What if a small group of people sat you down and said, “We like who you are. We like what you do. Why don’t you spend a year doing all the things you’ve been wanting to do for years – and maybe make up a few more?”
Want to see where I’ve been? On the map above, you’ll find the places I visited this year (some of them several times) as the 2017 Piedmont Laureate in Poetry.
It’s been an amazing year. Magical. I’ve gotten to invent several workshops, pull other classic favorites from my cedar chest and air them out, and give readings throughout the area. The four fairy godmothers of the Piedmont Laureateship (in alphabetical order) – Belva Parker of the Raleigh Arts Commission, Eleanor Oakley of the United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County, Margaret DeMott of the Durham Arts Council, and Katie Murray of the Orange County Arts Commission – have spent the year waving their wands and making my reading and teaching dreams come true. Most important, I’ve been able to spend time with people of all ages, from 5 to 85, as they discovered what wonderful writers they were.
Here are a few highlights from my year of living poetically:
This past spring I got the chance to teach Haikai no Renga, a traditional Japanese poetry game, amid the cherry trees of Duke Gardens. Writers came out to find trees that spoke to them, and slowed down enough to hear, smell, see, feel and taste everything around them, transforming their observations into collaborative poem.
Writers often forget to imagine a reader on the other side of their words, someone they might want to charm, engage and possibly entertain. So I created a workshop called “Flirting with your Reader.” This year, I got to teach that workshop at two branches of the Durham Public Library to packed houses of flirts! I taught them to make eyes at each other, and then led them through an exploration of flirting in life and literature though “balancing opposites in delicious suspension.”
The Friends of the Library in Chapel Hill and in Hillsborough invited me to read at their respective libraries. Giving a reading is one of my favorite things. It’s like a conversation with smart, kind people with time enough to talk about the things that matter. I spent a lot of time in libraries throughout the Piedmont this year, and I’m grateful to the librarians and Friends of the Libraries I’ve met, those people who work quietly, often behind the scenes, to share the treasure of words with their community.
In honor of Poetry Month, I read to poetry to the Orange County Board of Commissioners, not something you do every day. I’d planned to read three poems: “The Trees,” a spring poem by Philip Larkin, and two I’d written. But as I was waiting my turn in the agenda, I realized that my poem “There Goes the Neighborhood,” had a line that went “someone is paying off the sanitation engineers,” and wisely limited it to two.
In November, I joined science educators Melissa Dowland and Megan Chesser of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in creating “Find Your Muse on the Millpond,” an exploration of the connections between nature and writing. With teachers in kayaks, we explored an amazing swamp ecosystem on beautiful Robertson Millpond in eastern Wake County, and used the beauty of nature and the wonder of science as means to express ourselves through poetry.
In early December, Laureates past and present met at Mordecai Historic Park, where we taught workshops and had a reading in small buildings rich with history: an old Post Office, Andrew Johnson’s birthplace, an early law office and a chapel.
In two events at the Durham Arts Council, one for Thanksgiving and one for the winter holidays, Durham residents wrote their gratitudes and hopes on sentence strips (Remember those from elementary school?), which we gathered together to make a list poem that hung in the window, fluttering in the warm air from the heating vent.
The last event of my Piedmont Laureate year was one of my favorites, a workshop called The Geography of Your Life (which I’ll be teaching next summer as a weeklong art-integrated workshop for Family Week at Georgia O’Keefe’s home Ghost Ranch in New Mexico.) We had a full house of adults and kids, including an amazing family composed of four of the most innovative, deep-thinking kids (aged 5-12) I’ve ever met, and their wonderful parents. We delved into their histories by making maps of the journey of their lives, finding find intersections among important people, strong emotions and landmark events.
And throughout it all – maybe not every day, but often enough – I wrote new poems and revised older ones, and created a new booklength collection of poetry which I’m working on getting out in the world.
It’s been an extraordinary year. I’m so grateful to the fairy godmothers of the Piedmont Laureateship, to all the people who have helped make these events happen, to the journalists of radio and print and to the poets of the Piedmont – many of whom might not have known they were poets – for this year of living poetically. For those of you who are interested in seeing the entire year in order, you’ll find it below.
Thanks to you all. Wishing you a wonderful holiday season and many poems in the coming year.
2017 Piedmont Laureate Events
December 26, 2016 – Bob Burtman interview on WHUP Radio.
December 31, 2016 – “You’re a Poet and You Don’t Know It,” article by David Menconi, Raleigh News & Observer.
Tuesday, January 10, 2017 – Introduction (Coronation) of the 2017 Piedmont Laureate, Mimi Herman at the Wake County State of Arts and Culture Meeting at the North Carolina Museum of Art
Saturday, March 11, 2017 – Revision Workshop at the Orange County Library
Sunday, March 19, 2017 – Reading and Workshop at Springmoor Lifecare Retirement Community
Tuesday, April 4, 2017 – Reading at the Orange County Board of County Commissioners Meeting
Saturday, April 8, 2017 – Haikai no Renga Poetry Party in Duke Gardens
Monday, April 17, 2017 – Word Bowl Poetry at Wake Young Women’s Leadership Academy
Monday, April 17, 2017 – Poets Laureate Reading with North Carolina Poet Laureate Shelby Stephenson, Piedmont Laureate Mimi Herman, Hillsborough Poet Laureate William Davis & Carrboro Poet Laureate Gary Phillips at the The Orange County Library in Hillsborough to celebrate National Poetry Month.
Friday, April 21, 2017 – Ekphrasis/Open Mic at The ArtsCenter for the Second Friday Art Walk
Friday, May 2, 2017 – Word Bowl Poetry/Ekphrastic Poetry at the United Arts Council for First Friday
Friday, May 26, 2017 – Word Bowl/Ekphrastic Poetry (with homemade chocolate chip cookies) at Margaret Lane Gallery for the Fourth Friday Art Walk
Thursday, June 15, 2017 – Flirting with Your Reader workshop at the South Regional Branch of the Durham Public Library
Saturday, July 15, 2017 – Flirting with Your Reader workshop at the East Regional Branch of the Durham Public Library
August 17, 2017 – Word Bowl Poetry for 1st- 5th grade students and their families at the Fuquay-Varina Regional Library
August 17, 2017 – “Piedmont Laureate: Every Day You’ll Write the Book,” article by David Menconi, Raleigh News & Observer
August 29, 2017 – Interview with Bob Burtman, WHUP Radio
Wednesday, August 30, 2017 – Summer Sonnets Reading at the Orange County Public Library
Wednesday, September 13, 2017 – Word Bowl Poetry at the United Arts Council Board Retreat
Thursday, October 19, 2017 – Curated Open Mic Reading for West End Poetry Festival at 2nd Wind in Carrboro with Gary Philips, Carrboro Poet Laureate
Wednesday, November 8, 2017 –”The Laureate’s Thanksgiving Reading” at the Orange County Public Library
Saturday, November 11, 2017 – Educator Trek: Fine Your Muse on the Millpond on Robertson’s Millpond. (This link leads you to a wonderful blog by science educator Mike Dunn where you’ll find his musings and photos from the day.)
Saturday, November 18, 2017 – Hands-on Poems of Gratitude at the Durham Arts Council’ s Art Walk Holiday Market
Saturday, December 9, 2017 – A Gathering of Laureates with James Maxey, Scott Huler and Ian Finley at Mordecai Historic Park
Thursday, December 14, 2017 – Author’s Tea and Reading with the Friends of the Chapel Hill Public Library
Friday, December 15, 5:00-8:00 pm – Poems of Gratitude/Poems of Hope at the Durham Arts Council’s Third Friday Art Walk
Saturday, December 16, 2017 – Geography of Your Life at Sertoma Arts Center
Duke Gardens: http://blog.bcbsnc.com/2016/03/places-to-see-flowers-in-the-spring-in-nc/
Find Your Muse on the Millpond: Cornelia Barr
Durham Arts Council: Susan Tierney
The Geography of Your Life: John Yewell