You Light Up My Life
2. Social Graces
3. Bold Faces
2. Social Graces
3. Bold Faces
“What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.” ~ Richard Bach
I have no problem starting poems or stories (like I have no problem filling up closets). It’s ending them that’s hard. Endings should look like they’ve always been there, as though there were no possible other conclusion. But readers might be surprised by how many endings a writer might try, or by how hard a good ending is to come by.
Sometimes a whole movie is ruined, if you don’t like the way it ends. Movie producers know this, which is why they sometimes film more than one ending and test audiences to see which one works best.
I’ve noticed that songs are even harder to end than written pieces. There aren’t a lot of options for ending songs. They either fade away into silence or build up to a crescendo and then abruptly stop.
I’m not surprised that endings are the hardest part of writing, because they’re also the hardest part of life. Birth is expected and exciting. Death is dreaded and often painful.
The problem with an ending is that you don’t know what it is until you get there. You hope you’ll know it when you see it. Some endings do come without effort, and you just take down what is happening. But others you have to find. Sometimes a false ending presents itself. You think the story is over, but it’s not. And then there are the series of small endings, conclusions to each paragraph that you have to figure out.
They say that every ending is also a new beginning. I like to think that’s true, because it makes endings feel less final. Is there ever a truly final ending, one that can’t begin again? That’s like asking if there’s an end to the universe. And if there is an end, what exists beyond it?
I’m getting ready to end this now. But that shouldn’t be a problem. You, as the reader, can turn the page or decide for yourself what comes next. As for me, I’m ready to start my next writing project. I only have to decide this: Should I sit in the moonlight for new inspiration, or should I go back to cleaning out my closets?
~ Taken from Muses Like Moonlight: A Closet Poet Comes Out, my 2004 poetry collection and short essays on writing.
1. A friend of a friend, named Pet Pet Ping Pong.
2. Breakfast at Alwyn’s, where I recently spent the night.
3. Someone saved a seat with their flat footing dance shoes for the Friday Night Jamboree.
4. Chalk on the sidewalk in front of the Blackwater Loft.
5. Is that a six word memoir Chelsea is writing on Mara’s cargo shorts, under the skirt that she wore to the Country Store poetry reading?
This story was published in The Floyd Press on May 1, 2008. It was also featured on the newspaper's website HERE.
"This is getting to be a real good smelling poetry reading,” said visiting poet Jim Webb in reference to the scent of popcorn coming from the front of the Floyd Country Store.
Webb and seven other members of The Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative (SAWC) were at the Country Store Friday afternoon for a round-robin poetry swap with members of the Floyd Writers Circle. The evening before, the visiting writers attended an event at Radford University (RU), celebrating the publication of All There is to Keep, a book of poetry by Rita Riddle, an RU English professor and SAWC member who died of cancer in 2006.
Webb works for Appalshop, a media arts center in Kentucky that produces documentaries, some of which have aired nationally on PBS. He was recording the Floyd readings for Kentucky’s WMMT FM, a mountain community, listener-supported station affiliated with Appalshop.
Floyd Press columnist Fred First, both a member of SAWC and the Floyd Writer’s Circle, hosted the Floyd event. Robert Cumming, Iris Press book publisher from Tennessee, was also present.
Readings of mostly poetry spanned subjects ranging from love and death to farming and tea drinking.
First read an essay from his book, Slow Road Home, about his childhood dread of asparagus. … My parents claimed this was a vegetable. To my mind, this vile substance was never anything more than a green poison created by children-loathing adults on the other side of the Iron Curtain ...”
Dana Wildsmith, whose most recent book, One Good Hand, is a reference to her life of alternating farm chores with writing poetry, read a poem called “Southern Love Poem.” … You’re slicker than Talladega, as classic as Gone with the Wind, more hometown than Patty Loveless or REM, sweeter than Iris Dement. How could my heart not be yours? … Wildsmith, a teacher of writing and an ESL instructor from Georgia, authored a poem titled "Making a Living,” which was read on NPR by Garrison Keillor.
Webb, wearing a bright pistachio green shirt with one of his poems printed on it, read an impassioned poem decrying mountaintop removal. He lives on the second highest mountain peak in Kentucky, second in height only to another peak that he can see from his home, which is being strip-mined, he explained. … As close to heaven as you can get … Why doesn’t God complain … Call the cops … he read. Webb told the group, “until they stop mountain removal, I’m going to read this poem at every reading.”
Radford University teacher and former Floyd Countian Jim Minick edited the posthumously published book of Riddle's poetry and hosted the Thursday night book release event at RU. At the Floyd reading, Minick read some of his new poetry that will be included in a soon to be published collection. He spoke of the readings the night before and the impact of hearing SAWC members read Riddle’s poems. Members of SAWC and Iris Press were involved in the publication of All There is to Keep, and many were friends of Riddle.
Chelsea B. Adams, Floyd poet and writing teacher at RU, joined the circle, reading poems that Riddle had commented on when she and Riddle were in the same writers workshop group. Adams is author of Looking for a Landing, and Java Poems.
Other SWAC members attending were Ron Houchin, who has had three poetry books published in the U.S. and Ireland; Felicia Mitchell, a poet and writer who teaches at Emory & Henry College; David Hampton, who teaches high school English in North Carolina; and Beto Cumming, a book designer and editor for Iris Press.
Five members of the Floyd Writer’s Circle who shared their original work included First, Katherine Chantal, Jayn Avery, Mara Robbins, and Colleen Redman.
After the readings, the group mulled around a table display of their books, signing, selling, and trading them with each other. Writing resources and stories also got swapped. The visiting writers had dinner at Oddfellas Cantina and attended the Friday Night Jamboree. ~ Colleen Redman
Post Notes: To learn more about the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative, go to sawc.us. The mission statement on their website states an intention to foster community between Appalachian writers and encourage the publication of their works.
Photos: 1. Beto Cumming reading poetry at the SAWC/Floyd Writers Circle meet-up. 2. Dana Wildsmith reading as (left) Felicia Mitchell and (right) Robert Cumming listen. 3. Jim Webb reads a poem condemning the practice of mountain top removal. Doug Thompson has posted some nice photos HERE.
The moon is a mutiny
a one bubble revolution
escape from the sky-sea
of sudsy clouds
It floats across the heavens
like a flower child pagan
in peaceful demonstration
against the status
Post notes: The photo was taken a few nights ago. The poem is one of many in a moon series written over ten years ago
1. Black tea is like whiskey to herb tea’s wine.
2. I don’t like chocolate for the sake of it. For me, chocolate is like a condiment to go with mint, peanut butter, ice cream, or cherries.
3. I never had a baby shower or wedding shower. But I do love baths.
4. I have an imaginary green shamrock tattoo somewhere on my body, haven’t imagined where yet.
5. Emily Dickinson’s version of making the sign of the cross (In the name of the Father, the Son, and Holy Ghost) is: “In the name of the Birds, the Bees, and the Breeze,” (taught to me by a monk in South Carolina).
6. I talked to my friend Jayn (turning 60 this year) on the phone; it had been awhile. She said, “My life has been so full.” I answered, “Yeah, and we get full faster than we used to.
7. Last Sunday night Joe and I went dancing to the Emily Brass Band at the Pine Tavern. We slept in late the next morning. When we woke up, I said to him, “Joe, it’s Monday. Do you know where your job is?”
8. Interesting fact heard on David Letterman: 95% of people texting and blogging who type LOL are actually NOT laughing out loud.
9. Upsetting use of adversity in TV advertising heard recently: Stop global warming or all the Reese’s Cups will melt.
10. Not only did I used to love Led Zepplin’s song “Ramble On” when I was a teenager, I also drove a Rambler. Does anyone remember those?
11. I’ve decided to name my computer “The Enterprise,” and think of my work station as the “bridge,” although I’m more of a nutty professor in a word lab than a Captain Kirk exploring outer space.
12. Today I love the word “warp,” as in warp drive, warp speed, and warp spasm; and when I googled an image search for “warp,” I got THIS!”
13. If celebrities moved to Oklahoma HERE.
AKA: Can we have a Word?
1. A Blog Quote Contest: Blogtations, a site that posts daily quotes taken from blogs, is hosting a Mother’s Day Quote Contest, of which I am one of the judges. The deadline to submit your best saying about Motherhood, taken from your blog, is May 2. The winner will be announced on May 9th and will receive a $25 Amazon gift certificate. Details are HERE. More about Blogtations and it's founder Jeannette HERE.
2. Poets on Stage a the Floyd Country Store: I and my fellow members of the Floyd Writers Circle will be swapping readings with members of the Southern Appalachian Writers Cooperative at the Floyd Country Store, Friday April 25 from 3:30 to 5 p.m. Visiting SAWC writers are in town for a reading at Radford University, celebrating the posthumous publication of the late Rita Riddle, who was an English professor at RU and a member of SAWC. The event is free and open to the public. I hear that the visiting writers are looking forward to attending the famed Friday Night Jamboree later that evening. More about the event from blogger Fred First, who is also a SAWC member is HERE. You can read about the Floyd Writers Circle HERE.
I had planned to interview my friend, Mara, sometime during the two day poetry symposium we attended recently. I knew I’d be blogging about it, and if she won for her either of the two presentations she was scheduled to give, I’d be writing a story for The Floyd Press. I thought maybe I’d ask her some questions over a Scrabble game, but the game never even made it out of my car. She was distracted with her upcoming presentations, and with four of us staying in one inn suite, we were busy having fun, reading each other our poetry, eating, and talking about poets Claudia Emerson and Bruce Weigl, who were guest readers at the event.
As Mara was dressing for the first event, putting on her signature khaki cargo pants, she talked about needing to be comfortable and how her cargo pants helped her feel like herself. She showed off the necklace she was planning to wear the next day with a carnelian shirt that would top of her second pair of khaki cargo pants. “I won’t weigh the pockets down with stuff,” she said about her pants. “I think they’ll look neater that way.”
I saw my opportunity, opened my notebook in an “all about it” official manner, and began to conduct the interview:
Colleen: “Mara, how many pairs of cargo pants to you own?”
After thinking about it and discussing the fact that some fit and some don’t, she answered, “Approximately nine in different sizes.”
Colleen: (Thinking fast for my follow-up question), “And how many of those are written on?”
Colleen: “What about cargo shorts?”
Mara: “Ah … about half-a-dozen.”
Colleen: “Are they all khaki?”
Mara: “No, some are olive green. I like fatigue cargoes, but never ever wear camouflage.”
Post note: To see a ritual performance of the signing of Mara’s pants, go HERE. Shorts are HERE. You can read about Mara's symposium win HERE. You can see the cargo pants she wore for her symposium win in the last shot.
The 7-9 time-slot stretched on to 10:30, with several new readers, a full house of attendees, and a line-up that resembled a Spoken Word variety show. After Greg opened the evening with a reflective essay about photographs and memories, Mara (pictured left) and I shared our very different Scrabble poems, created using words we played in a game on St. Patrick’s Day.
Chelsea (pictured reading below), one of my fellow winning teammates of the Literacy Volunteers Scrabble Tournament, kept the theme going with a just-written poem about Scrabble. Others, read from her first poetry collection, “Looking for a Landing,” were prompted by the subject of Greg’s reading.
Our third Scrabble Tournament teammate, Virginia, was in the audience with her husband, Don. Don took a shot at the mic, reading a poem from Chelsea’s second poetry collection, Java Poems. Seeing as how the café specializes in coffee, Java Poems is a favorite of Café Del Sol owner, Sally, the evening’s gracious master of ceremonies.
Rosemary premiered a performance piece about self-empowerment, presented with an edge. Mara read several poems by Virginia Tech creative writing professor, Bob Hicok, and one of her own, for the first anniversary honoring the victims of the April 16th Tech shootings. Her “Show and Tell” about wearing her late husband, Cory’s Calvin and Hobbs Grateful Dead T-shirt was memorable … Tonight I need a miracle, and not the kind that Calvin wants with one finger in the air asking for a ticket. I need to know you’re there.
A few of my six word memoirs got some good laughs … Gidget goes Woodstock; ends up country … College drop out, flunked middle class. I followed the memoirs with a group of short poems representing spring, taxes, and Earth Day. “Save the Planet” is a good slogan … or is it a slow gun we hold to our head … a sound bite to relieve us of our sins …. a glossy sticker on a gas guzzling bumper …
Photojournalist, Doug Thompson (above), was in the house. I told him that his large wide lens camera was a little intimating, but I knew he would capture some great shots, and he did (see HERE). Doug, who is a walking storyteller, shared some mic time with us, adlibbing a story with a mix of humor and tragedy. The attentive audience laughed, gasped, and choked up.
A young man (below) scribbling in a notebook during the readings shared the results of his notes, a new poem called, “In the Ear of the Beholder.” His mother followed him with a poem about closing your eyes in order to see. Sharing that her son is in cancer remission after forgoing a second round of chemo in favor of alternative treatments (a case that made national news when his parents were charged with medical neglect for not forcing mainstream treatment and then exonerated), brought a rousing round of applause.
Sam read a darkly, funny short story about a half-bald chicken getting revenge on its owner who had accidentally caused the balding (and scaring) when he tossed a pan of boiling water out a window.
Special Ed teacher Skip King was back with some 55 word poems. Lezlie performed her signature free association poetry, some of which involved – of all things – "gay McDonald burgers." It was a ludicrous notion meant to zero in on divisive judgments and one that had the crowd in an uproar. Fresh from New Orleans, a newcomer named Justin added to the variety, closing the evening’s event by rapping some rhythm and rhyme.
Post note: Notice the view from the window in photo 2. It's of the new timber framed public restroom, part of the downtown renovation and renewal.
1. A puddle of petals
2. A litter of yellow
3. Not crying over spilled flowers
I enjoy the distillation of words. I believe less is best, and when writing I try to leave out the parts that most people skip (as recommended by novelist Elmore Leonard). I love the one line poem, the picture that's worth a thousand words, and cutting back the rose so more blooms will grow. But the meme Pearl recently tagged me for – to write a six word memoir – was a challenge I initially tried to avoid because it seemed nearly impossible to abbreviate my life to that degree.
The meme was inspired by the book, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure, which was inspired by Hemingway’s alleged six word story, “For Sale: baby shoes, never worn.” The book is a collection of almost 1,000 six word memoirs, including those of celebrities, such as Steven Colbert. “Well, I thought it was funny,” his reads. Other ones I like, found at the Smith Magazine website, where the memoirs were culled from: “Anything is possible with an extension cord,” Billy Sirr; “Proof that potheads can be somebody,” by Green Bean; and "Manhattan raised. Three kids? Hello, Jersey," by Dano.
Maybe this is cheating. I wrote more than one memoir. Read together; could be a poem. Everything is suspect; counting every word.
Once I started, I couldn’t stop:
Six word memoirs in sixteen parts
Backseat poet; the muse is driving
Gidget goes Woodstock; ends up country
Barefoot homebody; gets lost in cities
Still hangs laundry on the line
Techno phobic blogger mainlines computer
Is there rehab for tea drinkers?
Love me but leave me alone
Doesn’t do knick knacks or math
Fifty-six and never been in high-heels
Lies about age; just one year
College drop out; flunked middle class
I’d rather be looking through kaleidoscopes
Field note taker; writes on hand
Yields to children; brakes for flowers
Always preparing the ultimate travel wardrobe
Time to turn over; I’m done
1. Tongue twister created after I played AI (a three legged sloth) twice in one Scrabble play, which caused Mara to squeal, “Two three legged sloths … Two three legged sloths … Two three legged sloths.”
2. When I tried to say “two three legged sloths” three times fast, it kept coming out as something ending with “sluts,” which reminded Mara of the bar drink she had when we were in Lexington, called “a redheaded slut.”
3. “The bees are disappearing, independent bookstores are closing, and they’re selling botox on TV to women in their 30’s!” I recently ranted to my friend Alwyn over the phone.
4. When I played the word QUEUE in our last Scrabble game, Mara and Rosemary broke out in song, singing, “Q-U-E-U-E whatever will be will be … the future’s not ours to see … Q-U-E-U-E.
5. Favorite quote from Claudia Emerson’s VPI Poetry Symposium keynote address: Sometimes the line will agree with the sentence and sometimes the sentence will argue with the line.
6. Joe and I tend to argue about stuff like whether something is purple or blue, or is that blue and green?
7. When it comes to my bad back it’s more about what I don’t do than what I do. In other words, less sitting and more moving.
8. I dream in fiction.
9. Last night I dreamt of blogger Michele Agnew (of Meet and Greet fame). She had a new blog, designed from an online survey she took. The details were posted on a bulletin board at the New Mountain Mercantile, here in Floyd. I was in there picking up my farm eggs and was telling someone that I knew her. I had a bicycle outside and was on my way to Christiansburg, but then it started to rain. When I woke up I was trying to figure out how to get home to get my car without getting wet (I live 7 miles from town).
11. My mind just went blank. Then I thought of the T-shirt my son Josh brought home from London that said “Mind the Gap,” taken from signs at the London Underground. In this country the underground is called the subway and our signs read, “Watch Your Step.” My T-shirt should probably say “Mind the Lapse.”
13. Winter Tax Refunded in the Spring (AKA The Audit): In April I calculate poetry … the way others do their taxes … as though the world were overdue for a good accounting … Bursting to put into words … what the birds already know … with each emerging daffodil … I mark spring’s growing windfall … Its affluent bloom … and excess of green are annual assets … we all get to claim.
The literary arts also have a presence in Floyd, with a monthly open mic night and at least two writing workshop groups. Poets and writers of all literary styles gather once a month for a Spoken Word Open Mic at the Café Del Sol. Books by local authors can be found in downtown shops, as can an abundance of music CDs. Open mics provide a performing stage for established musicians and writers, and also act as an outreach to those getting started in those arts. Blackwater Loft and Oddfellas Cantina both host monthly open mics, mainly for music.
Some of the venues for the arts in Floyd are seasonal and involve grass, lawn chairs, pavilions, or decks. The Oak Grove Pavilion at the Zion Lutheran Church hosts a summer schedule of music and plays, which are supported by donations that the church passes on to local charities and causes. The Pine Tavern has hosted some well received acts on their outdoor Pavilion stage. Tuggles Gap Motel and Restaurant has a weekend outdoor music series, and Jazz Festivals at Château Morrisette Winery attract crowds from far and wide.
Floyd isn’t just a venue for local musicians. Famous talents have played here. Maria Muldaur performed at the Pine Tavern. Leon Russell has played there and at the Winter Sun. The Country Store has featured Wayne Henderson with Jeff Little, The King Wilkie Band, Ronnie Stoneman of Hee Haw fame, and more. Floyd Fest, a world music festival on 80 acres off the Blue Ridge Parkway, features camping, vending, children’s activities, and six stages for musical performances. The festival, about to begin their 7th year, has helped to secure Floyd’s place on the music map. They welcome community participation, headline well known national and international acts, and feature emerging talent from the region.
Other signs that Floyd is a flourishing community of many artists turn up in unusual places. Outdoor wood sculptures by Charlie Brouwer and Lanny Bean can be found around town. The main desk at the Jessie Peterman Library was carved by Ernest Bryant, whose Celtic mantel fireplace was featured in a story for the Washington Post and a 2004 issue of Fine Homebuilding. The Hotel Floyd, which opened this past fall, enlisted the help the arts community to decorate and furnish their guest rooms and suites. The fourteen theme rooms showcase Floyd culture and art.
The arts in Floyd have come far since The Old Church Gallery paved the way when it opened in 1978. With a focus on cultural arts and local history, the Gallery is about to celebrate their 30th anniversary. Many of the wide range plans that Pauley and others envisioned the Gallery taking on have manifested, either at the Gallery or through other organizations in town.
“The more the merrier. I love it when lots and lots of creative things are going on,” Pauley said. “I never cared who did what, just as long as it got done,” she added.
Instrument makers, fiber artists, jewelers, woodworkers, painters, potters, sculptors, photographers, musicians, writers, and actors have all been attracted to Floyd. The same qualities that drew the first influx of artists in the 1970’s continue to draw talented people today. Today’s Floyd artists enjoy an expanded local appreciation for the arts, a variety of welcoming venues, and a growing interest in Floyd as a creative community that values country life. ~ Colleen Redman
Photos: 1. Spoken Word Open Mic collage. 2. Happy Wanderers, a sculpture by Charlie Brouwer at Over the Moon, inspired by a grade school song and a hike with his grandson.
A Flourishing of Arts in Floyd, Part I is HERE. This story originally appeared in The Floyd Press on March 27, 2008.
Another sign that the arts have grown in the community is Floyd’s active nightlife. Music lovers and fiddle players spilling over into the streets for the Friday Night Jamboree is part of Floyd’s heritage and its music reputation. Held at the Floyd Country Store, the Jamboree has been written about in the Washington Post and other regional and national publications. People from all over the country and the world have attended. Most recently a home schooling family of four red-head girls and three boys from Alaska performed on the Jamboree stage. On the road with their band, The Redhead Express, learning more about Bluegrass music was part of their home schooling curriculum.
“They found us online and asked to play,” Jackie Crenshaw, one of the Floyd Country Store owners said. “They loved seeing the multi-generational mix – adults and little kids – and were especially surprised to see the teenagers here,” she added.
The Jamboree and the County Sales store, renowned for providing an extensive selection of Old Time and Bluegrass recordings since 1965, are two of the good reasons why Floyd is part of the Crooked Road, a 250 mile Heritage Music Trail that winds through the Appalachian region of Southwest Virginia.
Although Floyd’s musical reputation has been built on Old Time and Bluegrass music, on any given weekend night residents and visitors might also hear Reggae, Salsa, Rock and Roll, or Blues. While dancers are flat-footing at the Floyd Country Store, others are dosey-doeing at the monthly Contra Dance held at The Winter Sun Music Hall, or enjoying a jig at Oddfellas’ monthly Irish Night.
The Winter Sun Music Hall, where an African dance troupe and a South American band are promoted and booked from, has played a role in stimulating a cultural exchange of the arts in Floyd. International, national, and regional acts have played on the Winter Sun stage. The Music Hall’s sprawling wood floor is great for dancing or practicing yoga at one of the classes they offer. Part of a complex of businesses housed in an old renovated textile factory building, the Music Hall has hosted a Halloween costume party, several benefits, and provides a stage for Floyd’s Young Actors Coop.
In many cases the venues in Floyd that feature dining and live music also promote the visual arts. Café Del Sol, Oddfellas Cantina, and Blackwater Loft all have regular rotating art exhibits on display. Over the Moon, above the Harvest Moon Food Store, is a café as well as a fine arts gallery.
Some establishments focus entirely on the arts and have built on the momentum of earlier community efforts. The June Bug Center specializes in the performing arts, everything from Shakespeare to Kid-interactive Story Theater and dance classes. Last year they hosted a Middle Eastern celebration called a Hafla, and a Poetry slam that brought the youth of the community together. Before the June Bug Center, The Floyd Theater Group filled the niche for community theater, hosting plays and Skit Night during the 80’s and 90’s. Around that same time the Mountain Rose Dance Center’s yearly dance recitals filled the high school auditorium with attendees.
The Jacksonville Center for the Arts, a renovated dairy barn, was home to the Winterfest Arts and Craft Fair before the renovations and before it was heated. Today at the Jacksonville Center you can take a class on blacksmithing, glass works, pot throwing, paper making and more. Their Hayloft Gallery is a popular venue that regularly features exciting exhibits of contemporary and folk art of local, national, and international artists. Winterfest, still going strong at the Jacksonville Center, will be hosting their 13th annual fair this coming winter.
Although much of Floyd’s art and music scene happens downtown, stretching from one end of Locust Street to the other, county residents have been creative in the way they showcase their arts. 16 Hands, a group of ceramic artists and one woodworker, helped set the stage for the recent surge of arts in Floyd with their biyearly self-guided studio tours. The open house tours began in 1998 and have grown to include visiting artists. Members of 16 Hands have gained national and international recognition for their art. Catherine Pauley recalls that several of the founding members were some of the earliest artisans to move to Floyd and believes that other artists coming to Floyd twenty years ago may have followed on their reputation.
Musical events held in farmhouses and local inns, known as House Concerts, are an old country tradition that is becoming popular again. Blues musician Scott Perry, who teaches music and hosts “Back Porch” concerts at his music store, The Pickin’ Porch, thinks they’re great.
“They’re music and musician focused events, as opposed to the music being secondary to dining and drinking.” Perry said.
Perry, who recently performed his second House Concert at Ambrosia Farm Bed & Breakfast, appreciates that at these venues he can do what he does best without having to think about asking for tips. Concert-goers are happy to pay a reasonable pre-set musician’s donation in exchange for a front row seat in an informal setting that includes a chance to meet and talk with the performer.
Post Notes: Photos are of The Floyd Country Store (home of the Friday Night Jamboree), and a sculpture in front of the Jacksonville Center, made by high school students who attended a week long sample course in the arts last year. Click HERE for the final installment of this story.
This is the first installment of a three part reprint from a story that originally appeared in a Floyd Press special insert on March 27, 2008. A post about the process I went through writing this retrospective on Floyd arts can be found HERE.
Whether it’s food and shelter, or creative arts and entertainment, Floyd Countians have a long tradition of providing it for themselves. Although Floyd has been home to talented musicians, quilters, woodworkers, and resourceful types for many generations, the county has recently been experiencing a renaissance of creative arts.
Native Floydian and high school art teacher, Catherine Pauley doesn’t remember anything organized going on in Floyd in the area of fine arts in the late 1970’s when she and several others decided to start an art association, which would become The Old Church Gallery. She does remember their earliest efforts promoting the arts in Floyd as playful.
“We were doing sidewalk art and art shows on the courthouse lawn. We ran wire along metal posts and hung up paintings. Kids, adults, everyone made them,” Pauley recalled.
Around the same time that The Old Church Gallery was being formed, young artists and musicians, pursuing the self-sufficient lifestyle and natural beauty Floyd has to offer, began moving to the area. Adding their input to the existing creative culture, they developed markets that showcased their arts, such as The Barter Faire, a Renaissance style event that was once held yearly on the Pine Tavern lawn. The Annual Floyd County Arts and Crafts Festival – which started in the high school cafeteria and has since spread onto the grounds and elementary school – was also taking off during this time of seeding the arts.
Many of the homespun endeavors that groups began back then to highlight the arts have recently been coming to fruition or have spawned new growth. New venues and businesses related to the arts have been cropping up, more music and art classes are being taught, and downtown improvements and opportunities for entertainment are drawing more visitors to Floyd.
Jayn Avery has been making her living in ceramic arts for more than thirty years. She’s recently been able to retire from traveling long distances to craft shows, finding more market venues at home. Weekend treks to sell her wares at The Roanoke Farmer’s Market have proven successful.
“Since doing the Roanoke Market, my sales in Floyd have increased. It’s provided consistent exposure and a new clientèle. When people ask where they can get my work, I send them up to Floyd,” Avery said.
Avery’s lace impressed production pottery has always sold well at the New Mountain Mercantile, one of Floyd’s earliest shops to feature local arts and crafts. Her large hand built vessels and blue glazed heron sculptures were first exhibited at Floyd’s Jacksonville Center for the Arts, where she is an active board member.
“My higher end art pieces are selling in Floyd now, and they never used to,” Avery said. The range of interest in her art has also increased.
“The Bell Gallery has sold pieces to people across the country,” she added.
Some artists, like Avery, work at their craft full-time out of their home studios. Others support themselves by combining their art with part time jobs. Still others wait till they retire to tap their creativity.
Bob Grubel, a founding member of the band Grace Note, supplements the income his music brings in with a job supporting individuals with disabilities. Over the years Grubel has recorded nearly a dozen tapes and CDs of his original music and the music of Grace Note. He sings and plays piano at local and regional venues and even finds time to keep a large garden, although he gave up his goats a decade ago when his music career started to take off.
“I enjoy wearing a different hat several times a day, going from music to supporting the individuals I work with, to farm activities,” Grubel said.
Grubel, who also performs at churches in the region, is set up to record music at his home. He also uses recording studios throughout the New River Valley.
“I love being in a community with so many musicians finding their niches,” he said.
Gretchen St. Lawrence, who relocated to Floyd with her husband David two years ago, is a late blooming artist, retired from years of working in the corporate world. The availability of art classes at Floyd’s Jacksonville Center was a factor in the St. Lawrence’s move to Floyd, but Gretchen says the main draw was the friendly and encouraging people. One of her first connections with Floyd artists was through The Floyd Figures Art Group, a non instructional art group that first began meeting in the early 1990’s and uses live models for figure drawing.
“Artists here foster each other. Everyone at the Floyd Figures group accepted me without question or judgment,” St. Lawrence said.
St. Lawrence, who is currently a member of Art Under the Sun – a grassroots art association that hosts a gallery and offers art classes – explained that the support of other artists helped her to feel comfortable as an artist. From that place of acceptance her work flourished.
“It just took off. People started commissioning me to do pet portraits,” she said.
Post note: The photo is of a Floyd sign in front of noteBooks and the Black Water Loft. Click HERE to continue this story.
1. Winning Hand
2. A Pupil of Poetry
3. Self portrait in the eye of the beholder
4. Pose of Ponder
5. Gold Finger
Post note: Body Language Part I is HERE.
1. My Father’s Nose
3. Last Leg
Post note: All the above photos were taken while on a walk in the neighborhood with Joe yesterday.
Joe took the day off to study for his upcoming counselor’s licensure test. I had just returned from a morning Scrabble game, the one where Mara complimented my lime green shirt and I explained how I had pulled all the little rhinestones off after I bought it at thrift shop. She and Rosemary, whose dining room table we were playing on, laughed at the thought of me wearing anything with rhinestones.
Now, back on my own front porch, illuminated by forsythia light, I pulled a book from the stack that Mara had lent me. I opened her autographed copy of Claudia Emerson’s “Late Wife” and began to read.
The air bubble that choked and then popped in my throat caused tears to fall from my eyes as I read the poem called “Riding Glove.” While unloading groceries from the trunk of the car that once belonged to her husband’s wife who had died of cancer, she found the dead woman’s glove. It floated up from underneath the shifting junk – a crippled umbrella, the jack, ragged maps, Emerson wrote … It still remembered her hand, the creases where her fingers had bent to hold the wheel, the turn of her palm, smaller than mine.
The description of the glove made me think about my brother Danny’s shoes in my closet. I took them from his Houston apartment after he died. Now I wanted to put them on, wear them around the house, and let my bare feet plop around inside them, like a little girl wearing her father’s shoes. But then I remembered how stiff and un-scuffed they were, how cut short their use was.
There was nothing else to do but return it – let it drift, sink, slow as a leaf through water … C.E.
I thought about my brother Jim’s royal blue Nike sweat shirt, the one he left in my house when he and Danny visited me in the summer of 2001, just three weeks before Jim was killed in a metal milling machine accident and less than two months before Dan would die from liver failure. To the sound of my neighbor’s distant and incessant hammering on the new garage he's building, I wondered if Jim was ever cold during the last three weeks of his life without his sweatshirt. I wondered where the one little stain on the front of it came from.
The sweatshirt is too big for me and I don’t want to see Joe wearing it. I can’t imagine giving or throwing it away, so I just stuff it deeper into the limbo of the back of my closet, next to Danny's shoes. 4/10/08
1. Seeing poets Bruce Weigl and Claudia Emerson together at the VMI Poetry Symposium last weekend was as cool as seeing James Taylor and Carole King together in concert back in the 70’s.
2. Over the two-day symposium weekend there was a humorous discussion between Mara and me about the difference between pulpit and podium. The subject of punctuation and poetry also surfaced and took the form of a heated debate after Claudia Emerson spoke of the importance of it in her keynote address.
3. But William Carlos Williams, who Claudia mentioned in her address, often didn’t use punctuation, and Emily Dickinson, who Claudia named as one of her poet heroes, used liberal dashes of various sizes dashes, some of which editors took out after she died when they were adding punctuation.
4. As one who doesn’t use much punctuation in my poetry I’m a minority in the crowd, riding in the back of the bus: And in the end I’m like Rosa Parks … I don’t want to get up and go where I’m told … I work just as hard as any other poet … and I write from where I sit. More HERE.
5. How gullible are you? A test guaranteed to make you laugh HERE.
6. After Bruce Weigl's and (Pulitzer Prize winning poet) Claudia Emerson’s readings and during the question and answer period, a student referred to Bruce as famous, to which Bruce quickly responded, saying that he was not famous, expect for high school, where he was famous for some things he did in sports.
7. I’ve been having a hard time reading the notes I took at the symposium, but I was able to make out this, said by Weigl about the Iraq War: “Sacrifice and slaughter are not the same thing.” He also said this about his Vietnam War service: “The war made me stupid and only good enough to clean windows.”
8. I love that Claudia openly admits that she was a hippie living out the country with woodstove heating and no electricity. Her current husband is a long haired musician who reminds me of David Crosby and looks like he’d fit well in Floyd, which is Mara’s and my latest fantasy (after the one about Sy Safransky, editor of The Sun Magazine, falling in love with Mara).
9. Last year at Floyd Fest, we drove to and from THIS poetry performance in what we were calling the poetry bus (see above photo).
10. The one driving the poetry bus gets to decide if poetry should be punctuated or not.
11. Most interesting keyword search at Loose Leaf Notes this week that made me wonder what the searcher was thinking and which of the two words they really meant when they misspelled: “how to get a “viginia” loose.”
12. A poem I wrote about fishing, posted here just so the title makes sense: Poems so short … I throw them back … but they nibble again … to break my heart … “There’s other fish in the sea” I tell them.
13. Someone once asked me to write a poem about a button. This is my button poem, always a good poem to close a reading or a 13 Thursday list with: I should know by now … how to button my lip … just go zip … and close it.
at the VMI Poetry Symposium
The Power of Poetry makes us say Cheese
It rhymes with Please
Post Notes: Left to right, back row first, is (mostly): Kara, Mara, Julie, (and then Noren), Sharon, Sharon's husband. Colleen and Melanie are in front. The first photo also shows VMI Professor Gordon Ball. To read more about The Power of Poetry Symposium, which feature Claudia Emerson and Bruce Weigl, and to view more photos, go HERE and HERE.
The following was published in The Floyd Press on April 10, 2008.
Floyd County poet, Mara Robbins (pictured on the left) was one of three students representing nine regional schools to receive a first place award at a Poetry Symposium this past weekend. The symposium, titled "The Power of Poetry," was a first time event, sponsored by Virginia Military Institute (VMI) in Lexington. Robbins, a Hollins University senior with a major in creative writing, is a founding member of the Floyd Writer's Circle and one of the hosts of the third Saturday Spoken Word Night at Floyd's Café Del Sol. She was chosen from area college applicants to present in both featured categories, original poetry and critical papers on poetry.
The two day symposium began with a Friday evening reading by guest poets, Claudia Emerson and Bruce Weigl. Emerson, Professor of English at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg, is from Chatham, Virginia, and at one time was a rural mail carrier in Danville. In 2006, she won a Pulitzer Prize for her third collection of poetry, "Late Wife." The book was aptly described by Jeffery Brown when he interviewed Emerson for the PBS NewsHour as one about "loves lost through death and divorce." He also rightly called it an examination of the newfound love between Emerson and her second husband, who came together late in life. The poetry Emerson shared at her reading revealed her masterful ability to use concrete images - the furnace, the hairbrush, a quilt - to relate indirectly to underlying emotions.
Weigl, also a professor of English, is best known for his Vietnam War poetry. At the reading, he followed his first poem, about witnessing a young Vietnamese girl after she had been napalmed, by saying, "I'm not going to gloss these." Weigl, who was just out of high school in Ohio when he was sent to Vietnam, says in his memoir, "The Circle of Hanh," "The paradox of my life as a writer is that the war ruined my life and in return gave me my voice."
It might seem unlikely that a poetry symposium, especially one hosting a poet like Weigl, who writes with graphic honesty about war, be held at a military academy. On the VMI (Virginia Military Institute) news website, symposium organizer and VMI professor of English and fine arts, Gordon Ball, explains the institute's interest in poetry, "Today's creative writing classes are filled to capacity, and the student literary magazine "Sounding Brass" showcases our many student poets; the symposium capitalizes on such interest and productivity." Ball, who has documented the beat poet generation through film and words, was close friends with beat poet, Allen Ginsberg. He points out that Iraq War veteran, poet, and author of "Here, Bullet," had also read at VMI. At The Power of Poetry Symposium, a number of VMI cadets participated in poetry and prose readings. One revealed during a question and answer segment that he wrote much of his poetry in his head while marching on the drill field.
The symposium readings of papers and poetry by a total of thirty-six students were broken up with a luncheon and keynote address given by Emerson. Speaking on "The Power of Poetry," and the measure of it, as opposed to the meter, Emerson said, "Poetry is a way to measure emotion and manage events ... We measure what we care about." Emerson spoke about her past experiences as a literacy volunteer and of her love of Emily Dickinson's poetry. She also shared what her students had to say about the power of poetry. "Poetry is measured by alcohol proof and not by nutrient fact," one student had said.
It was Robbins' paper, titled "The Sacred and Everyday in Two Ancient Goddess Poems" that won her formal recognition, a monetary gift, and complimentary books by Emerson and Weigl. The paper (which tied for first place with another student's) compared two ancient Goddess poems, one of which was originally written in cuneiform, the earliest known form of written script created by the Sumerians in 3,000 BC. The other, "Invocation to Aphrodite," the Greek Goddess of Love, was written by the ancient Greek female poet Sappho. Robbins read, Spirituality has elements of mystery, and we need a sense of mystery and ritual in our lives. We also need to eat, drink, sleep, bathe, and procreate, and when the divine is set apart from these necessary activities it becomes less applicable, and therefore less meaningful. In order for the sacred to be sustainable it must have a place in people's daily lives ...
Katherine Swett, a student from Virginia Tech, won the poetry component of the symposium. One of her poems, "A Documentation of Grief" (which she referred to as 4/16 poem), particularly struck a chord with those in attendance. My first thought was that the literacy journal would have to have a special edition ... or specifically not have a special addition ... and that this wasn't the right kind of first thought ... I was in my towel and was thinking about the fact that I was in my towel and that I would probably always remember that I was in my towel ... Swett read and then continued... I didn't cry at the convocation ... it was too much like a football game, Nikki's words echoing in the stadium ... like an alien in our heads ...
On the steps of VMI's Preston Library, after the award announcements, Robbins was exhilarated and exhausted as she recalled how her Hollins professor, Jeanne Larsen, encouraged her to submit to the symposium. She expressed excitement at having met and interacted with Bruce Weigl, who she dedicated a first line to in one of the poems she read that day. "Poem beginning with a line from Bruce Weigl," it was called.
"Claudia Emerson is my hero," Robbins, who was primarily home-schooled as a girl, announced. Daughter of Wayne and Vera Bradburn, Robbins relates to Emerson's rural Southern background and was inspired by her keynote address. "Her reason for writing made more sense to me than any successful published writer. She doesn't write because she has to. She doesn't write because someone told her to. She writes because it is essential to her existence," Robbins said.
As a student and single parent of a nine year old daughter, Robbins would soon need to get back to the routines of everyday life. But for this weekend, she was content to savor her experiences. Surrounded by friends and few new admirers, she paused to take a phone call from her sister, who was calling from Floyd to offer congratulations on Robbins' outstanding accomplishment.
Post notes: VMI Poetry Symposium Outtake Photos are HERE. The first photo in this post is of Mara (on the left) and Katherine. The last one is of Mara with other Hollins poets who participated in the symposium. Left to right: Melanie Lynn Huber, Sharon Mirtaheri, Julie Lawrence Abernethy, and Mara. To read more about Mara, click on my sidebar archive category under SCRABBLE or SPOKEN WORD and scroll.
1. On my way to Hollins University to meet Mara and her friends so that I could follow them to the Power of Poetry Symposium in Lexington, I had a full tank of gas and a choice to make. I could either focus on the road construction on Interstate 81 that would make me an hour late for the meet-up, or on the spread of new green grass and the rolling blue ridge countryside, dotted with splashes of purple redbuds in bloom.
2. Mara, who was presenting both a critical paper and poetry at the symposium, was hosted in a downtown Lexington inn with a suite that was large enough to accommodate her and her entourage (which I was the official blogger of). The inn, which smelled like the memory of my grandmother’s two story Brockton, Massachusetts, home, was older than the Civil War and one of the few places in the area that had survived it.
3. The first event of the symposium was an evening reading by Pulitzer Prize winning poet Claudia Emerson and Bruce Weigl, who is best known for his Vietnam War poetry. Both poets are professors of English who contradict the academic stereotype. I don’t think the symposium organizers could have chosen two poets with more down to earth accessibility and integrity as these two.
4. One of the highlights of the two day seminar was when Weigl denounced the Iraq war while at the podium, saying, “I hate this war,” and calling the Bush Administration deceitful. It was an especially courageous announcement considering that the event was being held at the Virginia Military Institute. Most everyone in our group had a crush on Weigl that evening.
5. Claudia Emerson (pictured left) reminds me of my friend Alex, who passed away in December of 2006. They both were Post Office letter carriers from similar rural areas of Virginia. Claudia talks like Alex did and she looks like Alex (who also wrote poetry), except for the fact that Alex had big hair and Claudia does not. “I saw your interview with Jeffery Brown on the PBS News Hour,” I told her at the break. “Oh, I was so nervous,” she answered.
6. Later, at a downtown bar, there were exotic pink drinks, popcorn, and women’s talk. Pictured here are Mara and some of her Hollins entourage, Noren and Kara.
7. Mara and the entire entourage (which included two other Hollins students, not pictured at the bar, who were also presenting at the symposium) adjourned to the inn suite, where laptops and notebooks were strewn. An impromptu round robin poetry reading, done in pajama party fashion, ensued. Readings and discussions went on well into the night, which led someone to say the next day, “The power of poetry is that it keeps you up late at night.”
8. You might expect to see poets in beards, beads, or berets, but not in full dress military attire. Some of the poets reading during the day were cadets. During a question and answer segment one cadet revealed that he wrote much of his poetry in his head while marching on the drill field.
9. At the keynote address that was given by Claudia and followed a luncheon for participants, I became enthralled with the glasses of sweet tea and water on the dining room tables, cast in afternoon light, and took a series of photos of them. I also took notes of Claudia’s inspiring address and am currently trying to read my own handwriting.
Post notes: These Outtakes will be followed by a more formal article about the event in which I reveal that Mara was one of three students representing nine schools who received awards for their work.
1. This is my version of ‘I can’t resist a man in uniform.’
2. So I follow him around like an adoring fan.
3. This is him, my soccer coach husband, simulating the bicycle kick he did on the soccer field during practice earlier that day.
4. This is what the second part of a bicycle kick looks like, the part where you end up on the ground. The one he did on the field while coaching made a goal, causing an uproar of cheers.
5. This is about as close as I get to kicking a soccer ball.
1. On April fool’s day I wrote this fake news story: A fool resembling Donald Trump announced on April 1st that Thursday had been fired. People in board rooms across America were stunned at the turn of events and feared the lost revenue that would ensue. CEOs scrambled to book Friday, which overflowed into Saturday, and bloggers who play Thirteen Thursday didn’t know what to do with themselves.
2. My egg man, Ed, called me from town Monday morning to say that he couldn’t drop off my farm fresh eggs at the New Mountain Mercantile because a criminal was loose in the county and the Mercantile, among other places, was locked down. “Is it really that bad?” I asked him. “I’m not worried. I have eggs. If I see him I’ll throw them,” he answered.
3. A rude awakening: The growth in Floyd over the past several years has its pros and cons. I was recently parked in the new (full) downtown parking lot in between two other cars and instinctively locked my car door, thinking I was in Christiansburg. It’s the first time that has happened.
4. My friend Katherine and I talked about meeting early so we could have some time to catch up before we headed to our writer’s circle on Sunday, but by the time I pulled up her driveway, I had this to say. “My idea of being early is not being late.”
5. When I was a girl I was very curious about things like the Immaculate Conception and the quick brown fox that jumped over the lazy dog.
6. At the time, I didn’t understand the significance of such a strange sentence or why I was made to write it out over and over in Penmanship class. Now I know that the phrase is a pangram, a sentence that contains all the letters of the alphabet. Besides being used to practice penmanship it was used to test the letters on a typewriter.
7. This is a first: I’ve been given a blog award by Claudia from On a Limb for being “Mountain Sexy.”
8. At a red light in Christiansburg, watching a young man saunter across the street, I thought to myself, ‘Imagine having nothing better to do but develop and perfect a cool walk.’
9. THIS is what I hear when I walk to mailbox. Can you guess what it is?
10. Favorite word of the week: Conniption. I remembered it after Deana said something about a “hissy fit.”
11. Found while I was picking up my award from Claudia: After 7 years and 500 interviews, a two hour presentation on the secrets of success is presented in 3 minutes HERE.
12. I couldn’t help notice that he went over 3 minute time limit. If he was at a poetry slam, points would be deducted.
13. I’m going to a Poetry Symposium this weekend with my Scrabble playing poet friend Mara, who is a student at Hollins University and will be presenting poetry and a paper. Soon I’ll be blogging from a front row seat at VMI, a great way to ring in National Poetry month.
Post notes: Ironically, my blog was down for two hours this morning and so, as far as I'm concerned, Thursday was almost canceled. Thursday headquarters is here. My other 13's are here. View more 13 Thursday’s here.
Bright yellow yell
for tight-lipped tulips
Note: For the other half of the daffodil duet go HERE.
When it was first suggested that I write a story about the art and music scene in Floyd for the local paper, it felt like I was being asked to spin straw into gold. I tried to pitch a weekly arts column in an effort to break down what seemed like an impossible task into doable parts. But the editor had something else in mind. An insert special all about Floyd was already in the works and she was interested in a one time story on the arts.
Once I stopped hyperventilating, I plopped myself down in my rocking chair to gather my wits. How could such an expansive subject even be approached? Music in Floyd is almost a sacred thing. I don’t play an instrument. I’m not a visual artist. I didn’t feel qualified.
But I do know the story of the changes that have taken place in Floyd in the last two decades. I do have an appreciation and respect for local traditions. I know about the merging cultures here, local and the back-to-the-land artists who starting coming in the 1970’s. I remember the seeding that has led to the flowering, making Floyd a rural center for the arts.
Following a trail of thoughts that began to glimmer, I started taking notes. Soon, they turned into a sketched outline, like a blueprint to build the ark, I joked to myself. I made a note to collect some quotes from local artists and musicians, which happens to be every other person in Floyd. By this time, I started to believe that I actually could write such a story. Once I had a first sentence in place, I knew there was no turning back.
The process I go through when taking on a new writing project is frequently predictable. Whenever I go outside my comfort zone, a sense of panic comes over me. After the panic plays out, I begin to view the source of my discomfort as a challenge.
The challenge prods me to do some problem solving and to begin to collect the tools and information I might need. Then something magical happens. The challenge begins to feel like an opportunity; a map to a new adventure; a chance to distill events down into a story I can tell, one about people and some of the good things they do.
Writing is sticking your neck out. When I read something I’ve written published in print, I often feel shaky, like I don’t even know who wrote it. The part of me that’s a writer is not necessarily the same as the everyday person most people see. For me there is a hermitic quality that goes along with being a writer. Sometimes when I’m home writing for days at a time, I stumble upon and tap into an archetypal place. Drawing from the well where storytellers, fairy characters, and creation myths live, I feel protected as a part of something larger. But often there’s a “disconnect” between what happens in that world and the personal me I have to inhabit to socialize and grocery shop.
I initially resist the immersion that some writing takes because each time a new path has to be created or an old one has to be re-found. I don’t know where it starts. I often don’t feel up to the hard work it takes to be a writer. I know I’m going to lose myself. Even if I’m not visibly working on the writing task at hand, I’m constantly thinking about it. I could get it wrong. I could miss the turn. The unknown scares me. But In the end it’s always the same. I lose myself to find myself. I take field notes.
Post Notes: Story on the arts soon to follow. My other Floyd Press Stories are HERE.