Sundown Poetry with Katherine Williams

A mid-week offering, post Beryl’s random winds and confusing, fickle clouds. Finally the sun is out, and tonight, as it slides downward behind the Dock Street Theatre, come celebrate the golden hour by listening to the Lowcountry’s best poetry reader, reading her own work. I became a Katherine Williams fan after hearing her offer poems as part of worship at Circular Congregational Church. She lights fire to verse, with a steely voice and intuitive inflection. No pretense, just power.

Katherine’s talents are far-reaching: scientist, poet, web designer, muse to Richard Garcia (another poet powerhouse) and cheerleader for Charleston’s literary community.  Come see, and hear, for yourself. Sundown Poetry Reading, Dock Street Theatre Courtyard, 6:30 p.m.  FREE!

a poem, by Katherine Williams

Lydia Pinkham Baby

Baby in Every Bottle, I declare,
(even if your husband does
keep to his own room.) 
Even with the complications and all,
that boy of mine was worth it,
even after he started going bad.
All my efforts to hold him
back in his baby sweetness
seemed to be working
until he sprouted scales
and went under the house to live.
The way his father would sit
in his rocker reading his Tables
of Physical Constants, hours on end,
didn’t affect the boy so much after that.
I didn’t bother myself overly about it
until the boy started eating flies.
Imagine, my good cooking and Wedgwood
china left on the stoop for bait!
That’s when I took up gardening in earnest.
The years passed uneventfully
and now I have two grandbabies
living under my house.
It’s nice when they don’t move away
like other people’s children.


Honor Marks ~ A Palette of Poetry and Prose

Who doesn’t get overwhelmed during Spoleto’s 17 days of arts gluttony? It’s either a decadent indulgence or an ADD nightmare, or both —  so much to see, too much to do,  not enough time or money to take full advantage. So here’s a little secret — treat yourself to 20 or 30 minutes at Marion Square, meander the tents (no ticket required!) until you find Honor Marks. (Hint: booth 19, towards the Piccolo stage.)

Honor’s paintings always still me, make me pause, look more closely. To me her images of bloom and biology are poems in pigment and brush stroke. She turns a cactus blossom into a pulsing explosion of color, a crusty old crab into a musing on grace with claws. Her gift to us is to pay attention, to translate the miracle of creation into a visual poem of artful detail and revelation in texture, color and form. Nature speaks to her, and she speaks back using the language of color, shape, shadow. Honor is to painting what Annie Dillard and Aldo Leopold are to prose, what Mary Oliver is to poetry. So it’s no surprise to me that she’s an English major with a paint brush, and that much of her inspiration comes from a palate of favorite writers…but hear it for yourself:

Whatcha reading under your Marion Square tent?

This week? The weather report. Two tropical storms the opening week of Spoleto is pretty nerve wracking.

What writers or poets inspire your work?

Annie Dillard, Edward Abbey, Madeleine L’Engle, Barbara Kingsolver, Bill McKibben.

I was double major at Sewanee in English and Fine Art. I read Annie Dillard for the first time for a religious mysticism class when I was a senior. We read Holy the Firm and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I was already a painter, but after reading Dillard I knew that I wanted to do with my art what she had done with words in those books. Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire was also a big influence.

You often include text or quotes to accompany your paintings. tell us about that — what it adds to the art, how words relate to images? 

My work is so inspired by writers that I feel compelled to share passages that have moved me (with permission) or short passages that I have written. I’ve seen people stand in front of one of my paintings, read a quotation, and cry. Experiencing art in any form is intensely personal, so I can’t speak to how or why people are affected, but if I can bring multiple layers of expression to the table and enrich someone’s experience, I will.

I’ve used your paintings as jumping off points for my writing (, any relationships with other writers or poets who respond to your paintings?

Not that I’ve been made aware of although I’d love to think that they’re out there. I’ve collaborated with naturalist and NatureScene host Rudy Mancke. In addition to being a scientist he’s certainly a wordsmith and talented storyteller. He’s done several ‘indoor nature walks’ of my paintings where he spins tales about the species in each painting, combining scientific knowledge with personal anecdotes and a sense of absolute wonder that we share. We will do another project together during my exhibit at the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Ga in the fall of 2013.

 Favorite recent read?

Eudora Welty’s collected short stories is on my bedside table.

Your go-to dog-eared page?

This month it’s p. 25 of Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire. A passage there inspired my most recent (and favorite) painting. “… from this nest of thorns, this snare of hooks and fiery spines, is born once each year a splendid flower. It is unpluckable and except to an insect almost unapproachable, yet soft, lovely, sweet, desirable, exemplifying better than the rose among thorns the unity of opposites.”

~ ~

Be sure to catch Honor, and other fine artists, at the Piccolo Spoleto Festival Outdoor Juried Art Exhibition in Marion Square Park. Now through June 9 from 10am- 6pm daily.

Surfing the Pages — Bookshelf Bio Hangs Ten

The temperature shot up close to 90 today. Kids are coming home from school with much lighter backpacks —  the homework wane is on and the final bell will soon ring (all-too-soon, if you ask me!).

It’s here folks…. summer.  Which means the kids will be stir-crazy after about one or two weeks, unless, of course, you are a wise and resourceful parent who knows that surf camp is the best summer survival plan, bar none.

My girls love paddling out and catching waves — and I love watching them take to the water as bold surfers —  graceful, daring and strong. Their love for the sport is due in large part to their dad’s enthusiasm for it, and due in equal measure to their way-cool instructor, the talented Kai Dilling.  Thanks to Kai’s gentle approach to teaching and sharing his general stoked-ness, my girls and hundreds of young surfers have learned the finer points of popping up, duck-diving, wave-taking etiquette, water safety and respect for Mother Nature at Sol Surfers Surf Camp.

While he’s an unabashed surfer-dude, Kai’s also a gnarly reader. We caught up with this former science teacher in between surf sets, to learn more about what’s on his bookshelf.

What are you reading now?

I’m reading The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. My daughter Olivia suggested it before we see the movie. I don’t know how I’ve persuaded her not to see the movie until I finish.

Just finished?

I finally read The Wave by Susan Casey. Highly recommended.

Wish you’d read but never have?

When my oldest boy, Ian, was younger I would read a chapter of Harry Potter to him every night. We read the first several books together. At some point we stopped, probably because he had gotten older. Anyway, I enjoyed it a lot. I guess there’s three or four books we missed… He read them though.

Book that first made you change the way you understood things or challenged your world view?

I read Dove when I was a teenager. It’s about a kid who sails around the world and learns to take care of himself and he falls in love along the way. I can’t remember his name but it definitely influenced me in some big ways.

Favorite book and/or literary scene about Charleston?

I don’t think I’ve read a lot with Charleston in the setting. I have not read much of Pat Conroy. I’ve read Prince of Tides, but it wouldn’t really qualify as any sort of favorite. I enjoy learning about the history of Charleston and it’s neighboring islands. The pirate tales are a lot of fun!

Your go-to book for a (graduation/birthday/special occasion) gift?

I’m a surfer, and I try to rub off my love for it on my friends; so, there’s a few coffee-table/picture books that make nice gifts.

Ideal or favorite reading location?

We have a nice reading chair that I like to sit in. It has a view of the backyard but it’s private enough not to be too distracting. I have a bit of ADD.

Real old-fashioned pages or a NOOK/Kindle/iPad?

Old-fashioned pages for sure! Computers make me dizzy.

Section of the library where you’re mostly likely to be found?
I graduated from the College of Charleston and during my years there I did a lot of studying in the library, so you would have found me in some quiet cubicle without any distractions. Now I tend to stay with Fiction. 
I subscribe to:

…a bunch of Surfing magazines. I generally read them from cover to cover.
Writer you’d most like to take to dinner and where (in Charleston area)? 
I would go surfing with Stephanie Hunt and her family at Folly Beach and go to Taco Boy afterwards.
(NOTE to future interviewees: Kai got bonus points for that one!)

Bike Writer

May 18th is Bike to Work Day, but in fact, everyday that I get to ride is a “bike to work day” for me —  a bike writer. Not that I’m always or even often writing about riding (though sometimes I do, for example, here), but I almost always find that the muse meets me part way down the road when I’ve headed out for an early morning or late afternoon spin to the islands or along the less-traveled roads through the Francis Marion forest.

For me, that skinny black seat on my skinny-tired bike is one of my best desk chairs. It’s where my mind frees up from to-do’s and slips into more creative freewheeling.  The repetition of pedal strokes and the rhythm of breathing coax me into fresh imaginative territory, or loosen treasures of memory, sensory nuggets buried beneath the quotidian rigamarole.  My riding body connects with my writing mind and my creative muscle gets a little workout. It would help if I could remember the brilliant ideas I had at mile 9 by the time I roll back home at mile 29, but sometimes it’s enough just to know they bubbled up, ever so fleetingly.

So today, I encourage everyone to Bike to Work, or to bike simply for the sheer joy of feeling wind in your face and fatigue in your quads. For the pleasure of seeing your surroundings from a two-wheeled perspective, of connecting to the sights,  sounds, smells of your environment at a human, slow speed scale– something that’s very hard to do behind the wheel of a car.

As the great Walt Whitman wrote in Songs of the Open Road:


From this hour, freedom!


From this hour I ordain myself loos’d of limits and imaginary lines,


Going where I list, my own master, total and absolute,


Listening to others, and considering well what they say,


Pausing, searching, receiving, contemplating,


Gently, but with undeniable will, divesting myself of the holds that would hold me.


I inhale great draughts of space;


The east and the west are mine, and the north and the south are mine.


I am larger, better than I thought;


I did not know I held so much goodness.



And then be sure to bring some of that goodness to celebrate with other Charleston bike-friendly proponents at the “Work to Bike” Party tonite at the Hippodrome, where Satellite Rodeo will be serving up live music, New Belgium will serve up good brew, D’Allesandros will serve up hot ‘Za, and bike riders and writers alike will serve up good vibes, 2-wheeled karma, and “great draughts of space” where you, too, might meet the Muse.


Thank you, Mr. Sendak

Who, upon seeing the CNN ticker, didn’t pause and bow, ever so briefly, in deep gratitude to the astonishing mind that sprouted forests out of our childhood bedrooms.

What writer, or reader, or member of the human race, didn’t sigh and give a slow, sad shake of the head when hearing that Maurice Sendak had died.

The multitudes have already blogged and tweeted and posted a zillion odes, so here’s simply one more:

~~ a little girl’s memory — how I devoured the details in Sendak’s illustrations, and the way they all came back to me, vivid and wild as ever, when I read his books to my own children;

~~a mother’s gratitude for Little Bear, Swine Lake and other Sendakian gifts of literary and visual genius that made me want to pull my girls close and turn pages upon pages, even when I was utterly exhausted;

~~a writer’s delight at re-reading WTWTA (where the wild things are) as a grown up, with new appreciation and astonishment at the spare wonder and rhythmic rumpus of his poetry;

~~a daughter’s tender heart at watching Spike Jonze’s wonderful film version of WTWTA with my mother in her last months of life, knowing she’d love those bizarre but so very real creatures in all their quirky humaness. And she did.

And then amidst the tributes, I found this clip from a Colbert interview. It’s a duel of eyebrows, expertly choreographed facial expressions — one brilliant mind playing off the other, with some zinger Newt Gingrich slams and other yummy tidbits thrown in.

It’s hard to love Sendak even more than I already did, but if anyone can make me, it’s Stephen Colbert and his little bag of penises.


Loggerheads, Lemurs, Book Launch — Oh My!

I call Mary Alice Monroe the canary novelist.  Like the proverbial “canary in a coal mine,” she calls readers’ attention to environmental dangers and ecological issues and injustices, using beautiful prose as her proxy.  Mary Alice may write popular “beach reads,” but her best-selling novels also help keep those beaches and their natural inhabitants, like the endangered loggerhead, from further destruction.

On Monday she launches her latest book, Beach House Memories, in typical Mary Alice style — as a fundraiser for the SC Aquarium’s Sea Turtle Hospital campaign.

We’ll interview Mary Alice and review Beach House Memories in an upcoming post, so stay tuned. But in the meanwhile, get your tickets for Monday. It’s a win-win-win-win opportunity: see the aquarium’s new Lemur exhibit (opening tomorrow!), support the turtle hospital, meet a New York Times bestselling author, and  get a great book signed for your mom for Mother’s Day!!

Here’s Mary Alice’s personal invite:

As a real-life “turtle lady,” I wanted to do something extra special with my readers for our beloved loggerhead sea turtles.  So, my book launch party on May 7th at the South Carolina Aquarium will be a special fundraiser.  A portion of every book sold will benefit the sea turtle hospital.   The event will celebrate both the launch of BEACH HOUSE MEMORIES and the launch of the SC Aquarium’s new sea turtle hospital expansion plans.  There will be drinks, food and jazz music provided by the Franklin Ashley Jazz Quartet.  Guests will get to enjoy the facility after-hours and see the new Madagascar exhibit that will have opened just days prior.  I can’t think of a more perfect setting to have a book launch party!”


Mary Alice Monroe Book Launch Party

Monday, May 7, 6-8 PM, South Carolina Aquarium

$20 per person (event only)

$35 per person (event and signed hardcover)

RSVP to (843) 577-FISH (3474)

What’s the Lowcountry Equivalent?

The Underground New York Public Libraryis a visual library, a.k.a. a blog and Facebook page by photographer Ourit Ben-Haim, that showcases the “Reader-Riders” of the NYC subways.  As Ben-Haim says:

Ourit Ben-Haïm

This library freely lends out a reminder that we’re all capable of traveling to great depths within ourselves and as a whole.


We Lowcountry dwellers don’t have a subway, or even a well-used bus system, but is there a local equivalent? A place where you find folks face-planted in books, traveling to great depths??  I hope so.

Be on the lookout. Take some snap shots and let me know. And for a vicarious sense of literary urbanism, subscribe to the Underground NY Library site or “Like” the FB page, and be inspired.