For the 2020 Xpress Poetry Contest, in celebration of April as National Poetry Month, area writers were asked to craft a work about a famous or noteworthy person/personality in Western North Carolina. Entries included verse on moonshiner Popcorn Sutton, film star Kelly McGillis (Top Gun; Witness), potter Burlon Craig and singer Roberta Flack.
Local poet Lockie Hunter — curator of the Juniper Reading Series and co-producer of the 103.3 FM poetry and prose radio program, Wordplay — served as this year’s judge and selected James Brooks’ tribute to Ernst Laursen as the top entry, calling it “an emotionally honest poem, close to the earth, rooted in place and history.”
“The first-person point of view draws the reader into the world of the farm immediately and adds intimacy and warmth, while the iambic pentameter feels organic to the poem, as if the poem grew in those lines rather than being forced into form,” Hunter says. “The form allows the language to expand and breathe. Brooks’ imagery is evocative and guides the reader gently from concrete to abstract. Though we are planted in hills and meadows, we travel farther afield and back again. Well done!”
For Ernst Laursen
Warren Wilson College Farm Director, 1956-1996
by James Brooks
I’ve spent the half-day on a line of fence
That runs around my nearest, smallest, field—
No outer force had pressed its competence,
Nor had it shown a secret mind to yield,
And as fields go, there wasn’t much to see,
Unless you count the marble tenancies,
Whose presence gave no task to any greed,
Or human urge, or human urgencies.
Yet still, no gauge as clear as getting through
For love, instead of for necessity,
And different from my list of things to do,
For this, I hold it to its own degree—
To give and give and let go unperceived:
The soul, the task, in strict complicity.
Forget that I once also would about
These yellow hills, around the river bend,
That I would also hear the mornings shout
Her light across and watch her evenings end.
Forget that I have also looked upon
This very meadow and climbed that fence,
That hers is not the only heart was won,
For there was mine, and there were others since.
For there, within the river strides the sea,
In laurel root, a dark eternity,
And on this field in dust and memory,
The only home its ancient lovers keep,
So do not ask of where it is we go,
Forget you now, for soon enough you know.