NC Poet Laureate Shelby Stephenson to promote writings of farm life

Shelby Stephenson has been selected to be NC’s newest poet laureate.

Stephenson said he hopes to pursue three projects during his tenure:

  • writing workshops in assisted living and retirement communities;
  • raising awareness of local archives and family histories, and
  • promoting writings about farm life in North Carolina.

On his homepage, Stephenson says most of his poems come out of his farm background, “where memory and imagination play on one another. I have written many poems about the mules we worked until I was in the seventh grade and, after that, the tractor.  “The trees and streams, field, the world of my childhood – all that folklore – those are my subjects.”    www.shelbystephenson.com/

“The choice of Shelby Stephenson is a delight for everyone in the state,” said poet Anthony Abbott of Davidson, who was on the selection committee. “He is the earth, a true North Carolinian, a wonderful poet and a splendid human being.”

Stephenson, who is 76, said in his “Letter of Interest” to Cultural Resources Secretary Susan Kluttz that he believes “poetry exists in every living thing.”

“My poetry connects the local and the universal and is grounded in memory of the land and people of North Carolina,” he wrote to the secretary.

Maybe the Friends of Wake SWCD has a friend in Shelby Stephenson.

October Turning”
Published in Finch’s Mash (1990)
Shelby Stephenson

Fog lies on the cotton blooms.
Horizon opens like a mouth with moist lips.
Over the brown corn, doves sail safe until noon
from hunters’ guns and the glimmer of ground coming up
broken.
Poplars pierce the wind
,rustle a crow yawing his shoulderblades
centering the windowpane.
The humpthroated fishhawk circles the farmpond
indecisively, letting go the dream under feathers
settling in a halfmoon, his eye
stranger than masks fixed in cornshuck
brooms in a world hanging onto days
a little color at a time.
October burns on cornleaves
ready for the brush and slide of pickers and wheels,
for fathers waiting for boyhoods
to forget this place aflame:
this red howl in the dog’s throat,
the first morning of ice and wind;
ragged, yellowing leaves on the beans,
the pods bulging knots before winter
blows down the chimney to the hearthstone.

“The Farm That Farms New Houses”
Published in The Hunger of Freedom ( 2008)
Shelby Stephenson

Beside the poinsettias
Blowing out of the graveyard,
A bull, forsaken,
Suns among the granite.
Fields brown the dozer’s tread.
Wood, nails, cement, a pile of bricks −
With every hammer’s fall, a cul-de-sac.
My farmboy throws up his hands,
Hoes his row, blows his nose, rubs his neck.
Freckles forlorn his shoulders round.
Hill upon hill, ridges, mounds,
He works through hail and hell.
Streetlamps leap his face’s glow.
He roaches his hair.
The sweet surround crowns his scars.
Delusion weighs brick entrances, cars,
Moneyed ease his red neck
Wreathes, chainlinked.
They are farming houses right up to the creek.
No more skipperbugs skating and fish rolling in shallows.
The forkedtailed channelcat, pumpkinseed, rockbass, horsefish, suckers − gone −
The upsidedown leaves, limbs surfacing reflections, the little yellow and white
Butterflies bouncing at my feet!
What of this place I keep?
How shall my body
Leave the creek’s throat in my bones?

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