Kate Daniels: A Heroine of the South

img068This week’s featured poet, Kate Daniels, is not afraid of conveying what’s on her mind through the tones of her earnest and complex poems. Daniels, born and raised in Virginia, now resides in Nashville, TN, where a life lived in the South consistently spills out in her works through topics of racism, the working class, and the heavy-handed society of upper-class whites. Daniels has accrued three degrees from University of Virginia and Columbia University and has taught at LSU, UVa, Wake Forest and is currently an associate professor of English at Vanderbilt University. Over the last three decades, Daniels has produced four poetry books, has been featured in the 2008 and 2010 issues of Best American Poetry, and has edited two volumes on poets Muriel Rukeyser and Robert Bly. In celebration of her work to date, Daniels was the winner of the Hanes Award for Poetry by the Fellowship of Southern Writers in 2011.

Moving

Old walls are new to me. Someone else’s

babies were carried up this cracked brick walk,

sung over the threshold, bedded down

in the tiny orange nursery that gives off

the kitchen or in the low-roofed room upstairs

where I hope to write. Not mine

who took their first steps elsewhere

and never had their portraits posed by the short

stone fence or plucked the blossoms

from the magnolia someone planted

far too near the dank north wall.

Someone else conceived her creatures

here and struggled with the washer

in the cold, dark basement. Ancient

fuses, busted lights. Other

infants haunted these nights.

Mine are quiet and sleep straight through,

Uneasy in new arrangements of their furniture,

new odors, new echoes. New light on the walls.

New darkness in their hearts. And while

they sleep, I pace my newly purchased

halls choking in wallpaper I’d never choose,

dark paints that sink my spirits. Wrenched

out of context, no depth to new life

yet. On the patio, a pail is full of water

but it’s frozen. My houseplants perished

on the journey here. And the first garment

I retrieve from the packed-up cartons

is a shirt with its pocket torn off, still

wearable, I guess, but capable of carrying

nothing. No money or photos, no map,

no scrap of paper with a telephone number

I need to remember. Not even a pen or a pencil

so I can write my way out of here as fast as possible.

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This piece is fairly different from Daniels other work–shorter in length, not as weighty in subject matter, a little more quiet in her language. I suppose I chose this piece over others is quite simple: I love moving, but I’ve never considered what the new owners felt like in my kitchen or my bedroom after we’ve packed up and vacated, or that they might feel uncomfortable. The particular house the narrator is describing sounds like one with character, “old walls,” “cracked brick,” “low-roofed room,” and “busted lights,” but the woman is struggling to place herself in a new section of the home’s story. This piece features a different take on a sense of place, for though the poem is anchored in the telling of the new home, there’s an uneasiness that hinders the connection one might experience after moving in. The loss of attachment is even more tangible as she describes the shirt with ” its pocket torn off,” for it cannot hold anything–no scraps of the old home, no information of where the narrator now finds herself, and no tool with which to remedy the situation. The piece leaves the reader sensing that the new homeowner is “frozen,” just like the full bucket of water on the porch–full of potential, but paralyzed by the confines of the detachment. In the depth of the dark language, she reaches for the extreme: “Not even a pen or a pencil/ so I can write my way out of here as fast as possible.” But the answer is not in writing herself out of the place, but in merely living and filling the home with fresh memories.

To continue learning about and experiencing Kate Daniels, use the following links for an interview/review of her latest poetry collection, A Walk in Victoria’s Secret, with Chapter 16, featured poems on the Story South blog, a poem on Poets.org, and a poem “The Pedicure,” from her latest book.

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Bill Brown: Gentle To Words

img_4130I first heard Bill Brown’s name when Jeff Hardin gave me a list of poets I should be reading.  More recently, I witnessed Brown’s unique style while introducing TJ Jarrett and Matthew Guinn during a deeply moving reading at The Southern Festival of Books. The tone with which he spoke about the two authors was mindful, for he was intensely conscious of the words he had chosen to describe and honor the artists. Bill Brown was born and raised in Dyersburg, TN, and he has given back to our beloved state through his writings, his 20 years of teaching English at Nashville’s Hume-Fogg magnet school, and his time lecturing at Vanderbilt University. Brown has written five poetry collections and three chapbooks, and he has appeared in the Prairie Schooner, North American Review, and Southern Poetry Review. The following poem is featured in Brown’s most recent poetry collection, The News Inside.

The Melting

There should be hope in the leaves’ first turning—
summer green fringed red and yellow, webbed
hands reaching out against the curtain’s blue.

Winter and what it takes from the heart
is almost worth it. Year by blessed year,
in the shortened days, something is stolen

that cannot be reclaimed—a swelling in the chest
when night comes soon. At a certain age
a man takes a season’s beginnings, the small

beauties—frozen rings on creek rocks,
the first skein of ice in the horse trough.
He holds it to the morning sun and it burns

his palm as it drips through his fingers.
Each year he grips it tighter to see
his face melt in the fire.

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This poem was too timely to pass up, as it reflects the current season with vibrant hues on floating leaves and too-early sunsets, cutting our autumn days shorter and shorter with every passing week. I was drawn to the appearance of the poem with its minimal and clean three-line stanzas, but as always, the words drew me closer. “There should be hope” about the changing color of the leaves, but the autumnal tone serves as a solemn reminder that this season is a swift one. Winter quickly follows, and with it, brings the end to another year. The reader senses, that to the poet, there is more than just flora to be lost in the winter, “Year by blessed year,/ in the shortened days, something is stolen.” Maybe we age the most in the sunless days of those colder months, often pouring over the past and wondering if the future will look any different. Yet, even though the narrator is aging and his “night comes soon,” he’s still seeking out the loveliness in the different changings of the season. I envision myself right along beside him, gripping my slab of ice–making sure that I can feel this moment. For I too hate to see the years melt away, but I ache to honor these physical indications of change.

For a review of Brown’s 2008 poem book, Late Winter, an interview with the MTSU literary project, a Chapter 16 featured interview, and two different links for poems (Still Journal and Chapter 16), click on the highlighted phrases.

On this Veteran’s Day morning, Chapter 16 has featured Brown’s poem, “When the Dust Settles;” please take a moment to reflect on his poignant piece about lives that have been touched by war. Thanks, and thanks again.

Jeff Daniel Marion: Legendary

IMG_0681I had the extreme pleasure of encountering Jeff Daniel Marion at the 2013 Southern Festival of Books a few weeks ago. Not only was I able to hear him read on a panel for the newly published Southern Poetry Anthology, Vol. 6: Tennessee, but I was also able to meet the poet because my literature-loving mother was with me, and Marion was her college advisor and English professor some 20 years ago. This was a lovely moment to witness as student and teacher were reunited after so many years; mother shared of how her passion for literature was still alive today in her vocation as an English teacher, and in me, in my immense love of poetry. After the reading, I looked behind me as we all left the hall, and my professor (Jeff Hardin) was walking alongside my mother’s professor, while she and I walked ahead, side by side. It was one of those moments when you can see the whole of the circle, and all you can do is smile and offer up your grateful heart.

When Jesse Graves introduced Jeff Daniel Marion at the SoFest reading, he said, “Tennessee poetry in the last 30 years has funneled through the writing and person of Danny Marion.” In light of Marion’s many accomplishments and wide-spread influence, Graves is spot on. Marion has published nine poem books, four chapbooks, and one children’s book. His latest book, Letters To The Dead: A Memoir, was released earlier this year. An East Tennessee native, Marion settled at Carson-Newman College as their poet-in-residence and English professor for more than 35 years. Marion lives with his lovely poet-wife, Linda Parsons Marion, in Knoxville. Today’s feature comes from Marion’s poetry collection, Letters Home, published in October 2001.

SIGN, SOUTH PACIFIC, 1943

Weeks at sea and no mountains
rose to break that endless stretch
of horizon, blue so deep
a man could lose himself, drift
of cloud sailing wherever
wind wished. O for the anchor
of home where markers gripped true
ground. On the 37th day
land sighted, Uncle Gene sprawled
on the beach of some unnamed
island, no sign of habitation
anywhere until he saw,
nailed to the trunk of a palm
tree, an arrow plank with words
in bold: See Rock City, 5000 miles.
There rose from that vast expanse
of sea the pastures of East
Tennessee, painted barns and
boundary trees, rocks tilled up
in spring plowing: the only
war souvenir he carried
back, this memory, like a
compass left by an unknown
sailor on a nameless isle
whose needle pointed to home.

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I seem to choose poems that are feature clear and straight forward language more often than not. But I believe that this sort of writing is one of the best vehicles for projecting the voice of the poet, and, at the same time, presenting the reader space to attach their own sentiment to the piece. After reading Marion’s poems, I noticed that imagery is frequently the focal point in his works, with vivid descriptions such as–“blue so deep/ a man could lose himself”– pointedly woven throughout the narrative creating an excellent balance of lyric and color. This short tale of the narrator’s Uncle Gary surrounded by the vastness of the South Pacific and suffering from homesickness is one that many of us may have heard before. But it’s Gary’s “anchor of home,” that causes him to envision a Rock City sign echoing of his distant Tennessee–complete with the stretches of fields and “painted barns.” My heart smiled when I found this poem and remembered my own great-grandfather who fought in the Pacific arena during WWII as a very young man. Same time frame, same place, and same longing for earthy Tennessee. Papa George once told me that when he finally made the 5000-mile journey back and arrived at the Nashville train station in the dark of the early morning, he sat out on the city street and said, “I’m home.”

For more reading about the venerable Jeff Daniel Marion, take some time to read the moving homage Jesse Graves wrote for his friend that Chapter 16 featured recently. For an interview, poems featured by the Poetry Foundation, a new poem from Letters To The Dead: A Memoir, and four Marion poetry collections at Celtic Cat Publishing click the appropriate links.