Cecily Parks’ “O’Nights”

In Walden, Henry David Thoreau’s classic, hermited study of the natural world, he acknowledges his immersive contemplation might be considered odd. “This was sheer idleness to my fellow townsmen, no doubt; but if the birds and flowers had tried me by their standard, I should not have been found wanting.” That standard—of the stars, the moon, the meadow—is the one Cecily Parks’ aspires to in her second collection of poetry, O’Nights (Alice James Books, 2015). Its speaker is the female incarnation of a present-day wanderer trying to commune with what’s left of the wild, one whose solitary forest wanderings mark her even after she finds love and returns to an urban environment.

The stars said, Follow us. They drew me deep
into the disheveled spruces to introduce me.
to loss. My fields were ill. They weren’t my fields.

My trees were being killed. They weren’t my trees.
I was nervous that this natural world would see
that I was filthy-footed in silk, a woman

pretending to be a man to trip a pyrotechnic grace. Oh yes,
I wanted the world to be wild again. I believed

I might hold weather in my hands
and mend it . .  .

—from “When I Was Thoreau at Night”

O’Nights, which takes its title from an anecdote found in Thoreau’s journal, is split into three sections. In the first, the speaker is alone and spends her days (and nights) closely observing the natural world. While she may be the sole human, her solitude expands to encompass a wider community of the forest where she finds herself in conversation with the wild entities that surround her. She is alone, but not lonely. “Hurricane Song,” the powerful, opening poem, describes the “little kidnapped thrill that comes with drastic weather,” the feeling of being out in a storm’s overture. She’s on the same level as the pines, the grass, and the deer who “flips herself over and over, white tail-spark,/black hoof-sparks, brown wheel.” This leveling serves as a reminder that we humans are animals after all, still part of an ecosystem, still subject to the whims of weather. A sense of restless energy runs through this section as the speaker, eschewing comfort and convention, roams alone.

In the book’s second section, the speaker is in the city, deliriously in love, “suspended in the edgy bliss.” Of these 15 poems, two are aubades—poems bidding farewell to a love at dawn. Notwithstanding the speaker’s former forest solitude, loneliness pangs around the edges of these poems. When the lover’s frequent absences are most keenly felt, the speaker’s thoughts go to foxes in their den, and back to the community she found in the natural world where “puddles count the clouds,” and where “the marsh opens its little wet mouths.” These are lush and lovely pieces. The lovers, at last, share time together in “Love Poem” and the longer “Twelve-Wired Bird-of-Paradise:” 

We’re afraid we’ll die before we’ve loved each other long enough.
There is no end 


to long enough. This is paradise.

The final section of O’Nights is its shortest and least thematically cohesive, but includes the standout lead poem “Bell.” Parks writes beautifully about the wild world in all its seasons and moods. If the birds and flowers tried her by their standard, her keen-eyed poems with would not be found wanting.

September 4X4CLT kicks off Labor Day weekend featuring Cecily Parks, author of O’Nights and Field, Folly, Snow. Parks reads from her work at the release party on Friday August 31 from 6 to 8 pm at SOCO Gallery. Local artists Ruth Ava Lyons and Linda Foard Roberts will also be on hand for the celebration, which is free and open to the public. September 4X4CLT posters with poems and art from these three women will be displayed at over 70 venues in and around Charlotte. On Saturday September 1 from 10 am to 1 pm, Parks will teach a master class in poetry at Charlotte Lit’s studio.

Grant News: 4X4CLT Series Funded by Arts and Science Council

We’re thrilled to announce Charlotte Lit was awarded a Cultural Vision Grant from the Arts and Science Council in support of our quarterly 4X4CLT poetry and art poster series.

This grant, provided in part by the NC Arts Council, funds six editions of the series beginning with September’s release and ending in December 2019. The Cultural Vision Grants aim to build strong communities and demonstrate innovative, relevant and transformative cultural expression. 4X4CLT was also selected because the series activates nontraditional performance or exhibition spaces close to where people live. This vote of confidence in Charlotte Lit’s programming allows us to continue to bring high-caliber poets to Charlotte for free readings and affordable master classes, in addition to shining a light on some of this area’s many exceptional local artists and their work.

Upcoming 4X4CLT Events

The September 4X4CLT kicks off over Labor Day weekend featuring poet Cecily Parks, author of O’Nights and Field, Folly, Snow. Parks will read from her work at the release party on Friday, August 31, from 6 to 8 pm at SOCO Gallery. Local artists Ruth Ava Lyons and Linda Foard Roberts will also be on hand for the celebration which is free and open to the public. September 4X4CLT posters with poems and art from these three women will be displayed at over 70 venues in and around Charlotte. On Saturday September 1, Parks will teach a master class in poetry at Charlotte Lit.

Looking ahead, December’s 4X4CLT features Maurice Manning who will read at the release party on Friday, November 30, at Resident Culture Brewing in Plaza Midwood, and teach a master class at Charlotte Lit on Saturday December 1. Manning teaches at Transylvania University in Kentucky and is on faculty at Warren Wilson’s MFA program. He is the author of six books, the latest, One Man’s Dark, published in 2017. In 2010 his book The Common Man was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. Manning’s poem “Orchard at the Bottom of the Hill” recently appeared in Time.

A Reflection on Color in Patrice Gopo’s “All the Colors We Will See”

Patrice Gopo’s All the Colors We Will See was released by Thomas Nelson this week. The book was named a Barnes & Noble Fall 2018 Discover Great New Writers selection. Patrice will read from and discuss the book at Park Road Books at 7 pm this Thursday.

In one of the essays in her new collection All the Colors We Will See: Reflections on Barriers, Brokenness, and Finding Our Way, Patrice Gopo conveys the uncertainty and despair she often felt while working as a chemical engineer at Eastman Kodak in Rochester, New York, writing, “I cried not about the reality of my daily life, the commute to a seemingly endless surface parking lot, the elevator I rode up each morning, the dull walls and dusty floors. Rather, I cried about what my life might be, that there might exist another occupation replete with a greater palette of colors.” Thankfully, this despair didn’t crush her. Instead it pushed her onto a journey through which she “finally stumble[d] into writing” and found a way to broaden the color spectrum for readers lucky enough to stumble onto her book.

Writing may not have been her first vocation. But working with color at Eastman Kodak seems to have been an essential turn toward it. I’ve always been amazed by the synchronicities that weave through our lives, the patterns we inherit through genetics and through the particular families and cultures in which we are raised, as well as by the choices we make for ourselves as we quest and stretch toward some often unconscious knowledge of who we are—and who we are meant to be. For many, if not most of us, the themes and metaphors that are to be our life’s work seem to be with us from the very beginning, “coloring” every turn in the road. After reading her new collection of perceptive essays, one can clearly see that Gopo’s path circumambulates the field of color, particularly as it relates to race––a topic she examines with the eye of an artist, the precision of an engineer, and the devotion of a pilgrim.

The word color is both noun and verb, both term and metaphor. Color is a phenomenon of visual perception that gives us a way to differentiate and describe objects in the world around us. But it can also indicate pretense or deceptive appearance of some kind. Colorful language is vivid language. A colorful story is sometimes true. Sometimes we wear colors that tell others what group we belong to. At other times, whether we mean to or not, we “show our true colors” through our words and actions. And color is the word used to describe skin pigmentation, especially when that skin is not “white.”

All of these definitions of color are woven into the narratives Gopo tells about her experience as a black American––first growing up in Anchorage, Alaska, the child of Jamaican immigrants in a predominantly white community, and later traveling the world, meeting her Zimbabwean husband, and raising two daughters in Charlotte, North Carolina. Before she went away to college at Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, Gopo’s primary experience of race was one of feeling different—of having a darker skin color and different hair than other kids in school and church. Once in college, however, Gopo also realized that because she didn’t receive a traditional black American experience from her immigrant parents and because there wasn’t much of a black community in Anchorage, neither did she feel completely at home within black culture on campus.

The fairly unusual circumstances of Gopo’s heritage and experience have situated her in a liminal place, a between space, that allows her to examine through a unique lens the topics of color, race, culture, identity, and the many of the barriers that keep people divided. The personal stories she tells in these essays challenge us to lean into a deeper observation of and reflection of color, of the ways in which we perceive (and don’t) the experiences of people who’ve lived their lives in different shades of skin.