Showing posts with label Carolina Wren Press. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Carolina Wren Press. Show all posts

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

THE GIFT OF POETRY FOR THE HOLIDAYS: Nancy Simpson's "Living Above the Frost Line"

December first and time to begin to think seriously about holiday gift-giving! Over the next two weeks I will be making recommendations for poetry lovers--and for those who think they don't like poetry but will change their minds once they read these books.
I will begin with my longtime friend and sister in the art, Nancy Simpson, whose Living Above the Frost Line: New and Selected Poems was published this fall by Carolina Wren Press. It's a beautiful, elegant book, with French flaps (a shawl-like dust jacket/cover) and cover image that is gorgeous. Just click on the image above to enlarge and see what I mean.
Nancy Simpson has enriched the literary community of North Carolina for over thirty years. Her work was first heralded by the late Richard Hugo when he read and celebrated her poems at the Callanwolde Literary Festival in Atlanta, shortly after she began to show her poetry around to friends and readers in the far reaches of western North Carolina. He praised her rich inner life and her ability to give expression to it as it manifested itself in her everyday life. Whether driving over the Nantahala Gorge in “Night Student,” expressing the complexity of self in “Driven into the interior,” or documenting the carnage of the first Gulf War in “Voices from the Fringe,” she brings the inner and outer worlds of her experience into a harmony that resonates like the current giving voice and shape to the mountain creeks she loves. Living Above the Frost Line: Selected and New Poems traces the growth of a poet determined to survive despite the obstacles raised by age, mortality, and the inevitable losses that come from being alive in this world. Through her poetry she greets that half-drowned woman, harking from her Florida girlhood, who appears as her muse in “Bridge On the River Kwai, “ bearing gifts of memory and sustaining images. In return the poet gives her “a mountain, the safest place to be.” Rarely has the relationship between poet and muse been so beautifully expressed.
Nancy, on the porch of her Cherry Mountain home.
I'm delighted to be able to offer several of my favorite poems.

At 12:17 this Sunday
he is uninhibited
in front of God and
everybody traveling
I-75 South, a man
lounging in the bed
of his red pickup truck.
He is getting his tan
the fast way, 80 mph
stretched out
on his chaise lounge,
his black bikini
drawing the sun down.
He is holding a blue
tumbler in his hand.
I can only guess
what he is drinking.
I want to make a pass,
I mean, get past him
in this god-awful traffic.
I want to see
the face of the woman
at the steering wheel
who is taking him for a ride.
The Gleaners
In the last days of the age
word went out that women
therefore must be allowed
to participate in creation.
And there came forth an artist
calling to us, Come hither!
In the center of a cornfield
in Brasstown Valley,
she sculpted an assembly
of corn women. She fashioned
husk bodies, worked six days
making in her image. She dressed
the corn women in gauze gowns
and entwined eglantine in their
cornsilk hair. Come hither!
We entered the cornfield,
our capes waving
in the evening breeze. We
circled the corn women,
lit a circle of small fires
and danced in firelight.
In the morning we came forth
to sculpt, to paint, and to write
the story that is left to tell.
Looking For the Sons of My House
I am looking for the sons of my house,
grown from babies into boys,
three of them with dark brown eyes.
Where are they now? The one
who brought a snake down the hall
into my room. The one who
had to fall off the porch, to test every rule?
The young one who flew half-way
around the world to be my son?
Their bikes are wrecked, tossed
in the landfill with their outgrown shoes.
One day I saw they were no longer boys but men,
the one who drove me to night class in Asheville
when he was a teen, the same one
I stood with as mother of the groom.
Where are they now?
One whistles on a hillside, feeds his dogs.
One is stuck in rush-hour traffic, stuck
in a marriage I blessed. The young one
climbs today on a mountain in Switzerland.
All of them far from the mother house.
Skin Underwater
From the top of the mountain we see
Town Valley submerged in clouds.
You say the word ‘ocean’ and a gull
flies from the branch of an oak,
squawks his squawk.
I know a lie when I see one.
Seagulls do not live in the mountains.
It is the woodpecker men call extinct,
alive, soaring above oaktops.
Now driving through fog in the valley
you show me things not seen before.
Men are swimming on the courthouse lawn.
Women stare fish-eyed from their gardens,
their mouths turned up.
Barnacles collect on the pier.
Count one for every life you were young:
the schoolgirl, mute,
who spoke only underwater
hoping no one could decipher.
In water memories converge.
Shell is sharp to touch.
Seaweed is soft as hair, and skin
is the large sensor. Skin
keeps its own record of the day
you slit your forearm, diving
into green ocean at South Beach.
Look how barnacles bashed by waves
hold on. Some are encased in stone.
They could cut you bloody, Girl.
Looking back I see my mother
was misinformed, promised an abortion
though it was illegal, five doctors
dead sure I was damaged, and certain
she would die if she gave birth.
She did sort of die, seeing me hideous
in her dream, seeing a ball of hair
bouncing in the room, in the afternoon
when she tried to rest.
I heard from her lips
how she fell down praying.
My mother was devout. I knew
she could not kill. Don’t you see?
I was in the best possible position.
A voice from a dream
Sleep again.
Dream yourself
on the north bank of the river
inconspicuous as deadwood.
Drift ashore
where grass glows at sunrise,
where light is found all day.
Dream a new body.
a blue robe, and you
walking home.
We stand over the carcass of a jellyfish.
It has given up the ghost, grown opaque.
Moon Jelly, I say, we knew you when
you lit the sky of the underworld.
And we count out loud the lines on its body
as if in counting we might learn
how long it lived in the ocean.
Gulls show interest in our arithmetic.
They circle. They fly down
to the sound of our voices.
Are we going to reach the end
of the island? Are we moving in a circle?
Light-headed we walk.
It interests me seeing
the hermit scuttle away
with a moon shell for a new house.
Look how furrows of silt create
a frontal lobe. We are walking,
don’t you think, on gray matter?
I will always say yes
to almost everything you ask. Yes,
it is possible to imagine
intelligence beneath our feet.
Evening turns out just as imagined.
We walk the length of the beach
and lie on the sand. We enter
the surf, our bodies submerging.
In hearing distance of a wave’s yes,
earth is a woman with plans.
What She Saw and What She Heard
On the mountain a woman saw
the road bank caved in
from winter’s freeze-thaw
and April rain erosion.
Trees leaned over the road the way
strands of hair hung on her forehead.
She gaped, her face as tortured
as the face she saw engraved in dirt.
Roots growing sideways shaped brows,
two eyes. Humus washed
down the bank like a nose.
Lower down, where a rock
was shoved out by weathering,
a hole formed the shape of a mouth.
The woman groaned, Agh!
Her spirit toppled
to the ground, slithered
under the roots of an oak.
She stood there asking
What? Who?
Back to reason, back home
she finished her questions:
What can one make of the vision, that face
on the north side of the mountain?
Reckoning comes, a thought:
It is not the image of a witch nor a god,
but Earth’s face, mouth open saying,
Save me.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Nancy Simpson's long awaited collection of poems, LIVING ABOVE THE FROST LINE, had its official "launch" last Sunday afternoon at City Lights Bookstore in Sylva, North Carolina. Yes, we had champagne, and we toasted Nancy and her book before she began her reading. On hand was her editor Andrea Selch, all the way from Carolina Wren Press in Durham. Spring Street Cafe offered up a great spread of reception food after the reading. Below are assorted photos from the event.

Nancy chats with novelist Sue Ellen Bridgers at the signing table.

Nancy signs a book for Dick Michener.

Andrea Selch and City Lights owner Chris Wilcox confer beside the reception table.

Gary Carden's painting, "Preaching to the Chickens" displayed above one of the reception tables.

Andrea Selch talks with Rosemary Royston.

Nancy brings intensity to her reading! Rose, sitting next to me, remarked that it was the most moving poetry she had heard in a good while.

Andrea and I join Nancy for a photo op. Nancy will be reading at Campbell Folk School on November 4.

Book Launch for Living Above the Frost Line

The book launch party for Nancy Simpson's Living Above the Frost Line, New and Collected Poems, was fun and the audience enjoyed Nancy's reading and her Q & A after. I commented on how well the poems from her first books melded with the new poetry to unfold her life on the page.
We gathered at City Lights Books in Sylva last Sunday afternoon to honor Nancy and to celebrate the book.
I enjoyed talking with Gene Hirsch who was riding with Linda Kane a former Netwest member and poet. Dick Michner and Sandy were present, as was Rosemary Royston. The room was full of people that I didn't get to speak to, but was so happy to see purchasing Nancy's book as I know they will enjoy every word.
I took some pictures I will share.

A long line formed after Nancy read and talked about her writing

Many of our Netwest Poetry Group will remember Linda and her exquisite poetry.

Dr. Gene Hirsch always supports our writers when and where he can. We appreciate him.

Contact Carolina Wren Press to order Living Above the Frost Line or check your local Independent Book Store.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


Congratulations to my mentor and my friend, Nancy Simpson. Her book, Living Above the Frostline – New and Selected Poems, will be published by Carolina Wren Press, Durham, NC.
 Nancy’s poetry collection spans thirty-two years and is the first book chosen by Kathryn Stripling Byer for Carolina Wren’s Laureate Series.

For over thirty years, Nancy’s poetry has been published in the best literary magazines. Early on in her writing career, Nancy published two books, Night Student and Across Water. But Nancy, working at the time as a special needs teacher, was also quietly dedicating herself to other writers in her home area of western North Carolina. She took on the leadership of the writing organization, NCWN West, and she taught writing and poetry in night classes at Tri-County Community College.

Before she knew it, the years had flown and she had not published another book. When she retired from her job, she put her efforts into a new manuscript. Through family tragedies and health problems she endured, never wavering from her goal of publishing a complete collection of her poetry.

This book is a landmark, in a way. We all know that youth reigns in this country. Older men are revered for their achievements, but often women over fifty are dismissed, no matter how talented or special their work. That is why I applaud Carolina Wren Press and Kathryn Stripling Byer for choosing this book to publish as the first in the Laureate Series.