Monday, January 5, 2015

Monday Muse: New North Carolina State Poet

Dr. Shelby Dean Stephenson is the only person in the world
I know who could write an entire book on a single clod of dirt. . .
Through his poetry, he has paid tribute to and immortalized
farmers, the keepers of Mother Earth . . . . 
~ Barbara Braveboy-Locklear*

The appointment of Shelby Dean Stephenson as North Carolina's new Poet Laureate was announced by Governor Pat McCrory on December 22, 2014. Stephenson will accept the position officially in February, during a public ceremony at the State Capitol. Stephenson's selection was made months after the July 17, 2014, withdrawal and resignation of Valerie Macon, who was to have succeeded Joseph Bathanti.

Information about the position is found in my Monday Muse post of June 28, 2010, which also covered the appointment of Cathy Smith Bowers, state poet from 2010 to 2012.

According to a press release** from the governor's office, Stephenson, as the state's ambassador for poetry and literature, will focus on three projects during his two-year term, which is renewable: conducting writing workshops in assisted-living and retirement communities, promoting awareness of local archives and family histories, and promoting writings about farming and farm life in North Carolina. Stephenson will receive a $15,000 stipend to facilitate his work.

* * * * *
. . . My early teachers were the thirty-five foxhounds
my father hunted. The trees and streams, fields, the world
of my childhood—all that folklore—
those are my subjects.* * *

The most recent poetry collections of Shelby Dean Stephenson, Ph.D., are chapbooks: Steal Away (Jacar Press, 2014),  Play My Music Anyhow (2013), and Playing Dead (2011); the latter two are both from Finishing Line Press. Stephenson's other collections include The Hunger of Freedom (Red Dashboard, 2014), a finalist for the 2011 Tupelo Press Dorset PrizeShub's Cooking (Red Dashboard, 2014), Family Matters: Homage to July, the Slave Girl (Bellday Books, 2008), a collection of poems about a young slave owned by Stephenson's great-great-grandfather and winner of the 2008 Bellday Prize; the chapbook Possum (Bright Hill Press, 2004), which won the 2002 Bright Hill Press Poetry Chapbook Competition; and Fiddledeedee (The Bunny and the Crocodile Press, 2001; Reprint, Press 53, January 2015). 

In addition, Stephenson is the author of Greatest Hits 1978-2000 (Pudding House Publications, 2002), The Persimmon Tree Carol (Nightshade Press, 1990; Reprint, Juniper Press, 2002), a 21-section poem about his father; Poor People (Nightshade Press, 1998),  Plankhouse (North Carolina Wesleyan College Press, 1993), a "poetic documentary" featuring photographs by Roger Manley; Finch's Mash: Poems (St. Andrews College Press, 1990), and Middle Creek Poems (Blue Coot Press, 1979). His Carolina Shout (Playwright's Fund of North Carolina, 1985), an early version of Fidledeedee, won a Playwright's Fund chapbook competition. 

Stephenson is the editor of Carolina Spring: An Anthology of North Carolina Poets (1999).

Prolific, Stephenson is a narrative and lyrical poet with a realist's eye. He draws inspiration, and his striking images and metaphors, from his personal life, writing about childhood and family, family history, friendship, rural culture and folkways, place, Southern heritage, tenant farming, tobacco-farming and -barning, fox-hunting, fishing, and nature. He also candidly addresses such subjects as slavery, racism, and poverty. He states in a post on the Website of the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame, "I have tried to present my past and my family, especially my mother and father, as themselves and somehow make them big enough for any reader anywhere to read his or her own parents and ancestors into my poems." (Note: An interesting, brief discussion of issues and themes in Stephenson's work is included in the poet's profile at University of North Carolina/Pembroke.)

Many of Stephenson's poems are quite long. Here are excerpts from several poems that give a sense of Stephenson's style, plainspokenness, use of details, and imagery:

[. . .]
The plowman, his sweep spreading
Clods the way a mole might,
And the mule's neck nodding silence except for  trace-chains
Brushing a scab on her side, scrubbing burlap;
The pulling has been so long [. . . .]
~ from "This Place, Their Praise" in The Hunger of Freedom

[. . .]
I place a black walnut on the anvil and hit with hammer—hard.
The flavor's already in my eyes.
I know, for I was that boy who cracked them for Mama Maytle. [. . .]
~ from "Pecan Cake" in Shub's Cooking

[. . .]
The tobacco greens for the farmer who dives into the dirt,
renewed in the smell of warehouses,
golden leaves in the lightholes bringing the legged sunlight in.
Dew in dusk, a musk in mist,
the tobacco tips one more time on the prime,

a sea of blooms
bobbing in ninetyfive degree wisps of heat,
adhesive tape slipping over blisters. [. . .]
from "Tobacco Days" in Finch's Mash

[. . .]
The birdsong, silenced for the depressed, the grasses rasp toward a field of

They are graves, the fog we feel intact among the stones,

inviting to no one living, only lovers in the mist, their backs up, drifting
spectrally. [. . .]
~ from "A Life with depression-mania comes" in Country (Unpublished Manuscript)

Retired professor emeritus of English, University of North Carolina/Pembroke, Stephenson was editor, from 1979 to 2010, of Pembroke Magazine, a UNCP literary journal.

Poems by Stephenson have appeared in Bits, BLINK: A Little Magazine of Little Poems, Carolina Quarterly, Cave Wall Literary Journal of Poetry and Art, Colorado QuarterlyThe Crane's Creek Reviewthe Dead Mule School of Southern Literature, Elysian Fields Quarterly (The Baseball Review), Hudson Review, Iodine Poetry Journal, Kansas QuaterlyLoch Raven Review, The Manhattan ReviewMayday Magazine, The Ohio ReviewPoetry Northwest, Poetry Now, Poetry Salzburg Review, Red Savina ReviewSouthern Poetry Review, The Spoon River Quarterly, and Tuck Magazine, among many other periodicals and literary magazines. (Also see the listings in the Resources section below.)

Stephenson's work is anthologized in I Let Go of the Stars in My Hand (Media LLC, 2014), New Virginia Review: An Anthology of Literary Work by and Important to VirginiansWriting Fiction and Poetry: Essays by Twelve North Carolina Writers (Boson Books, 2003), The Simple Vows Anthology,  Word and Witness: 100 Years of North Carolina Poetry (Carolina Academic Press, 1999; Shelby is interviewed for "Discovering Poetry"), and The Sounds of Poets Cooking (Jacar Press, 2010), among other publications.

A recipient in 2001 of a North Carolina Award in Literature, the poet was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame in October 2014. Among his other honors are the Order of the Long Leaf Pine (2011), the North Carolina Poetry Council's Oscar Arnold Young Award (2009), the Bellday Poetry Prize, a Zoe Kincaid-Brockman Book Award (1980, for Middle Creek Poems) from the North Carolina Poetry Society, and a Brockman-Campbell Award (2005, for Possum). He served as Gilbert-Chappell Distinguished Poet from 2004 to 2005.

Stephenson, who sings country music and plays guitar, has been recorded on five CDs, at least four of which include his wife Linda ("Nin"). Watch a video of Stephenson performing.


Photo Courtesy of Governor's Office

All Poetry Excerpts © Shelby Dean Stephenson

* Quoted from "Comments by Barbara Braveboy-Locklear", Induction of Shelby Dean Stephenson, North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame, October 12, 2014

** "Shelby Stephenson Named Poet Laureate of North Carolina", Office of the Governor, December 22, 2014

* * * Quoted from Shelby Stephenson's Website

Ben Steelman, "A New Poet Laureate Who Actually Writes Poetry", Bookmarks Blog, Star News Online, December 22, 2014 (A poem is included at the end of the article.)

Paul Woolverton, "Former UNCP Professor Stephenson Appointed State's Poet Laureate", Fayetteville Observer, December 22, 2014

Shelby Stephenson Profiles at Bellday Books, Gaston GazetteMy Laureate's Lasso (Kathryn Stripling Byer's Archived Blog), North Carolina Literary Hall of FameNorth Carolina Writers' Network, Poets & WritersUNCP

Also see "Shelby Stephenson: A Son of Middle Creek and 'Paul's Hill'", Getting a Better Grip on Speaing and Writing (Blog), April 2009.

Shelby Stephenson Poetry Online: "September Mourning" at NC Arts Everyday; "Epistemology" and "Apple Blossom White", Both at Living Above the Frost Line Blog; "This Place, Their Praise" at North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame; Shelby Stephenson — Five Poems: "Playing Dead Ponders His Epic", "PD Contemplates Religion", "PD's Recipes", "Playing Dead Deader", and "The Eye of Playing Dead", All at the Dead Mule (February 2013); Shelby Stephenson — Four Poems: "Butter", "Buttermilk Pie", "Chicken Casserole", and "Chicken Stock Soup", All at the Dead Mule (April 2009); "October Turning" at UNCP Profile (scroll to section titled "Work"); "Ode to Percy" at Town Creek Poetry; "Come down, Word-man, Syllable-shaker" and "If I had the heart of the moon, constant, full-dimming", Both at ConnotatonPress; "The Candy Man" and "George William Stephenson", Both at My Laureate's Lasso Blog; Excerpt from Country (Unpublished Manuscript) at Empty Mirror Books; "The Candy Man", "Memory believes before knowing remembers", and "George William Stephenson", All at Bellday Books (Audio of Stephenson Reading the Poems); "I Cross These Fields and Woods Without You", "Cricket", and "Fruit Cake", All at Storyacious; "A Grin" at Academy of American Poets; "When January is Cold", "From the Creekbed", and "Living Off the Land", All at North Carolina Poetry Society; "Roundabout Sleight" at NC Arts Everyday; "Sing Out" at Frigg Magazine; "Chapter 18" from Country at Still Journal; "Chapter 14" from Country" at Writing Disorder; "We need turkey gravy and cranberry sauce", "In the dark and shuddering night", "the lock at the top of the stairs finds you in the dark, searching for your shoes", and "I feel better", All at Down Dirty Word; (Untitled) Poem at Pyrokinection; "Across the Wide Missouri" and "Bubbly Absolution", Both at Jellyfish Whispers; "Chocolate Pie" at Anna Purna Magazine; "Vegetables" at Ascent Aspirations; "Tobacco Days" at Griffin Poetry; "Poem/Memoir from Country" at Dead Snakes Blog; (Untitled) Poem at The Casserole; "Whales Are Hard to See" in Writing Fiction at GoogleBooks; "Chapter 40" from Country at CyberSoleil Literary Journal; "Affection" at Inks Sweat and Tears; "Tumbling Weed" at Cowboy Poetry Press; "I rise because you sink", "I say I'm always wanting you", and "I want to hold your hand", All at Mudjob Blog; "Bacon" at Altpoetics Blog; "Paul's Hill: Once Part of a Plantation" at Tower Journal; "Billy" and "For the Birds", Both at Oyster Boy Review; "A life with depression-mania comes" and "I do not know what lows are for", Both at The Shine Journal - The Left Behind; "Orange", "Parsley", and "Pecan Cake", All at Prime Number Magazine; Excerpt from Country at Storm Cellarzine; "Cooked pickled carrots", "Cornbread", and "Corn pudding", All at Ikleftiko Online Poetry Journal (pdf); "The Clay Eaters", "Dog Food", and "Sonnet", All at Grey Sparrow Press; "I walk through The Narrows, by Depression and Guilt" at The Barefoot Review (Listings Alphabetical by Poet); "Dust on Floors" at Red Booth Review Blog; Excerpt from "Nin's Poem: A Bipolar Memoir" at Mayday Magazine; Excerpt from Country at Martian Lit; "Apple" at Spontaneity; "This Place, Their Praise" and "The Farm That Farms New Houses", Both at Living Above the Frost Line Blog; "Chapter 23" from Country at Orion headless; "O Death, if they ask about you, what shall I say?" at Loch Raven Review; "Chapter 17" from Country at The Ilanot Review; and "Worksock" in Waiting With Santa Anthology

Also see "Barbara Braveboy-Locklear Reads Shelby Stephenson" (Video) (The poem read is "This Place, Their Praise".) Another video is "Shelby Stephenson Reads 'Barbecue'" at NCWriter-Reader.

Review of Playing Dead at Wild Goose Poetry Review

Review of Play My Music Anyhow at Washington Independent Review of Books

Review of Shub's Cooking at Cook Appeal Blog

Greatest Hits 1978-2000 at GoogleBooks

Shelby Stephenson Papers, 1965-2007, Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

Shelby Dean Stephenson on FaceBook and YouTube

North Carolina Arts Council (Poet Laureate Page and Fact Sheet)

North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources (North Carolina Awards)

North Carolina Literary and Historical Association

North Carolina Poetry Society (FaceBook)

North Carolina Writers Network

Video, "Shelby Stephenson Reads "Homage to July, the Slave Girl", North Carolina Literary  Festival, 2014:

No comments: