Saturday, October 10, 2015

Poet Terri Kirby Erickson's Poetry Collection Illustrated by her Uncle Stephen White . . .

Christal Cooper

*Article With Excerpts – 1,503 Words
All excerpts have been given copyright privilege by Terri Kirby Erickson and Press 53

Terri Kirby Erickson’s Poetry Collection
A Lake of Light and Clouds

       Terri Kirby Erickson’s most recent poetry collection, A Lake of Light and Clouds, was published by Press 53. (April 3, 2014).

The poems from this collection are focused on Erickson’s family, her own reflections, her spirituality, nostalgia of a time past, environmentalism, and victims of crime. 

       A Lake of Light and Clouds is illustrated by Erickson’s uncle Stephen White.

 “It seemed natural for me to ask Stephen to do the paintings for my book covers, and as his only niece, I feel like I had a bit of "pull" when it came to what his answer might be.  He is an amazing artist whose work has been in MoMA, so I feel grateful and blessed that his fine paintings grace the covers of my books.”


       For Stephen White

By the stone wall on top
of which my mother balanced as a child,

grow the purple irises
my grandmother planted, still blooming.

The house is there, as well, but the paint
is peeling, the front porch

collapsing.  The man inside carries
a baseball bat,

peers at us through the bulging screen
door like we’ve come to rob

the place, though we are not the trouble
he’s been waiting for – just a family

searching for the past, saddened
by what we see.  That’s when Stephen

spies the irises.  Then the once familiar
house, frightening in its strangeness,

takes on a kindlier air,
as if the woman kneeling by the walk

decades before, digging up the rich, red
dirt, pushing bulbs into holes

she made in the ground, is still there –
and we are all welcome.

Erickson describes her reading and writing poetry as a sculptor with a piece of clay, an act some attribute to the creator aspect of God.  It’s not surprising that Erickson is a Christian but never describes herself as a Christian poet. 

“C. S. Lewis once said, " I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else."  I don't write "Christian" poetry, but because I am a Christian, everything I write moves through that prism of belief.”


Light as crumbs on a plate,
a bluebird perched on the porch

railing, cocking its head this way
and that, feathers

the indigo blue of a king’s hand-
dyed robe, or the sky

on its bluest day, drained of clouds
and concentrated in the bottom

of God’s drinking glass, which He
swirled and swallowed,

then breathed out this little bird,
now flying.

She’s been reading poetry since she was nine years old, sitting on the floor beside her parents’ bookcase reading poems by Robert Frost, the only book of poetry in the house.

“And of course, my mother read all sorts of books to me before I could read, myself.  I was blessed with loving parents who have been married now, for sixty years, and a joyful childhood, which I can go back to again and again for the length of any poem I write about it.”


Headscarf fluttering in the wind,
stockings hanging loose on her vein-roped
legs, an old woman clings to her husband

as if he were the last tree standing in a storm,
though he is not the strong one.

His skin is translucent – more like a window
than a shade.  Without a shirt and coat,

we could see his lungs swell and shrink,
his heart skip.  But he has offered her his arm,
and for sixty years, she has taken it.

       One year later when she was in the fifth grade at Brunson Elementary School she wrote her first poem in which she compared snow that had been on the ground for a long time to old newspapers.                        

     “My wonderful and gifted fifth grade teacher, Elizabeth Reynolds, (who to this day, attends my book launch parties and buys my books!) praised my fledgling efforts to no end, which is what I hope every parent and teacher will do if their children show any interest in writing.” 


Flower child, where did you come from?
Your hands are bigger than mine, stronger.
They are seldom still.  Digging in the dirt, stringing beads
on a necklace, snapping your fingers to a Beatles song-
you are always moving forward, dragging the past
behind you like a streamer.  You are happier barefoot,
dancing in the grass, than women
wearing designer shoes, jumping in a pile of money.
Pierced and tattooed, silver bracelets jingling,
you are as different from me as North
is to South.  Yet wherever you go, my heart,
like the needle on a compass, follows.

       She attended Appalachian State where she was a Sophomore English Honors student, but had to drop out due to complications from Crohn’s Disease.

       By her twenties she was a divorced single mother of her only child, daughter Gia:  “She is 33 years old, and is the loveliest "poem” I ever ‘created.’”

She earned a living in a variety of fields:  copywriter for a radio station; worked on the news-desk and researcher for the Winston-Salem Journal; assistant to the Director of Vascular Ultrasound Research at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical; and a contract technical medical editor.

       By her late twenties she went back to college at Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina where she graduate Magna Cum Laude with a B.A. in English Literature and Mass Communications. 

       “At the time of graduation I was going to school full time, working part time at the Winston-Salem Journal, and raising my daughter as a single, divorced mother.  It was quite a rigorous schedule, but I was determined to get my degree...and I did it!”

                         Meanwhile, the grasshoppers,
which can leap twenty times their bodies’ length,
are still on the move, mandibles packed
with brown juice like baseball players chewing
tobacco, legs quivering from the hard

work of lifting from one side of the field
to the other, a creature that wears its skeleton
on the outside like a coat, eats more than a cow
will in a single day – but can also jump,
resembling tiny puffs of green air – as if the earth
in spring is so content, it can’t stop sighing.  

       Excerpt, “GRASSHOPPERS”

In 2006, her first poetry collection, Thread Count, was published by AuthorHouse in January 11, 2006).  Two more poetry collections followed, Telling Tales of Dusk (Press 53, August 13, 2009); and In the Palms of Angels (Press 53, April 1, 2011).

       It took Erickson three years to write A Lake of Light and Clouds, which is the norm for most poets.

       “Most publishers require that at least a third to half of all poems submitted in a manuscript be previously published in literary journals, it takes anywhere from a year to three years and even longer, to produce enough viable work to create a full-length collection.  So, I write poems and send many of them to journals in hopes of publication.”

       She then makes hard copies of every poem and stacks them on her dresser until she has eighty or ninety poems to choose from, lays them on her living room floor, and determines the order the poems will go in the poetry collection.

       “I take my time to decide which poems "fit" and which poems don't.  And then, of course, you submit the manuscript and your publisher will have some preferences and suggestions, also.”

       Press 53 editor and founder Kevin Morgan Watson accepted A Lake of Light and Clouds, her third book to published by Press 53.

“Kevin Morgan Watson works beautifully with writers.  Kevin and I are friends with a great deal of respect and admiration for each of our roles in creating a book of poetry that is beautiful to look at, a pleasure to hold, and hopefully, an unforgettable read.”

       Erickson does most of her writing (essays and poems) in the morning in her sunlit home office, which she considers a haven:  full of books, art work, photographs and meaningful objects she’s collected through the years: a snail shell from the ocean given to her by one of her readers in 2009; and a tiny wind-up Merry-Go-Round gifted to her from her mother.

       “I have written in waiting rooms, in my car in between stoplights, and other strange places.   When a line comes into your head, you have to get it down right away or risk losing it.  The poems come when they come--I can't write poetry unless I am moved to do so by something I've seen, heard, remembered, or imagined.”

Erickson teaches poetry workshops and classes in multiple venues, is a frequent guest speaker, and a member of Delta Kappa Gamma International, an organization for key women educators. Erickson’s work has been widely published:  Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s Almanac, Asheville Poetry Review, 2014 Poet’s Market, and many others.  She has won multiple awards including the Joy Harjo Poetry Prize and a Nautilus Book Award.

She can be reached via email and via Facebook

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