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Joseph Bathanti:
What Beats So Passionately in Us

For our most recent newsletter we interviewed former NC Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti, who is teaching a 2-day workshop and giving a free public reading for Raleigh Review's Southern Recitations series in March. In the interest of protecting your inbox, we kept the interview concise, but we're delighted to share an expanded version here.

Your poem "The Windows of Heaven" will appear in the next issue of Raleigh Review. It feels so rooted in place, and has a sense of accumulation over the course of the poem, both rhythmically and in terms of imagery and landscape. How do the short and long lines, their push-and-pull, help you develop that energy?

While the actual setting for “The Windows of Heaven” is in West Virginia and tackles the worry about ruptures in coal slurry impoundments, I cribbed all my imagery from the valley of Vilas, North Carolina, where I live. I’ve been collaborating for about three or so years with nature photographer, Carl Galie, writing a series poems (a project that continues) to accompany his stunning photographs on mountaintop removal – we’ve had a couple of exhibits at university galleries in North Carolina – so I was steeped in research about mountaintop removal and the profound danger to the communities in close proximity.

What I was trying to accomplish with the lines was a kind of accelerating accumulation that is mimetic of the way a flood like this occurs. It beings drop by drop (the slow accretion of the poem’s lines) and then it’s a full-bore disaster. I tried also to control the poem by the use of couplets (which I found congenial to many of my mountaintop renewal poems) as well as through my language.

You just finished your term as the state poet laureate. What, over the last year, has been the most exciting moment for you as a poet?

Serving two years as North Carolina’s Poet Laureate was the biggest honor of my life. There were so many exciting moments, but what excited me the most was simply traveling across the state, back and forth, for two years. I loved the various landscapes and back roads, the little towns, especially their schools and people, their restaurants and churches, all those little pockets of humanity and idiosyncrasy. The extraordinary hospitality and friendliness of the places I visited were astonishing. I loved meeting the people. In all of those places, there were dedicated selfless folks, teachers in the main – but a lot of others – holding on doggedly to poetry and literature, folks who still believe that our stories will save us and that our children’s futures, their very humanity depends on our not losing sight of what beats so passionately in us.

For instance, I was in Warren County, a wonderful place, the birth place of Reynolds Price. My wife, Joan – who was my habitual companion on these forays – and I visited the tiny town of Macon where Price was born. We explored his now abandoned remarkable massive, columned school house. How unlikely that one of North Carolina’s greatest writers, a writer that stacks up as huge in the pantheon of writers of the last half century or so should come out of this obscure, seemingly forgettable, place, a place he made famous by writing incessantly about it. There are kids like Price right now in this state. They creep into the libraries, and check out books. They hang on the words of their gifted inspirational teachers. They hatch dreams to be writers. We don’t know who they are yet, but we have to make sure we keep producing them, and in order to do that we must make sure they have free and democratic access to first rate public education that champions reading, writing and literacy – and we must honor and cherish the often-embattled teachers who make it all happen.

What projects did you work on during your time as poet laureate? Was one particularly challenging, rewarding, or illuminating for you?

The Poet Laureate is required to take on a signature project during his/her tenure. My signature project was working with military veterans – those returning from combat and others – and their families, to tell their stories through poetry, fiction, and memoir. With a lot of help, from a lot of kind folks, I launched into that initiative. Beyond the borders of North Carolina, I taught at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center; The National Intrepid Center of Excellence (NICOE), a center on the same campus as Walter Reed that studies the “invisible wounds” of war; and the Veterans Writing Project summer workshops at George Washington University.

Most of my time with veterans has been with veterans in North Carolina.. I worked with The Veterans Writing Collective in Fayetteville, the Women Veterans Historical Project at UNC-Greensboro, Appalachian State University Vets writing group, VA hospitals in Durham and Salisbury, the Homeless Veterans Program Outpatient Clinic in Winston-Salem, Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies, the Carolina Veterans Weekend Writing Conference in Manteo, the UNC System Military Affairs Committee, and many others.
I also collaborated with Brenda Schleunes, the Producing Artistic Director of the Touring Theatre of North Carolina, to mount Deployed, a production presented in a Reader's Theatre format featuring the writings of veterans and family members of veterans – and it’s still touring.

What have you read lately that you've been really excited about?

My reading for the past many months or so has been top-heavy with books about war and military life, books that touch on the ravages and fallout of war, the things that follow and haunt soldiers for all their lives, like PTSD and TBI and even a relatively new affliction called Moral Injury. A fine, though often withering, book is Soul Repair: Recovering from Moral Injury after War, by Rita Nakashima Brock and Gabriella Lattini.

Donald Anderson, the editor of War, Literature & the Arts, a wonderful journal published by the Air Force Academy, alerted me to Fire and Forget: Short Stories from the Long War, edited by Roy Scranton and Matt Gallagher, which he called “this generation’s” The Things They Carried.

Ron Capps’ memoir, Seriously Not Alright: Five Wars in Ten Years, is very fine. Ron is the founder and director of The Veterans Writing Project in Washington, DC.

I love Vietnam veteran writer Bruce Weigl’s work: The Abundance of Nothing, a finalist for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry; and The Circle of Hanh, a memoir. Weigl’s Song of Napalm strikes me as the most memorable volume of Vietnam War poems.

A truly riveting, beautifully written book of poems is Jehanne Dubrow’s Stateside, published in 2010, its edgy plaintive speaker a military wife whose husband is deployed in the Middle East.

Another extraordinary book about war – the men deployed, the women left to their own wars back at home – is Siobahan Fallon’s debut collection of short stories, You Know When the Men Are Gone, published in 2011.

Most recently, I’ve been mesmerized by Brian Turner’s (Turner is the author of the poetry collection Here, Bullet) memoir, My Life as a Foreign Country, and Redeployment, Phil Klay’s 2014 National Book Award-winning collection of short stories.

Her Father's Daughter:
Gilda Morina Syverson

"The American Protestant work ethic is quite different from the Italian culture’s work habits. Italians value other things besides work—they cherish home, family, friends, food, get-togethers, relaxation and enjoying their environs."
—Gilda Morina Syverson, My Father's Daughter

Come to a friendly get-together, relax, and enjoy the environs!  Joseph Bathanti and Gilda Morina Syverson will give a free, public reading 7pm, Saturday, March 14, at Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh. Syverson's memoir, My Father's Daughter: From Rome to Sicily, came out in December 2014. An excerpt...

From Chapter 12 - Domenica (Sunday)

    Around ten o’clock the bells in the Romanesque steeple of San Nicola di Bari begin to toll. They clang so loud we can’t hear each other’s voices. The ringing doesn’t seem to matter. The doors remain closed and no one approaches the church for Mass. Obviously there's a protocol that is unknown to us, and to Dad's cousin Pasqualino.
    Dad, who’s sitting a seat away from Mom on the bench, talks to another man who moves toward him in the piazza then asks similar questions to the ones Dad answered the night before in front of his father’s old house: "Who is your family? Why did you leave? Where did you move?  What did you do for work?"

2015 NC Poetry on the Bus

April is National Poetry Month and with it comes Raleigh Review's fourth year of North Carolina Poetry on the Bus.

Submissions are now closed. Watch here for the announcement of the 2015 selections...

Upcoming Events

Please note the new location for the author readings: Quail Ridge Books & Music! (The workshops remain at Raleigh Review's office.)

Mar 14-15, 2015
Joseph Bathanti poetry workshop
Scholarship apps due Feb 21
Early-bird registration ends Feb 28
410 N. Boylan Ave., Raleigh

Mar 14, 2015
Joseph Bathanti & Gilda Morina Syverson poetry reading
FREE and open to the public
Quail Ridge Books & Music, Ridgewood Shopping Center,
3522 Wade Ave., Raleigh

We're moving to
Quail Ridge!

We are excited to announce our Spring Southern Recitations author readings are moving to Quail Ridge Books & Music. Those of you from the area will be familiar with Raleigh's largest independent bookstore. Quail Ridge has been a longtime seller of Raleigh Review Literary & Arts Magazine, and we are delighted to team up with them on these events.

Thanks to our supporters!

Southern Recitations is supported in part by the NC Arts Council, the City of Raleigh based on the recommendations of the Raleigh Arts Commission, Caktus Group, the United Arts Council of Raleigh and Wake County.

It is also supported by many individual donors including
  • Kajsa Anderson
  • Harry Calhoun
  • Dr. Debi and Mrs. Mithu Chaudhuri
  • Bryce Emley
  • Rob Greene
  • Susan Hoss
  • Debra Kaufman
  • Dorianne Laux & Joseph Millar
  • James McDaniel in honor of G. Ryan Spain
  • Ramesh Mehta
  • Susan Shah
  • David White
  • Karin Wiberg
  • Kjell Wiberg
  • Mary Wiberg
  • Catherine Woodard in honor of Betty Adcock

"A wonderful reading experience"

If you haven't yet picked up a copy of Raleigh Review Vol. 4, No. 2, now's the time. We suspect you'll find it to be as lovely as we do.

What's so gorgeous you ask?

How about the beautiful cover art by Geri Digiorno? Or the high quality paper stock? The full-color interior art by Pete Sack? The compelling fiction? The finely crafted poetry?

It all adds up to a lush reading experience--a literary oasis in a busy day.

"I just received my copy of the fall issue yesterday. What a wonderful reading experience. I read it cover to cover--several poems twice or more already--and the artwork complements the writing beautifully."

Not a subscriber yet? Subscribe here. And if you're inspired to get a few more copies to give as gifts, we'll be happy to oblige.