Estelle Rice and Katie Pressley read at Coffee with the Poets.
Ask Clay County poet Glenda Beale what it was like to arrive in the far western part of North Carolina as a fledging writer knowing no other writers, and you will immediately hear the name Nancy Simpson. She was the writer-in-residence at John C. Campbell Folk School when Beale moved to the county in the mid-1990s. Beale enrolled in Simpson’s class and began to believe in herself as a writer.
She had come at a perfect time because the mountain counties of western North Carolina, northern Georgia, and northern South Carolina as well as East Tennessee were involved in a fledging program inspired by the North Carolina Arts Council and the North Carolina Writers’ Network.
In 1991, Debbie McGill, head of the N.C. Arts Council, and Marsha Warren, head of the N.C. Writers’ Network, were discussing concerns about reaching writers in the far western part of the state. Nancy Simpson had completed a master’s of fine arts at Warren Wilson College in 1985 and was teaching in a public high school full-time and working as writer-in-residence at the John C. Campbell Folk School in Brasstown, N.C. The three met and decided to form a subset of the N.C. Writers’ Network aimed at serving not only the far western counties of North Carolina but also the contiguous mountain counties of Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee.
“People in the mountains have always had to do for themselves,” says Simpson, a native of Clay County in North Carolina,” but support matters greatly.”
She will always be grateful for McGill and Warren, the two leaders of downstate organizations, for recognizing that they had to find ways to serve the more remote mountain counties. Thanks to Simpson’s efforts and the devotion and energy of many other writers in those mountain counties, Netwest has thrived and encouraged countless writers. There are writers’ groups and regular readings throughout the region. A monthly event called “Coffee With Poets” is held at Phillips and Lloyd Bookstore in downtown Hayesville, N.C. An annual picnic in September rotates among the counties. This year (the 18th), the picnic will be held in Clay County. It includes readings and celebrations of regional writers. At the 2009 celebration, Netwest will welcome distinguished poet and former Poet Laureate of North Carolina Kathryn Stripling Byer as its new coordinator.
A number of remarkable writers have emerged from Netwest, including Brenda Kay Ledford and Glenda Barrett, whom Simpson describes as “true Appalachian writers” both extensively published poets. Simpson herself has published two collections of poetry. One, a chapbook entitled Across Water; the other a full length collection entitled Night Student. Two new manuscripts, Living Above the Frost Line and Into the Heart of the Glacier, are soon to be published.
For a taste of Simpson’s language and perspective, one only needs to visit her blog and read the headline... “Living above the frost line is a dwelling place for practicing poets. It is the home of poet, Nancy Simpson. Above the frost line we give ourselves some extra growing time. Yes, we know the hard freeze will come, but until it arrives, we shall grow and share our poems.”
In 2003, Netwest published an anthology of stories, poems, and essays called Lights in the Mountains. By early 2010, it will have published a second anthology entitled Echoes Across the Blue Ridge: Stories, Essays and Poems by Writers Living in and Inspired by the Southern Appalachian Mountains.
Netwest is now a charter group of the N.C. Writers’ Network. It receives some financial support from the statewide network but raises its own funds for the ongoing workshops it supports. It continues to have a relationship with the John C. Campbell Folk School. When you join the N.C. Writers’ Network from one of the counties involved in Netwest, you will receive an online newsletter. Anyone, of course, can access the blogs as well as information on the Network’s website: www.ncwriters.org/netwest.
All members of the North Carolina Writers’ Network who live in Clay, Cherokee, Graham, Jackson, Macon, Transylvania, Haywood, Henderson, and Swain counties, as well as bordering counties in Georgia, South Carolina, and east Tennessee are eligible to become members of NCWN West (Netwest) for no fee.To join online, visit www.ncwriters.org or submit information to:NC Writers’ Network • P.O. Box 954 • Carrboro, NC 27510
Poems within poems
Just when you think poets have explored about every form there is, along comes Fred Chappell, who spreads the map a little further by creating his own new form of poems within poems, nesting rhymes and clever wit within a larger narrative. Shadow Box presents variations of two poems (side by side, embedded, enclosed, inlaid), which act as opposing and harmonizing voices—male and female, stone and water, spirit and body.
Like that spatial game where one tries to count a series of triangles inside a larger triangle, these poems within poems compel the reader to read and reread the lines until subtle nuances reveal themselves. The intricate wordplay demands patience but inspires a newfound reverence for what poetry can become.
Chappell, a native of western North Carolina and a celebrated professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro (where he retired in 2004 after 40 years of teaching), has built an impressive career sharing and testing his gifts as an award-winning poet, novelist, essayist and critic. Having mastered his literary powers, he sets his sights on a myriad of themes—love, death, marriage, religion, politics, music, myth and more. In Shadow Box, he seems as comfortable pining over rusty pick-ups or roaming a fictional nursing home as he does imagining Christian reliquaries of Medieval Europe or translating Latin and German into tidy quatrains. His verse twists and turns with metaphysical honesty (If the universe expands, why do I feel / so drained), moments of grace (Cleaning her comb, she finds a remnant trace / ... one golden strand among the thousand grays), and the political soundbyte that belies security (“This pill is good for you,” the President said). Unlike many modern poets, he also helps to explain the form as he experiments with it, offering introductions for each section. This latest book will only cement Chappell’s legacy as one of the most versatile poets of our time.