First Place for the 2019 Katherine Kennedy McIntyre Light Verse Award went to Don Ball. Originally from Durham, NC, Don now lives in Raleigh. He attended The College of William and Mary and is a former high school English teacher, tennis coach, lecturer at NC State, and English Professor from Wake Techinical Community College. He is most recently published in Pinesong, Kakalak, and Tar River Poetry.
Don opted to answer all the questions I posed. So here are his thoughts on the first poem he ever loved, his ideal writing day, his most fulfilling achievments, favorite poet, and dealing with a dried up creativity well:
The first poem I can remember running into as a kid was Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s famous “Charge of the Light Brigade.” I was about nine or ten and I liked the galloping repetition and pace so much that I memorized it and used to recite it at night when my little brother and I were supposed to be asleep in our room. For some reason, my brother Ben would get annoyed and lob pillows, shoes, and other articles at my bed to get me to shut up. A disappointing audience.
I like to write in the mornings when I can. Handwriting first drafts is better for me. A perfect writing day will involve several hours of reading my poems and other poets’ work, starting a poem, and rewriting drafts I’ve started. I’m also inspired by reading fiction and listening to music. At night when I walk, sometimes I try to memorize poems by my favorite poets. T. S. Eliot argues that one must have the tradition of poetry in your bones in order to write originally.
In the last two years, I’ve started entering poems in the NC Poetry Society’s annual competition and have gotten recognition for several. It’s really fun to go the Awards Meeting in May, talk with all the poets, and get to introduce and read my poems.
My favorite poet is the latest one I discover or rediscover online from friends or from The Poetry Foundation. There are lots of good poets who have produced great poems, of course. I’ve met and spoken with Phillip Levine and Richard Wilbur. Donald Justice was my dissertation director at Florida. I corresponded extensively with William Stafford and heard Seamus Heany read in Greensboro. My other favorites include Emily Dickinson, Gwendolyn Brooks, Frost, Bishop, Roethke, Collins, Yeats, Rilke, Neruda, Milton, Shakespeare, etc. etc. It’s important to read the world.
I read prose, poetry, and history to recharge and it’s important that I have enough nascent ideas in my records to go back to them and tease them out. My current writing group The Poet Fools are all published poets, and we meet twice a month. It’s been great to have that meeting as a deadline for poems. The meeting itself is also recharging–writing’s a solitary enterprise and we need other people.
Don shares this poem, which is from his writing group’s anthology chapbook, published last year:
I confess to my parents that I have never
always obeyed the impulse to excel and have courted disaster and gross uncleanliness
and have kissed both full on the mouth
(not the parents, but the . . . ) you understand–
you always understand.
And as for my grandparents, I confess
that I have certainly been unfaithful to their petty bigotries
and their dangerous tendencies to like me
whatever I have done or not completed, and to their memory
and our history, and to the family and of everybody
and everything . . .
I confess also that I am not naturally kind,
and am, in fact, as vindictive as a Sicilian peasant,
hating those who seem to be level-headed, creative,
coping well with trauma, earnest, disciplined–
above all disciplined—and earnest and organized–
people who write thank you notes, and mail them,
with stamps—and keep up with their friends
and have friends, whosoever, whomsoever . . .
And I personally confess to you, my darling,
that I have kept many secrets from you,
have hid a thousand perversions down in my heart.
I hide them until you are sleeping
and then take them out like the happy,
demented miser that I am,
counting the golden coins, biting each bitter edge.