North Carolina Poetry Society History – 1972-1992

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This history was originally published in 1992 in a now out-of-print booklet by the then Publications Editor, Ray Dotson, entitled History of the North Carolina Poetry Society, Inc. 1932 – 1992.

Compiled by Ruby P. Shackleford

The North Carolina Poetry Society enters its sixth decade having grown from six founders to nearly three hundred members. Here we chronicle the years between the publication of the first history which was written by Christine Sloan in 1972 and the Diamond Anniversary Year of 1992.

The Society met in November of each year during Culture Week in Raleigh and participated in the statewide interaction of the arts. Other meetings during the year were the Awards Day in the spring which came to be traditionally held at Weymouth Center at Southern Pines, and one other meeting held anywhere from a beach location at one end of the state to an inn at Tryon or Lenoir Rhyne College near the other end. The Andrews/Earnhardt family hosted this late summer meeting on many occasions at their home, Bolin Brook Farm, near Chapel Hill. The cancellation of Culture Week in 1987 led the Society to adopt Weymouth Center as the permanent site for meetings – home for the Society – the third Saturday of January, May and September.

In 1972, the North Carolina Poetry Society published the eighth edition of Award Winning Poems. Having been launched in 1965, it was now a growing, developing publication of prize winning poems in seven categories: Thomas H. McDill, Sidney Lanier, Caldwell W. Nixon, Jr., Carl Sandburg, Ogden Nash, Brotherhood, and a Student Award.

The first revision in the appearance of the AWP was made in 1979 when Talmadge Moose designed a new cover to replace the original one. It featured a wrap-around line of stars and an Award ribbon. A commercial printer was employed for the first time in 1980 and in 1982 a standard page format was adopted.

In 1987, the whole appearance of the book and much of the content changed. Photographs were introduced. The front cover pictured the front door of Weymouth Center, and the back cover pictured Weymouth from the garden side. Photos inside included one of the Poet Laureate, Sam Ragan, in whose honor a new contest was instituted, and Christine Sloan, to whom the first dedication was made. That edition also carried a photo of the winner of the Zoe Kincaid Brockman Book Award, along with a poem from the winning book. The purpose of the Society was printed in the front, past presidents were listed, and perfect binding replaced stapling.

The number of adult single poem contests had now grown to 9. They were: Poet Laureate, Thomas H. McDill, Brotherhood, Caldwell W. Nixon, Jr., Christine Sloan, Dean Hale (Limerick), Hayman “America”, Light Verse, and Sallie Paschall (Haiku).

The Student Contests took a great leap when a Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation Grant provided money for sending out the word about the Student Contests. The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction in Raleigh agreed to attach contest rules to a newsletter sent to all NC public school teachers. This, together with expanded publicity and rules sent to most private schools and colleges, made it possible to reach practically every student in North Carolina. The number of entries zoomed from 16 in 1988 to 558 in 1989. Of even more significance, the quality of submitted poems vastly improved.

Consequently, to the Travis Tuck Jordan and the Marie Barringer Rogers Awards, the student contest added in 1991-92 the Bessie Willis Hoyt Award for grades 3 through 8 on Man and the Environment, and the Richard de los Mar Haiku Award for grades 9 through undergraduate college level. With these four student categories, the total now stands at 13 single poem contests and the Z. Kincaid Brockman Book Award, which has its own endowment established by Christine Sloan.

Through the years, finding excellent out-of-state judges through personal contact has insured the quality of all contests.

Sam McKay’s last issue in 1990 crowned earlier improvements with the addition of color on the cover – a complete surprise to the membership. The new Editor, Raymond P. Dotson, continued the use of color on the cover and added several color pictures inside.

The society’s second anthology, Soundings In Poetry, was published in 1981, by The Pilot lnc., with Lois Holt as chairman of the Anthology Committee. As part of the celebration of America’s 400th Anniversary, The North Carolina Poetry Society published North Carolina’s 400 years: Signs along the way, edited by Ronald Bayes, with Marsha White Warren, Associate Editor. A. R. Ammons wrote the introduction. Included was the work of Lumbee Artists, and a dedication to the Lost Colonists. Both of these anthologies were published with assistance from the North Carolina Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts. The success of these ventures made possible the financing of an anthology to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the Society.

For many years, the Newsletter took the form of several 8 x 14 pages stapled together. In 1987 the format was changed to a booklet of eight to twelve pages sent to all members three times a year, four or five weeks prior to each meeting of the Society. Each issue includes information on programs, dates for meetings and workshops, a message from the president, and other items of interest to membership as well as news of members accomplishments including publications, contest awards and other activities related to poetry.

An important step in the Society’s progress has been a change in procuring, distributing, and managing funds. This includes an emphasis on securing grants since grants are an essential part of financing several of our projects. It is with appreciation that we acknowledge the grants that make possible many events to further the reading, appreciation, and writing of poetry. These are mentioned individually in connection with the events.

Revision of the Constitution and By Laws was accomplished between 1984 and 1986. Barbara McCoy chaired a committee including Ruby Shackleford and John Pipkin with Sallie Nixon as consultant. This two-year undertaking involved many. Sallie Nixon, Maud Oaks, Emily Councilman, Carolyne Kyles, and Christine Sloan were advisors in the early phase. The Chairman contacted all Board members for input in what was an updating to the times and increased size of the membership.

Dr. Everett Emerson, Professor of English and American Studies at UNC-CH, invited the North Carolina Poetry Society to participate in a three-day International Emily Dickinson Conference planned for April 1986, one hundred years after the date of her death. The Poetry Society involvement drew interest from the general community while others there were serious Dickinson scholars, some from as far away as Japan and Europe.

The success of this conference proved academic alliances to be ideal. In 1987 and 1988, with grants from the North Carolina Arts Council, the Society cosponsored conferences with Elon College. Since that time, spring Poetry Day at Elon College in April is a traditional Regional Workshop. Other successful w6rkshops are at UNC-Wilmington in February; St. Andrews College, usually in March; Guilford College; and Davidson. These alliances have greatly enriched our programs and provided stimulating atmosphere.

Two significant festivals were hosted by Duke University Office of Continuing Education. In 1989, the Society cosponsored with Duke the Poet Laureate Festival with funding from the North Carolina Humanities Council and the North Carolina Arts Council. The theme of the festival was The Poet and Human Values. Main features included readings and a panel discussion by national Poet Laureates Howard Nemerov and Richard Wilbur, and North Carolina Poet Laureate Sam Ragan, moderated by Sally Buckner. Besides Ragan, North Carolina poets participating were Betty Adcock, James Applewhite, Gerald Barrax, and Fred Chappell. The consensus among panelists was that poetry is alive and well, and speaks to a multiplicity of voices out of an ever-changing culture.

In 1991, the International Poetry Festival and Duke Office of Continuing Education, with funding from the North Carolina Humanities Council, the Mary Duke Biddle Foundation, and the Durham Merchants Association Charitable Foundation, featured Poet Laureates Joseph Brodsky and Mark Strand, and Nuala Ni Dhomhnaill and Li-Young Lee. The theme, POETRY, A COMMON LANGUAGE, pinpointed poetry as an excellent avenue of internal understanding. The theme, ONE STATE, MANY VOICES, spoke to the multicultural richness of our state, and the people-to-people opportunity this diversity offers. North Carolina poets participating were Poet Laureate Sam Ragan, Margaret Boothe Baddour, Gerald Barrax, Jim Wayne Miller, and Shelby Stevenson.

These festivals, workshops, conferences, panels have strengthened our purposes. Our in-house leadership continues to seek out and to plan challenging programs which serve to foster the study, the writing, and the appreciation of poetry. Our society objectives remain intact; our horizons have been considerably widened.

Moving into the sixtieth year celebration, fourteen volumes of The North Carolina Poetry Society scrapbooks are now part of The North Carolina Collection and the non-current records are with the Manuscript Department. Through the MARC facility, people using 40,000 libraries around the world know that the records of our society are in the archives of The University of North Carolina Library, Chapel Hill.

Projects in progress include the cataloging of books written by members, recording in transcript and on audio-visual tape our special events and programs. and the publishing of an anthology of our best poems in our diamond anniversary year.

The scanning of our past reveals myriad voices that have pushed the organization to wider purposes and to greater achievements. Few individuals can be cited as responsible because each president, each officer, each committee chairman, laid groundwork for accomplishment completed by others. We seek the long sight, profit from continuity. We anticipate a future bright with attainments.