A Gathering Place for Poets
This language art is an outlet for the rhythmic expression of feelings and ideas
By Ray Owen
Moore County has long been a gathering place for poets – from the celebrated Gaelic bard John MacRae, who lost his life during the American Revolution in battle against the Patriots – to the late Sam Ragan, former editor and publisher of The Pilot, a NC Poet Laureate who helped establish the NC School of the Arts and the NC Literary Hall of Fame.
Our literary heritage centers on the Weymouth Center for the Arts and Humanties, former home of writer James Boyd. During the 1920s and ’30s, such literary giants as Thomas Wolfe, F. Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner were frequent guests. Today, Weymouth hosts the North Carolina Poetry Society, a welcoming statewide community of poets and poetry lovers.
Poets walk among us, compelled to dive deep into words, at times striking cords that span the breadth of time. Through their choice and arrangement of language, they stir imagination and emotions, giving meaning to all of our lives.
Lullaby by John MacRae
Sleep softly, my darling beloved.
Stay as you are, now that you're in a new land.
We'll find suitors abounding in wealth and fame,
and if you are worthy you shall have one of them.
In America now are we,
in the shade of the forest for ever unfailing.
When the winter departs and the warmth returns,
nuts and apples and the sugar will grow.
Little do I like some of those who are here,
with their drugget coats and tall hats on their heads,
and their scanty breeches split to the belt.
Hose never are seen, and a misery it seems to me.
We’re turned into Indians surely enough.
In the dark of the trees not one of us will be left alive,
with wolves and beasts howling in every lair.
We've come into ruin since we left King George.
My fondest farewell to you, Kintail with your cows,
where I spent my time of upbringing when I was a little, young nipper.
There would be dark-haired lads dancing heel and toe to the music,
and lasses with their flowing tresses and cheeks like the rose.
At the onset of harvest-time our joy would be hearty;
We’d get deer from the moors and salmon from the deeps;
the herring fleet would come in under sail
with her daring heroes who never showed gloom.
John McRae, a celebrated Scottish poet, immigrated to Moore County, NC, in 1774. “Lullaby,” composed for his daughter, is the earliest extant Gaelic poem written in North America.
Down by the Lazy River by John Thomas Pinkston
Down at the lazy river
star pushing shadow
the inner works of a slide projector
thee and then
and a reckoning now
eyes closed inspecting the negative
and not ever otherwise
and a faint holler
the distant hound sounding assurance
the bright needle of the airliner
and the kingfisher
skip a rock
the rock skips back to the hand
have another go
and the rock skips back to the hand
The sun is setting out of nowhere
so it won’t be today
down at the lazy river
John Thomas Pinkston is a Southern Pines poet.
Short Note on a Cat Sleeping by Stephen E. Smith
a sleeping cat hears every sound
you once told me
today the November wind rattles
the window glass
& I watch a cat sleeping
gray paws upturned
a leg buried beneath his thorax
like a knot of silk
his tufted ears waiting
I toss an empty beer can into
& not a whisker twitches
after all this time
to think of you & how you lied
to me about everything
Stephen Smith's most recent book is A Short Note on the Fire at Woolworths (Front Street Rag Press).
The Piano by June Guralnic
Homework scrawled, dishes dried,
three rambunctious girls, one barking dog, and a dead-on-her-feet mother
would circle the wagons ‘round the old piano —
not a delicate Little Women spinet but a tough-as-nails Friday fight special
(Joe Louis body, gouged legs cradling loose-tongued crackling keys).
From the bowels of a sagging coffin bench
The Book* scrambled out.
Frayed flag blue binding and trampled pages lassoing
sister skirmishes and simmering civil wars
(a rally cry to our Love Oh Love Oh Careless Love family).
Clapping renditions of Frankie and Johnny
Oh Susanna! and Dixie trailed
pluming smoke and tuneful sorrows;
invitation to stake a claim to the Promised Land
(no matter we’d never voyaged south of Jersey or west of Spuyten Divil).
God bless our busted TV.
God bless our sleeping dog.
God bless our molten harmony.
God bless the old piano.
*A Treasury of American Songs by Elie Siegmeister and Olin Downes (1940, 1943).
June Guralnick is an award-winning playwright who has created plays, performance projects, and large-scale community cultural projects for four decades. Reprinted by permission (first published in the Red Clay Review).
The Leaning Basketball Pole by Shelby Stephenson
A squirrel-proof birdfeeder marks the pole
As hours keep passing the good spot along
To me tip-toeing my strolling to scold
The red-shouldered hawk in his singalong.
Decades have gone since Spug leaned his rifle
Against the barn: “I took the bullet out,”
He says, while bunching his height to stifle
The ball he shoots with a swish and a shout.
At dusk the barnyard’s bulb hazes yellow
Enough to draw a gathering of old
And sporty boys; the neighborhood’s dogs swell
The audience as Time holds me as its goal.
Shelby Stephenson was Poet Laureate of North Carolina from 2015-2018. His current book of poems is Shelby’s Lady: The Hog Poems (Fernwood Press).
The Marked and Unmarked by Sam Ragan
I cannot say upon which luminous evening
I shall go out beyond the stars,
To windless spaces and unmarked time,
Turning nights to days and days to nights.
This is the place where I live.
I planted this tree.
I watched it grow.
The leaves fall and I scuff them with my feet.
This is the street on which I walk.
I have walked it many times.
Sometimes it seems there are echoes of my
In the mornings, in the nights,
In those long evenings of silence and stars
— the unmarked stars.
Sam Ragan was Poet Laureate of North Carolina from 1982-1996. Reprinted by permission of Talmadge Ragan from To The Water’s Edge (Moore Publishing, 1971) and Collected Poems of Sam Ragan (St. Andrews Press, 1990).
These Are My Transgressions by Malaika King Albrecht
I’ve eaten brunch with a lesser saint
wearing a horse shoe halo
and plucked the elderflower from his hand.
I’ve worn a shadow to a wedding
and sunlight to a wake. I’ve forgotten
that every blink’s a funeral
and suffered the momentary loss of light
and the sight of you.
Born of salt, slanted light and wind
mixing stars into the lake,
I still see my face in water fountains.
I’m a clanging bell, the lost left shoe,
the dirt road through the middle of the woods
leading home. I’ve transfigured
a necklace of red flowers into bees.
Malaika King Albrecht is President of North Carolina Poetry Society and the inaugural Heart of Pamlico Poet Laureate. Her fourth book The Stumble Fields was published by Main Street Rag in May 2020.