This must be my week for all things poetic. After the amazing spiritual writing workshop on Saturday, led by the poet and prose writer, Scott Cairns, I found myself returning to Oxford again on Tuesday night, this time for “Harvest Writers Reading” at Roosters Blues House on the Square. In addition to the fact that they raised lots of money (and received canned goods) for a local food bank and the national organization, Share our Strength, which works to feed hungry children across the country, the evening was, well, magical. Danielle Sellers, volunteer organizer for the event, posted this on Facebook after the evening:
“Thank you to everyone who came the to event tonight. It was a great success. We made over 300 dollars for hunger relief and I have a truck full of cans which will be delivered to The Pantry in the morning. Good work Oxford! And thanks to all who made the drive down from Memphis!”
While I very much enjoyed the readings of my friends and mentors, Beth Ann Fennelly, her husband, Tom Franklin, and Jack Pendarvis, it was my introduction to Ann Fisher-Wirth that made the evening so magical for me. Ann is a Professor of English at the University of Mississippi, and Beth Ann Fennelly considers her a mentor. Their friendship is obvious in Ann’s volume of poetry, “Five Terraces,” which include a poem dedicated to Beth Ann: “Sphinx, Star-Gazer, Mountain: Leading yoga. For Beth Ann Fennelly.” (Ann also teaches yoga. It shows in her body, in her carriage, in her spirit.)
I forgot my camera (if you can believe that) and took a few snapshots with my cell phone, but the quality is so bad that I will spare you. This picture of Ann is from the internet, and it’ s much better than mine. Here’s an interview with her at The Best American Poetry. You can read some of her poetry here.
Ann was an army brat, and I love the poems she read about her military childhood. They seemed especially appropriate on the eve of Veteran’s Day. And after the readings were over, when I went downstairs to leave Rooster’s, I was stopped in my tracks by a group of Marines, standing at attention in the downstairs bar, singing The Marines’ Hymn with vigor and reverence. It brought tears to my eyes. Afterwords, I said to one of them, “My son just got to Afghanastan this week. He flies helicopters for the Army.”
“Tell him we’ll be joining him as soon as we can, ma’am. We’ll have his back.”
I gave him a hug, and then looked around at the circle of young men with crew cuts and shining faces. They were beautiful young men, all of them. And I wept as I left the restaurant and got into my car to drive home to Memphis.
The next day I picked up Ann’s volume, Five Terraces, and found a few of the poems she had read the night before. The one that I found myself returning to again today is called, “When You Come to Love.” I hope I’m not infringing on any copyright laws by sharing it here, and I hope it will inspire my readers to find this book, and others of Ann’s, and buy them and enjoy them for yourself. Or give them as Christmas gifts to people you love. I’ll close with
When You Come to Love
by Ann Fisher-Wirth
When you come to love,
bring all you have.
Bring the milk in the jug,
the checked cloth on the table—
the conch that sang the sea
when you were small,
and your moonstone rings,
your dream of wolves,
your woven bracelets.
For the key to love is in the fire’s nest,
and the riddle of love is the hawk’s dropped feather.
Bring every bowl and ewer,
every cup and chalice, jar,
for love will fill them all-
And, dazzled with the day,
fold the sunlight in your sheets,
fold the smell of salt and leaves,
of summer, sweat, and roses,
to shake them out when you need them most,
For love is strong as death.