A publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Constance Alexander: Celebration of Kentucky writers attracts words for all seasons

A realtor, two feminists and an elected public official walk into a public meeting room… It could be the beginning of a joke, but those four — plus about 40 more random individuals — showed up last week to celebrate Kentucky Writers Day, National Poetry Month, and Shakespeare’s Birthday at the Calloway County Public Library.

Dr. Bob Davies, President of Murray State University, sent his regrets but shared his sentiments about Kentucky and its rich literary heritage, via an inspiring quote from Janice Holt Giles: “It was always the land beyond — over another mountain, across another rolling river. It was the land God made just right and put in exactly the right place.”

Professor Rusty Jones kicked things off with a tribute to William Shakespeare by reading Sonnet 29, and Professor Kathy Callahan ended the formalities with an excerpt featuring the witches from “Macbeth.”

Each reading in between established its own mood and the north wall of the room was covered with thick sheets of white paper so readers and audience members could grab a marker and write memorable metaphors and poignant words or phrases from the poems.

“Patsy Ann’s Aura is Blue,” by Susie Rozzell Fenwick from Water Valley, Ky., charmed the audience with vibrant images of a young girl chopping and picking cotton in a landscape of “green miles of kudzu.”

Realtor Loretta Jobs shared a personal poem, a list of “Cancer Cannots,” reminding listeners that cancer does not have the power to paralyze love or erase faith. Loretta even created a brand new word – “blendships” – to define the relationships that emerge as one is treated for cancer.

Donna Herndon’s poem, “Metamorphosis,” alluded to the butterfly and its symbolism associated with Compassionate Friends, an organization that offers friendship, understanding, and hope to the bereaved. After Donna’s stunning reading, someone glanced outside and noticed a rainbow in the twilight sky, a fitting metaphor for the many colors poetry brings to our lives.

No reading of Kentucky writers would be complete without Wendell Berry, James Still, Thomas Merton, and Robert Penn Warren. Berry’s poem reminded us, “There are no unsacred places,” while RPW’s referred to trees that rose “to cliff height,” and “bubbles like fish eyes.”

James Still’s “Statement to a Candidate,” presented by Wesley Bolin, inspired chuckles and outright laughter. The voice of the poem delivered a poetic diatribe about a political candidate, a man of many faces, with “a conscience as flexible as leather.”

No poetry reading is complete without a love poem, and Charley Allen’s “Honey Crisp” fulfilled that requirement with its opening line: “Every day your eyes make promises.”

Smiles and laughter accompanied Martin Tracy’s reading of, “Bourbon or Whiskey Starts the Small Talk,” an account of international business dealings that evoke a longing for a shot of bourbon.

The uplifting words of Hopkinsville-born and nationally renowned bell hooks was represented by Jessica Evans reading of “fly high,” while Tamara Phillips spoke the memorable lyrics of Murray singer-songwriter Kaci Bolls’ in “Long Short Life.”

A poem by Nickole Brown, a Louisville native, paid homage to her grandmother’s perfume, Norell. The words hearkened back to the days when a woman’s scent was her signature, chosen to create an identity one part Doris Day, and “the rest all Faye Dunaway.”

Local speech team coach Michael Robinson ventured into the world of politics with “Hymn,” by Sherman Alexie. He challenged the audience with a question: “Why do we measure people’s capacity/ To love by how well they love their progeny?” And then declared, “It ain’t that hard/ To love somebody who resembles you.”

As is customary with poetry, the reading was sprinkled with laughter and tears and poems of every stripe, from rhyme to ribaldry. Graffiti inspired by the night’s readings will be the basis of creative writing workshops later in the year. The gala ended with a reception and a birthday cake for Mr. Shakespeare, as well as thanks for the Calloway County Public Library and the Kentucky Arts Council, the state arts agency, which is supported by state tax dollars and federal funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray, Ky. She can be reached at calexander9@murraystate.edu. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

Related Posts

Leave a Comment