions regarding form help reinforce the story’s deepest concerns. Periodically, Kessel presents a scene from one character’s point of view, only to represent at least part of the scene from the viewpoint of another character, making sure we never forget that – to flip a catchphrase – the political is personal. Theodore Sturgeon, another accomplished science fiction writer who explored issues of gender, said to “ask the next question.”* The characters in The Moon and the Other are constantly interrogating one another, but we are reminded not of a debate class, or a college dorm, or even a kitchen table. We are reminded – and we so need to be reminded – that everything emerges from someone’s perspective, and people do not always have the perspectives we expect. It is no accident that one of the

* Theodore Sturgeon, “Ask the Next Question,” Collier’s June 1967: web.

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pithiest critiques of the Society of Cousins – “Women are no more able to make a just society [than men]. They simply fail differently” (304) – comes from a woman (Amestris’ mother), while a bottomline defense of the Society comes from one of its older males: “At least we don’t have the everyday violence that goes on everywhere else. . . . Cousins men don’t have as many legal rights, but they’re free from the exploitation that goes on in patriarchal societies. . . . [I]f you pile up the total injustice I have faced in ninety-six years, does it exceed the amount I would have faced if I had lived in [one of the other lunar colonies]?” (363, 365). Or, as we are told near the novel’s conclusion: A person may live in a place for a long time, may see it every day in all its particularity, and still not know it. You see what you see because you are who you are, and who you are is shaped by forces genetic, environmental, and cultural that, despite a century’s effort to escape them, still prevail. Long ago it was proven to most people’s satisfaction that the word “know” is such a chimera that to apply it to anything is an act of hubris, or of faith. (589–90)

One could argue that an even bigger act of hubris is trying to write a novel that deals in equal depth with its characters, environment, and ideas. But as Muhammad Ali taught us, “It’s not bragging if you can back it up.” In The Moon and the Other, Kessel succeeds. It is at once an extraordinarily thoughtful and mature work, and a compelling tale; it is the sort of scientifically accurate, artistically accomplished science fiction novel many of us have always said we wanted; it is absolutely Kessel’s finest work to date. n


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FIFTY SHADES OF MINOTAUR a review by George Hovis Steven Sherrill. The Minotaur Takes His Own Sweet Time. Winston-Salem, NC: John F. Blair, Publisher, 2016.

Currently on the English faculty of the State University of New York at Oneonta, GEORGE HOVIS earned his PhD In English from UNC Chapel Hill. He has taught courses in creative writing and American literature and has written scholarly articles on such writers as Tennessee Williams and Fred Chappell (for example, his article on Chappell’s eco-poetry in NCLR 2011). Additionally, Hovis has conducted interviews with writers Tom Wolfe, Lee Smith, and, for NCLR, Wiley Cash in 2013 and Clyde Edgerton in 2017. Also, in the NCLR 2012 film issue, read his essay on movies that should be made from North Carolina literature. Author of Vale of Humility: Plain Folk in Contemporary North Carolina Fiction (University of South Carolina Press, 2007), Hovis is currently working on a novel that explores desegregation in a North Carolina cotton mill town in the 1970s. STEVEN SHERRILL is currently an Associate Professor of English and Integrative Arts at Penn State University in Altoona. He is a graduate from UNC Chapel Hill and earned his MFA in Poetry from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship for Fiction in 2002. His first novel, The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break (John F. Blair, 2000; reviewed by Hovis in NCLR 2001), is translated into eight languages. Sherrill’s second and third novels, Visits From the Drowned Girl (2004) and The Locktender’s House (2008), were both published by Random House. In 2010, CW Books released his poetry collection, Ersatz Anatomy.

After sixteen years, novelist and poet Steven Sherrill returns to the travels of his mythic character “M,” whom he first introduced in the acclaimed novel The Minotaur Takes a Cigarette Break (2000). In that debut’s revisionist mythology, we are told of the Minotaur’s origins in the dim past of legend – how on the island of Crete five millennia ago “heroic” Theseus pursued diplomacy rather than battle, allowing the Minotaur to escape the labyrinth and wend his way through eternity. In The Minotaur Takes His Own Sweet Time, M has left the urban/ suburban South for the Rust Belt of central Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, in this sequel he finds himself still surrounded by a constellation of delightfully comic oddballs and outcasts, who by turns either do not see M’s difference, puzzle over it, or use it as an opening to abuse. Consider, for example, Smitty, the blacksmith at Old Scald Village, where M is employed as a Civil

ABOVE Steven Sherrill speaking at the

Bookmarks Festival, Winston-Salem, NC, 10 Sept. 2016

War reenactor; Smitty routinely greets M by sneaking up behind him and making the sound of sizzling flesh while shaping his fingers into the form of a branding iron. By contrast, the Guptas, Indian-American proprietors of the Judy-Lou Motor Lodge, have created a home for M and include him as part of their family. Danny Tanneyhill, a chainsaw artist, is fascinated with the Minotaur and seeks to capture him in wood, without realizing how such displays are inappropriate and exploitative. As in the earlier novel, The Minotaur Takes His Own Sweet Time explores the pain of isolation and the longing for connection and community. Desire for intimacy this time, though, is more fully blooded, and the novel brings to life the libidinal comic ebullience of an ancient Greek satyr play. Sexual desire and innuendo abound. M discovers that his horns are both awkward and the source of attraction. Their


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width limits movement, constantly threatens faux pas, but women and men can’t help admiring and fondling them. Miraculously, M is a convincing romantic lead in the spirit of Jerry Lewis’s nutty professor. We root for him because of his timidity, his kindness and good manners, and his combined desperation and inability to articulate his desire. In the most erotically charged scene of the novel – and as close as M ever comes to coitus – his love interest, Holly, joins him in a thrift shop dressing booth and begins pleasuring herself while asking M repeatedly to keep his eyes shut. Because he is a gentleman, M complies, allowing the reader to share in his auditory and olfactory delights as well as his sustained frustration. But the Minotaur is patient and seems to understand that taking his time maximizes desire. The Minotaur experiences kinship with his human brethren in their shared discovery of the vulnerability that accompanies loving. In one of the most exuberant of the many comic scenes, the Minotaur finds himself at Ag-Fest inside the Science of Farming wing, watching, terrified, beside a calving simulator as a local rube sticks his rubber-gloved hand inside the bovine simulator’s vulva and then appears to have his entire arm jerked inside the mechanical womb. When the young man shouts in desperation for his girlfriend to deliver him, she breaks down into hysterical tears, just before he pulls his arm free, and we find that he is holding a small box that contains

an engagement ring. At least with this reader, Sherrill succeeds here and throughout his novel in accomplishing what J.D. Vance fails to achieve in Hillbilly Elegy: the creation of empathy for America’s rural poor.* Through the Minotaur’s eyes, we see them bereft of ideology – merely as “humans” struggling to find love (234). Though he is no less rational, no more animal, than the humans surrounding him, the bull-man’s dual nature frequently leads to his own self-scrutiny and a careful examination of the seam between his two halves: “The graft that made the Minotaur took place at the core of desire, where the very cells are gargantuan. Desire. Take heed, the whip. Desire is not the heart’s mollycoddler. Desire rides a wrecking ball, leaves havoc in its wake. Take heed” (178). This pairing of desire and destruction finds its perfect objective correlative in the local Dingus Moving company, whose botched work is followed shortly thereafter by Dingus Demolition. Indeed, desire and suffering are inextricably linked in the novel – as Holly learns after making love to Danny Tanneyhill and finding her palms cut by the sharp links of the chainsaw blade the chainsaw artist wears around his neck as a macho ornament. Holly’s brother has suffered a more lasting trauma at the hands of Eros. As a younger teen, he and his friends attempted to steal a condom dispenser from a public restroom, and when the dispenser pulled free of the wall, it dug a deep trench into the boy’s head, leaving Tookus permanently

* J.D. Vance, Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis (New York: HarperCollins, 2016).

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disabled – and permanently fixated on sex. His now limited vocabulary features prominently fuck, fuckers, titties, and boobies. Tookus constantly reaches for his sister’s breasts, one of the reasons, no doubt, that she feels compelled to commit him to an institution. However, after befriending the Minotaur, she begins to reconsider this decision and to consider more seriously a life as her brother’s permanent caretaker. The Minotaur experiences empathy toward Tookus, in part because of their shared struggles to articulate themselves. M, too, struggles to escape the labyrinth created by a vocabulary insufficient to convey his feelings. Resorting most often merely to grunts, moans, and monosyllables, M’s dialogue is offset by the narrator’s lyrical but typically tongue-in-cheek philosophizing. Though eloquent, the narrator does not waste words. In welcome contrast to the excess of verbiage and sentiment found in much contemporary fiction, the classical restraint of Sherrill’s pen shows signs of the poet’s economy. And, often, some of the profoundest insights are given to his plainspoken characters – for example Danny Tanneyhill, the chainsaw artist, who declares, “Art’s hard. . . . Art is, ought to be, dangerous” (107). Such a maxim certainly applies to Sherrill’s novel, a linguistic tour de force that, like the horned Minotaur in an antique shop, dares to explore and shine a light into the darker recesses of human desire. n


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NEW MEMORIES OF THE OLD JIM CROW a review by Garrett Bridger Gilmore Danny Johnson. The Last Road Home. New York: Kensington Publishing Corp, 2016.

GARRETT BRIDGER GILMORE is a Chapel Hill, NC, native and currently a PhD candidate and Murray Krieger Fellow at the University of California-Irvine. His dissertation examines the uses of the memory of slavery in twentieth-century Southern literature. DANNY JOHNSON received the 2017 Sir Walter Raleigh Award for his first novel, The Last Road Home. His stories and essays have appeared most recently in South Writ Large and Fox Chase Review, and his short story “Ghost” was included in the Remembrances of Wars Past (Fox Track Publications, 2012), an anthology of veterans’ writing edited by Henry Tonn. He has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and his story “Dancing With My Shadow” was named one of the 100 Best Stories of 2012 by Writer’s Digest. A Vietnam Veteran, the author is the recipient of the US Air Force Distinguished Flying Cross.

ABOVE Danny Johnson receiving the Sir

Walter Raleigh Award for Fiction at the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association’s awards banquet, Raleigh, 17 Nov. 2017; presented by Judith Williams, representing the Historical Book Club of North Carolina

1

Saidiya Hartman, Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006) 6.

PHOTOGRAPH BY LINDA FOX; COURTESY OF NORTH CAROLINA DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL AND CULTURAL RESOURCES

The Last Road Home by Danny Johnson begins with a declaration of the endurance of slavery’s social relations: “On January 1, 1863, Congress enacted President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. One hundred years later, it was still the law of the land, but in the South it was more theory than reality” (n.p.). With this beginning, Johnson signals an affinity to growing trends in African American and Black Diasporic studies to think through what historian Saidiya Hartman in Lose Your Mother: A Journey Along the Atlantic Slave Route calls “the afterlife of slavery”: “skewed life chances, limited access to health and education, premature death, incarceration, and impoverishment.”1 Johnson, a white writer, works valiantly to represent a Southern whiteness totally immersed in racialized power relations, though The Last Road Home reaches limits for the understanding of slavery’s afterlife from and through white perspectives. Set in the 1950s and ’60s, The Last Road Home tells the story of the coming of age of Raeford “Junebug” Hurley, a white orphan living with his grandparents outside of Apex, NC. Though mostly focused on Junebug’s adolescence, the final third of the novel turns towards his future, including his military service in Vietnam and his sense of alienation upon his return to civilian life. Throughout the novel, Junebug is possessed of a kind of racial innocence that would be cloying in the hands of a less perceptive writer. Junebug gratifies contemporary sensibilities as an opponent of the Klan, but

he also struggles to sort out what ethical relationships might look like outside of the naked violence and exploitation of white supremacy. Junebug’s community consists of his grandparents and neighbors, the white Mr. and Mrs. Wilson and the Strouds, a black family. Johnson should be commended for the nuance in his depiction of the relationship between Junebug and Fancy Stroud, an interracial romance that could threaten to steamroll the novel’s moral center. The Last Road Home is meticulous in its acknowledgement of Fancy’s sexual precarity as a young black woman in the South, presenting the power imbalance in the relationship as something that Junebug and Fancy consciously work through together. Indeed, the novel’s conclusion refuses to use love as a panacea to racialized violence. The novel’s epilogue is perhaps the novel’s best stretch of writing, revealing a challengingly OPPOSITE RIGHT Postcard of the enlisted

men’s barracks at Camp Lejeune, NC


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novel suggests that neither being black nor selling pot should be illegal, and through this historical resonance Johnson manages to efficiently connect the unfinished legacy of Emancipation to contemporary mass incarceration, no small feat for a coming-of-age novel set in rural North Carolina. Despite these thematic successes, The Last Road Home wavers in its execution. In service of centering the novel’s moral universe around Junebug and his whiteness, Lightning and his black counterparts in the Durham, NC, drug trade are presented as almost pathologically lawless and violent. Junebug, it seems, is free from the taint of criminality, but Lightning’s fate is tied to a stereotyped impulsivity, not to the inequalities and injustices of the Jim Crow – new or old – police state. The central third of the novel, which contains the heart of both the romance and crime narratives, is the most vital section of the novel proper. The novel’s first third is frequently

awkward in its attempts to establish relationships between characters who should know more about each other than their dialogue lets on. The novel’s final third, before the aforementioned epilogue, loses sight of what is most pressing about the novel’s world. Johnson turns to the Vietnam War as Junebug comes to realize that the traumatic violence he experiences in combat merely repeats and consolidates the violence he has already witnessed in North Carolina. This insight into the co-presence of American violence at home and abroad deserves a fuller treatment than it receives in the novel, but shows a fundamental attention to the centrality of violence in white identity that is increasingly relevant – and hard to accept – for many of today’s readers. The Last Road Home is a provocative if uneven debut novel, demonstrating a moral scope and political breadth that hold the promise of even more complicated and challenging stories to come. n

2

American Civil Liberties Union, The War On Marijuana in Black and White, 2013: web.

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POSTCARD COURTESY OF MR. AND MRS. ROGER E. KAMMERER, SR., COLLECTION (#318), EAST CAROLINA MANUSCRIPT COLLECTION, J.Y. JOYNER LIBRARY, EAST CAROLINA UNIVERSITY, GREENVILLE, NC

conflicted sense of what it means to know the past in order to live as white in the present. The other important interracial relationship in the novel is between Junebug and Fancy’s brother, Lightning, who leaves home early on to work as a migrant farmer. He returns with the seeds required to begin a profitable marijuana operation and a warrant for his arrest on murder charges. Through Lightning, Johnson throws Junebug into a world of black criminality, exploring what it means to be outside of a white political community. Junebug is on the outs with the county’s Klan power structure, but growing and selling marijuana and harboring the fugitive Lightning forces Junebug to make a commitment to life outside of the white law. This narrative turn midway through the novel highlights the contemporary political value Johnson draws out of the novel. Written against our current backdrop of increasing acceptance of recreational marijuana use and the increasing racial disparities in marijuana-related prosecution and incarceration, Johnson imagines a clandestine historical interracial community centered around a crime that we no longer view as a crime yet still use as an excuse to incarcerate young black men and women. As the American Civil Liberties Union notes, from 2001 to 2010 “the Black arrest rate [rose] from 537 per 100,000 in 2001 . . . to 716 per 100,000 in 2010” while the white arrest rate remained steady “at around 192 per 100,000” across that same time period.2 In a sense, then, the

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NCLR 2014, featuring War in North Carolina Literature, is still available for purchase.


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NEVER CEASING TO BE OURSELVES a review by Donna A. Gessell Kat Meads. In This Season of Rage and Melancholy Such Irrevocable Acts as These. Norman, OK: Mongrel Empire Press, 2016.

DONNA A. GESSELL has a PhD from Case Western Reserve University and is a Professor of English at the University of North Georgia, Dahlonega campus. Her scholarship includes work on Jane Austen, Flannery O’Connor, Iris Murdoch, and Judith Ortiz Cofer. KAT MEADS is author of sixteen books and chapbooks of poetry and prose. She has received numerous writing awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship. A native of Currituck County, NC, she holds BA from UNC Chapel Hill and an MFA from UNC Greensboro. She currently lives in California, teaches in Oklahoma City University’s lowresidency MFA program, and is a member of the NCLR editorial board. Read the interview with Meads and her play Husbands Found Dead in NCLR 2009.

Kat Meads’s latest novel is as strong and savage as its title: In This Season of Rage and Melancholy Such Irrevocable Acts as These. Although the novel is her third one to be localized to mythical Mawatuck County, NC, its “irrevocable acts” loom larger than the locale to raise questions about the spiritual lives of people throughout the US. The novel’s epigraph by Joseph Conrad establishes the challenge: “We can never cease to be ourselves.” The language of the novel is as commanding as the title and epigraph. The narrative and the dialogue compel the reader through the story, which combines humor with pathos to reveal sublime moments of personal insight against the repetitive thoughts and actions of the Mawatuck residents stuck in their everyday lives. Having attended high school together, the novel’s key characters are all too familiar with each other, trapped by connections that paralyze, keeping them from moving beyond their embattled high school selves. The result is that these characters are largely who they are because of who they have been, suffering from unanticipated results of their decisions. Nevertheless, Meads’s compelling characterizations are profound and perceptive in capturing people we have met in our own lives. They perpetuate the stagnation of Mawatuck society, unwilling to change as the county changes, particularly because the alterations in its economy and land ownership, gentrifying a farming community into upscale investment opportunities, have robbed them of their potential selves. All the same, their small town and rural lives are still filled by the activities they have engaged in since their adolescence: drinking,

gossiping, shopping, hanging out, drag racing, partying, engaging in risky sex – all while drinking, playing amateur sports, followed by more drinking, and questioning their self-worth, which is based on how they think that others perceive them. The only changes in their behaviors are largely because, in addition to these pastimes, they are now engaged in work instead of school. Their jobs, however, are largely meaningless: boring because they are either dead-end, or interesting only because of the job’s potential for exacting retribution from others. The most despicable characters fall into the latter category; because of their newly achieved abilities to manipulate others, they have become the most successful, but only when measured in ways the new society values. In particular, Mickey is disturbing because of his greed, so rapacious as to become abnormal. In the relatively brief time since finishing high school, he has unscrupulously earned millions of dollars through underhanded land development deals, achieving the political positioning to be electable to county government. Instead of leveraging his advantage for good, he relentlessly uses it to retaliate against others for how he was treated in childhood by his parents and in high school by his classmates. Likewise, his secretary, Becca – despite her highpaying job and a secure future for her out-of-wedlock son – is compulsively manipulating others to avenge their high school judgments against her. Within this system of reprisals, we sympathize with the three characters who are their prey. With less-than-successful jobs and intact high school mindsets, the threesome is vulnerable both economically and psychologically.


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ABOVE Gas station in Currituck,

the inspiration for Meads’s fictional Mawatuck County

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PHOTOGRAPH BY EARL C. LEATHERBERRY

Nevertheless, their friendship is inspiring, and Meads encourages us to enjoy its moments of warmth and humor. Even so, like those who manipulate them, these characters are doomed to live with the consequences of who they have been. Leeta, the main character’s best friend, is still convinced not only that she is “Most Popular,” her high school superlative honor, but also that every man wants to have sex with her; and George, Leeta’s husband, is still certain working the soil is a noble pursuit, even though family farming has become nearly impossible economically. Mostly immobilized, these characters live the inexorable fates brought on by their beliefs. That destiny is largely ineluctable is most apparent in the main character, Beth. As troubling as is her success in sabotaging her best self, readers experience the ways her attempts to right a warped worldview invariably go awry. The opening lines of the novel introduce us to “her deity,” whom she has invented and dressed “in a tux” to escape the ravages of the spiritual misdirection of her Pentecostal upbringing. However, as with the Frankenstein monster, her imaginary creation soon takes over, and “her fantasy to do with as she pleased” becomes her nemesis as it helps to destroy her despite her attempts to escape her own creation (1). As in the story that haunts her from childhood, “The Monkey’s Paw” by W.W. Jacobs, hellish unintended consequences punish her for attempting to take control of her life. The disturbing

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self-inflictions include her inventing “an imaginary beau” (69), whom she embellishes with lavish detail to extricate herself from having to endure a real romance. Again, however, this creation grows to the point that she has to abandon it. When “the fiction hadn’t aged as captivatingly as he might have,” she wonders, “But whose fault was that if not Gerald’s creator?” (69). Her attempts to create fail, and the failure devastates her. This cycle climaxes when she miscarries a pregnancy, conceived after a single sexual act, and she lambasts herself with blame: she “failed as a mother before officially becoming one. . . . She was pathetic, incompetent. She’d been unable to protect and defend her baby’s life. She deserved the abuse, God’s abuse. And drunk, she accepted it” (110). Having failed at all her attempts to create, she aspires to nothingness. Her comments on baseball become her attitude toward life: “Since winning wasn’t an outcome Beth expected, failing to win didn’t count as a disappointment”(57).

Mired in alcoholism, Beth remains stuck. Nevertheless, her impasse is moving, disturbing readers to examine how we should deal with our own pasts and negotiate our futures. Through this process, the novel achieves greatness. When asked, “What do you hope this story conveys to readers?” Meads responded, “That people struggle, make mistakes. But that the vast majority deal the best they can with what fate assigns.”* As readers, we are haunted by these best dealings. Can we never cease to be ourselves? Are we stuck with who we have become? With meaningful experiences, can we move beyond our past? The events of the novel occur in 1978, in Meads’s fictional Mawatuck County, yet these questions are universal. In this beautifully rendered novel, Meads challenges us to question our spirituality by examining our culture and just what it offers to entice people to live meaningful lives, especially in “this season of rage and melancholy.”* n

* Quoted from “Kat Meads Talks about In This Season of Rage and Melancholy Such Irrevocable Acts as These,” an interview sent out by the publisher with review copies of the novel.


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IN MEMORIAM excerpted from tributes at the North Carolina Writers Conference Rocky Mount, 29 July 2017

Joseph Bathanti remembers PHOTOGRAPH BY SYLVIA FREEMAN

Kathryn Stripling Byer Elegant and eloquent, fierce in her unswerving devotion to poetry as the heart and soul of the people – especially those cast aside, marginalized, and ignored – Kay Byer was a great teacher and humanist, grand friend, North Carolina’s fire-breathing first woman Poet Laureate. She was simply one of our state’s spectacular and loyal citizens. She brought to bear, in the big and little places all across North Carolina, and beyond, her social conscience and generous spirit. She saw and heard and loved everyone. It was impossible not to love her in return. We should pause as long as we need to in the profound, seemingly insurmountable, loss we feel today and in the days to come and remember Kay, remember her poems – that will live on – and read them to one another. What I think Kay would tell us – what she’s been telling us all along, what she’ll continue to tell us – is to then get back to the business of writing and championing poetry, to continue her tireless advocacy and the conversations about poetry in the service of love, reconciliation, and shared humanity she instigated. This is ultimately what we owe her and her memory. n n n

KATHRYN STRIPLING BYER (November 25, 1944–June 5, 2017) By Shelby Stephenson

ABOVE Kathryn Stripling Byer, at Flyleaf

Books, Chapel Hill, 11 Aug. 2016

Though you cannot lift the burden of the Camilla Massacre of September 19, 1869, you know your home’s

gloriously sky-high over Camilla, Freedom’s house-servants salvaging scraggly Love: mourning doves coo for threads

near Hope, the color line opening and closing syllables against what we do to one another.

fingers thimble in calloused bobbing motions for home toward hearts shaped Good. Sorrowing tenses loosen

Considering Camilla’s population – about two-thirds African-American, a third Caucasian, with Native American,

Love for child’s play, hoping more Good will eclipse Bad the mirror gives back: we want to walk together,

Asian, Hispanic, Latino – play again, please, Wildwood Flower, as if Mother Maybelle picks her f-hole guitar, melodies

holding hands all the way.

Read biographical notes on JOSEPH BATHANTI and BARBARA PRESNELL within reviews of their latest books in this section of the issue.

North Carolina Poet Laureate SHELBY STEPHENSON’s many honors include the North Carolina Award for Literature and induction into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame. He is the author of numerous collections of poetry. His poet laureate projects include conducting writing workshops in retirement and assisted living communities.


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“Susan Meyers lived her life as she wrote poetry, with attention and intention.” —Pat Riviere-Seel

Barbara Presnell remembers

Susan was a vital part of the North Carolina Writers Conference and many other organizations and groups in North Carolina and South Carolina. These groups and all the individuals in them were likewise an important part of who Susan was and what she loved. Susan was kind, generous, talented, precise, and complex. She was a woman of high standards, and she made the rest of us strive to be better than we were. She was an amazingly versatile poet. She was my very good friend for over twenty years. Susan loved many things, but it seemed to me she loved three things in particular: words – the mystery and puzzle and play of them; nature – she was guided by her respect and responsibility for all living things, including the undesirable living things; and she loved her husband, Blue. Her poem “Though I Hold Nothing against Snakes but Fear” combines all those loves.* It’s a poem of conscience, of internal struggle, and of acceptance. It’s not her usual lyric poem either, but narrative, a form she also mastered. The poem also has a personal relevance to me. Susan and I were hiking the Old Santee Canal during one of my visits to her Summerville home when my foot almost came down on a copperhead. It would have too, but Susan grabbed my arm and pulled me away, and we changed our direction. Shortly afterwards, she sent me her new poem, “Though I Hold Nothing against Snakes but Fear.” n n n

PHOTOGRAPH BY JEFF DAVIS

Susan Laughter Meyers

A SONG OF THE USUAL GARDEN for Susan Laughter Meyers by Shelby Stephenson And passion? No one can break out of that, Ever, though one who does becomes part of alleviation Veering to illuminate the unknown--and this: A hummer’s ruby-colored feather smears in a flare The hurt the seer fears as death In us shags on toward some Promise: A “flock of small birds” could be a promontory, Dear Happenstance, that seeing seems As a beacon instead of, say, some Cedar Waxwings onto bliss Veering for berries and sugary fruit, their foreheads Upright over black masks covering what brain Steers them over stagger grass into Paradise.

* Read this poem in Prairie Schooner 86.1 (2012): 57.

ABOVE Susan Laughter Meyers, serving as moderator of

James Applewhite Poetry Prize finalists’ reading at the 2014 North Carolina Writers Conference, Winston-Salem, NC


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PHOTOGRAPH BY LYNN ROBESON; COURTESY OF BARBARA PRESNELL

SACRED ANTHEMS: FAMILIAL RELATIONS AND MILITARY SERVICE a review by Hannah Crane Sykes Barbara Presnell. Blue Star. Winston-Salem, NC: Press 53, 2016.

HANNAH CRANE SYKES is a native of Western North Carolina but currently lives and teaches in the Piedmont region. She earned her BA from Western Carolina University and her MA from UNC Greensboro. She currently teaches courses in composition, American and British literature, and creative writing. BARBARA PRESNELL, from Asheboro, NC, is the author of several chapbooks of poetry and is published in many journals and anthologies, including Southern Review, Malahat Review, Cimarron Review, English Journal, and Listen Here: Women Writing in Appalachia, and NCLR 2005. Her collection of poems Piece Work (Cleveland State University, 2007; reviewed in NCLR 2008) won the Cleveland State University Poetry Center First Book Prize and was adapted for the stage by the Touring Theatre of North Carolina. Currently she teaches at UNC Charlotte and lives in Lexington, NC. ABOVE A sampling of photographs from the archives of First Sgt. William G. Presnell (who appears in the central photograph seated at his desk)

Barbara Presnell’s 2016 collection Blue Star deftly weaves the lives of her ancestors into verses that speak to conflict, loss, and tenderness. The collection takes its name from the tradition of hanging blue star banners in a home, signifying that a family member is away in service to the American Armed Forces. While the collection is based on the experiences of Presnell’s ancestors, she has imagined clear emotions and responses to their world in such a way that the reader sometimes forgets that each poem is not penned by the family member she is voicing. Many of the poems in the collection deal with Presnell’s grandparents, Josiah and Hannah Sharpe Presnell, and their children. The poems not only appear in traditional poetic forms, but also as letters. The catalysts for many of the poems in Blue Star are the wars of the twentieth century and their impact on this particular North Carolina family. The poems that deal directly with the war reveal the everyday moments that persist in the face of great conflict. In “Before All Three Brothers Leave for War,” we see the family shelling peas on the porch, a longstanding sign

of preservation and preparation. Presnell’s speakers will use the image of shells again, referencing instead the shells of bullets spent on foreign fields. In these moments before the brothers become soldiers, they engage in a battle as peas are shot, flung, and thrown across the porch; eventually they will face their mama’s ire, still her children, for being so careless. In addition to wars that called family members far from home, the poems in Blue Star deal with conflicts much closer to home. “Diptheria Outbreak, August 1989” explores terror and resilience during an epidemic. The speaker describes the heat in the house and the heat of the fever; two children have already died, and five-year-old Slim is fighting for his life. The fear felt by Josiah and Hannah lifts from the page. Josiah masks his anxiety, busying himself with removing his two deceased daughters and fetching water for Slim. Hannah, rocking Slim, knows that though her boy is weak and thin he will prevail. The fear and uncertainty of these parents mirrors that expressed by their sons in the war poems. A run-in with a snake described in “Copperhead” reminds readers of


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PHOTOGRAPH BY LT. FRANK TOWERS; COURTESY OF BARBARA PRESNELL

other fearful moments faced by this family; again the encounter is met with resiliency as one brother works to remove the venom from the victim, and again, the parallels of looming copperheads and imminent war are drawn. Blue Star also tells of a family trying to move with the ever-changing world in which they live in. “Papa Buys the Tin Lizzie on the Day Slim Returns” demonstrates Josiah’s forward-thinking attitude and defies the stereotype of the ill-prepared Southerner. Seeing the possibilities and changes that automobiles will bring to their community, the speaker says,

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station as he heads to war, or prepares food for those left behind. She must see the blue stars, which represent her sons, every day; she surely must remember when she almost lost Slim to diptheria and now fears losing him to a foreign army. In the midst of illness, death, war, and change, Hannah persists; the picture is clearly painted in “After the Train Carries Her Son to War, She Walks the Other Children Home, 1917” when after walking home from escorting one of her boys to the train station, she is thinking of supper for her little ones: At home she’ll feed them cornbread

. . . Papa will change

and milk, put the little ones down for naps

the sign above his shop from Blacksmith

while she stirs a blackberry cobbler.

to Automobiles and learn the insides of an engine

Supper will be like any other night.

like it’s the machine of his own body.

Stew, kale, turnips, the cobbler,

Boys home from war will buy them like cheap

its juices running down their chins,

cigarettes, crowding streets, pushing buggies

their shirts, stains

to the sides, smoking up and down roads.

she’ll Borax out tomorrow.

Papa will also use the car as a way to connect with his son, Slim, and help him adjust to life after the war. The poem describes tender unspoken moments between the father and son (“Papa holds him like when he was a boy sick with fever”) and the father’s recognition of the freedom that his son can find by escaping for days in the Tin Lizzie. What endures and will convince readers to return to Blue Star’s pages again and again are the moments of family tenderness. Presnell captures authentic feelings and reactions, stripping them of melodrama. Hannah’s presence as the matriarch is a thread woven through many of the poems as she admonishes her grown children for making a mess of peas on the porch, walks her son to the train

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War will interrupt their lives, but what they know to be true will continue. The listing of common foods like turnips and blackberries conveys something beautiful and bittersweet about what lasts in the world. While Blue Star tells the stories of multiple generations of Presnell’s family, the poems are not presented in a chronological order; the lack of chronology enhances the beauty of the collection as a whole, as character revelations are found up to the very last lines. We meet Slim at various stages of his life, for example, first as one of the sons going to war and later as a child in the grip of fever from diptheria in an inverted revelation, much like the experience of learning about one’s own family history. Slim is a family member we feel like we know by the end of the collection. However, Presnell has provided minimal details about his sister Ruth, who left home at a young age. Her story remains shrouded in mystery and scandal, especially as we meet her son who really only knows his mother through the letters she sends him. Some of the poems even come forward in time as a contemporary speaker talks about watching her son grow; again, we see the resilience of this particular family in the wake of time. Many of the images and sentiments in Blue Star feel familiar; the voices are strong and compelling. Reading the collection through feels like a homegoing, a return to a comforting place after a long battle in a far field. n

LEFT First Sgt. William G. Presnell with two unidentified Russian soldiers at the Elbe River in Magdeburg, Germany, when the US troops met with the Russians at the end of World War II, 25 Apr. 1945


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PHOTOGRAPH BY NANCY CARD

AN OVERLOOK IN A POET’S CAREER: THE OCCASION OF “SELECTED AND NEW POEMS” a review by Eric C. Walker Mark Cox. Sorrow Bread: Poems 1984–2015. Florham Park, NJ: Serving House Books, 2017.

ERIC C. WALKER, a native of North Carolina, has been Professor of English at Florida State University since 1984. He is the author of Marriage, Writing, and Romanticism: Wordsworth and Austen After War (Stanford University Press, 2009), which was awarded the 2010 SAMLA Studies Book Award. He now divides his North Carolina time between Greenville and Black Mountain. MARK COX is the award-winning author of six collections of poetry, including Natural Causes (University of Pittsburg Press, 2004; reviewed in NCLR 2005) and a forthcoming collection from Press 53. He is Professor of Creative Writing at UNC Wilmington and has served as poetry editor of Passages North and Cimarron Review, as Poet-in-Residence at The Frost Place, and as the editor of Jack Myers’ posthumous anthology, The Memory of Water. His numerous honors include the Whiting Writers Award (1987), a Pushcart Prize (1993), the Society of Midwest Authors and Oklahoma Book Awards (1999), and a North Carolina Arts Council Literature Fellowship (2017).

Mark Cox, who teaches in the creative writing program at UNC Wilmington and is the recipient of a 2018 North Carolina Arts Council Artist Fellowship, shapes a career milestone with his verse collection Sorrow Bread, which is his first “Selected and New” volume of poems, rearranging and reapportioning four previous publications, the most recent of which appeared in 2004. Sorrow Bread offers eighty-seven poems, twenty-three of them new, arranged in eight thematic sections such as “Inner Rooms,” “Fatherhood,” and “After Rain,” each of which mixes earlier and more recent work. This thematic method of selection trails clouds of Wordsworth, who launched it in 1815 with categories such as “Poems of the Imagination” and “Poems Referring to the Period of Old Age” – and who then spent the rest of his career fussily rearranging, deleting, and adding poems to each category, making much busywork for English professors. The alternative collective method is chronological (either of composition or publication), the method followed, for example, by ABOVE Mark Cox participating in a

reading of the 2017–18 North Carolina Arts Council fellowship recipients, Flyleaf Books, Chapel Hill, 28 Oct. 2017

A.R. Ammons in his first Selected Poems volume in 1968, also after four initial publications; the poems, Ammons announced, are “arranged in chronological order of composition.”* Cox glances over his shoulder at this method by supplying dates of composition for each poem in his table of contents. But the governing order is prominently thematic, and the chronologically random mix of old and new in each thematic section stakes a larger claim: the through-line of Cox’s themes and styles, earlier and later, is more important than a developmental narrative. The through-line of themes is largely domestic (and Midwestern), and the through-line of styles is chiefly the thirty- to forty-verse firstperson lyric, wherein the speaker is often overheard speaking to himself as an apostrophized “you,” in sometimes regular but generally irregular free-verse stanzas. To sample such through-lines of theme and style, a lyric from 1985, “Linda’s House of Beauty,” recalls a chance encounter at a store entrance between the poet’s adolescent self going in and a woman with a bottle of wine going out: * A.R. Ammons, Selected Poems (Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 1968).


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That day, my fourteen-year-old saliva, the water that broke the moment I was ready to be born, rearranged itself in an astonishing sky. And I was guessing she’d just come from Linda’s.

The focus is the fleeting moment of the couple: “Because I think that woman loved me for that moment.” Twenty years later, in “Morning Blend,” from 2015, the longer moment for another couple is morning coffee: “The two of you are comfortable for the moment, // being a man and being a woman, being alive together.” But are such moments, then or now, sufficient? One moment, one defining moment of either sorrow or happiness, one indelible shared experience could have been enough to bond you two for life.

But Cox is far from writing the same poem over and over. There are interesting stylistic variations here and there; in at least one poem, the speaker is a woman (“Geese,” from 1986; she speaks mostly of her husband); “Emergen(ce) of Feeling” from 2015 is a cascade of aphorisms: “Lightning is God / taking pictures of the victims. The present, like your elbow / bends just one direction.” There are, unsurprisingly, later poems that wrestle with aging and other passages such as divorce, family deaths, parenthood, and remarriage. One such poem is “Patina,” from 2013: “What once called for passionate pyrotechnics, / requires, now, quietude and simplicity.” An early lyric, “White Tornado,” from 1987, speaks of the self in the third person in accents from Wallace Stevens: “And though there’ll be nothing he can’t see then, / he’ll be all that is.” In the later “Being Here,” from 2005, the early Stevens of “Snow Man” and “The Emperor of Ice Cream” leans toward the late Stevens of “Final Soliloquy of the Interior Paramour”: “how simple our journey really is, / how the gift of just being here / is worth any risk.” The title poem of the book, “Sorrow Bread,” from 1988, is by that privilege and by the raw measure of length the most ambitious poem in the volume, twice as long as any other lyric. Its narrative method is a good example of Cox’s technique: the poem weaves together the second-hand report of a grim accident befalling a minister and his partner; the speaker’s own witness of an accident suffered by a co-worker painting bridges; the memory of a torn rope of no immediate grim consequence; and an account of his attempt to put these materials together in a poem before domestic routines wipe the screen. These

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episodes are simultaneously discrete and “sorrow bred” by one another. Because the poem lends its title shape to the entire book (which was not the case when it was published in a previous volume), I’m struck by the eucharistic shadow it casts over the whole: a crucified body now the “bread” of “a man of sorrows” (see Isaiah 53:3, or Handel). Lest you think this is too fleeting a shadow, Cox picks up this image in at least one other place in the book, in the poem “Ashes, Ashes,” from 2002, which opens “Snow. A nit’s weight / on the hair of one’s neck, / the blessed host of the past, / right there, just so” and which moves to admonition: “Open your mouth and take / the dissolution / on your tongue.” The line “the blessed host of the past” is a fair take on the way an entire collection titled Sorrow Bread works, in often powerful ways. And what of North Carolina? Unlike the nativist strains of James Applewhite, Kathryn Stripling Byer, Fred Chappell, Shelby Stephenson, and many others, the sense of place in these poems is chiefly Midwestern and occasionally of New England (Cox also teaches in the low-residence MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts). Like Dorianne Laux, Alan Shapiro, and many others, Cox’s work to date is chiefly the landscape of an exile from elsewhere. But Cox has been dwelling by-the-UNC-sea for nigh on twenty years now, and the book offers a handful of beach lyrics. Whereas “Sonata,” from 1993, uses “a man by the sea” as an extended metaphor, “Heart on Stilts,” from 2005, takes us to the shore at a moment of “middle age,” “wading here in this cove of bent grasses / and cell towers.” The “grown man” at last turns from “the sustaining sea’s ancient threat” toward “home,” “his beach towel held like a child to his chest, / toward all that need him / and thus all he really needs.” The book’s author biography announces a forthcoming volume of prose poems, two of which are previewed (I’m guessing) in Sorrow Bread: “The Pole” (2013) and “Lazaruses of the Links” (2014). They mark a new stylistic venture, but the voice remains unmistakably the voice of Mark Cox, a voice of substantial range: one is a tragic take on the necessary sacrifices of the writing life (the controlling metaphor is the British explorer Robert Falcon Scott’s ill-fated expedition to the South Pole) and the other is an Updike-like comic take on male confusions expressed randomly on the golf course. Poetry in the language and in North Carolina is enriched by this range and this achievement, now on helpfully longer view in the form of the “Selected and New Poems” that populate Sorrow Bread. n


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IN MEMORIAM June Guralnick remembers

Sally Buckner North Carolina’s beloved native daughter, Sally Buckner, closed her Book of Life on January 7, 2018. Sally would have appreciated that, also on this day in history, two essential tools for writers were created: the typewriter was patented by Englishman Henry Mill (1714), and some 176 years later, the fountain pen was patented by African American inventor William Purvis (1890). Sally wielded both instruments to great effect: literary luminary, teacher, and humanitarian, my dear friend was an undeniable force of nature. It’s odd that I cannot remember when I first met Sally – possibly because it would be unthinkable to imagine my life without her gentle, inspiring spirit as part of it. In 2016, I was approached by the North Carolina Arts Council to give a brief presentation at the occasion of Sally receiving The Order of the Long Leaf Pine. I was honored and a bit overwhelmed at the request. I knew that a woman with Sally’s breadth and depth could not be captured in a few words. With the kind forbearance of all who were blessed to know Sally, my reflections follow.

In preparation for my brief remarks on this occasion, I decided to visit the Sally Buckner Archives at UNC Chapel Hill’s Wilson Library. My plan? Breeze through her papers for a few minutes and then merrily be on my way to a morning latte. Arriving at the Southern Historical Collection front desk, I somewhat officiously requested of the librarian to be so good as to retrieve the Sally Buckner papers so I could glance through them in the next half hour or so. She quickly proceeded (aren’t those UNC librarians angels?) to search for the collection number: 05250 – The Sally Buckner Papers, 1963–2004. When the entry popped up on the librarian’s computer, she smiled – a rather odd smile which I would understand in a moment. “Which box” she asked? “Which box?” I replied. “How many are there?” “There are approximately eight thousand items,” she replied with a definite gleam in her eye. It took a minute for that number to sink in – eight thousand items, which are housed in eight series, each

Playwright JUNE GURALNICK, a New York native, is actively involved in the dramatic arts community of North Carolina. Read excerpts from her play Finding Clara in NCLR 2009.

series containing multiple boxes. Needless to say, I did not get through the entire Buckner archives in thirty minutes. But until that reading room shuttered its doors at six pm, I became lost in the tidal wave that is Sally Buckner. There are three types of captains who guide ships – those driven by ego and the search for fame, those driven by greed and the search for spoils, and those driven by the spirit of exploration and desire to engage with the world, in all its glories and foibles, and by so doing make the world a better place for us all. Sally exemplifies this last type – self-effacing, steady-as-she-goes, learned, life-affirming, loving anchor of North Carolina’s literary vessel. In the hundreds of letters and cards that I reviewed in her archive, it became staggeringly apparent how many individuals Sally has personally helped (including myself) as a mentor, friend, colleague, editor – and yes, sometimes, gentle critic. Let me just say that many of the letters are not perfunctory notes! How did you find time, Sally, to answer your voluminous correspondence and respond to us all? These letters detail Sally’s inspiring, often profound influence on the correspondent’s life and work. “Thank you for the immense gift of love, time, and effort you have given to us all,” Rebecca Clanaghan wrote in 1999. “Your concern and commitment were apparent from the outset,” typed William C. Friday, 1987. “Thanks again for being the hardworking woman of this operation,” penned Emily Wilson in 1992. It is impossible to detail Sally’s extraordinary involvement in our state’s literary landscape in the short time we have here today. So, I apologize for offering the Reader’s Digest rather than the unabridged, fully annotated version of her background. Sally was born in Statesville in 1931. Her father, George Beaver, was a plumber and her mother, Foda Stack Beaver, was a teacher and bookkeeper. In case


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PHOTOGRAPH BY SYLVIA FREEMAN

you are not acquainted with Sally’s memorable poem “Plumber’s Daughter,”* here are a few lines from the close of this marvelous work (the section of the poem starts with “When I’m trying to fit the ends of my life together . . .”): I’ll remember passing by Tabernacle Church And recall my father’s hands, and think of my own Modest contribution to tabernacles Where I’ve been invited to participate in construction, And I’ll scrub the grease from my hands, pucker up my lips, Throw back my head and send my whistle pouring Like cool clear water through clean copper pipe Across the great green earth.

Beautiful, right? Sally received her bachelor’s degree from UNC Greensboro and her doctorate from Carolina. With a background also as a journalist, she taught every level from kindergarten through graduate school, including twenty-eight years as a faculty member at Peace College, inspiring thousands of young people to find their own unique writing voices. Anyone who has read Our Words, Our Ways: Reading and Writing in North

* “Plumber’s Daughter was first published in Strawberry Harvest (Laurinburg, NC: St. Andrew’s, 1986).

Carolina, a Carolina Academic Press book masterfully edited by Sally, knows immediately they are in the presence of a superb teacher. Sally’s published nonfiction, fiction, and poetry can be found in numerous journals too lengthy to cite here, and in 1986, her collection of poetry, “Strawberry Harvest,” was published by St. Andrews Press. In the late 1990s, she undertook the Herculean task of serving as editor of Word and Witness: 100 Years of North Carolina Poetry, published in 1999 under the auspices of the North Carolina Poetry Society by Carolina Academic Press. Truly there is no finer collection of North Carolina poems! Sally’s leadership and involvement with state groups, including the North Carolina Writers’ Network, North Carolina Poetry Society, North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame, North Carolina English Teachers Association, the ground-breaking North Carolina Women Writers Conference, and hundreds of committees, councils, and conferences that Sally held leadership positions with, is legendary. And of course – there are the awards. Sally is the Michael Phelps of North Carolina! The Ragan-Rubin Award, the R. Hunt Parker Memorial Award, the Sam Ragan Award, the City of Raleigh Arts Commission Medal of Arts Award, the Wake County YWCA Academy of Women Arts Award, among many others. And now, one more for your sizable collection! But all these successes, awards, service to organizations, and creative achievements do not attest to something more important – Sally’s shining character. I’d like to know if there is anyone in this room today who has not heard a story about – or has not been personal witness to – Sally’s extraordinary kindness, her generosity to others, her righteous sense of justice, her courage in the face of loss and illness – and her wickedly delicious sense of humor. I am humbled to stand in your presence, Sally, because you are the very best of us.

ABOVE Sally Buckner at Quail Ridge Books, 2011


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In closing, I’d like to quote again from Sally’s “Plumber’s Daughter”: “No matter how I measure the lines and angles / They refuse to fit into a grand design.” Today, we are here to celebrate your contribution, Sally, to the Literary State of North Carolina – which is, indeed, the grandest of designs! Thank you for being the captain of our ship! Rest in peace, Sally. You are in our hearts, and your words and honorable deeds will live on forever. The Order of the Long Leaf Pine, conferred by the Governor of North Carolina, “is awarded to persons for exemplary service to the State of North Carolina and their communities that is above and beyond the call of duty and which has made a significant impact and strengthened North Carolina.” On 11 August 2016, at the Glenaire Retirement Community in Cary, NC, Poet Laureate Shelby Stephenson presented the honor to Sally Buckner, reading the following poem he wrote for the occasion. n n n

AUGUST DAWN for Sally Buckner by Shelby Stephenson August is butterflies, and yet The long leaf pine orders its needles To the joy of your teaching from kindergarten Through graduate school, never parting From creativeness; though you retired After almost three decades at Peace, you never tried To quit, really, writing poems, essays, stories, plays strewn With inspiration from Bob’s green Garden of roses you and he grew. Ice Could never get its point into such sweet place You two accorded Birnamwood, continuing here Where we gather this salute in Glenaire. Your words become Our Words, Our Ways. What if I had had that book in my eight-grade daze Of puberty and desire to catfish out of sight From Miss Lane’s attempt to celebrate My lostness, a boy caught in the old Squeeze of tobacco worms spitting the world. Your Word and Witness, I’m convinced, salvaged my heart, Before I knew your love now, again, is about to start.

The poetry and poet memorials in this issue were designed by KAREN BALTIMORE, a graphic designer and illustrator located in Cary NC. See other samples of Karen’s work on her website and in NCLR back issues since 2013.


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NORTH CAROLINA These Are a Few of My Favorite Things by Margaret D. Bauer, Editor The writers included in this section reflect some of the most rewarding aspects of my job as NCLR Editor: publishing work by and about new writers and writers new to our pages, and working with writers who give so generously of their time in service to other writers. Both of the poems here, finalists in the 2017 James Applewhite Poetry Prize, are by recent graduates of UNC-system MFA programs. The author of the short story in this section, W.A. Polf, who was awarded second place for his story in the 2017 Doris Betts Fiction Prize competition, moved to North Carolina to write after his retirement and is having a successful second career. Reviews include the debut poetry collection by Gabrielle Brant Freeman and the 2017 Roanoke-Chowan Award–winning collection of poetry by Patricia Hooper, her fourth collection, although this is her first time featured in NCLR. Collections by other veteran poets new to our pages, Irene Blair Honeycutt and Alice Fulton, are reviewed here, too, and I certainly hope they will submit poetry in the future. I also appreciate the valuable service of reviewers Grace C. Ocasio and Laura Sloan Patterson, who have been finalists in past Applewhite competitions and had poems published in our pages. It was a pleasure to work again with former assistant editor Celeste McMaster and with new reviewer Hannah Crane Sykes. If you are interested in joining our team of generous book reviewers (or want to find out about having your book reviewed), find information about doing so on our website. Reviewers receive a one-year subscription to the print issue, which also allows them to submit to our creative writing competitions that year (subscriptions are required for submission). And if you know about a writer whom other readers should know more about, perhaps you would like to interview him or her for our pages. This section of each issue, online and print, allows for us to include material unrelated to the special feature sections so that we do not miss writers whose subject matter has not (yet) inspired a special feature topic. Read more about submitting to NCLR on our website. n

Miscellany

104 Banjo a short story by W.A. Polf art by Heather Evans Smith

114 “Various and Complex”: Keeping Composed a review by Celeste McMaster Alice Fulton, Barely Composed 116 Dark Wonder a review by Laura Sloan Patterson Gabrielle Brant Freeman, When She Was Bad 118 Portrait: Wesley and Elvina Settling, 1901 a poem by Nicole Stockburger art by Sallie White

119 How Memory Heals a review by Grace C. Ocasio Irene Blair Honeycutt, Beneath the Bamboo Sky 122 Of Leaving and What Remains Behind a review by Hannah Crane Sykes Patricia Hooper, Separate Flights 124 Fairytale Rules for the 21st Century Woman a poem by Christina Clark art by Rachel Elia and Alec Campbell-Barner 126 NCLR Editor Receives North Carolina Award for Literature introduced by Michele Walker acceptance remarks by Margaret D. Bauer

ALSO IN THIS ISSUE 6 n North Carolina on the Map and in the News poetry, prose, book reviews, and literary news

58 n Flashbacks: Echoes of Past Issues poetry, prose, book reviews, and literary news


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Everything about the disease was a mystery. Someone found Kate’s mother standing in the shopping center parking lot, frightened and clutching her handbag tightly against her chest. She stood there, trembling, unable to speak. When the police asked her name, she just stared at them. They found her driver’s license in her bag, along with an address book. The female officer who called Kate had been kind. “We figured you must be a relative since you had the same last name.”

BANJO

BY W.A. POLF

Her mother was sitting in the security office when Kate came in. Someone had placed a styrofoam cup of water next to her, but she ignored it. She sat slumped down, deflated, as though she had been caught shoplifting. Kate had never seen her look so defeated. All her life, she had been a proud woman, her shoulders square, her chin up, her curly red hair bright around her head like a crimson helmet. The red hair had long since turned gray, but her mother never lost her haughtiness, her sense of entitlement. Now she sagged like a bag of dirty laundry thrown on a chair. “I forgot where I parked my car,” she said, looking pathetically at Kate. In her mother’s eyes, Kate saw fear so deep, so primal that her own stomach sank, and she inhaled deeply to control the churning. Later, looking back, she realized her mother had glimpsed her end – and it terrified her. Neither

of them knew it at the time. That day at the mall, her mother finally remembered her name. Now, eighteen months later, she couldn’t recognize herself in the mirror. Kate stood at the sink in the kitchen washing dishes. She could hear the birds outside in the courtyard, chirping and quarreling around the bird feeders. She and her mother often sat together, watching the birds through the window. What does she see now? Kate wondered. For a while, early in the decline, her mother had struggled to remember things from the past. Kate helped by telling her about memories they shared, good things to stimulate her mother’s mind. Kate searched her past: there wasn’t a lot to tell. Thirty-five years as a high school science teacher in her hometown, and what did she have to show for it? A teacher’s pension, and whatever would be left when her mother died. She

W.A. POLF holds a BA from San Francisco State University and a PhD in American History from Syracuse University. He is a retired hospital executive from New York City who moved to North Carolina to write. His stories have appeared in Milo Review, Still Point Arts Quarterly, and Tishman Review. He received an honorable mention in the 2013 Glimmer Train Short Story Award for New Writers. His story “Banjo” was also a finalist for the 2017 Short Story America Prize and will be reprinted in this anthology in 2018.

Upon selecting “Banjo” for second place in the Doris Betts Fiction Prize competition, NCLR Fiction Editor Liza Wieland wrote, “‘Banjo’ is a brilliant story about responsibility to family and the impossibility of honoring it. The prose is quiet and careful, but the characters’ violent feelings make for a tension that captures the truth of family relations.”


WITH ART BY HEATHER EVANS SMITH

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COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

North Carolina Miscellany

A LOSS OF EXECUTIVE FUNCTION, HE CALLED IT. KATE LIKED THE TERM. SOMEHOW IT ELEVATED THE DISEASE ABOVE THE MERE INABILITY TO REMEMBER THE DETAILS OF THE PAST, THE ORDINARY EVENTS THAT, TOGETHER, MAKE A LIFE. Curio (archival pigment print, 16x20) by Heather Evans Smith

decided not to speak about most of the memories that came to her, memories dredged up like sodden weeds from the bottom of a pond. Keep it cheerful, the neurologist said, so Kate tried to do just that. Her mother did nothing to take care of herself anymore. When she awoke, she no longer reached for the robe Kate laid on the bed. She sat, slouched on the edge, until Kate put it on her. “She no longer seems to know what to do next, how to do the smallest thing,” Kate told the doctor. A loss of executive function, he called it. Kate liked the term. Somehow it elevated the disease above the mere inability to remember the details of the past, the ordinary events that, together, make a life.

Now her mother rarely spoke. Kate could only guess at what she was thinking. Tell me what you see, what you hear, Kate would sometimes ask. Her mother would look at her blankly, and say nothing. When she did speak, the words came from nowhere, blurted out abruptly, sometimes making sense, often not. Her mother was talking in the bedroom. Kate strained to hear her. “Birds. There were birds, big birds. Green, and red. We saw them.” She’s remembering the parrots at the zoo, Kate thought. Her mother loved those parrots. Sassy things, she laughed. Maybe I’ll get one for the shop.

HEATHER EVANS SMITH lives and works in Chapel Hill, NC. She holds a BA from Peace College in Raleigh, NC. Her work has been featured in solo and joint exhibitions nationwide, magazines, literary journals, and online publications. She has been a guest lecturer at colleges and universities, including East Carolina University in 2015, and at photography conferences such as Australian Exposure in the

Gold Coast, Australia, and the Real Life photography conference in Alberta, Canada. Recently her work has been featured in American Photo (2016) and in Photo Vogue / Vogue Italia Interview (2015). The images included here are from her first monograph, Seen Not Heard, published by Flash Powder Projects in 2016. See more of her work on her website.


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Keep the customers entertained. Her mother talked about it for days. Bernice, her partner in the beauty salon they owned, let it ride for a while before putting her foot down. It would just be a noisy mess, she said. Bernice was the levelheaded one; she held the business together. Sometimes, she held Kate and her mother together. Kate returned to the dishes in the sink. I’ll leave the rest of them, she decided. A new nurse’s aide was coming, a man this time. All the others had been women, well-meaning, but lacking the mental or physical agility to manage her mother. Her mother turned passivity into resistance, fighting the helpers at every step, until they quit in frustration. The agency suggested a man, diplomatically. They think a man might be able to handle her, Kate thought, not certain whether to be offended. Then she said: “Sure, why not?” Her mother always had men around when she was younger. She seemed to need them, even the ones who beat her, or walked out on her. Maybe a man was needed now. Kate poured the remaining coffee from the pot into a cup, and sat at the kitchen table where she could look into the yard. Let the new guy do the dishes, she thought. Her mother was quiet now; there was no reason to check on her. That day in the parking lot wouldn’t leave Kate’s mind as she sat, fingering the cup on the saucer. Maybe there had been clues before, but Kate hadn’t caught them – or had ignored them. Her mother had no soft side, no obvious vulnerability. Together, the two of them blocked out any signal of the catastrophe taking shape in her mother’s mind. Later, when the neurologist quizzed Kate about early warning signs, incidents came back to her – her mother forgetting the name of Tillie, the woman who had come in to clean for years; misplacing her handbag and Kate finding it among the garden tools in the garage; then throwing away the mail, along with her social security check, before it was opened. She and her mother deliberately overlooked these incidents. Her mother could laugh off anything, a survival skill she had learned from a lifetime of disappointments. Minor mistakes, her mother called them. Kate had no will to contest her, so she went along. Now, in Kate’s mind, they clanged like fire alarms in the night. The front doorbell chimed, jolting her. Kate opened the door. A man stood there, shorter than average, but muscular, reminding her of a tumbler in a circus Kate had once seen. His forearms stood out. Like Popeye, Kate thought.

He wore a light blue smock, the uniform of a nurse’s aide, and brown trousers, loosely rumpled. He’s not American, Kate concluded. A foreigner. But what kind? “I am Pavel Panchelevsky,” he said. “Please call me Pancho.” He raised a finger, like a teacher calling for attention. “Not Pahncho, as the Mexicans say. But Pancho. Like a frying pan.” He laughed lightly. Kate could not place his odd accent. “I am here to care for Mrs. Marva May,” he went on, sounding quaintly formal. His odd manner charmed Kate. For a moment, it seemed as though he might reach out and hug her. His eyes never looked away from her face. He’s certainly not overly deferential, Kate thought. Then he smiled, and the smile drew her in. Even before she replied, Kate was persuaded.

TOGETHER, THE TWO OF THEM BLOCKED OUT ANY SIGNAL OF THE CATASTROPHE TAKING SHAPE IN HER MOTHER’S MIND.

“Well, come on in, Mr. Pancho,” she said, pulling the door further open. “You’ve arrived just in time.” Kate walked back toward her mother’s room, the man following at a respectful distance. He’s probably sizing up the furniture, trying to get a sense of how well-off we are, she thought. How well-off her mother is, she corrected herself. This is her house, not mine. She’d get it when her mother died. She had already decided to sell it when that happened; she had no desire to live in it. Her mother sat as before, looking out at the bird feeders. “Mother, this is Mr. Panchelevsky,” Kate said. “He said we should call him Pancho.” After a long moment, her mother turned to look at the man. Kate could see her incomprehension. Her mother stared at him. “Banjo?” The man laughed. “Yes, Mrs. May, Banjo. Banjo will do fine.” He looked at Kate, and again she felt like he might hug her. She had the sense that he understood everything – that she needn’t worry anymore.


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“Oh, Mrs. May, let’s get you dressed,” he said cheerfully. “You’ll feel so much better.” Kate heard this, and felt guilty. She had gotten into the habit of letting her mother spend the day in her robe – dressing, undressing: it all seemed so useless now. Pancho asked, “May I look through her clothing?” Kate nodded. He moved through her closet as though he knew it already, and selected a frock with roses, something her mother hadn’t worn for years. Kate barely recognized it. “This will make you so pretty,” he said to her mother. Pancho hummed as he dressed her. When he asked, she stood and raised her arms so the dress could slide over her. Kate was surprised at how easily he did it – and her mother’s lack of resistance. COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

Petals (archival pigment print, 16x20) by Heather Evans Smith

Pancho talked as he worked around the bedroom. “I took care of my mother, too,” he said to Kate. “I helped her when she needed to be taken care of.” He needs no guidance from me, Kate thought as he moved about. He understands her, understands dying old ladies. Kate had a feeling of expectation, the sense of music for a new dance just getting under way. “Banjo,” she heard her mother say. “Banjo.” She hadn’t said Kate’s name for months. Pancho slid smoothly into the household. Soon it seemed as though he had always been there. He called Kate “Miss Kate,” and her mother “Mrs. May.” “I can’t believe how easily he has connected with her,” Kate told Bernice. “I mean, it’s like they’re

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related. Like they’ve known each other for their whole lives.” Bernice agreed. “It’s amazing.” They watched as Pancho guided Kate’s mother around the room on her morning exercise. When Kate did it, she almost had to drag her mother along. “It’s like they’re dancing,” Kate whispered to Bernice. “Yes,” Bernice answered. “A waltz.” Every day Pancho arrived early, earlier than scheduled, to prepare her mother’s breakfast. He talked to her as he fussed around the bedroom. When she refused to eat, he fed her. He stayed until she was ready for bed in the evening. Quickly he took over the housekeeping, so efficiently Kate barely noticed it being done. When Kate offered to pay him for the additional hours, he wagged his finger and shushed her. “Nothing matters but her care,” he said. “Do not worry.” He left her mother alone only to do his other work. “Banjo!” her mother would call out. And he would return to her, sometimes putting her in her wheelchair to keep her close by as he worked about the house. Pancho even planned their weekends when he wasn’t there. Food was prepared in advance, her mother’s clothing selected, television programs she might like marked in the guide. Just follow the directions on the box, Kate thought whenever she studied the meticulous note he left each week. She sat with her mother as before, looking out at the birds, the television murmuring in the background, sensing the vacuum created by Pancho’s absence. She still tried talking to her mother about the past, things they both remembered. Sometimes she even sang to her, old songs, and when she couldn’t recall the words, simply hummed the tune. But her mother did not respond. When Kate grew tired of talking, they sat in silence, awaiting his return. “He’s taking care of the whole house now,” she told Bernice as they sat under the canopy in the backyard, where they could hear Pancho, busy inside. Bernice nodded: she had noticed the tidiness of the house. “Your mother was no housekeeper,” she said. “And I learned that from her,” Kate added before Bernice could say it. Kate’s bedroom remained an untidy mess, an outlier. She had been neater in her own apartment. But in her mother’s house, she often forgot, and was surprised when she entered her own room to


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AS PANCHO SMOOTHLY FILLED EVERY NICHE, IT FELT LIKE A MILD NARCOTIC TAKING HOLD, AND SHE WAS DRIFTING INTO DEPENDENCE.

find the bed still unmade from the morning. When that happened, it felt like a kitchen spill she had neglected to clean up, something she stumbled across after it dried into a hardened mess. One day she walked in and found Pancho making her bed. “I had a few minutes while Mrs. May is resting. So it is no problem.” He fluffed the pillows. “I shall change the sheets and pillow cases when I do laundry.” From that day, Kate remembered to make the bed herself. Pancho’s presence swelled inside the house. Kate felt him in every space and corner, and herself being squeezed out. Things had slipped from her control without her knowing it. But she didn’t care. As Pancho smoothly filled every niche, it felt like a mild narcotic taking hold, and she was drifting into dependence. Kate also sensed a new awareness within her mother, an ability to perceive, which had been missing for months. Pancho had restored her mind in a way that nothing else had done. Her mother’s movements, her attention span, the way she sat more erect in her chair – it all seemed to indicate a renewed ability to connect. But only for Pancho.

With Kate, her mother lapsed into withdrawal, until Pancho brought her back with a laugh. Bernice felt the change too. “Her mind’s in there. And she knows it. But she only comes out for him.” Kate took to spying on them. She would stand outside the open bedroom door, just out of view, straining to hear what was being said. She heard his voice, speaking softly and confidentially. Was her mother responding? Kate couldn’t tell, at least not from a distance. What was he saying? she wondered. One day she asked him. “Oh, I tell her stories,” he answered. “Mostly stories about Romania. When I was a boy.” “But does she hear you? Understand, I mean.” “Yes. Oh, yes. She hears. She knows what I say.” He paused. “In her own way.” “And she answers you?” Pancho waited a moment. “She says what she can say. What comes to her. She does not answer so directly. Not always.” He held a dust cloth in his hand, and shifted from one foot to the other, as though impatient to return to his work. “Well, at least you’re reaching her,” Kate said. “When I talk to her, I can’t tell if she knows what I am saying.” And she no longer answers me, she could have added. Pancho nodded, as though clarifying a distinction between them, a distinction he understood but that she did not yet grasp. Kate still shopped for the groceries. Pancho swore he could do it easily, but she resisted: she wasn’t sure why. So, instead, Pancho prepared a detailed shopping list, and made sure she followed it, checking off each item as he took them from the bags. He would have the groceries put away before she could finish hanging up her coat.

I WONDER IF THIS IS WHAT MY MOTHER EXPERIENCES, AN UNSEEN TERROR, ONLY REAL TO HER THOUGHTS AND IMAGINATION.


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One day he was not waiting for her when she returned from the market. She hefted the groceries onto the counter and listened. Nothing. Maybe they’re out for a walk, she told herself. But Pancho would have left a note – he always did. She walked into the bedroom. Her mother’s wheelchair was missing, so they must be out. He just forgot to leave a note, she told herself. Then the thought struck her: They don’t need me anymore. They don’t even know I’m here. The feeling chilled her, and she stood for a while looking at her mother’s empty bed. The next day, a laugh came from the bedroom – throaty, almost a bark. It startled Kate. Her mother’s laugh; she’d know it anywhere. She hadn’t heard her mother laugh for months. She asked Pancho, “Did I hear my mother laugh?” He nodded. “She is quite merry this morning. Very happy.” “Did you do it? Make her laugh, I mean.” Pancho hesitated. “Oh, I only told her a story. It amused her.” A story – to make her laugh. What could do that? Kate wondered. “Tell it to me. I want to hear it.” “It is only a simple tale of my boyhood. Not important.” “That’s okay. Tell it to me anyway. I want to know what she heard.” COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

Possession (archival pigment print, 16x20) by Heather Evans Smith

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He shrugged and told her. “When I was a boy in Bucharest, my father would take us to the country, to the farm where he grew up and where his mother, my grandmother, and my father’s sister still lived. There I would play with my cousin Ionela, who was very pretty, and I was shy to be around her. I was always trying to think up ways to impress her, so she would like me. One day as we played in the yard not far from the pen where the pigs rooted about, I got the idea of walking along the top rail of the pen, from one post to the next. In school I was very good at gymnastic exercises, and I was proud of my athletic expertise – or at least as I saw it.” Pancho stopped talking, and looked quizzically at Kate. She nodded: “Go on.” “‘Watch me,’ I said to Ionela. ‘I will do something very hard – which I will do for you.’ As Ionela watched, I climbed up to the top rail of the pen so carefully, and stood, my arms out for balance, and then proceeded to step slowly, one step, another step, across the rail. Oh, I was doing so fine, my chest bursting with love for Ionela. Then, something, a little breeze perhaps, or a pig lifting its head, caused me to stumble. I struggled to keep my balance. And, as my arms waved, I began to wobble like a spinning top winding down. I fought for control, but it was too late. I felt myself falling backward into the pen, and as the pigs scattered out of the way, I plopped with a loud smacking noise into the sloppy muck. As I lay stunned, wondering what had happened, from the yard I could hear Ionela laughing gaily. Even the pigs seem to be laughing at me too.” Pancho had stopped for a long moment before Kate realized he was finished. “My mother liked that story?” Kate asked. “Oh yes. Oh yes.” “She actually laughed at his story,” Kate said to Bernice as they sat on a bench in the park. “She won’t even talk to me. Let alone laugh.” Bernice patted her hand. “She used to laugh a lot in the shop,” Bernice said. “At jokes especially. Crude. The dirtier the better.” Bernice was devoted to Kate’s mother. She came every week, and spent an afternoon, talking about their years together, when they were both single mothers, struggling to survive. Their beauty shop was a female-only sanctuary, a place for curling


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hair, whispered tales of secret abortions, drunken husbands, and beatings at home. Marva and Bernice became famous listeners – Bernice, grandmotherly and accepting; Marva, tough love. Bernice talked endlessly to Kate’s mother about it. “It helps me remember, too,” she told Kate. “Marva always liked to remember the old days. We would hear awful stories; women put up with so much.” She sighed, and looked at Kate. “Such memories.” The shop – Kate hated it, even the mention of it. She had never talked about it to her mother; she couldn’t. When she was eight years old, the shop had been a source of searing humiliation. She had rebelled against the long pigtails her mother made her wear in the summer. She took scissors and cut one off, close to the scalp. Her mother caught her before she could slice off the second one. “So you’re doing your own hair now,” her mother said fiercely. “Let’s see how well you did.” She unraveled the remaining braid, yanking Kate’s head with each twist. Then she stood Kate in front of the mirror. “See how adorable you look.” Kate stared at the figure looking back at her, her eyes puffy from crying, her hair lopsided, long strands stretching to her shoulder on one side; haggled, weedy-looking remnants on the other. “We’ll see what the girls at the shop think of it,” her mother said. She dragged Kate into the car, Kate sobbing all the way to the shop. She could still hear the sharp jangle of the bell on the shop door as her mother shoved it open. “Look at my gorgeous daughter,” she said, with that short bark of a laugh. The hairdressers and the customers in their chairs all turned to peer at Kate, standing in the middle of the floor. She tasted the salt from the tears sliding onto her lips as she stood there, alone and mortified, gulping to hold back the vomit rising sourly in her throat. For a long moment, no one stirred. Then Bernice knelt and squeezed Kate, and said, “It’s okay, honey. I’ll fix it.” And she did. Kate’s hair was short that summer, a tomboy look she grew attached to. Her mother mocked her – Little Miss Butch – and laughed. By the end of the summer, Kate’s hair had grown out a little. But the shame of the salon never left her. The memory of it would flood back when she least expected it. And she would stuff it inside herself, reliving that lonely moment in the middle of the floor. From that summer, she resolved never again to cry in front of her mother.

So there was nothing about the shop to love. Except Bernice’s kindness. And that seemed to have no bottom. “I’d tell her a dirty joke if I thought she could hear me,” Kate said. Bernice chuckled. “I already tried that the last time I saw her.” She touched Kate’s hand again. “She didn’t laugh for me either.” Pancho’s presence began to wear on Kate. She could feel the mood in the house shift from when he had been so reassuring. Weeks now seemed to become longer. She found herself eager for the weekend, and some privacy, as it had been with her mother before he came. Kate felt no connection with her mother now, beyond the touching when she dressed and washed her. Her mother lived in another world, a world only Pancho could reach. Kate gave up on the stories from their past. What was the point? One day, as she entered her mother’s room, she saw a sight she could not have imagined – tears running down her mother’s cheeks. Her mother never cried, not once that Kate could remember. Pancho was making the bed; he did not look up. “What’s happened – to make my mother cry?” Kate asked. “Did you say something to her?” She wiped the tears from her mother’s cheeks with a tissue. And as she did, her mother stared directly at her for the first time in weeks. In her eyes, Kate saw fear, the same fear she had seen that day at the mall so many months ago. Pancho shrugged, but did not stop fluffing the pillows. “She’s frightened. You scared her,” Kate said, her anger rising. “Only I talk. To make her mind work. To think,” Pancho said. “But she’s crying. Why would she cry? What did you say to her?” Pancho did not answer; he still did not look up at her as he pulled the quilt tightly across the bed. “Tell me. Tell me what you told her.” Kate was angry now. “I demand that you tell me.” Pancho stood without moving. The bed separated them. He looked at the bed, then across it to her mother sitting in her chair, gazing out at the birds, oblivious to the conversation around her. Kate repeated her words. “Tell me what you said to her. This instant.” Pancho finally looked at Kate. She saw guilt on his face. He told his story.


“When I was fifteen years old, the revolution came to Romania. My father was a government official, a traffic engineer, and no Communist. But it did not matter. The mobs formed in the street, and in the great square in Bucharest, close to where we lived. All government officials were threatened and attacked. Men came to our apartment, men with guns, clubs, and drove us out, out into the street, where my father and other men from the government were jeered and humiliated. “There we were dragged to the very front of the crowd, near the great fountain. The crowd was screaming, a mighty roar. I held my sister’s hand tightly; I could feel her shaking. They put a rope around my father’s neck, and the other men, and laughed and yanked them about. Then they made us look up, and there, above the crowd, were the bodies of the dictator Ceausescu and his wife, dead, hanging by ropes around their ankles, upside down, the crowd jeering, laughing, throwing bottles and fruit at them. And things bouncing off their bodies, which were swaying in the air, back and forth, back and forth, pounded by all the things hitting them. It was a horrible sight, so awful that I wet myself. I could not stop it.” Pancho paused for a while, not moving, and Kate thought, maybe that’s the end. But after a moment, he continued. “We were forced onto buses, and a long ride to the frontier. No food, no water, my sister and me clutching each other in fear. Some of the men and my father begged the border guards to let us cross. Finally, they did, but we became prisoners, not refugees, and they showed us little mercy. For months we waited to be allowed to go somewhere – Germany, Britain, even the United States. The dampness

“ THESE THOUGHTS PLAGUED ME, AND AFTER A WHILE I COULD NOT LET THEM GO, EVEN IN SLEEP. I DREAMED ABOUT MY MOTHER AND HOW SHE WAS MAKING ME A PRISONER IN MY OWN LIFE. BECAUSE SHE WOULD NOT DIE.”

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COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

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Marks (archival pigment print, 16x20) by Heather Evans Smith

and cold were too much for my sister, and she soon died, of flu I was told. My father’s heart was broken, and soon he too was dead. Only my mother and I survived. “In time, a miracle came and my mother and I were sent to the United States. But the long time we were held in the pen, and the death of my sister and my father, had destroyed my mother’s mind. She had become like a child, clinging to me, whimpering. I was now just sixteen, but knew it was up to me to make my way in this new world. I worked, and went to school sometimes, as I could, and took care of my mother. But she became a greater and greater burden. So dependent, so needful, so draining on me and my strength. “As I became older – nineteen, twenty – I began to hate her, despise her even. And to wish her dead. My father, my sister, they had died. Why could my mother not have followed them? Why could she not see how she was dragging me down? “These thoughts plagued me, and after a while I could not let them go, even in sleep. I dreamed about my mother and how she was making me a prisoner in my own life. Because she would not die. And I would awake, so full of hate and anger that I could not bear it.”


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He paused again, his shoulders slumping, still not looking at Kate. But he kept talking. “And so I began to tell her – to tell her that it was time for her to leave, that I could no longer carry the burden of her, that my life was being ruined by her, and that she was old and useless. Please die, I said. I repeated it. And I could tell that she heard me. And she understood. I could tell, oh, I could tell. I told myself that she wanted to die. That she would die if she could. So I said it again, and again, and again. And soon she was dead.”

PANCHO STOPPED. FINALLY, HE LOOKED DIRECTLY AT KATE. “ MY WORDS KILLED HER.”

Pancho stopped. Finally, he looked directly at Kate. “My words killed her.” The story had ended. As Kate listened, the shock of it built inside her. “My God, did you really say that to my mother, that story?” she asked when her voice came back to her. Pancho nodded slowly. “She is losing all her thoughts now, and they will not return. It is my only wish to make her happy. But I can no longer make her laugh.” Weariness replaced the guilt on his face. “So I must tell her stronger things. Hard things. Things that can reach deeper. To keep her mind going. Where it is still alive.” He paused. “Anger, hatred she can still feel. And fear.” He paused again. Kate waited, speechless. After a while he said, “With my mother, I learned how powerful hate is. And anger. They drive your mind, your soul, like nothing else. Even love.” He sighed, and reached up to rub the back of his neck. “So is it not better for your mother to know these things, these horrible things, than to understand nothing at all?” He looked at her mother, staring out the window. “I know it makes her aware of her own dying. And she is afraid. But isn’t fear better than emptiness?” The question stirred Kate from her silence. “No. No, I don’t want her to hear such things.” Kate’s anger shook her now. “I don’t care what you think is best. Never say such things to her again.”

She realized a threshold had been crossed. She could no longer wait. Pancho nodded, and resumed making the bed. As Kate walked from the room, he said to her back, “I loved my mother. So much. So much.” At least it’s calm, Kate thought when she first entered the nursing home. Bernice drove them. Her mother came quietly, cooperating, as though her will to resist had finally faded. During the day the nurses sat her in a chair in her room, music playing over the intercom. There are no birds here, Kate thought. Only the consoling prattle of the nursing staff. And nothing to terrify her. Sometimes, as she sat while her mother drifted wherever the remnants of her mind had taken her, Kate thought about Pancho. He had wanted to stay on; he begged her. “I will go to your mother and take care of her at the nursing home. Speak only happy things,” he pleaded. “And keep the house for you. As I do now. I can do it.” Kate thought about how he could pierce through the vacuum and reach into her mother’s dwindling awareness. But she said no. And Pancho disappeared with Kate’s blessing. Sometimes, she worried that perhaps she had been wrong to change things. She talked to Bernice and told her about Pancho’s story, and his reason for telling it. “Maybe he was right,” Kate said. “Maybe any emotion, even fear or anger, is better than nothing but emptiness.” Bernice looked worried, then sad. “No.” She shook her head. “Nothing troubles her now. Her mind is quiet. She should be allowed to slip away, in peace.” So doubt would take over once again in Kate’s mind, and she would feel nothing at all.

“MAYBE HE WAS RIGHT,” KATE SAID. “MAYBE ANY EMOTION, EVEN FEAR OR ANGER, IS BETTER THAN NOTHING BUT EMPTINESS.”


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Her mother stopped eating. The nurses could feed her, but it became harder. The doctors said it would take extreme measures to keep her alive. Kate refused. Her body’s living, but she’s gone, Kate believed. She knows she is dying, Kate told herself, she is only waiting for the right moment. Then she realized she wanted to believe that. She thought of Pancho’s mother. Had she, at the end, wanted to go? Had she heard what her son said to her, and simply given in? Her mother stayed in the bed now, staring at the ceiling. Kate sat, her hand on her mother’s arm, feeling the bones inside the dwindling flesh, as if her life was being peeled away layer by layer. And as she sat there, she knew she needed to speak to her mother one last time. She began a story she had never told – that she had never wanted to tell. “Do you remember the time we went to the beach in Mobile when I was a girl?” she began. “It was so hot, hot even by what we expected from the Gulf. I had just turned thirteen, and we both had new bathing suits. Let’s show them off, you said, and I remember your laugh. I was awkward, so shy about my body, afraid – ashamed – to look at myself in the mirror naked. I was flattered that you wanted me to come with you to the beach. You were so beautiful, men were sucked in by you. You used to laugh, ‘Not bad for an old broad,’ you’d say. We sat on the beach, you combed your hair, then mine. We giggled about the fat people, and I was embarrassed when you pointed at them. ‘Don’t do that,’ I said, reaching to cover your hand. You just laughed. ‘Fat people deserve to be laughed at,’ you said. ‘They shouldn’t let themselves go like that.’ “You sat with your chin resting on your knees, looking out across the bay. I remember the sunlight on it, oh god, so hot. We huddled in the shadow under our beach umbrella. You sat that way for a long time, unmoving, so still that I thought you had dozed off. Then you bounced your chin lightly on your knee once or twice, and said, ‘We are nothing alike, you and me. Nothing at all.’ You hugged your knees more tightly – I remember that so distinctly. ‘I don’t know who you are like. But it isn’t me.’

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“That was all, those few words. But they pierced me, slicing into me, deeply. I panicked. If I was not like you, who was I like? I couldn’t imagine anything else. ‘Nothing alike,’ you said. Nothing. Maybe that was it: I was nothing. I would never be anything. And fear came up inside me. A fear that has never gone away.” Kate stopped; the words no longer came. She had been looking toward the window, absently, as she spoke. It came back to her so clearly, that awful day. “And at that moment, I hated you.” She couldn’t look at her mother. “I’ve never stopped hating you.” Kate sat for a while, without moving, feeling the silence in the room. When she looked down, she saw that her mother’s eyes were closed. Was she still breathing? Kate touched her mother’s arm, then her cheek. Cold. She realized her mother had slipped away while Kate was talking. Kate stood and walked to the window. Above the building next door she saw only a gray uncertain sky. Her mother might have heard none of what she said, nothing at all. Kate hoped that was true. n

KATE SAT, HER HAND ON HER MOTHER’S ARM, FEELING THE BONES INSIDE THE DWINDLING FLESH, AS IF HER LIFE WAS BEING PEELED AWAY LAYER BY LAYER. AND AS SHE SAT THERE, SHE KNEW SHE NEEDED TO SPEAK TO HER MOTHER ONE LAST TIME.


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“VARIOUS AND COMPLEX”: KEEPING COMPOSED a review by Celeste McMaster Alice Fulton. Barely Composed: Poems. New York: W.W. Norton, 2015.

CELESTE MCMASTER is an Associate Professor in and chair of the English Department at Charleston Southern University. She earned her PhD in English at the University of South Carolina and her MA in English at East Carolina University, where she served as an Assistant Editor of NCLR. Her scholarship is on nineteenth- and twentieth-century British literature, and she has also published fiction and poetry in Short Story, The Dos Passos Review, Mslexia, New Delta Review, The Chaffey Review, Arkansas Review, and Fractured West. In 2016, she was the winner of the Great American Fiction Contest, and her winning story was published in the Saturday Evening Post. ALICE FULTON is the author of nine books and recipient of several awards, including the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for poetry from the Library of Congress for her book Felt (W.W. Norton, 2002). Fulton has served as a Visiting Professor at several universities, including UNC Chapel Hill. Currently, she is the Ann S. Bowers Professor of English at Cornell University.

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other of her works, Fulton employs “fractal poetry,” which she says “splices satiric and lyrical, elegiac and absurd lines without casting a unifying tonal veil over the mélange.” Fractal poetics, she explains of her method, “has dispensed with fidelity to the ‘normal’ and the ‘natural,’ to ‘simplicity’ and ‘sincerity.’ Instead of reproducing speech, the poem makes a sound-untoitself.”2 However, in all of the complexity, Fulton is still playful. Like Eliot, she includes both the high- and low-brow in many of her poems. For instance in “Triptych for Topological Heart,” she writes of the idea of Valentines in one of three sonnets: “Just floppy organ thistleburr. Froot Loops and craft / wire fashioned on a snarky jig: ‘To My Pocket Prince.’ / ‘By Bitch Possessed.’ Tough tits, isn’t it? Some call it a day / marked by commodified flowers, obligation chocolate.” Not only is Fulton adept at cultural mélange, she also takes pleasure in manipulating clichés and creating neologisms. Her poetry is both formal and open, allusive and experimental. She’s a master of formal verse and her allusions include William Shakespeare, John Keats, and Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, and Paul Celan, among others. In poems like “Malus Domestica” and “Personally Engraved,” Fulton shuns the obligatory, wants to get at the true. She writes in

In his essay on “The Metaphysical Poets,” T.S. Eliot writes, “Our civilization comprehends great variety and complexity, and this variety and complexity, playing upon a refined sensibility, must produce various and complex results. The poet must become more and more comprehensive, more allusive, more indirect, in order to force, to dislocate if necessary, language into his meaning.”1 To simplify: we live in a complex world; therefore, our poetry must be complex. Alice Fulton’s sixth and most recent book of poetry, Barely Composed, is thematically and linguistically complex in its rendering of making and dislocating meaning in the world. The book is comprised of thirty poems divided into five sections. In most of it, the tone feels jaded and weary, “barely composed” in many of the poems whose subjects are grieving and searching for authenticity. For the narrator, it seems life and its systems of knowledge and faith have come up short. The last line of her introductory sonnet, “Because We Never Practiced with the Escape Chamber,” indicates how Fulton has made art out of despair: “I made this little sound for you to wait in.” Much of the book, in fact, has to do with mortality and art’s place in the grand scheme of things. Fulton’s vocabulary, as well as her knowledge of science and math, is staggering. In this and

T.S. Eliot, review of Metaphysical Lyrics and Poems of the Seventeenth Century: Donne to Butler, selected and edited by Herbert J.C. Grierson, Times Literary Supplement Oct. 1921: web.

2

Alice Fulton, “Fractal Amplifications: Writing in Three Dimensions,” Thumbscrew 12 (1998–99): web.


North Carolina Miscellany

“Malus Domestica” of the threat of life’s regulatory commitments: “nothing is allowed / but that which is allowed is compulsory.” In most poems, Fulton’s tone is one of numbness, a feeling of distance in poems such as “Custom Clamshell Cases” and blackout poems like “Reckoning Frame.” While many of these poems may challenge and distance the reader, that seems to be the point. The intentional complexity keeps us, and the narrator’s own feelings and response to trauma, at bay. In poems like “The Next Big Thing,” there is a collapsing of time and of systems of belief. Fulton deflates notions of grandeur and of permanence, indicating the hollowness of our edifices. In “The Next Big Thing,” Fulton borrows Dickinson’s famous poem in order to write about mortality and the notions of God as author to which we give credence: The Carriage held but just Ourselves – its motion sprightly, tilting side to side, while the axle spun so fast it looked so still. To keep the god fan going. These sketches testify to collapsing arrangements whose underlying edifice is time. Mercury wings on our double

knotted sneakers,

a white satin bow on the coachman’s whip.

In many of her poems, time and mortality are the only certainties. Still, the search for tranquility remains. In works such as “Mahamudra Elegy,” Fulton writes of the Buddhist concept of emptiness: I fingered it like an incision, fondled it

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witnessing the ornaments,

decorative yet dear. Mundanities

that dazzling seem extruded by a star.

Stellifactions. Mahamudra.

Words to conjure with. The great seal, great gesture, the mahamudra

holds snowflakes to their certitudes of lace.

While fire thinks fire is what everything aspires to, time thinks

through its helpless locks: its ambergris

flocked with a sailor’s buttons, its mud wasp buzzing like a mini vac. Every solid is a clock.

While some poems are perhaps too cerebral to move readers who expect more overt emotion, others like her villanelle “Still World Nocturne,” in which the narrator grades student essays while watching over her dying mother, “Roar Shock” (again, mourning her mother), and like “Forcible Touching” (originally published in Tin House), are raw and memorable, telling the truth of deep grief in a way only a real artist can. The poem “Forcible Touching” takes one’s breath away in its overlapping narratives: a counselor talking to a parent about a child coloring in order to deal with the death of a sibling, an animal control worker who speaks, in broken English, of putting animals to sleep at the pound, the Greek myth of Philomena, and the colors of the crayons themselves that describe the hurt where there are no words: So many times I’ve cut out my own tongue. Never tell the child vividvioletpurplehearttorchredatomictangerine. When there’s a story you cannot speak

like a rosary of thorns, thinking

you weave. It is too bright to rest your eyes on

if every instant holds

but if you contort yourself your shadow will fall

the maximum abridged, tranquillity must be

somewhere in the mix. So concentrate.

A live volcano is the recommended site for certain meditations. Think time

exists because a dropped glass

breaks and here we are existing,

over it. It is a good idea. It is quite surprising.

In these and other poems in Barely Composed, we see Fulton moving through grief, making lasting art out of suffering. n


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DARK WONDER a review by Laura Sloan Patterson Gabrielle Brant Freeman. When She Was Bad. Winston Salem, NC: Press 53, 2016.

LAURA SLOAN PATTERSON is currently an English professor at Seton Hill University, located in western Pennsylvania. Her poetry has appeared in Sugar Water, Rust + Moth, HOOT, Not One of Us, and Mom Egg Review. Patterson’s poem “Delaware River,” a finalist in the James Applewhite Poetry Prize competition, was published in NCLR 2017. GABRIELLE BRANT FREEMAN earned her MFA from Converse College, located in Spartanburg, SC. Her poetry has been published in journals including Hobart, Rappahannock Review, Shenandoah, and Waxwing. In 2015, Freeman won the Randall Jarrell Poetry Competition with her poem “Failure to Obliterate.” Freeman teaches in the English Department at East Carolina University.

OPPOSITE RIGHT Gabrielle Brant Freeman with Press 53 Editor Kevin Morgan Watson at the press’s 12th anniversary celebration, Bookmarks bookstore, Winston-Salem, 9 Oct. 2017

Gabrielle Brant Freeman’s When She Was Bad is a meditation on female sexuality and on the range of roles a woman can play in relationships. Instead of the wellworn territory of madonna versus whore, Freeman gives us whore (“a woman doing someone else’s / version of wrong’) versus lupa (the she-wolf, a “sexually voracious female”). Freeman’s poetic persona does not judge the friend who has sex in a bathroom at an office party; instead, she wishes she had asked, “Did you bare your neck or your teeth?” The attitude toward sex acts and sexuality in this collection is one of curiosity and dark wonder, as if to point out the amazing range of characters one might play in each new encounter or relationship. The voice of these poems has long since shaken off any judgments apart from her own judgments of herself, and even those are few and far between. When She Was Bad is not, however, an in-your-face shock value collection. Instead, it contemplates a far more subtle and complex space: sexuality that is both brashly revealed and furtively hidden, sometimes at the same time. While sexuality is the running theme that ties these poems together, there is also an exploration of the emotional landscapes of relationships, with a sustained theme of betrayal and abandonment. A section in the middle of

the book depicts an arc of the end of relationship. Interestingly, it is an arc and not a denouement into a flat space. Poems such as “The Art of Deception,” “One of these statements is true,” “Your Own Lecherous Heart,” “Wanted,” “Since you weren’t using it,” “Want,” “Selling the House,” “The Sorrowful Lover Stands,” and “How to Snag a Man” lead readers through a cycle of betrayal, discovery, revenge, sadness, and the state of being recovered enough to try again. The poems avoid selfpity or sentimentality about failing and failed partnerships. Domestic scenes and objects set the tone, as in the poem “Want”: “The portable turntable still plays,” but “the speed / isn’t quite right” and the saved “bottle of good scotch” simply “didn’t work.” “Want” ends with a dream version of the former partner lighting a cigarette at the foot of the bed and pulling on his shoes: “But the bench remains / empty. The bottle and the street, / they comfort me. I wear them like smoke.” Freeman is also a gifted sestina writer. The sestina, with its six stanzas of six lines each and three-line send-off, ends each line with one of a pool of six words, and the six end-words rotate in a fixed order. While writing in this pattern is not challenging, writing a sestina in which lines don’t sound as if they are running awkwardly toward a specific


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traditional ekphrasis and meditations on the body and its forms of sensuality and power. The poem “T & A” begins “I know I’m not supposed to notice / how the pictures on the table of contents / in my Williams-Sonoma soup book all / resemble breasts.” This line could function as the overriding principle in Freeman’s collection. She notices what is typically left unsaid and exposes it, then digs deeper to expose it from several different angles. The “it” might be the destruction of a relationship, an attractive body part, “bad” behavior, or the sexual subtext of everyday exchanges. We are left with a sense of the body and brain as magnificent in their search for pleasure, even when they are in conflict. Freeman’s bodies are edibly tangible, even when they lead the brain astray: But, as much as I hate to admit it, my brain is often rebellious, caring less for the practical value of pears, of plums, of penetrating bees, than for the way that breast and behinds remind me: luscious body, what a gift to revel in your physical feast. n COURTESY OF GABRIELLE BRANT FREEMAN

word can be daunting. Freeman’s sestinas, however, don’t read as sestinas at first: they simply read as strong poems. In “Selling the House,” she selects the ending words “green,” “spattered,” “granite,” “mosquitos,” “rice,” and “bloom.” While purists might insist that these end words remain the same in each stanza, Freeman opens the form in a contemporary manner with clever shifts for many of the end words, creating similar sounds but expanded narrative possibilities. “Rice,” a particularly specific word in the context of a sestina, becomes “caprice” and even “sacrifice.” Likewise, the “granite” of the first stanza morphs into “pomegranate” by the fourth stanza. The migrating end words show a technical facility with the form, but they also reveal the changing scene of the house as belongings are packed into boxes and moved before its sale. Although there are resigned, questioning, angry, and sad tones throughout these poems, there is also wry humor. “Sex with a Novelist” blends classic fiction writing advice and a withholding romantic personality into a short, funny poem. “The Happily Married Woman Boards the Plane,” a long prose poem, vacillates between the desire to meet a perfectly compatible, charming, attractive seatmate on a flight and the desire to behave as a happily married woman, and “pop in my earbuds and start to read the opening to The Gunslinger, again.” The poem ends with the hardwon wisdom that no matter how charming the dream seatmate, he would become annoying in his habits “in six or fifteen years.” Freeman also charms her readers with a keen observing eye for the natural world, manifestations of mythology in the contemporary world, and works of visual art, among other images. A sourced poem on “Murmuration” describes the phenomenon and still weaves in the dominant themes of the collection: “The rules are relatively simple: / When a [lover] moves, / so do you.” Elsewhere, poems that begin with Botticelli’s Primavera, Renoir’s Odalisque, and Lucian Freud’s paintings straddle the line between

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FINALIST, 2017 JAMES APPLEWHITE POETRY PRIZE BY NICOLE STOCKBURGER

Portrait: Wesley and Elvina Settling, 1901

Before one of our speckled hens died and before we dug a small grave, before buzzards sunned their rain-heavy wings in the barn rafters, before the barn and before its broken interior, before tomato vines shifted towards the sun, before I cried in the downy tops of carrots, before we made pickles, before the farmhouse was a white smear of paint in a gauzy landscape, before memories of this place were filched as run-down houses on a highway, before power lines severed a view of the hills, before soybeans and corn, before the logging roads grew up in briers, before oak groves fell to farmland,

COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

a man with a mustache covering his cleft palate held his young wife’s cotton dress where it met her waist. He cleared trees, scattered tobacco, while she hung linens across windows and smoked meat on a slab of quartz. Nights, they settled into love on a springy cot, her blonde braids unwinding over her freckled back, feral cats purring into the milky sky.

being there (mixed media on canvas, 36x36) by Sallie White

As the child of a military family, artist SALLIE WHITE lived all over the world before her family settled in Savannah, GA. For the past twenty-five years, she has lived and worked in Greensboro, NC. She graduated with an art degree from the University of Georgia and worked in many artrelated fields before founding Whitehouse & Co., an interior design and consulting firm, in 2007. In recent years, she has focused mainly on her painting career. Her work has been included in numerous solo and group exhibitions, including the Cameron Art Museum in Wilmington, NC, and Light, Art + Design in Chapel Hill, NC. She is represented by Mason Fine Art in Atlanta and Vision Gallery in Atlantic Beach, NC. See more of her work on her website.

NICOLE STOCKBURGER earned an MFA in Creative Writing from UNC Greensboro. Her poems appear, or are for thcoming, in Appalachian Heritage, Comestible, About Place Journal, the Louisville Review, Chattahoochee Review, the Carolina Quarterly, and Indiana Review. Winner of the 2017 Kakalak Poetry Award, she lives in Beulah, NC, where she and her partner farm two acres of organic produce.


North Carolina Miscellany

HOW MEMORY HEALS a review by Grace C. Ocasio Irene Blair Honeycutt. Beneath the Bamboo Sky. Charlotte, NC: Main Street Rag Publishing Company, 2017.

GRACE C. OCASIO, a Pushcart Prize nominee, was a finalist in the 2016 Aesthetica Creative Writing Award in Poetry. She is also a recipient of a 2014 North Carolina Arts Council Regional Artist Project Grant. She won honorable mention in the 2012 James Applewhite Poetry Prize, first prize in the 2011 Sonia Sanchez and Amiri Baraka Poetry Prize, and a 2011 Napa Valley Writers’ Conference scholarship. Her first full-length collection, The Speed of Our Lives (reviewed in NCLR Online 2016) was published by BlazeVOX Books in 2014. Her poetry has appeared in Black Renaissance Noire, Rattle, Cour t Green, Poetr y South, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Two Hawks Quarterly, and elsewhere. Her chapbook, Hollerin from This Shack, was published by Ahadada Books in 2009. She is a Soul Mountain Fellow and an alumna of the Fine Arts Work Center, The Watering Hole Retreat, and Frost Place. She is also a member of the Carolina African American Writers’ Collective and teaches creative writing at UNC Charlotte. IRENE BLAIR HONEYCUTT, born in Jacksonville, FL, is the author of three poetry collections: It Comes as a Dark Surprise (Sandstone Publishing, 1992), winner of the New South Poetry Book Series; Waiting for the Trout to Speak (Novello Festival Press, 2002); and Before the Light Changes (Main Street Rag, 2008), finalist for the Brockman-Campbell Book Award. Other awards for her writing and advocacy of writers include a North Carolina Arts Council fellowship and a Creative Fellowship from the Charlotte Arts and Science Council. She founded Central Piedmont Community College’s spring literary festival, Sensoria, which has continued since 1993. Upon her retirement after almost forty years of teaching at CPCC, a Distinguished Lectureship was established at the festival in her name. Her work has appeared in numerous publications, including Nimrod, Southern Poetry Review, Southern Poetry Anthology, and Virginia Quarterly Review. She lives in Indian Trail, NC, and remains active in the writing community.

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Poet Irene Blair Honeycutt’s latest volume, Beneath the Bamboo Sky, brims with poems, journal-like entries, and essay-like fragments. An ambitious collection, her newest work explores the subject matter of death, grief, and longing, exhaustively. Should we at first resist being pulled into the tide of grief that these pieces sweep us into, we find that we must eventually yield and ponder, along with Honeycutt, why death calls our loved ones when we are not ready for them to depart. Even as death seems the victor in each instance Honeycutt portrays, she delivers to us a gift: memory. It is, in fact, memory that reclaims the dead, rendering them alive and well in Honeycutt’s work. Honeycutt sets the tone of her collection with her very first poem, “Memorial Day.” A harbinger for other pieces in the volume, this poem speaks to how exacting a phenomenon death is. Recalling how playing with her brothers brings about a presumably unexpected result, Honeycutt reveals the following: We played at Westbrook Park, my brothers and I, scooping minnows from the creek into mayonnaise jars, . . . .... By next morning, the white bread crumbs had soured. Bloated, the minnows floated upside down.

Honeycutt’s volume requires that we be active readers of her work: her words draw us in. Thus, we idle along with Honeycutt and her brothers. And we discover, as they have, that play with a sort of reckless abandon can lead to a devastating effect. Only a few short lines later, Honeycutt muses, “That creek is dry now. / The two younger brothers have gone.” She posits further, “And the older one/ has vanished in his own way.” Though the poem shifts to a decidedly somber tone with the news that Honeycutt’s brothers are no longer living by the poem’s end, she provides a thread of hope earlier in the poem when she describes how she and her brothers at play succeed in “dragging time through our nets long enough / to last the rest of our lives.” We see, then, that it is memory that rescues and restores well-being through


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the lens of the speaker’s childhood experience of frolicking with her brothers in the creek. It is memory that lingers; it is memory that sustains even in the midst of personal loss. As in “Memorial Day,” the poem “It Was so Like Us to Play” depicts an opening scene in which Honeycutt and her brothers dwell within the world of leisure. We become privy to this world in the following lines: It was so like us to play till the end of day, running across the same grass round and round the house, hosing dirt from our feet before going in for supper.

Immediately, the language of the first line engages us through its nursery rhyme-like rhythm. There is a cyclical quality to the play exerted by the children who are “running across the same grass” (emphasis added), “round and round the house.” Habitual play is, of course, routine for children. We may very well marvel as adults that such play is possible, having crossed over to a point in our lives where the mundanities of life have undercut and made such play obsolete. Nevertheless, Honeycutt presents an effectual, compelling image of play that is hard to dismiss. Near the end of the poem, the concept of play takes on a darker, more solemn meaning when Honeycutt confesses, in the aftermath of learning that her younger brother Ronnie is deathly ill and on his way to being transported to hospice, that she “followed the stretcher / into the night.” This is not exactly the kind of play that enraptures us as readers. Yet we can understand and sympathize with Honeycutt’s plight. Her predicament may not be our own, but we realize that it could be. The poem “Something Came Knocking,” a deftly crafted pantoum, serves as an anchor poem thematically as it echoes poems that come before it and foreshadows those that come after it, sounding a convincing note regarding the certainty of death. The brilliant first line, “Something came knocking at my door,” which is repeated as the last line of the poem, gets at the heart of death – that it is a phenomenon that we cannot prepare for nor can we fathom why it has come in the first place. Death does, however, offer us clues as to its essence as when Honeycutt so astutely observes that “It’s slow growing” and

that at its onset, “Everything went on hold, even breath.” Death, indeed, is something that we cannot reach out to and grasp; it is something phantomlike. Furthermore, we know it’s real, but we cannot touch it because it’s always hovering in the shadows of our lives, waiting to gather us or someone we love into its clutches. Honeycutt tells us, “I felt death, but did not see its face.” What can be more terrifying than to face something we cannot see? In the end, death touches us and ushers us into a place of which we know nothing. “Sometimes You Look Just Like Our Father” is a touching poem about the fast-approaching death of Honeycutt’s youngest brother, Ray. One of the most tender moments in the poem comes when Honeycutt discloses, “I hover over you this evening at the hospital / as if you are in your crib again.” Who among us cannot sympathize if not empathize with the speaker’s plight of having to say goodbye to a younger sibling? We sense Honeycutt’s strength, even selfassurance, that she can endure, that she can “hover over” her youngest brother, bearing up under the burden of knowing that death is “knocking” on her brother’s “door.” It is curious that Honeycutt reports on a physical trait of her brother that is not positive when she says, “like our father’s, / your forehead scowls just enough.” Perhaps, when presented with the reality that death is summoning a loved one, we find most comforting those attributes that normally would irk us because those traits are most characteristic of the individual. The most heart-wrenching point of the poem occurs at its end when Honeycutt reflects on a moment she spends with her brother, Ray, when she is “counting the beeps / of [his] heart monitor.” This moment illustrates that life is a transient experience. At the same time, there is beauty in the capturing of this moment, beauty in the memory of the moment, a memory that lingers, outliving the loved one. A powerful poem, “Brief Pilgrimage” appears near the start of the third section of Honeycutt’s volume. About Honeycutt’s oldest brother, Ralph, the poem details how he navigates his journey toward death. First, Honeycutt lists a formidable triumvirate of DVDs: “we watched – / Bonhoeffer’s life, one evening; / Tolstoy’s last days, the next. / And his favorite, ‘Roots.’” For some of us, the items Honeycutt names may very well be on our bucket list of videos to see

ANNOUNCING: new submission period for NCLR’s James Applewhite Poetry Prize competition: MARCH 15–APRIL 30


North Carolina Miscellany

COURTESY OF PAUL REALI, CHARLOTTE LIT

before we die. Certainly, such films might help us to reevaluate our lives, to assess where our strengths and weaknesses lie and what about us makes us so fallible, so mortal. And perhaps, watching these kinds of films would give us the courage to ask ourselves the question, what is the meaning of life? The pivotal point in the poem is in the third stanza when Honeycutt acts as an eyewitness: When we arrived at the place where a concrete cross towered above the trees, he rested on a bench while I stood as close to the cross as possible, remembering our two younger brothers whose ashes he’d sprinkled there.

This stanza suggests that it is not just Ralph who embarks on a spiritual journey, but the speaker as well. The central image is the cross, which seems to loom over Honeycutt and her brother. We gather that the cross is a source of strength for the two of them. Honeycutt then shifts her focus away from the cross in her final stanza. Her intent might be to compel us to contemplate a place of memory, a place of innocence, a place where death does not prevail. Where Honeycutt takes us appears to be the physical space where each of their spiritual journeys begins: When he was 10 and I was 5, I held his little finger as we walked the sidewalks past Westbrook Park on our way to Sunday school.

ABOVE Irene Blair Honeycutt at Sensoria: A Celebration of

Literature & the Arts, Central Piedmonth Community College, Charlotte, NC, Apr. 2017

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It is a clever move on the poet’s part to end with the childhood memory as doing so allows us as readers to turn our attention toward the simple pleasures of youth. That the speaker chooses to tell us about the time with her brother when she “held his little finger” should prompt us to smile as we, in turn, remember our own simple, youthful pleasures spent in the company of loved ones. In the prose piece, “Naming the Pumpkin,” memory manifests itself in how, in the aftermath of Ralph’s death, Honeycutt recalls one of his physical gestures, a “wink.” Early in the poem, Honeycutt likens a pumpkin’s countenance to her brother’s: “The expression on the terracotta pumpkin’s face reminded me of Ralph’s elfish grin.” Perhaps the psyche allows us to see departed loved ones’ signature gestures reflected in inanimate objects as a way of relieving the stress of our having to face the de facto absence of those who have been closest to us. She further details one of the last discussions she had with her brother and notes the physical cue he left her with: “And with a wink, he closed his eyes.” The prose piece takes a decidedly comic turn when Honeycutt, within the confines of her cabin, finds herself alone with the pumpkin, eating a meal while recollecting about her brother. Honeycutt testifies, “Across from me the pumpkin grinned as I ate. Is this too weird? I thought. Having lunch with a pumpkin?” But if the poem veers off to a lighter tone, it soon returns to one of a more serious nature: “I paused among the fallen leaves and felt his [her brother’s] spirit in the autumn sunlight, . . . looking back for one last glimpse of the pumpkin’s face – just as I had done each time I left the nursing home.” Thus, it is memory that soothes us when longing takes root within our spirits. It is, indeed, impossible to recall a person back from the grave. Certainly, though, we can ease our suffering through remembering the brightest moments we shared with a loved one. In section one of the final poem in her collection, “Bamboo Elegy,” Honeycutt examines how in death her oldest brother Ralph is ever present with her. Near the start of her poem, Honeycutt exclaims, “Your presence is palpable as red bamboo and fragrant water lilies.” Through her words, we realize that the reality of physical death fails to vanquish from our minds the memory of a loved one. We


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understand an irony of death: that with death, oftentimes someone who was closest to us becomes even more alive to us. Perhaps it is through longing for an absent loved one’s presence that we succeed in willing the person to live on. In this sense, the loved one is never absent from our lives but is ever with us, each moment of our remaining lives. Indeed, Honeycutt wills her deceased brother Ralph to live on. She speaks of how she drops his “name into conversations” and that he represents “a face card turned up on the table.” We ascertain through Honeycutt’s example that it is the evoking of a loved one into day-to-day interactions that alleviates our suffering, making the loss of a loved one easier to bear. The volume Beneath the Bamboo Sky is not an easy one to read. We cannot remain spectators for long. We wade in the creek water with the poet and her brothers. We stand with her as she stands beside each of them as they await death. And as we await her brothers’ deaths with her, we glean that we, too, are mortal and must seek life in the presence of death. Within her volume, Honeycutt has done just that: found life in the presence of death by letting her brothers live through her words. n

OF LEAVING AND WHAT REMAINS BEHIND a review by Hannah Crane Sykes Patricia Hooper. Separate Flights. Tampa, FL; University of Tampa Press, 2016.

HANNAH CRANE SYKES is a native of Western North Carolina but currently lives in the Piedmont region. She earned her BA from Western Carolina University and her MA from UNC Greensboro. She currently teaches courses in composition, American and British literature, and creative writing at Rockingham Community College. PATRICIA HOOPER, who currently lives in Gastonia, NC, was born in Saginaw, MI. She received a BA and MA from the University of Michigan. She is the author of four poetry collections, including Other Lives (Elizabeth Street Press, 1984), which received the Norma Farber First Book Award from the Poetry Society of America. She is also the author of several children’s books.

Patricia Hooper’s fourth poetry collection, aptly titled Separate Flights, is a meditation on movement and space, leaving and what lingers. Separate Flights won not only the Anita Clare Scharf Award in 2015 but was also recently awarded the 2017 Roanoke-Chowan Award for Poetry, given by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association. In this collection, Hooper explores action and reaction as well as comings and goings through poems grounded in the tangible, yet sensing the intangible. Many of the poems in Separate Flights deal with the illness and passing of the speaker’s mother. The poem “Flare” describes the surrender of a stroke victim in the middle of an episode. The physical terror is portrayed in lines like “In the center of / my left eye, summer disappeared, the leaves, / the wall of windows,” while the metaphysical is also recognized: “Some god, I thought, / has gripped me, wants me back, but first / it showed me what I was.” Being able to imagine the thoughts one might have during such an event reveals Hooper’s creative conscience, but then as the reader encounters other poems dealing with the loss of Mother, who may have been the stroke victim, the reader truly appreciates the poetic sensibilities of the collection. Two other poems that speak to the loss of a mother are “The Afterlife” and “Letter to My Mother,” which ruminate on what is missing in the


North Carolina Miscellany

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PHOTOGRAPH BY LINDA FOX COURTESY OF NC DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL AND CULTURAL RESOURCES

material world. Both poems are so honest in their dealing with such a loss. In “Letter to My Mother,” the speaker confesses to “bouts of weeping” in the midst of sorting through the mother’s things. She further reveals that she didn’t respond to her mother’s wish to take and wear the mother’s diamond ring because of the reality of her passing, which she would be forced to confront: whenever I looked down at my hand, it was your hand holding a favorite Trollope novel, or smoothing your knitting pattern, or patting me on my shoulder, gently, making me turn around.

This connection between the two worlds, the past and present, speaks to any reader who has lost a close friend or loved one. The connections between the material and the abstract are also explored in “Blue Window.” In numbered stanzas, the speaker moves the reader through memories of sorrow and celebration as she completes household chores like peeling oranges and washing windows. Hooper’s speaker lifts the components of the ordinary, dirty windows and paper towels, to the exquisite, connecting the sweeping movements of washing a window to the celebration of a granddaughter’s birth. She remembers peeling oranges and a blue vase of flowers on the day her grandmother died; she confesses that she can’t confirm a revelation but noticed that “everything stayed / as it was.” This recognition of the everyday coinciding with life-changing moments is part of the power of Separate Fights. While many of the poems in Separate Flights deal with the deaths of friends and loved ones, the speakers also reach back through time and a family’s lineage. “Walking with Mercy” plays beautifully on the noun, both common and proper, as the speaker describes her grandmother fleeing the decimation and fear of war in America to an eastern outpost of safety. Mercy is clutching her two-year-old son as they escape. As the speaker walks the same area that Mercy walked, she imagines the quickening pulse and shortness of breath, the landscape, the

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wildlife, and war cries and musket shots. While they are separated by time, the speaker knows Mercy as she treads the same territory. Because the speaker so skillfully describes Mercy’s movements, the reader can feel the weight of Lebbeus in his mother’s arms and the rough ground on Mercy’s bare feet. Readers will delight in the various types of flight depicted in Separate Flights. A thread remembering the speaker’s father and his Cessna flying over Nantucket is woven throughout; also, the speaker refers to many birds, including a heron, a goldfinch, and a cardinal. Perhaps the most captivating flight poem is “The View from There,” which is a beautifully heartbreaking shape poem. The poem, with stanzas whose shapes are reminiscent of hot air balloons, tells of the speaker watching balloons fill an Italian sky and remembering a report of a ballooning tragedy. The speaker artfully conveys the lift and seemingly silent movements of hot air balloons while pinpointing the unexplainable in the loss of human life in a balloon accident. The reader is willingly deceived by the playfulness of the shape poem only to find a heart-wrenching ending. Hooper’s award-winning collection takes readers on journeys into the skies and into the deepest places of human emotion, through loss clear to the other side with hope. The voices are familiar yet perhaps more honest than we often are with ourselves. n

ABOVE Patricia Hooper (right) receiving the 2017 Roanoke Chowan Award for her new poetry collection at the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association’s awards banquet, Raleigh, 17 Nov. 2017; presented by Barton College Professor Rebecca Godwin (left)


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2018

NORTH CAROLINA L I T E R A R Y RE V I E W

FINALIST, 2017 JAMES APPLEWHITE POETRY PRIZE BY CHRISTINA CLARK

Fairytale Rules for the 21st Century Woman

COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

Don’t expect the scar-knuckled beast with cigar-breath and fermenting sheets to change. Don’t stitch yourself asleep with a dirty needle and count on soft lips, a knight’s gentle kiss to wake you. Don’t swallow all the pills that say Eat Me or drink yourself down to a thimbleful of light at the bottom of glass after glass. Don’t cut out your tongue and squeeze on stilettos

21st Century Fairytale (digital painting, 5.25x7.25 by Rachel Elia

Originally from California, RACHEL ELIA moved around quite a bit before eventually moving to Apex, NC. She is pursuing a BFA with a concentration in illustration and printmaking. NCLR Art Editor Diane Rodman selected Elia’s for publication with the poem saying, “I love her references to classic characteristics of fairy tales in general, but more specifically to classic fairy tale themes in works such as ‘Aladdin and the Magic Lamp,’ the Wicked Witch in The Wizard of Oz, and the Grimm Brothers’ tale ‘The Spirit in the Bottle,’ just to name a few. T​ he depiction of the death’s-head hawkmoth is a great supernatural touch that invites interpretation.”

CHRISTINA CLARK earned her MFA in creative writing from UNC Wilmington, and she is now pursuing a master’s degree in speechlanguage pathology from North Carolina Central University. Her poems have previously appeared or are forthcoming in Main Street Rag, Off the Coast, Cactus Heart, The Poet’s Billow, Calyx, cream city review, and New South. Her poem “Adrift in the Port City” won the 2017 James Applewhite Poetry Prize and will be published in the 2018 print issue, along with another of her poems selected as a finalist.


North Carolina Miscellany

N C L R ONLINE

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COURTESY OF THE ARTIST

Midnight Melancholia (digital painting, 10x12) by Alec Campbell-Barner

two sizes too small for a shot with the widow-peaked porcelain-toothed prince. And when the clock strikes midnight and you’re stranded in the parking lot behind Cook Out, five quarters and a dead phone in your pocket, don’t expect smoke-lit mirror revelations or moonshine lake transformations – this time you’ll need a fifth of Rebel Yell to knock the beast unconscious, a wand of mascara, some winged high tops, twenty bucks for the bus, and a new number.

These works of art were created for the NCLR/Student Art Collaboration Competition, organized by NCLR Art Editor Diane Rodman and ECU Art Professor Joan Mansfield (cover artist for NCLR 2011). For a second year, Joan had her art students respond to art forthcoming in NCLR, this time poems by two of the finalists in the 2017 Applewhite Poetry Prize competition, this one and Annie Frazier’s poem in the Flashbacks section. From eleven submissions for each poem, Diane picked first and second place works to be featured with the poems in this issue.

Diane Rodman selected ALEC CAMPBELL-BARNER’s response for a “very close” second place, saying, “The excellent use of vanishing point perspective, as well as the tightness of space, along with what appears to be a one-lane road, play into the theme of the poem.” The artist is a senior pursuing a BFA in illustration and art education.


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2018

NORTH CAROLINA L I T E R A R Y RE V I E W

NCLR EDITOR RECEIVES NORTH CAROLINA AWARD FOR LITERATURE Adapted from event program biography by Michele Walker

with acceptance remarks by Margaret D. Bauer

Raleigh, NC, 9 October 2017 PHOTOGRAPH BY LINDA FOX; COURTESY OF NC DEPARTMENT OF NATURAL AND CULTURAL RESOURCES

For her passion for Southern literature, and for her innumerable contributions to the literary legacy of North Carolina, Margaret Donovan Bauer receives the 2017 North Carolina Award for Literature. Margaret Donovan Bauer always wanted to be a teacher. An experience in a high school English class where she began to learn how to read and understand the nuances of a short story inspired her and led her to a career as an English professor. Today she is the Rives Chair of Southern Literature and Distinguished Professor of Harriot College of Arts and Sciences at East Carolina University in Greenville. A native of south Louisiana, Bauer spent many childhood summers in the mountains of North Carolina and fell in love with the state. In 1996 she realized her ambition to move to North Carolina and make her home here, joining the faculty of East Carolina University and beginning her tenure as editor of the North Carolina Literary Review. As editor of the award-winning literary journal for more than twenty years, Bauer has relished her role in promoting the literature and writers of North Carolina, introducing the work of new Tar Heel writers and rediscovering the state’s already well-known authors. Now in its 26th year, the literary review continues to thrive and receive nationwide acclaim under her leadership. Bauer has edited two books on North Carolina playwright Paul Green. She is the author of The Fiction of Ellen Gilchrist (1999), William Faulkner’s Legacy: “what shadow, what stain, what mark” (2005), Understanding Tim Gautreaux (2010), and A Study of Scarletts: Scarlett O’Hara’s Literary Daughters (2014), as well as numerous articles on Southern writers in scholarly journals. In 2007, Bauer was named one of ECU’s 10 Women of Distinction and received the Parnassus Award for Significant Editorial Achievement from the Council of Editors of Learned Journals. She is also a recipient of ECU’s Scholar/Teacher Award, Centennial Award for Excellence in Leadership, and, most recently, Lifetime Achievement Award in Research and Creative Activity. This year she will also receive the 2017 R. Hunt Parker Award for Literary Achievement, acknowledging her significant contributions to the literary life of North Carolina, from the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

The 2017 North Carolina awards were presented by Governor Roy Cooper at a banquet and gala in Raleigh, where attendees watched the honorees talk about their work in short films produced from interviews conducted by Michelle Walker, Public Information Officer at the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources. North Carolina Award recipients each had the opportunity to give acceptance remarks. n n n

Thank you to all who have made this honor possible, with special thanks to the women who put the video together. It was such fun talking with you. Who doesn’t enjoy talking about her work? If you don’t, as my father would say, find the work that does make you happy. I wish he could be here, so he could see the fruits of his not having limited expectations for his daughters. Thank you, Governor Cooper, Secretary Hamilton; I am honored to be recognized by the state that is now my home state. Thank you to ECU Provost Ron Mitchelson, Harriot College Dean of Arts and Sciences William Downs, English Department Chair Marianne Montgomery and former Chair Jeffrey Johnson, all here tonight as per their usual support of my work and of the mission of the North Carolina

ABOVE NCLR Editor and 2017 North Carolina Award for Literature recipient

Margaret Bauer with North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper and Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources Susi Hamilton

MICHELE WALKER is Public Information Officer at North Carolina Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.


“Recently, someone said to me that I had the English major’s dream job. Yes, I do.” —Margaret D. Bauer Literary Review to promote the state’s literary riches. Producing NCLR for over a quarter century now extends ECU’s mission, to serve, beyond the Eastern region to the whole state. Always, thank you to Andrew, for being there, cooking usually, when I come home in the evening, and to him and the Starlight Women for the kind of love and support that empowers and inspires courage, as well as achievement. These women in my life are the culmination of a long line of strong female role models, from my grandmothers to my mothers, to the best mentor ever, Dorothy Scura (another person I wish were here to see this). Pay it forward, she taught me. Help the women who come behind you. I promise before all of you here, I will. Thank you to those who nominated me. Lorraine Robinson, who led the charge, represents the incredible people I have worked with on the journal staff. I want to mention here too the ECU students who have worked on the NCLR staff, as well as those in my classrooms, who often inspire my digging in deeper to a literary work for my own scholarship after talking about it with them. I certainly appreciate the writers of the Old North State who have generously shared their talent in NCLR’s pages. Literature, as we know, inspires empathy by allowing readers to see inside the consciousness of a stranger, showing us what it is like to be another, so that we recognize what we have in common and better understand our differences. It has been an honor and a privilege to serve as an ambassador for North Carolina’s rich literary history, promoting our writers, who set such a fine example of how productive communities can be when the people within support each other: I have witnessed repeatedly our literary stars encourage their audiences to read someone’s debut novel. Admittedly a writer groupie, I treasure the opportunities I’ve had to meet our star writers, but like them, I also relish the times I’ve gotten to tell a new writer her story will be published.

* Quoted from Laurence G. Avery, ed. Letters of Paul Green, 1916–1981 (U of North Carolina P, 1994) 597.

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PHOTOGRAPH BY LINDA FOX; COURTESY OF NC DEPT. OF NATURAL AND CULTURAL RESOURCES

North Carolina Miscellany

“Literature . . . inspires empathy by allowing readers to see inside the consciousness of a stranger, showing us what it is like to be another, so that we recognize what we have in common and better understand our differences.”—Margaret D. Bauer Recently, someone said to me that I had the English major’s dream job. Yes, I do. Preeminent North Carolina playwright Paul Green once asserted that “the arts are the soul and fervor of a nation, . . . the fire and glory of a people,” continuing, “[A] nation may produce all kinds of bankers . . . engineers . . . inventors . . . and yet . . . miss the full greatness that might have belonged to it if it had properly encouraged its poets . . . composers . . . novelists . . . in order to bring forward the full frontage of its significance.”* Governor Cooper, I am here to assure you that North Carolina is in no danger of missing its full greatness, as long as our state’s leaders continue to recognize, appreciate, and support the talent of its glorious writers and artists. Thank you again to our writers for allowing me the privilege of serving as your ambassador, to ECU for giving me the opportunity, to my loved ones for providing the strength to do so, and to North Carolina for welcoming me home. n

ABOVE NCLR Editor Margaret Bauer and former Associate Editor

Lorraine Hale Robinson (right) with Governor and Mrs. Roy Cooper at their home; also pictured, Andrew Morehead and Johnie Robinson


NCLR 2018

ISSN: 2165-1809

NORTH CAROLINA L I T E R A R Y RE V I E W

ONLINE

“. . . IT’S A WELL-KEPT

SECRET,

BUT WE DON’T WANT IT SO WELL KEPT

A N Y M O R E.

WE WANT

IT OUT THERE.” —KATHRYN STRIPLING BYER

HOW MIGHT YOU H E LP T O DAY

Yes! I’d like to support an endowment to secure another 25 years of this award-winning publication for North Carolina writers and readers everywhere.

PRODUCTION NOTES

Click here to see a list of NCLR’s Friends.

ITC Franklin Gothic, ITC New Baskerville, ITC Avant Garde Gothic

North Carolina Literary and Historical Association

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Type Families

THE UNIVERSITY OF NORTH CAROLINA PRESS

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2018  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

North Carolina Literary Review Online 2018  

A literary review published online annually by East Carolina University and by the North Carolina Literary and Historical Association.

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