Bassist Anthony del Porto, of the bluegrass band Southern Flavor, will accompany her reading.
Barbara’s reading is but one of 10 that will go on during the festival as part of the Piccolo Spoleto Sundown Poetry series. All readings at 6:30 PM in the Dock Street Theater address above. Find out more about the festival readings, now through June 7, at Piccolo Spoleto. Poccolo Spoleto.
Barbara’s poem “Visiting Virginia P.” appeared in After Shocks: The Poetry of Recovery for Life-Shattering Events, an anthology of 152 poems by 115 poets from 15 nations. The poem is reprinted below, followed by an interview with Barbara.
Visiting Virginia P.
By Barbara G.S. Hagerty
We grow hollyhocks, paint glistening tomatoes,
watch how light fractures a glass of water,
look up words in the middle of the night.
Our bones and narrows rearranged,
we gave birth seven times between us.
Once we followed Berryman,
we were blond disciples
of his cauliflower syntax, his gothic architecture
and small houses, the ruined porch,
the bridge, the truss, the ice,
the freefall into madness.
Nothing could save us
from the gravitational pull of alcohol
until we washed up at AA
among the molded plastic orange chairs,
meetings, coffee, smoke—those were the days
when chain smoking was encouraged
as an antidote to worse things—
among the old timers who spoke in slogans
One Day at a Time, First Things First, Easy Does It.
I thought I’d landed on a planet full of ashtrays
run by an editorial committee of the Reader’s Digest.
Today you recalled I once said Pray
for the unknown help that’s already on its way.
Now I meet your son, for the first time, he’s 18, grown well
and sturdy, like someone whose boughs we could climb into.
Interview With Barbara G.S. Hagerty
How did you come to write “Visiting Virginia P.”?
Chronological time is somewhat collapsed in “Visiting Virginia P.” Although I'd attended various 12-step meetings with Virginia in the late 70's and early 80's, and kept in touch with her after I had moved away, I did not meet her son until he was 18. In those intervening years, Virginia and I had, via both effort and grace, grown generally happier, healthier, and wiser--and had both become mothers. When I met her son, he struck me as whole and wholesome, traits attributable at least in part to healthy mothering. Tall, strong, towering over both of us, he brought to mind the qualities of a tree: sturdy, substantial, grounded in the earth, rooted in the real world. So the triggering event and the original experience it alludes to are separated in time by more than 25 years. Which is one of the bewitching things about poetry: all memory and all experience are available to the poet, always and in abundance.
Barbara G.S. Hagerty
How did writing this poem affect your recovery?
It didn't directly, as it was written so many years after the process of recovery began. But I would like to answer the question more broadly, to say that the act of writing is, for me, always salubrious in some way, always revelatory. I think of the pen as an epistemological tool, akin to an archeologist's probe or chisel. Writing helps excavate the layers and uncover the hidden strata, to see ways--often extraordinarily unexpected-- in which absolutely everything is interconnected. And, you know how the sages say you can't step in the same river twice? Similarly, no two days of excavating are ever alike--the finds are always different, even when you are probing similar territory.
Can you tell us something about your process of writing that helped this poem come to life?
My poetry-making mind is omnivorous; that's the case, I think, with most poets. A phrase, a sound, a mood, an image, a sensory impression, a conundrum, a curiosity--almost anything can get me started. In this instance, the experience of meeting the young man elicited a flood of associations and memories. That John Berryman would appear in the poem just seemed organic and natural. Again, I marvel that imagery like "planet full of ashtrays," which must have been incubating somewhere in my mind for a long time, just seemed to emerge from the shadows when the poem demanded to be written.
Who are your favorite poets or poets new to you whom you'd recommend to others?
Rhett Iseman Trull (The Real Warnings); Allen Peterson (All the Lavish in Common); Sandra Beasley (I Was the Jukebox); and Lisa Fay Coultey (In the Carnival of Breathing) are four poets I admire whose work is fairly new to me. I also admire the poetry of Gilbert Allen, Paul Guest, Lucia Perillo, D. Nurkse, Spencer Reece, Dan Albergotti, Susan Meyers, and Carol Ann Davis, among many others. The work of Larry Levis is important to me, and I recently read the remarkable Letters to a Stranger by Thomas James (who died in 1974 at the age of 27). Not to mention Li-Young Lee, Pablo Neruda, Yehuda Amichai, and Czeslaw Milosz....so many favorites! Recent prose works on poetry that I have read include Close Calls with Nonsense (Stephen Burt) and Real Sofistikashun: Essays on Poetry and Craft (Tony Hoagland). Finally, the one prose work I would take with me to that proverbial desert island is A Joseph Campbell Companion (edited by poet Diane Osbon). Essential!
What are you working on now?
I have just completed a new manuscript entitled Twinzilla; as the title suggests, it explores the duality of the self. I am tuning this manuscript up at the moment, as well as working on other individual poems in various stages of dishabille.
Barbara G.S. Hagerty is author of The Guest House and Motherfish (both from Finishing Line Press, in 2009 and 2012, respectively). She was awarded the Fellowship in Poetry from the South Carolina Arts Commission in 2010. She was also awarded a fellowship at the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts. Her work, both poetry and prose, has appeared widely. She lives in her native Charleston, SC, where she co-coordinates The Piccolo Spoleto Sundown Poetry Series (with Susan Meyers) and serves on the board of The Poetry Society of South Carolina. She has also worked as a magazine writer, journalist, photographer, curator, and teacher of poetry and creative non-fiction. She holds an MA in Creative Writing from The Johns Hopkins University's Writing Seminars.