Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Poetry Hickory: My Experience in Hickory, North Carolina

For a few years, Tammy and I have been aware of the Poetry Hickory events happening in Hickory, North Carolina. Hosted by Scott Owens and attended by several poets we know on Facebook, Tammy and I have wanted to be involved for just as long. A little more than a year ago, we finally got the ball rolling when we met Scott in person at the Blue Ridge Writers Conference.

Hickory, North Carolina

From Duluth, Georgia, the drive up to Hickory, North Carolina, was pretty simple. We just jumped on I-85, sped through South Carolina, and took 321 up into the city, which is known for furniture and Lenoir-Rhyne University.

In front of Taste Full Beans.

Personally, I thought Hickory was a nice town with a cute downtown area. I totally recommend the Olde Hickory Tap Room, which serves up some great pub food that's tasty and modestly priced (especially for the big helpings they dish out).

One thing about Hickory though: They have a fairly confusing system for labeling streets. There's a 2nd Ave NW that is different than the 2nd Ave NE, which are both different than the 2nd St. NE and 2nd St. NW. And that doesn't even take into account roads like 2nd St. Pl. SW and 2nd St. Pl. SE.

Bottom line: Make sure you have plenty of navigational tools at your disposal and very reliable GPS.

Poetry Hickory

Tammy and I were the featured speakers. But before the actual poetry reading, I led a workshop on how to build an audience for your poetry. There were 14 or 15 attendees, and we workshopped in the kitchen area of Taste Full Beans, which makes a pretty mean (and fast) vanilla latte. Scott hosts Poetry Hickory at this coffee shop the 2nd Tuesday of every month and tries to set it up with a workshop followed by a reading.

From left to right, Jane Shlensky, Nancy Posey, Tammy, Robert.

The workshop went great. I shared a lot of writer platform advice, as well as personal and professional lessons I've learned through the years. And it was followed up with a Q&A that Scott ultimately had to cut short for the poetry reading.

As far as the poetry, Nancy Posey and Jane Shlensky got the ball rolling with some incredible poems and personal stories that were at times funny and at other times very touching. I nearly teared up when Jane started talking about her mother's poetry and the Alzheimer's that literally made her own writing (and name) foreign to her. Their set was followed by some accoustic guitar.

My Poetry Reading

After the guitar, I got up and read for around 20 minutes. Since I'm big on short poems, I felt like I was hitting the audience with one poem after the other, but I guess that's how I roll--so I'd better own it. For those very familiar with my poetry, my set list went something like this:
  • Delivery (which is turning into my favorite opening poem)
  • Solving the world's problems
  • At the arboretum
  • A small tear in the pillow
  • Waking
  • My Little Prince
  • One Day We Looked for the Snow
  • "The Undeniable Pressure of Existence," by Patricia Fargnoli from Duties of the Spirit
  • anywhere we dare go
  • the silence between us
  • alone in the city
  • you origami me

Yes, I drink Mountain Dew when I read.

Scott asked before the night got started which order Tammy and I would like to go in, and I gave my honest answer that I prefer to go before Tammy. As I told the audience last night, I always feel like following Tammy is like this scene in Great Balls of Fire in which Chuck Berry has to follow Jerry Lee Lewis after he's set his piano on fire on the stage. Later in the evening a woman shared that if Tammy's poetry is flaming piano that my poetry is like a burning harpsichord. I'm totally throwing that on a book cover someday!

Tammy's Poetry Reading

I'm biased, but I love to hear Tammy read. Her poems are always so engaging, human, and perfect. She's one of those poets who doesn't write all the time, but when she does write she works on it and through it over and over until the words are exactly as they should be (and, of course, she keeps at it after the poems are published as well). Honestly, I've learned more about revision from Tammy than I did in several poetry courses in college.

Tammy outside Taste Full Beans.

For those keeping score on Tammy, I didn't write down her playlist, but I do know she read "December 8, 1980," "I Like the Way You Pin My Arms Down," "Fishing in the Chattahoochee," "The Baptism of a Bicycle," "Sea Gypsies," "There Are No Instructions for This," "Over Soup," and "The Problem With Semantics."

Next Up

There's always the next event, and the next one for me (and Tammy) will be a retreat in September in Colorado. Cicily Janus puts together these amazing Writing Away Retreats that provide writers with ample writing time and very hands on feedback from editors, agents, and other writers. In fact, I'll be there as one of the editors. For more information, visit


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Check out previous experiences:


Unknown said...

Sounds like a great event, Robert, and a great time surely had by all! I can't wait 'til the day I get to meet you (and Tammy!) face-to-face. Missing out on AWP this year was a travesty for that, and many other, reason(s).

Have a great evening!,
Khara H.

Nancy said...

Nice summary of a fun evening. I love to hear poets read their (our) own work. Don't apologize for several short poems. I especially enjoyed that moment when you moved from reading to reciting by heart.
Tammy has such a pleasant reading voice that suits her poems so well. You are right about the streets of Hickory. We live here and we're confused. We'd love to open for you anytime!

Jessie Carty said...

We should have warned you about the Hickory streets! The very scientific will love the grid set up but the rest of us go. Huh? I worked in the town for 5 years and still got lost on a regular basis.

It was great to hear you and Tammy read and to chat :) Next time we will all get their earlier and have lunch.

Have fun in Colorado!

Unknown said...

Wish I could have been there to hear you all. The flaming piano/burning harpsichord image is brilliant - beats duelling banjos, at least in my book.

Glenda Beall said...

I had the pleasure of reading at Poetry Hickory a couple of years ago and enjoyed the hospitality of Scott and the poets in that area. Scott is a representative for NCWN in his area and he does a great job of getting the word out about Poetry Hickory.

Abbie Taylor said...

It sounds like you had a fun reading. Here in Sheridan, Wyoming, our local poetry group schedules readings twice a year at the senior center in celebration of National Poetry Month and Day. Although I like Mountain Dew once in a while, I prefer Dr. Pepper. Maybe I should drink that when I read.

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Anonymous said...

I wish I could have been there to listen to yourself and Tammy. It sounds wonderful.

Robert Lee Brewer said...

It was pretty nice. I love getting out and about with Tammy.