Where There’s Poetry, Prose Will Surely Follow

Jamie Pollard-SmithA few weeks ago, I had the honor of hearing Ada Limón read her work at Queens University as part of the Charlotte Lit’s 4X4 Series. Small in stature but huge in heart, her warmth and wit filled the auditorium while her words brought tears to our eyes. One piece in particular struck a chord with me.

 

“The Raincoat” (excerpt)

…My god,

I thought, my whole life I’ve been under her

raincoat thinking it was somehow a marvel

that I never got wet.

 

And there it was, the reaction I have experienced so many times before when faced with heart-shattering imagery that hits a little too close to home. I had to write. Immediately.

I went home that night and sat at my computer. It wasn’t that I believed I could write poetry of my own or even some polished piece that would someday rival Limon’s brilliance. It was because I am a writer and words are how I process the world. The mother I lost to Alzheimer’s was my raincoat and now I must do the same for my two teenage children. Hearing Limón point it out so boldly left me spiraling with emotions and ideas. There was nowhere to hide.

Poetry makes us better humans by stirring up our emotional pots. It does not mean that we all must write it, but I have countless drafts that started because someone crafted a piece of poetry that shook me to my very core. It was an image or idea staring at me in the sea of blank space on the page. In all that silence, it could not be ignored. My words poured onto the page.

Pandora’s box had been opened to a sea of memories, regrets, resentments, and everything in between for me that September evening. Facing these demons is hard and necessary work, and while prose is my form of choice, I am thankful every day for the poets who awaken my soul to what lies bubbling just below the surface.

 


ABOUT JAMIE: Jaime Pollard-Smith is a full-time writing instructor at Central Piedmont Community College with a Master of Arts from New York University. Her fiction has been published in Literary Mama. She is a contributor for Scary Mommy and Project We Forgot. Read her thoughts at unbecoming.co.


PUT POETRY INTO YOUR PROSE: Join Jamie for Putting Poetry Into Your Prose on December 2nd, in person at Charlotte Lit. What can the prose writer learn from the poet? Let us count the ways: sound, rhythm, word play, word choice, concision, and so much more. In this session, we’ll read and discuss several prose passages that employ one or more tricks from the poet’s toolbox. Then, we’ll explore the ways we can use those techniques to strengthen our own prose, trying our hands at a few of them through in-class writing prompts.

PLEASE NOTE: Proof of full Covid vaccination is required to attend in-person Charlotte Lit events. Send a pic of your vaccination card to staff@charlottelit.org.

More information is here.

Horizons

Lola Haskins

Once I wrote “The distance to the horizon is a fierce happiness,” and I believe it’s true.  I had a good friend once who was a fine painter, and a series of paintings he did right before he retired from the art department inspired me so much that I wrote tiny stories about the characters in them. My friend made a fold-out book and exhibited it with the paintings. Later, when I wrote monologues in the voices of just the women, he jumped in and started making extra drawings. Now, he’d been fighting oral cancer for years and about this time he was approaching the end stages. I used to sit with him in his house—I remember he wore a mask because most of his face was gone, he said, he looked like a monster—and we’d talk about how things were going. Then one day he burst into tears and said “Lola, I’m so sorry. I’m not going to be able to finish our project”. To which I told him the truth: “Dear X, don’t worry.  Everything we’ve been doing for all these months IS our project; it was never about finishing in the first place.” In other words, our project was the horizon.

Thinking of tears reminds me of a story about me and another artist. The artist in this one is the 18th century Japanese painter and print maker, Hokusai (1760-1849), whose pictures I’ve loved for my whole adult life but never appreciated properly until I saw an extensive exhibit of his work. I’d thought I preferred his depictions of country people to the views of Mt. Fuji he did late in his life—and I still do like those—but when I found myself in the same room as Mt Fuji, I started crying, that mountain moved me so much—the way he rendered it, it was everything.

After that, I started reading about Hokusai’s life, and what I found has made him a role model for the rest of mine.

…. The period, beginning in 1834, saw Hokusai working under the name “Gakyō Rōjin Manji” (The Old Man Mad About Art). It was at this time that Hokusai produced One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji…

In the postscript to this work, Hokusai writes: “From around the age of six, I had the habit of sketching from life. I became an artist, and from fifty on began producing works that won some reputation, but nothing I did before the age of seventy was worthy of attention. At seventy-three, I began to grasp the structures of birds and beasts, insects, and fish, and of the way plants grow. If I go on trying, I will surely understand them still better by the time I am eighty-six, so that by ninety I will have penetrated to their essential nature. At one hundred, I may well have a positively divine understanding of them, while at one hundred and thirty, forty, or more I will have reached the stage where every dot and every stroke I paint will be alive. May Heaven, that grants long life, give me the chance to prove that this is no lie.”

In 1839, a fire destroyed Hokusai’s studio, but he never stopped painting and completed Ducks in a Stream at the age of 87. He is said to have exclaimed on his deathbed, “If only Heaven will give me just another ten years… Just another five more years, then I could become a real painter.”


ABOUT LOLA: Lola Haskins’ poetry has appeared in The Atlantic, The London Review of Books, London Magazine, The New York Quarterly, Georgia Review, Prairie Schooner, Rattle and elsewhere, as well as having been broadcast on NPR and BBC radio. She has published fourteen collections of poems, a poetry advice book and a non-fiction book about fifteen Florida cemeteries. Ms. Haskins has been awarded three book prizes, two NEA fellowships, four Florida Cultural Affairs fellowships, the Emily Dickinson/Writer Magazine award from Poetry Society of America, and several prizes for narrative poetry. She retired from teaching Computer Science at the University of Florida in 2005 and served from then until 2015 on the faculty of Rainier Writers Workshop.


SEE LOLA LIVE AT CHARLOTTE LIT! Lola Haskins will read from and discuss her work at Charlotte Lit on Friday, November 5 at 6 p.m. Free! Advance registration required.

Bringing Words to Life

Angelo GeterThis past year has taught us all that our boundaries and limits can be tested in the most unexpected moments. We were all living our normal lives a year ago until the pandemic ravaged the lives that we had become accustomed to. We couldn’t go outside and socialize, had to cancel a plethora of events. We were even restricted from doing things as simple as a hug or physical embrace. This caused us to pause and adapt to this new way of life.

In the midst of these difficult times though, we found our strength. We discovered a new skills, perfected an old recipe, started writing a book, attended webinars, and read books. We learned something new about ourselves and added attributes to who we are, rather than sit idly by and let things happen to us. For that alone, we also deserve to celebrate.

The poem below highlights this and asks you to celebrate your successes even in the midst of trials. You deserve it!

Cry Yourself a Freedom Song 

On the days when waking up
feels more burden than blessing,
heartache than healing,
when your sanity is trapped
in a gas chamber of doubt
suffocating the air of hope,

Depression tap dances on the riot in your throat,
fear plays a sonata
in the key of disbelief,
the sheet music in your tongue
fades from neglect,
eyes form tombstones
that only see death.

Remember,
there is gospel in your grief.
Every tear is a prayer.
So cry yourself a freedom song.
Sing a spiritual to the cadence
of your weeps.

Let amens trickle down your cheek.
Make hallelujahs
in the luggage under your eyes,
and breathe like being alive
is the sweetest melody you could ever sing.


LEARN THE ART OF SPOKEN WORD: Angelo Geter leads a two-part class introducing participants to the art of spoken word poetry. Spoken Word 101: Brining Words to Life, begins April 20, 2021. Students will examine spoken word work to demonstrate how literary devices employed in traditional poetry are expanded in this genre. Participants will be guided through several prompts and exercises to help develop techniques and skills to craft original work. In the second part of the course, participants will perform their spoken word pieces and receive critiques from the instructor and other participants. Join us to bring your words to life, from the page to the stage. More info

Angelo ‘Eyeambic’ Geter is a dynamic poet, spoken word artist and motivational speaker whose unique work educates, entertains and inspires. He blends his pieces with commentary, stories and personal narratives that transcend a traditional lecture or performance.  He currently serves as the Poet Laureate of Rock Hill, SC, and a 2020 Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellow. Geter is also a 2019 All-America city winner, 2018 National Poetry Slam champion, Rustbelt Regional Poetry Slam finalist, Southern Fried Regional Poetry Slam finalist and has performed and competed in several venues across the country. His work has appeared on All Def Poetry, Charleston Currents, and the Academy of American Poets “Poem a Day” series.