September 4X4CLT Featured Poet: Jennifer Chang

Charlotte Lit’s programming year kicks off with the release of the September edition of 4X4CLT poetry + art poster series on Friday September 6. We’re celebrating at The Light Factory from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. This series features poems from Jennifer Chang paired with paintings from Tom Thoune and photography from Cordelia Williams. At this event, which is free and open to the public, Chang will read her poetry and Williams will speak about her art.

Jennifer Chang, the featured poet for September 4X4CLT, is the author of two books of poetry, The History of Anonymity and Some Say the Lark. Lovers of poetry may have seen her work in The New Yorker, The New York Times, American Poetry Review, and other national publications. She co-chairs the advisory board of Kundiman, an organization that works to nurture Asian American literature. She teaches at George Washington University and the low-residency MFA writing program at Bennington College.

I can’t say for sure which of her poems I first encountered, but two that fully captured my attention might be called a pastoral and an anti-pastoral. The first, actually titled “Pastoral,” comes from Chang’s debut, The History of Anonymity. The collection is full of fairytale and describes a place where nature is beguiling and unknowable. In “Pastoral,” the speaker observes a field she perceives to be full of mysterious activity that she does her best to describe: “Something in the field is / working away. Root-noise. / Twig-noise. Plant / of weak chlorophyll, no / name for it.” But whatever is “working away” feints from focus and sure definition: “Has it roar and bloom? / Has it road and follow?” Yes, there is a field, fences, and meadow flowers, but this pastoral is no shepherd’s idyll. What it is and what it’s doing, exactly, remains in question.

“Dorothy Wordsworth,” from Chang’s 2017 collection Some Say the Lark, keeps the trappings of a traditional ode to springtime but splices it with a rage-induced rant. Of daffodils, the speaker says: “I’m tired of their crowds, yellow rantings / about the spastic sun that shines and shines / and shines. How are they any different / from me? I, too, have a big messy head / on a fragile stalk. I spin with the wind. / I flower and don’t apologize.” The spring season is now “the dark plot / of future growing things” where the usual tropes are upended. The poem dispatches the flowers’ “boring beauty” and ex-boyfriends with equal disdain. Of this collection of poems, Natasha Trethewey says “Some Say the Lark is a piercing meditation, rooted in loss and longing, and manifest in dazzling leaps of the imagination—the familiar world rendered strange.” Chang’s poems tend toward the lyrical with swerves and dashes of narrative.

On Saturday September 7 from 9:30 am to noon, Chang teaches a master class at Charlotte Lit, “On Fragments.” Participants will look at how “brokenness, irresolution, brevity, and rupture are integral to meaning” and how fragments operate as poetic form. We hope you’ll join us in welcoming Jennifer Chang to Charlotte and look for her gorgeous, lyrical poems on the 4X4CLT posters all over Charlotte in the next few months.

Lisa Zerkle is an award-winning poet and the curator of Charlotte Lit’s 4X4CLT.

It’s School O’Clock—Time to Commit to Your Craft

Yellow buses are making rounds through residential streets and stores are stocked with blank notebooks waiting for their first words and fresh boxes of pencils. Here at Lit, we’ve been busy gathering together classes, workshops, and events with your favorite writers to help you commit to your craft, no matter your genre. You can find full class listings now in our new online catalog and coming soon in the gorgeous print version. In the meantime, here are a few highlights.

4X4CLT Poster Release Party and Master Class

Our first event of the new season is the next release of our 4X4CLT poetry + art posters. The September edition features poems by Jennifer Chang, whose Some Say the Lark won the Poetry Society of America’s 2018 William Carlos Williams Award. Her poems are paired with art by Tom Thoune and photography by Cordelia Williams. Please join us for the free release celebration at The Light Factory on Friday September 6 from 6:30 to 8:30 pm. Chang teaches a master class — “On Fragments” — Saturday September 7 beginning at 9:30 am at Charlotte Lit, and registration is open now.


Next up is the first of our free monthly Wednesdays@Lit gatherings. On September 11 at 6:30 pm, David Radavich brings together a group of friends for a staged reading of his collection America Bound: An Epic for Our Time. We’ll gather in Charlotte Lit’s beautiful new Studio Two, home to plants, books, and lots of comfortable seating. For the October 16 Wednesdays@Lit we’re pleased to welcome NC Poet Laureate Jaki Shelton Green, in partnership with Pedestal Magazine. (She teaches a master class the following day.)

New Classes—and a Fall Mountain Retreat

Are you interested in starting or deepening your journal practice? Writing a children’s book? Exploring the path to publishing? We’ve got classes just for you. Looking ahead, you’ll find more special events in October, including a mountain retreat with Mississippi Poet Laureate Beth Ann Fennelly.

Get Immersed

If you already have a dedicated writing practice and you’re ready for the next level, consider our MFA-style group workshopping in poetry with Dannye Romine Powell and our six-week immersions: novel immersion with Paula Martinac, and memoir immersion with Gilda Morina Syverson.

Our mission is to celebrate the literary arts by educating and engaging writers and readers through classes, conversations, and community. We hope you’ll peruse our new season and see what engages you. Sharpen your pencils!

North Carolina Writers Conference Focuses on Community

Anyone strolling the sidewalks of South Main Street in Lexington, NC, the last Saturday in July must have felt a certain rhythm of community calling from inside the Edward C. Smith Civic Center, where more than 100 writers had gathered that day and the previous evening for the annual North Carolina Writers Conference.

What began in 1950 as a pilgrimage to Manteo to attend The Lost Colony and support writer Paul Green has become an annual event open to all who love the written and recited words of kindred spirits. That spirit was beating like a drum circle this year as Barbara Presnell and her leadership team of Terri Kirby Erickson and June Guralnick served up a program to honor not only the state’s literary traditions but also the innovative movement toward change.

The Conference opened Friday night with a tribute to Richard Walser, a Lexington-born (1908-1988) educator and North Carolina’s foremost chronicler of the state’s literary heritage. The homage to Walser included a showing of the film Their Native Earthmoderated by Jim Clark.

Saturday morning Barbara Presnell welcomed participants by thanking everyone for their help (no one said no, she claims, which speaks to the spirit of North Carolina’s writing kinship). After honoring those authors and poets recently deceased and enticing us to make a visit to the old timey hardware store and candy shop on Main Street, Barbara had the room buzzing with energy. First, two lively and thought-provoking panels.

“Growing into Words: How Our Writing Changes as We Age” with writers Pat Riviere-Seel, Larry Earley, Joe Mills and David Radavich, plus Lynden Harris, a community collaborator who encourages those without a voice—immigrants, death row prisoners—to tell their stories. And what advice did the panelists leave us as we age? Trust the process, serve humanity in our writing, support new writers, take the work more seriously than we take ourselves.

“Writing for Change” (some would call them political poems) with Antionette Kerr, nonprofit leader and media correspondent, as moderator; Diya Abdo, a Jordan native, Guilford professor, and director of Every Campus a Refugee; Joseph Bathanti, Appalachian State professor and writer in residence, recent NC Poet Laureate, and writing liaison to prisoners and Viet Nam veterans; and myself, a writing facilitator with folks without homes and rabble-rouser for racial and environmental justice. All these writers are using their craft to amplify the stories of the marginalized in our midst, or in the words of Tracy K. Smith, to use writing as a means “to unsettle something, to trouble the reader.”

Entertainment at lunch was a brilliant recognition of the Charlotte Writers’ Club and the Charlotte Writers’ Club North, researched and written by talented poet Dede Wilson and presented by David Radavich.

After lunch, there would be no time to sleep off the turkey sandwiches and chocolate desserts. Who could sleep anyway through the next segment of the day’s program: a documentary film by screenwriter and filmmaker Palmer Holton, produced for ESPN Films and entitled When the King Held Court. Picture Elvis Presley’s obsession with racket ball (who knew?) told by those who could report it first hand, interspersed with graphic novel animation and music selected by Amy Winehouse’s drummer. That drum beat was moving us into the future for sure.

The next presentation, “Outside the Box,” was an electric hour with four spoken-word performance poets who had us on the edges of our seats while they recited without falter their creations. Kudos to Jo DeLosSantos, Dasan Ahanu, Ashley Lumpkin, Josephus III and Shane Manier for turning the conference into one that could now be described as 69 years young rather than old.

Dannye Romine Powell Honored

Beginning in 1977 the NC Writers Conference’s final act has been a banquet honoring a writer of high esteem like Reynolds Price, Fred Chappell, John Ehle, Shelby Stephenson, James Applewhite, Tony Abbott, Ruth Moose, Robert Morgan, Kathryn Stripling Byer and others.

This year’s honoree was Charlotte’s own Dannye Romine Powell, author of four books of award-winning poetry, book editor of the Charlotte Observer from 1975-1992, returning in 2013 to the book page after twenty years as the Observer ’s local front columnist. In her book, Parting the Curtains: Interviews with Southern Writers, she explores the creative process with those she had the privilege of interviewing: James Dickey, Eudora Welty, Walker Percy, Lee Smith, and William Styron, among others.

The banquet decor had Dannye written all over it: freshly-ironed white linens on round tables with grass green runners, Mason jars filled with black-eyed Susans, descendants of those originating in poet Susan Laughter Meyers’ garden in Summerville. Four fellow-writers, Kim Church, Bob Anthony, Angela Davis Gardner and Joseph Bathanti serenaded Dannye with accolades: Generous in her book reviews. Passionate for books and their authors. Kind, warm, supportive to fellow writers. Fierce in her poetry, and musical. Funny as hell. Too many to repeat them all here. Bathanti tells it like this: When he was a new graduate and wannabe writer, he barged into Dannye’s office one day to suggest he might help her write reviews. Instead of showing him the door, she showed him a treasure trove of books and hired him on the spot to be one of her readers. That selfless spirit and belief in talent yet untapped is a gift Dannye brings to all North Carolina writers (and wannabes ) who are lucky to have been graced by her presence.

Barbara Conrad is the author of three poetry collections: The Gravity of Color, Wild Plums, and her most recent, There Is a Field (2018). She is also editor of Waiting for Soup, an anthology from her writing group at a center for homeless neighbors. Her poems have appeared in Tar River Poetry, Atlanta Review, Nine Mile, NC Literary Review, Broad River and several anthologies, such as Kakalak and Southern Poetry Anthology. Her poetry ranges from ironic takes on life to hard truths about social injustice.