The “Debut” of our new Poet Laureate

By George Ella Lyon

Dear Readers,

As your about-to-be poet laureate, I want to begin with a poem about beginning.

DEBUT

Something comes from nothing.

Something will come. Just listen.

Just wait. Sit by the portal of nothing.

You will hear the ringy sort of silence

that fills a well. Then quirks & quinks.

Then words. Two. Three. Maybe a whole

phrase. This you say over and over

to let the melody cast its spell. Then

you listen again, but now you listen

forward from those words. What

comes after this? That, these, those?

Probably not. Association is free

but more a playground than a poem.

Now. Play ground. The stage?

Dusty velvet maroon curtain. You

wait behind its pleated wall. Guitar

neck in your right hand, your best

friend’s hand in your left. You’re

fourteen, it’s 1963, and the audience

creaks the wooden seats of your

high school auditorium, eager

to see the football queen crowned

and get back to the house. But they

must sweat through entertainment

first, including you and Joanie, who

are debuting your folk act because

of “Lemon Tree” and “Blowin’ in

the Wind.” You are both trembling

like that wind-swept tree, breath

held till your names are called.

Then you step out into footlight’s

dazzle, all hope and high hearts.

Somewhere in the universe your

voices still travel, a disturbance

of air, your first song.

I chose this poem not only because it’s about a debut, but because it’s about how writing happens—or at least now it happens for me.

I remember when I volunteered in my high school library, one of the first things Mrs. Dale, our librarian, told me, was that “Nothing comes before something.” She was referring to a principle of book organizing, but I took it cosmically. (This is one way to spot a poet.) And it’s true, of course. It’s what they tell us about the origin of the uni-verse, the one poem we are all a part of.

When I began “Debut” I had no idea where it was going, no clue that I would wind up as my 14-year-old self, trembling behind the curtain of the Harlan High School auditorium. I was just listening, waiting until I could hear the silence. Then sitting with the silence until sounds started, then following those sounds into words. If this feels mysterious, it is. I can’t make it happen, like I can sit down and write a grocery list. I can only prepare for and invite it. The more faithfully I do that, along with reading and journal-keeping, the more likely it is that something will come.

I believe this listening is part of what I can offer as poet laureate, too: listening to what you write in workshops, to what you say after readings, to questions you ask and stories you share.

Evidently I have to speak first, though.

Please join the Kentucky Arts Council on Kentucky Writers’ Day, 10 a.m. April 24 in the Capitol Rotunda for the induction of George Ella Lyon as Kentucky Poet Laureate.

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George Ella Lyon on keeping journals

Gov. Steve Beshear has appointed George Ella Lyon to serve as Kentucky Poet Laureate for the 2015 – 2016 term. As poet laureate, Lyon will promote the arts and lead the state in literary endeavors through readings and public presentations at meetings, seminars, conferences and events, including Kentucky Writers’ Day. Lyon will formally be inducted at a public ceremony and reception, in conjunction with Kentucky Writers’ Day, on April 24, 2015, in the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort.

In celebration, we are glad to share a blog entry George Ella wrote for us in April, 2013. You can expect a new post from her on our blog in the coming weeks.

Why I keep a journal

By: George Ella Lyon

Yesterday I had a Skype visit with high school students. Their teacher had asked me to talk about my writing process and to listen and respond as her students read their “Where I’m From” poems. I enjoy teaching in this new way, and it makes author visits more affordable in a time of shrinking school budgets.

I began, as I always do, by asking the writers if they kept a journal. One person raised her hand. Somebody called out, “We do blogs.” I asked the teacher how this worked, and she explained that she’s the reader for their blogs but she guessed anyone could read them if they wanted to. I’m not sure whether she meant anyone in the class or the school or the world.

Perhaps a blog seems cooler than a journal. Perhaps it’s exciting to post your words knowing that you just published them. What I’m writing right now is intended to be a blog, the first I’ve ever done. Though I may change my mind, so far I’ve not started a blog because I’m afraid it would take energy away from my journal. And I don’t want to do that. Here’s why.

A blog is public, even if you limit access to it. A journal is private. A blog imagines an audience. A journal has the writer for its audience. A blog is about communicating with the world. A journal is about communicating with yourself.

You don’t have to choose. You can do both. But let me tell you what you will miss if you skip the journal and go straight to the blog. At this moment in our culture we have so many voices—in person, in advertising, on all our screens—telling us who we should be, how we should act, what we should want, own, wear, feel, that it can be almost impossible to hear our own voices. And if we can’t hear then, we don’t know what matters to us, as opposed to everyone and everything outside us.

A journal is a place to listen to yourself. To calm yourself. To know yourself, to take care of yourself. It’s a tool to connect with the deepest part of yourself and learn who you are and what matters most to you. If you don’t know those things, how can you choose your path?

In your journal, you can write down your dreams, hopes and fears. What makes you mad or curious or ecstatic. If your life feels out of control, you can write about that, too, and while it won’t change the outside situation, it can change you inside because you found words for it. It’s not all bottled up.

When I look back through my journals—I’ve got more than a hundred and twenty now—I realize I use them primarily for four things: collecting, reflecting, connecting and creating. The collecting phase is what I just talked about: setting down what happens and how I feel about it, copying quotations, keeping a list of books I’m reading. And I collect things besides words that relate to my life at the time: I tape in concert tickets, photographs, newspaper articles, postcards, leaves, feathers, rocks, bark, even seashells if they’re flat enough. If an article is too large for the page, I just fold it so that it can accordion out when I want to read it again. Recently I was speaking at a school and one of the students noticed that my journal wouldn’t quite close. “How did your journal get so fat?” he asked. “I fed it,” I told him.

bookshelf

George Ella Lyon’s Journal Shelves

And it feeds me, too, because I’m not just taking an inventory of my life: I dreamed this, I did that, I felt another way. I’m reflecting on it too. What was it about the sandy-haired guy on the elevator wearing a black suit, red tie, and flip-flops that made me afraid? Why wasn’t he funny? Why did he give off such weird vibes?

Or, written under a sandwich wrapper which is taped in, why did this pimiento cheese taste like San Francisco when I got it in the Detroit airport?

Why did it make me so mad when Libby called me Jelly-Belly? I thought I was a grownup. And so forth.

Answering these questions helps me make connections and understand myself, the person I really am and not the one I may want to be or feel expected to be. When I asked why it felt so good to lie across the car seat looking for a CD underneath, I discovered that it felt like hanging upside down from the elm tree, which I loved to do as a kid. Upside down, the sky became the ground, and the backyard was a green sky interrupted by spiky iris and the coal pile.

Sometimes this reflecting and connecting leads me into creating a piece I might want to share. For example, writing about the guy on the elevator, I might imagine what he could have been thinking, and out of that could come a poem or story in which we are each afraid of the other. Or he could turn out to be the son of the woman who invented Peeps. I don’t know. But I could imagine.

Keeping a journal lets me decide if something I’ve written might speak to other people—and if I would want to share it. If I do, I type it up and begin revising, working to let the reader in on my experience. Many poems, picture books, stories, plays, and novels have begun this way.

But they wouldn’t have happened if I’d been writing for an audience all along. I would be too self-conscious, too external and self-critical to get to the deep place where creation begins.

As a teacher, I understand the advantage of the blog in that it’s evidence that students are writing, and it provides a piece to be read and considered. When I’ve had students keep journals, I’ve asked them to show me a certain number of written pages, just so I know they’ve been done, and then give me one excerpt to read. That way the writers have privacy but also accountability, and I have examples of their work to read.

I know some folks keep journals online, which is fine if it works for you. If you do, you could scan or photograph special objects that you want to include. You could embed video, too, of course. But you wouldn’t have an actual leaf to touch, the impress of a writer’s hand on a note you’ve saved, the silk of a jingle shell to transport you back to the beach. A journal is a gift you give yourself. A gift of yourself. Give it a try. Someone wonderful is waiting for you.

george ella

George Ella Lyon

George Ella Lyon is the author of four books of poetry, a novel, a memoir, and a short story collection as well as thirty-seven books for young readers. Her honors include an Al Smith Fellowship, fellowships to the Hambidge Center for the Arts, numerous grants from The Kentucky Foundation for Women, a Pushcart Prize nomination, and a feature in the PBS series, “The United States of Poetry.” A native of Harlan County, Ky., Lyon works as a freelance writer and teacher based in Lexington. For more information, go to georgeellalyon.com

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Students shine at state Poetry Out Loud competition

Poetry out Loud was a HUGE success this year!

I’m going to be real honest here. I’ve never taken part in Poetry Out Loud, and I couldn’t tell if it was just me being introduced to this art form, but everyone else agreed — this year’s group was truly spectacular. I’m really glad I wasn’t a judge. I’m also glad I wasn’t a student…the competition was tough! As an audience member, I was so nervous for them.

I was a communications major in college. I’ve done countless debates, speech after speech, I’ve even anchored newscasts. There’s no way I’d be able to do what they did. All the competitors recited two poems and then five finalists made it to the final round to recite another. It was like a marathon, but each recitation was still raw and uninhibited.

Out of the 14 students that made it to Frankfort, Haley Bryan, of Grant County High School, will travel to nationals in Washington, D.C., for the National Poetry Out Loud Championship to represent Kentucky. I’m sure it was a close call, with Cacia Rose of George Rogers Clark High School finishing in second place.

Each school champion deserves a shout out.

  • Matt Bradshaw, Butler Traditional High School, Jefferson County
  • Hayley Bryan, Grant County High School
  • Naomi Cliett, Elizabethtown High School, Hardin County
  • Sierra DeShane, Allen County Scottsville High School, Allen County
  • Loren Prather, Graves County High School
  • Cacia Rose, George Rogers Clark High School, Clark County
  • Brooke Salsman, McCracken County High School
  • Haylee Stevens, Phelps Junior and Senior High School, Pike County
  • Taryn Syck, Pike County Central High School
  • Katelyn Taylor, Franklin County High School
  • Gabby Thompson, Boyd County High School
  • Kaleb Trent, Hart County High School
  • Connor Wagner, West Carter High School, Carter County
  • Cameron Wilson, Western Hills High School, Franklin County

Take my word for it. This blog post does not do this year’s competition justice. To watch pieces of a recitation from each student, along with the announcement of the winners, visit our Twitter account at @kyartscouncil.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Poetry Out Loud is a poetry recitation contest sponsored by the Kentucky Arts Council, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Poetry Foundation. Each student is judged on the recitation of two poems, which are selected by the student and their teachers from a preapproved list of works.

Megan Williamson Fields, communications assistant

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Arts Council welcomes artists new to Kentucky Crafted: The Market 2015

It’s definitely crunch time. Kentucky Crafted: The Market is this weekend! Nowhere in Kentucky, let alone the nation, will you find such a convergence of high-quality art, craft, literature, music and food.

With approximately 200 artists exhibiting at Kentucky Crafted: The Market at the Lexington Convention Center, retailers have the unique opportunity to purchase items from the largest gathering of Kentucky-based artists under one roof.

alisha Among exhibitors are several who will be showing at The Market for the first time. One of those includes Georgetown resident Alisha Martin, owner of The Bad Button Bespoke Corsets, who learned the art of corsetry from studying museum pieces and through “copious amounts of trial and error.”

“Because corsetry is such a rare craft, many corsetieres are self-taught,” she says.

“Corsetry is a dying art, something that even couture fashion houses have to contract out to artists for their exclusive lines,” Martin says. “As the only professional corset maker working full time in Kentucky, I have dedicated my career to both regaining the lost skills and creating new innovations in the field. As such, I focus on creating both the ultimate in the luxury textile experience, but also a piece that is comfortably molded to the intended wearer’s unique body structure.”

Martin’s work has appeared in numerous runway shows and magazines.

plummerPrintmaker Chris Plummer, owner of Chris Plummer Art, has been exhibiting his work since 1999. He began studying graphic design at Northern Kentucky University, but his artistic direction changed his sophomore year when he took an introduction to printmaking class.

“I realized I wanted to spend the rest of my life creating art and making prints,” the Niagara resident says.

Plummer has been in the Kentucky Crafted program since 2013. He has work on exhibit in the offices of Kentucky First Lady Jane Beshear and has earned accolades at several art festivals and fairs.

“I am an original artist whose work stands out within the field of printmakers,” Plummer says. “I bring my unique perspective to each print, whether creating narrative bodies of work or moody, somewhat abstract landscapes.”

Plummer is looking forward to showing his new line of monoprints, which are mostly of Western Kentucky landscapes.

plasterQuilter Brenda Plaster of Lawrenceburg has been quilting for about 10 years. She began as a home-based business while being a caregiver for a family member. Her business, Spool & Bobbin Quilting, has grown, as has her passion for her craft.

“Traditional quilt block designs, some of them hundreds of years old, are the basis of my work,” Plaster says. “The quilt may have a more contemporary feel due to fabrics used, block placement and other elements, but I like its lineage to be present. I also enjoy creating quilts with themes (butterflies, ballerinas, sports, holidays, etc.) and making memory quilts, in which photographs, artwork, letters, and ephemera are used.”

Plaster has designed for and been published by several quilting magazines and fabric companies. She does commission work and has quilts on sale at the Kentucky Artisan Center at Berea.

The Market is open exclusively to retail buyers March 6 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Buyers can also register at the door the day of the event and must bring two forms of business identification to complete registration. For more information about registration requirements, visit the Kentucky Arts Council’s website.

Are you ready to enjoy the benefits of becoming officially designated as a Kentucky Crafted Retailer? Come to The Market and find out how you can participate in statewide promotional campaigns, increase your web presence and let customers know you carry merchandise known for quality craftsmanship and artistic excellence. Get started on becoming a Kentucky Crafted Retailer today! We’ll have information at Kentucky Crafted: The Market 2015, March 6-8 at Lexington Convention Center, to get you signed up and to answer your questions.

The Market was chosen as the #1 Fair & Festival by readers of AmericanStyle Magazine four years in a row. It has been named a Top 10 Event by Kentucky Tourism Council and a Top 20 Event by the Southeast Tourism Society. The general public is invited to Kentucky Crafted: The Market on Saturday, March 7 and Sunday, March 8.

Come to the beautiful Convention Center and enjoy all that downtown Lexington has to offer. Ample parking is available in the High Street and Manchester Street lots.

For more information on Kentucky Crafted: The Market, like the 2015 Market program and the schedule for the Kentucky Stage schedule of performances, visit our event website.

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Kentucky Crafted artists new to The Market 2015

We’re getting so close to Kentucky Crafted: The Market and the excitement continues to build! Nowhere in Kentucky, let alone the nation, will you find such a convergence of high-quality art, craft, literature, music and food.

Most artists at The Market live and work in Kentucky, and create and sell work under the Kentucky Crafted brand. With approximately 200 artists attending Kentucky Crafted: The Market at the Lexington Convention Center, retailers have the unique opportunity to purchase items from the largest gathering of Kentucky-based artists under one roof.

Here, we’re offering a sneak preview of some of the Kentucky Crafted artists who will exhibit at The Market for the first time.

winelandFiber artist Heidi Wineland of Grayson, owner of KittyAllen, entered the Kentucky Crafted Program with her Knitagain plush creations, but she has a background in a variety of artforms, including needlework, painting, stained glass and jewelry making. When Wineland was a child, her mother taught her to sew. In her teens, Wineland started making jewelry, and she has dabbled in other forms of art, like needlework, painting, stained glass, knitting, weaving and dollmaking. She began teaching crafts while she was still in college.

Wineland’s inspiration is derived from whimsy, she says. “I like to make small, simple things that make people happy,” Wineland says. “I would rather be amusing than awe-inspiring.” Wineland was juried into Kentucky Crafted for her unique plush animal and monster dolls called Knitagains.”

“It delights me to see people delighted by my little Knitagain friends, and I love to see them go to loving homes.”

bonbrightSelf-taught Louisville woodworker Chris Bonright made a second career out of a longtime hobby when he started Strictly Cedar Woodworks in 2012. His output has evolved from creating a basic Adirondack style chair to designing, building and selling more than 70 different furniture and garden accessory products.

“Strictly Cedar’s competitive edge is based on offering handmade and environmentally friendly products,” Bonbright says. “Whether you decide on individual pieces or our very popular furniture sets, our high-quality products grab consumers’ attention and provide opportunities for increased revenue.”

Bonbright’s choice of materials is made with the environment in mind. He uses only reclaimed or recycled western red cedar. Each piece is made to order, crafted in America “from lumber to labor.”

He is anxious to forge new relationships with buyers and to interact with other Kentucky Crafted artists to learn from their experiences in the program.

Buyer registration for Kentucky Crafted: The Market is free and available on the Kentucky Arts Council’s website. The Market is open exclusively to the trade March 6 from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Buyers can also register at the door the day of the event and must bring two forms of business identification to complete registration. For more information about registration requirements, visit the Kentucky Arts Council’s website.

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