"The points are not the point; the point is poetry" said Allan Wolf (pictured at The Green Door Retrospective at Malaprop’s, in 2008) prior to the 1994 National Poetry Slam in Asheville. The phrase became the Slam moto; Wolf and the Asheville team become slam champions in ’95. Photo by John Fletcher Jr.

An ode to the poems and poets of the region

Western North Carolina’s connection to poetry may have crystallized during the 1990s, at the height of slam and spoken word poetry: The National Poetry Slam was held in Asheville in 1994, and the local team won that competition in ’95. The green door, a since-closed venue on Carolina Lane, was home to performers like Allan Wolf, Glenis Redmond, Christine Lassiter, James Navé and Laura Hope-Gill. The venue’s name was never supposed to be capitalized, according to Wolf. (Read some of Hope-Gill’s memories of that ’90s-era poetry scene at here.)

In fact the WNC + poetry = TLA relationship goes back much farther. Native son Thomas Wolfe, known for his magnum opus Look Homeward, Angel, also had a talent for verse. His poems are collected in A Stone, A Leaf, An Unfound Door. Spoken word artist Henry Rollins has often mentioned Wolfe among his influences.

Journalist and Abraham Lincoln biographer Carl Sandburg picked Flat Rock to relocate to from Chicago. In Flat Rock, he could spend time with his family and his writing, and there he penned more than a third of his published work, including his Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry. Sandburg named his property Connemara after the Irish region, which has long been associated with writers.

But why look to the Emerald Isle when this region lays claim to five out of seven North Carolina poets laureate: Arthur Talmage Abernethy, Fred Chappell, Kathryn Stripling Byer, Cathy Smith Bowers and, currently, Joseph Bathanti. Bathanti makes two National Poetry Month-related local appearances: He’ll give the keynote address at UNC Asheville’s ArtsFest on Friday, April 11, at 7 p.m.; and he’ll read from his work and distribute student poetry awards as part of RiverLink’s awards ceremony and reception at A-B Tech on Saturday, April 12, from 2-5 p.m.

Poetry is alive and well in WNC these days. Recent years gave us the Roof Top Poets among other collectives. In 2011, Xpress received around 300 entries for our Poetry Prize, which culminated in a reading at the Masonic Temple. Last year, Slam Asheville Youth competed in the international Brave New Voices youth poetry slam. Asheville Wordfest holds its weekendlong event in May. Local reading series, school programs and published works — by writers both established and up-and-coming — are going strong. Speaking of published work, Asheville Poetry Review celebrates its 20th anniversary this year: an impressive milestone.

And, speaking of 20th anniversaries, 2014 also marks the big 2-0 for Xpress. With that number in mind, we asked readers to compose short-form poems around the theme of 20 years.

Poet Ray McNiece performs at the green door, circa 1900s. Photo courtesy of Allan Wolf and taken by venue owner/bartender/resident artist David Hobbs.
Poet Ray McNiece performs at the green door, circa 1900s. Photo courtesy of Allan Wolf and taken by venue owner/bartender/resident artist David Hobbs.

Laura Owens, Untitled, 2011, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24″
[The leaves change. The change becomes us. The tennis court at Montford Rec cracks. A stroke without a comet. I’m surprised the ball thwocks over, little hairlime. What would you call the colors between trees? Stay awhile. A plastic bag drifts on court, fishes for itself. A stand of chairs blows in. The players at the Open have to let up control, loosen form to wave on wave of wind. How to explore ignorance in the body at a time like this? Connors/McEnroe: I love watching this as an anger story in them.]
Laura Owens, Untitled, 2011, acrylic on linen, 24 x 24″
[Blue moon. Last night I asked the girl at the register about the writing tattooed on her chest: your handwriting? She broke into candy colors: Yes, no one ever asks me that! Her red lips nested together again. She beamed to hand us our wine. And I hate to use these colors. But one of the words under her bra strap was CARROT and it is addressed to this tenderness c/o Laura Owens, Los Angeles.] — Elaine Bleakney, excerpted from the chapbook 20 Paintings by Laura Owens. Bleakney recently released For Another Writing Back, her first collection of prose poetry.

Missing 20 or, Turning 21
Defeated under the all-knowing sun, he rests his sickly pride, blackened blue.
Sterile sheets toss like flags of surrender, flapping against offensive day lights.
His head throbs lapse around swampy pillows while solemn concrete threads,
hand-knit into stone, cover his tomb’s entrance. Do not wake the tiny chrysalis.
For now he is barely proteins, his riveting cells mimic Winter chills shivering into
Spring relief. Emergent, he’ll bloom with powers like gods swearing, never again. — Joseph Jamison

Until I Turned 20: A Haiku
Voices from above
Told me what to do in life
Clean up, aisle nine — Katie K


Performance poet Danny Solis on stage at green door. Photo courtesy of Allan Wolf, taken by David Hobbs.
Performance poet Danny Solis on stage at green door. Photo courtesy of Allan Wolf, taken by David Hobbs.

In Print for 20
That which remains, a residue.
The residue of money; of liberty; of error.
What we call philosophy is but the residue of questions unanswered, says James.
Weiss answers: an artist takes his work to be a residuum of the creative process.
And Solomon said, “if you need me, why don’t you call me.”
As for justice, the residue is on the scrap heap. — Marty Weil

Delta Blues Rising
‘Nother midday sun broiling
Bent folks in fields toiling
Man-child sweat pouring
Delta blues rising this morning — Henry Albert Smith

Brooklyn (a double sijo)
Everything is borrowed or everything is gone:
The kitchen is filthy, the train won’t come, and of my entire soul
Poured forth to be realized, won’t anything start pouring back.

In twenty days, I’ll be two months gone from Brooklyn.
Surely someone else waiting will have boarded the train by then
And someone else waiting will put a bed where my bed used to be. — Hannah Callahan

Poems are like a diary
of the who’s, the where’s, and the why’s,
all individual thoughts
collected into a sort of autobiography
written just to say to someone
the things that matter most. — Paul Viera

Yesterday is just an eternity away.
Tomorrows but a borrowed promise
from the condemned fate of today.
Present seconds fleeting lessons
bless the minutes that will fade
into hours losing power
Black and white blend into grey.
Time is but a shadow of a battle
that will rage
within the doubts and fears
and shallowness allowed
within our brains.
Transcend constraints of time
to find the value of the day.
When the sun becomes one of the stars
your bars allow themselves to break. — August West

Poet band Sister Raven performing at the green door. Photo courtesy of Allan Wolf, taken by David Hobbs.
Poet band Sister Raven performing at the green door. Photo courtesy of Allan Wolf, taken by David Hobbs.

I was a butterfly,
Wings broken by the storm.
What I needed was shelter
Not a cage.
How will I ever fly again? — Janis Hall

Poetic Paradox
20-year-old daughter thinks poetry “stupid”
“Hell,” she says, “Many don’t even rhyme.
They’re just meaningless clumps of words
Strung together
In hopes of being sublime.” — Colleen Kelly Mellor

Who are we to say roses are red?
They reflect the light, then they are dead.

This speck in time bred intelligent clowns.
Do you hear the swan’s song? Do you hear it’s sounds?

The circle of dirt will keep spinning free.
And roses … well … roses will just be. — John Kelleher

Nagasaki Kitchen
A short fuse smolders in my Nagasaki kitchen.
Perpetual warfare: the pot repeatedly calling the kettle black.
The egg-timer ticks down to Doomsday.
Bombs away…
Fallout never ends in my Nagasaki kitchen. — William Swarts

US Route 20
That was the summer we crossed the wingspan of the United States on
the yellow lined vein of Highway 20. Best friends in our twenties twenty-twenty vision outside elbows sunburned, folded pink in the August heat of the Chevrolet’s roll down window. The gas tank filled for the price of two IHOP breakfasts and the sun, a yolk, running gold in the rearview mirror. — Chelsea Lynn La Bate

Relief Road
The road is narrow, two lanes wide
It slips through hills and mountainside
Lined with trees of many colors
Tunnels through into another

In the city, streets are jammed
With cars and buses honking, rammed
Into a tunnel lined with stone
Buildings high and sunlight gone
To shade

Time stands still up in the hills
At lookouts with dramatic thrills
Of colors, beauty, spread below
A quiet view of nature’s show
Of life

It isn’t far to find relief
From traffic woes and crowded grief
Take two lane roads at thirty-five
Through forest glow to feel alive
The Parkway calls to Blue Ridge mounts
To sights and sounds and all that counts
In peace — John Haldane


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About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall has lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. She is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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