Friday, March 18, 2016

Keeping a Cinder

Next project: making a National Poetry Month picture featuring Poetry Monster

I've been working on National Poetry Month stuff for my kids' high school. The school's morning news show sponsor said we could share a daily poem video, so I've been looking for short, not-depressing poem videos with good sound quality on YouTube. At this point, I think I may have assembled enough, but if you know of any, feel free to pass them along. Next year, I'm hoping to work with the Poetry Club (who will probably want to get the Drama Club involved) to get students to make videos.

We will also have oversized, laminated poems in the halls, so I've been finishing that up. I feel like I could use a few more funny poems, so if you have suggestions for those, let me know.

Sharing a poem today by Kathryn Stripling Byer that I read in Listen Here: Women Writing in Appalachia. I typed it in and checked it over carefully, which was a more intimate way to spend time with it than cutting and pasting. It made me want to start handwriting poems into a notebook, or maybe even doing calligraphy. I hope to share more from this anthology in future weeks. Thank you, Kathryn, for giving me permission to post your work!

by Kathryn Stripling Byer

This red hair
I braid while she
sits by the cookstove
amazes her. Where
did she get hair the color
of wildfire, she wants to know,
pulling at strands of it
tangled in boar-bristles.
I say from Sister, God knows
where she is, and before
her my grandmother you
can't remember because
she was dead by the time
you were born, though you hear
her whenever I sing,
every song handed down
from those sleepless nights
she liked to sing through
till she had no time
left for lying awake
in the darkness and talking
to none save herself.
And yet, that night
I sat at her deathbed
expecting pure silence,
she talked until dawn
when at last her voice
failed her. She thumbed out
the candle between us
and lifted her hand
to her hair as if what
blazed a lifetime might still
burn her fingers. Yes,
I keep a cinder of it
in my locket I'll show you
as soon as I'm done telling
how she brought up from
the deep of her bedclothes
that hairbrush you're holding
and whispered, You
might as well take it."


Mountain Time
by Kathryn Stripling Byer

News travels slowly up here
in the mountains, our narrow
roads twisting for days, maybe years,
till we get where we’re going,
if we ever do. Even if some lonesome message
should make it through Deep Gap
or the fastness of Thunderhead, we’re not obliged
to believe it’s true, are we? Consider
the famous poet, minding her post
at the Library of Congress, who
shrugged off the question of what we’d be
reading at century’s end: “By the year 2000
nobody will be reading poems.” Thus she
prophesied. End of that
interview! End of the world
as we know it. Yet, how can I fault
her despair, doing time as she was
in a crumbling Capital, sirens
and gunfire the nights long, the Pentagon’s
stockpile of weapons stacked higher
and higher? No wonder the books
stacked around her began to seem relics.
No wonder she dreamed her own bones
dug up years later, tagged in a museum somewhere
in the Midwest: American Poet – Extinct Species.

Read the rest here


Robyn is hosting the Poetry Friday round-up at Life on the Deckle Edge. Thanks, Robyn!


Diane Mayr said...

I especially like "Mountain Time" and the comparison of poetry to a quilt's blind stitch. I'm happy poetry is still extant in Appalachia! And, on the walls of high schools!

Robyn Hood Black said...

Wow - So powerful. Thank you both for sharing today; each poem's strongly crafted ending brought up a tear or two. "you hear / her whenever I sing" - beautiful.
And kudos, Tabatha, on your helping to infuse the school with poetry! Happy to see our beloved Monster at the ready for April...

Liz Steinglass said...

Thank you so much for sharing these. I feel like I went on a trip to a new place and met new people. I love how long each poem is and how far they go from where they begin.

Unknown said...

Thank you for sharing about your inclination to handwrite the poems you'd like to integrate/better appreciate! It's a wonderful notion....Applause! applause! for the work you're doing for the high school students. If you feel comfortable emailing me at, I'm happy to do some return email attachment sharing:) God bless you!

Linda B said...

These are very beautiful, Tabatha. When I read of the lives in Appalachia, I am brought back to my own time with my grandparents, simple, soft, wise and joyful. I love the voice in both, and enjoyed what you wrote about handwriting a poem. I imagine it slowing us down, being particularly aware of the wording & the turning of the lines. And good for you for all the work you're doing for the high school.

Michelle Heidenrich Barnes said...

Wow. These poems take you with both hands and don't let go! So nice to be introduced to Kathryn— thank you. "Lineage" is the one I connected with most strongly. It reminds me of my mother-in-law, her wildfire hair, and the many stories she told about her life. About surviving.

Violet N. said...

These poems have a wonderful regional feel to them. Like someone else said, after reading them, I feel like I've been someplace (or have watched a rerun of the old TV series Christy). This interests me: "It made me want to start handwriting poems into a notebook, or maybe even doing calligraphy." I have that same urge sometimes.

Mary Lee said...

Love these! Hooray that poetry lives on and for this:

"This labor to make our words matter
is what any good quilter teaches."

Brenda at FriendlyFairyTales said...

My hubby's family comes from Appalachia. My own kids have wildfire hair, from those Scots that settled there. I do a happy dance that poets are not extinct, and that poetry still has flesh in its bones. Where there be celts, there be poetry.

Kathryn Stripling Byer said...

Thank you all for your wonderful comments. Brenda, my mother's family name was Campbell and my paternal grandmother's family hailed from Ireland. I'm working with some Celtic material now, hoping it will lead me out of a months-long dry spell.
I hope all of you have a lovely spring. As green as green can be, with wildflowers galore. All best, Kathryn

Karen Edmisten said...

Funny about the cinder coincidence, Tabatha, and I love how both your pick and mine used the cinders as the connection to memories.

Beautiful poems! And I enjoyed hearing about what you're doing for the school for poetry month!

Bridget Magee said...

Wow, powerful poems. I love the line, "You might as well take it" and how it says all there is to be said about life, death and the relationship. Good stuff, Tabatha! Happy Spring! =)