I picked this photo of Les because it includes elements of his passions – the camera strap because he’s a photographer, the birds because he was a professor of biology and geology at Gardner-Webb University. Les is also a potter and artist, in addition to being a published writer and poet, and Pushcart Prize nominee.
I met Les through his contributions to Kakalak – Poetry and Art Anthology, and then hearing him read at open mics. His ready smile invites you to sit, listen and absorb while he spins stories through his poetry, taking the reader back to a time that has pretty much disappeared, and to a place that’s slowly disappearing.
Les brings his keen artistic eye to his poetry so the reader sees everything that’s there, and more that’s hidden. Les records life growing up in the Blue Ridge Mountains in such a way, teachers would be wise to use his poetry when teaching American History. Like his photography, he leaves memories – of the hard work in poems like The Threshers Came, the fun in Rom’s Red Convertible, and always the respect for family, faith, and the land itself.
A Place Where Trees Had Names, RedHawk Publications, is Les’s first collection. With Les’s permission I’m sharing two of his poems. (Titles are bolded).
So here’s Les!
- Do you remember the first poem you ever wrote? How old were you? What was it about?
The first poem I wrote beyond the long-forgotten child’s rhymed couplets was “At Sixty-Six.” As the title notes. This is telling as to how long I have been writing poetry in a serious way. The poem began my exploration of my heritage through poetry. It summarizes my early life on our family Blue Ridge mountain farm, beginning before electricity. I was a product of the interaction of uncle, aunts, cousins, the farm culture and the surrounding mountains. In the poem, I am looking backward into that culture, seeing everything as moving spirits within that bygone landscape.
- If you could lift a cup of coffee or sweet tea with any poet, living or deceased, whom would it be?
I think I would love to have a cup with William Carlos Williams. He has always intrigued me, as he was a physician. Because his background was in the sciences, like my own as a professor of biology, I find it interesting that he achieved fame as a poet. His poems can be both enigmatic and accessible. His sixteen-word poem, “The Red Wheelbarrow,” stirs the imagination for its brevity and invitation to inquiry.
The Whippoorwill Begins His Call
Screen porch-sitting summer evening
may seem idle, time wasted
to those who have never stopped to
watch fireflies’ first flash, feel breeze
from approaching rain that stirs
hemlock and magnolia foliage to sing
their seasonal song, a gentle tune
in the silence and fade of last light,
to listen as katydids join and jar
the silent-sound of leaf and needle
with pleasing pulsing rhythm.
We may wish to merge with night,
with wind, with song of whippoorwill,
but it is enough to sit and listen
in comfort of padded chair, toast
nature with a glass of good wine
before another day of mortal labor.
The Threshers Came
Six tall stacks of sweet wheat
stood on the knoll in short stubble
just down our long two-track road
where Grandfather had cleared
his grain fields. He sat in his cane bottom
chair leaning against the gnarled maple
beside his wrap-around porch.
The threshers’ convoy of great machines
crawled to a stop beside arched haystacks.
He stood watching the overcalled men
and contraptions flail the ripe-headed wheat
to make it rain hard grain into gunny sacks.
The machine roared beside shrinking
stacks, spewing chaff and straw
and a cloud of dust held at bay
by bandana-faced men with pitchforks
lifting, waving the harvest
into its quivering mouth.
Then, dusty, they drank tin dippers
of water, spit black gobs and trudged to the farmhouse
to sit at Grandmother’s long dining room
table laden with platters of ham, bowls
of green beans, mashed potatoes, churned butter,
and bread from last harvest’s wheat.
The men squint-eyed the bounty
as Grandfather raised his hand to silence all,
bowed his head, blessing the meal and labor.
Les Brown ~ A Place Where Trees Had Names