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North Carolina Poetry Society History – 1992-2002

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Compiled by Marie Gilbert

The 60th anniversary [1932-1992] celebration of the North Carolina Poetry Society lasted over a year and stretched between two sets of officers, thereby stressing the continuity in the life of the organization. The celebration included a skit written and produced by Margaret Baddour to honor the founders and presentefd at meeting. Also at that meeting, the contest winning logo, a feather pen and ink well design by Beth Hoyt, a design still used today, was displayed on notepaper, post cards, and stationery. Beth also presented it on tee shirts. On the back of those shirts was a likeness of Sam Ragan in a red bow tie, traditional with him. Sam Ragan, the Poet Laureate of North Carolina [1982-1996] and a constant supporter of the NCPS, was completely surprised.

Past presidents were asked to speak of their times, exploits, and tribulations. One president startled everyone when she told of the time the NCPS’s good name almost became tarnished. A bogus group, using the name of the Poetry Society, announced a contest and requested entries and a sizable entry fee to be sent to a post office box. The ruse was discovered just in time.

One of the first thoughts for the celebration was an anthology to show what we were writing in our 60th year. Sam Ragan came up with the name Here’s to the Land from a poem that began “Here’s to the land of the long leaf pine” written by a homesick North Carolinian the same year the Poetry Society was founded. The editor was Judith Holmes Settle. She and Marie Gilbert promoted the book by planning readings all over the State. A copy or two is still periodically sold at the Bull’s Head Bookshop on the UNC-CH campus. The mission of this anthology is best stated in the Preface:

Before the Anthology Committee finishes the process of producing this volume, the North Carolina Poetry Society will be into a new fiscal year and will have installed new officers – an indication of a healthy entity that absorbs energy from many, and from continuity, gathers strength far beyond that of any individual.

Born in the depth of the Great Depression, survivor of four wars, the Poetry Society has stood as a resource for poets and readers of poetry in difficult times as well as joyous times. We review our past in appreciation, and to set the line straight and true into the future. We celebrate the richness of the heritage upon which we build.

This book is offered as a chronicle of our art in our time. May it say to the future what we were and what we are, and become a cherished volume.

Even as Here’s to the Land [1992] was still being promoted around the State, plans were being made for a millennium anthology. This was a venture requiring time and effort from many sources. Ultimately Fred Chappell, who was then Poet Laureate [1996-2002] of North Carolina, proposed the title. The title reveals the magnitude of the undertaking: Word and Witness: 100 Years of North Carolina Poetry [1999]. Sally Buckner was the editor, and she relied on the fund raising ability of Marsha Warren, Susan Meyers, and Sharon Sharp. This anthology of 305 pages was produced with the generous financial assistance of the North Carolina Arts Council. A Touring Theatre Ensemble followed, This is the Place Where I Live, written and directed by Brenda Schleunes. This was a theatrical and musical production that wove together more than 50 poems from Word and Witness. Again, assistance came from the North Carolina Arts Council, and from the North Carolina Humanities Council and Peace College. This very professional production delighted audiences at thirty-eight performances in twenty-six counties.

Into the 21st century the Poetry Society sailed on the wings of a computer expert. Ray Dotson established a web site for the NCPS on his own domain in 1998, and he served as Webmaster for the first four years. The web site grew to be more elaborate with the assistance of Earl Huband. This state-of-the-arts web site is quite an asset to the North Carolina Poetry Society. The address is www.sleepycreek.org/poetry.

With E-mail came new means of leadership and organization. Membership settled between 325 and 350. Guy and Carolyn York enhanced record keeping with the creation of a new membership database.

The Newsletter changed from a booklet type bulletin of coming events out before meetings three times a year. This bulletin had won recognition in its category. The new publication, twelve letter sized sheets, contains not only agenda and announcements, but also publishing opportunities, news of member successes and publications, and articles of and about members.

The Poetry Society also publicized and supported Earth and Soul: An Anthology of North Carolina Poetry [2001]. This anthology was published in Kostroma, Russia, in both English and Russian, and it contains poems by many NCPS members.

To its three meetings (the 3rd Saturday of January, May and September), the Poetry Society added Sam Ragan Poetry Day, then adopted the name Sam Ragan Poetry Festival for the 70th Anniversary [2002] of the NCPS and set its time for the fourth Saturday in June. At the inaugural event a giant birthday cake was served, Shelby Stephenson and Margaret Baddour led the festivities, members wore Bow Ties (made by Beth Hoyt and Margaret Parrish) in the tradition of Sam Ragan, and many poets sang, read their favorite poetry, and played music.

Looking to the future, Bob Collins had promoted long-range plans and polled the Poetry Society for preferences. One of those was educational, a desire for more workshops. To meet this wish some of the major meetings, instead of having a speaker or other program, offered a choice of four workshops. Also, workshops were planned all over the State. Under the chairmanship of Nancy King the number reached thirteen. Many of these have become traditional, belong to their areas, and are expected every year.

The title of Award Winning Poems, the yearly anthology, was changed in 2002 after due consideration by a committee chaired by Susan Meyers. The new title is Pinesong.

The Poet Laureate Award for a single poem continues. Eight categories are offered for adult contests and five in the student contests. On two occasions the student contest entries were so numerous and outstanding the Contest Chairpersons, Beth Hoyt and David Holt, put together chapbooks chosen from poems that would not be in Award Winning Poems. The books were entitled Chairman’s Choice. Copies of these books stand today in the NCPS archives as a tribute to teachers who encouraged the young poets, those who managed the contests, and the poets themselves.

One of Sharon Sharp’s last acts as President [2000-2002] was to begin under the chairmanship of Lois Wistrand a Program Endowment Campaign to establish long-term financial support for expanded NCPS programming.

The time and efforts of many and the blending of minds set the sails to move the North Carolina Poetry Society forward with the new winds of the new century.

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