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Nancy Simpson's LIVING ABOVE THE FROST LINE, New and Selected Poems was published by Carolina Wren Press (N.C. Laureate Series, 2010.) She is the author of ACROSS WATER and NIGHT STUDENT, State Street Press, still available on WWW at Alibris and Books Again. Her poems have been published in Southern Poetry Review, Prairie Schooner, The Georgia Review and other literary magazines. "Carolina Bluebirds" was published in THE POETS GUIDE TO THE BIRDS, Anhinga Press). "Grass" was reprinted in the 50th Anniversary Issue of Southern Poetry Review: DON'T LEAVE HUNGRY ( U.of Arkansas Press.) Seven poems were reprinted in the textbook, SOUTHERN APPALACHIAN POETRY,(McFarland.) Two poems were published in SOLO CAFE, Two more poems were published in SOLO NOVO."In the Nantahala Gorge" was published in Pisgah Review. "Studying Winter" was reprinted in Pirene's Fountain Anthology and "The Collection" in Collecting Life Anthology. Most recently, Southern Poetry Review Edited by James Smith, published "Our Great Depression," and The Southern Poetry Anthology Vol. VII: NORTH CAROLINA,Edited by William Wright, reprinted "Leaving in the Dead of Winter."

Monday, December 6, 2010


NAMING THE CONSTELLATIONS New Poems by John Thomas York is at the top of my list of  recommended books you will want to put on your shopping list. This is a book that will please any reader.  I can guarantee that the men on your list will like these poems.  Three specific men who read and raved about these poems are: Fred Chappell, Mark Smith-Soto and Al Maginnes. Their endorcements from the back cover of the book are reprinted below. The book has 36 pages and was published at Spring Street Editions, Sylva, NC in collaboration with Ash Creek Press, Portland, OR. 

There were a number of poems I liked. The publisher said I could choose one to reprint. That was not easy for me. I liked
"The Gift" his mother poem and "Puzzle" his father poem. The title poem, "Naming the Constellations" is excellent. I liked many but finally chose " The Loon." It is reprinted for you.

The Loon

  When full the reservoir is 10-feet deep and contains 18,000,000
gallons of water. This deluge of liquid is kept within bounds by an
exterior wall of reinforced concrete. . .A division wall divides the
basin into two sections, so that one section may be drained for repairs
without impairing service.
– Greensboro Daily News, August 4, 1929
Before the city covered the Lake Daniel Reservoir,
before they erected a concrete
roof and filled in most of the other half,
leaving a grassy yard and a pond for the geese,
I enjoyed walking the road around the impoundment:
standing outside the chain-link fence,
I could feel the water’s weight as the beast
heaved against the walls of the pool,
the water lapping against the sides and the wall
across the middle, the animal
sighing, rippling its skin, as it rubbed against its cage.
One day, when the water was quiet, full of clouds, leafing
hardwoods, dogwood and locust blossom,
I saw a loon swimming--the Great Northern Diver!
breaking the surface in places unexpected,
staying under, staying under, like something
I wanted to say, something that refused
to come at my calling,
until, there it was, splashing-flapping-running
over the surface: but it stopped in a hush,
stymied by the wall across the middle
and the circle of chain link—topped by rows
of rusty barbs, where sparrows and finches
chirped about their business, gathering
and going as they pleased.
And I saw the loon’s peril,
this bird caught in a concrete trap, a reservoir
in a southern city, far from the lakes of the North Woods,
the White Mountains, the Adirondacks,
a pool that looked fine from a distance,
full of cloud and tree shadow—
Maybe the loon—this bird unafraid
of foraging 100 feet below
the surface, enduring enormous pressure,
this migrant flying high and fast, all the way
from Walden Pond to the Gulf Coast
and back again before summer, proclaiming its presence
during mating season with the crooning and laughter
of a maniac, but otherwise given to long bouts of silence,
small wings and feet way back built for propelling,
making the bird a stumblebum on the common shore—
maybe the loon was a failed poet,
the reincarnation of one who disregarded his muse,
a writer too lazy to leave his pond, the wavering reflections,
too timid to go below the surface and, therefore,
condemned to rebirth as a loon,
a squid, a sperm whale, many lives, many
years, before he could pick up a pencil and try again.
I don’t know if the loon escaped Lake Daniel Reservoir:
after two days of heavy rain, the bird was gone.
Maybe it died and went down a drain,
the loon sucked into our drinking water,
strained and purified, until a loony essence
rushed from our taps, giving the whole city
a fleeting hunger for crawdads,
grasshoppers, trout, mackerel, perch;
an inexplicable desire to turn off TVs and computers
and pick up Hamlet, The Waste Land,
or Dickinson’s Collected Poems,
(or maybe even The Spoon River Anthology,
“Invictus,” or The Weary Blues”);
or an urge to snatch legal pads and write sonnets,
prose poems, terza rima, villanelles,
or to sit by the banks of Lake Brandt
and wait for the flights of eagles, cloud bursts,
or a single haiku, chiming at moonrise.
But I’d like to think that the heavy rain
raised the water level, or somebody at the waterworks
turned a wheel and filled the reservoir until the wall
across the middle disappeared: I hope the loon,
taking a careful measure of things, found the right angle,
enough room for a run for the sky, the bird
leaving nothing but a silver wake, the long signature of persistence.

--by John Thomas York

(Critical Comment from the back cover)
Fred Chappell writes: "These Poems by John Thomas York recall to vivid life a mode of existence that has well nigh disappeared. His pliant lyricism is born from a deep love of country things, county people  and the country itself in the widest meaning of that term.  It is a country the poet says he did not return to, "for the land lives in me, the kingdom come." That's true--and what a grand kingdom it is!"

Mark Smith-Soto writes: "Ever mindful of natural wonders, rooted in the realities of a country boyhood whose shaping influence resounds through every line, and suffused with a melancholy that is never morbid or self-pitying, this little book contains more real poetry than most full-length volumes I have read of late. Naming the Constellations offers rare gifts: the cadence of a voice that never tires the ear, and the eye of a man accustomed to seeing the glow around common things."

Al Maginnes writes: "While the poems of Naming the Constellations have their feet firmly planted "between young corn and shining gravel," they are always gazing beyond, to "the Big Dipper's cup, over to Polaris, the penny nail on which the Little Dipper swings." These poems, while rooted in their narrator's rural upbringing, also "dream through the years," so they are simultaneously elegy and celebration. This is a strong collection that will reward many readings."

Click to buy this book at CITY LIGHTS BOOKSTORE.


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