Tuesday, May 4, 2021



Fourteen years ago, I began writing blogs, or as two of my friends called this medium, "writing essays." When I think back to the inception of "A Word's Worth," I hear those two voices urging me to record short pieces about people and events, "exploring the fullness of life," as Rebecca Dale said of E. B. White's essays in The New Yorker. Some weeks I hear the "thud of ideas" White described as the action of his Muse. On other days, I hear the roll of thunder without the lightning of ideas.

Today is noisy enough with occasional thunder rolls, but the lightning flashes are confined to memories. And that's OK because most subject matter in my on-the-cusp-of 86 years old mind lies in the depository of memories. This rainy day I probe the memory of my decision to become a poet.

I was in the sixth grade and had returned to civilization after my father's great folly about the family becoming gypsies via tent camping, sleeping on roadside park tables, bathing in rivers en route to California in 1946. I was eleven years old and sighed in relief when we returned to the small southern town of Franklinton, Louisiana. There, I decided to become a poet in my sixth-grade classroom filled with what I called "country people" (offspring of farming parents). I'd been reading in a sixth-grade reader and delighted in a section on poetry. "I can do that," I thought, and promptly wrote a few lines about my new home: "away from the town's noisy din/from the roar of the cotton gin…" I wrote this following the example of my mother's hero, Robert Louis Stevenson. It's one of the very few rhyming verses I've left to posterity. Well, it does sound a bit better than "A birdie with a yellow bill/hopped upon my window sill…."

For approximately thirty years, I thought about becoming a poet, read a lot of poetry, and finally submitted a poem to The American Weave (now defunct) magazine, which published "My Father's Hands." The American Weave was a literary journal that paid me $18 from the Hart Crane Memorial Fund. Did I become a poet? No, this publishing event occurred in 1967, and I spent twenty more years reading and studying poetry and writing poems "underground." I did not return to thoughts about publishing poetry until 2008, when I moved to Sewanee, Tennessee. It is here that the biggest lightning strike in my life occurred, the flash in 2020 when I wrote Ridges, now on sale*. It's a book featuring my poems that accompany Don Thornton's wonderful paintings of Louisiana chenieres.

And so much for rain-inspired blogs and "come lately" poetry books. Tomorrow the weather may be sunny.

My latest book of poetry, Ridges, is available from me at P. O. Box 3124, Sewanee, Tennessee 37375 and from Pinyon Publishing, 23847 V66 Trail, Montrose, CO 81403. 



Monday, May 3, 2021



The Caboose Restaurant

Saturday, I ate in a restaurant for the first time in a year. Barbecue seemed to be the ideal meal for a person who lives in Tennessee six months of each year and who has been isolated for a long spell (cautious about Covid). Although I had to hobble through a small town due to a torn meniscus in my right knee, I masked and found my place in a famous tourist haunt called “The Caboose Restaurant” in Lynchburg, Tennessee, home of Jack Daniels whiskey. 

I’d been through the Jack Daniels factory on a previous jaunt and again felt the irony of the famous whisky manufacturer being located in a dry county. Still, I’m not a whiskey sipper and haven’t investigated the reason for banning bourbon. I assume it’s a religious ban. I remembered that the distillery had been listed as the oldest registered distillery in the U.S. The tour guide at Jack Daniels also touted the bourbon as being made with iron-free cave water.

During the 19th century, 15 distilleries operated in Lynchburg, but Jack Daniels emerged as the second most productive manufacturer and eventually gained fame worldwide as a quality bourbon. Nowadays, tourists are offered samples, but when we toured the facility a few years ago, we weren’t offered a taste of this famous whiskey.

Lynchburg is one of those Tennessee “burgs,” and the winding scenic route from Sewanee to its city limits is worth a Saturday drive. I saw numerous farms with healthy-looking cattle grazing and homes in several prosperous-looking neighborhoods that I surmised had been built by livestock profits (horses and cattle).

I could hear an auctioneer bellowing as soon as we approached this small town of about 5700 residents and was shocked at the large crowd gathered in the square, many of whom were bikers showing off their body tattoos.

Lynchburg boasts of one traffic light, and amazingly, we found a parking space near the chosen restaurant. The Caboose’s hostess had once visited Mardi Gras in New Orleans, and when we paid for the hefty barbecue plate, she asked me to write out “let the good times roll” in my limited French. As we exited the restaurant, she continued to repeat the phrase to herself to impress the customers who followed us, many of whom were Texans.

The numerous shops surrounding the square reminded me of Bell Buckle, another historic Tennessee town that could be called a “burg.” That town, one in hilly horse country, was made famous by Webb School, a small institution my godfather attended as a boy and that produced numerous Rhodes Scholars. (Godfather became head of the English/Foreign Language Department at Virginia Polytechnic Institute.) 

I wondered about the derivation of the name “Lynchburg.” The town’s name seems to be related only to a Judge Lynch who headed up a vigilante committee that met after the War of 1812 (according to an article published in the spring 1972 article of the Tennessee Quarterly). 

Lynchburg may be a burg, but it’s listed on the National Register of Historic Places. I don’t know if the designation is attributable to the Jack Daniels factory, but many of the wood buildings on the town square appear to be several centuries old. And, of course, the town historians honor Little Richard, an American rock and roll musician who once resided in this “burg.”

Following a doctor’s counsel, I bought a cane to navigate the small town of Lynchburg. It now stands in the corner of my living room, but the next opportunity that arises, I’m back on the road again, even if the town turns out to be a Tennessee “burg.”

Photography by Victoria I. Sullivan




Wednesday, April 28, 2021


Coastal California Painting by Paul E. Marquart

Yesterday, we purchased several ice plants from Lapp’s Nursery near Winchester, Tennessee, and I’ve since been pondering my many side trips to Big Sur, California, where ice plants bloom freely during May.

This morning I leafed through photos of my brother Paul’s paintings of the California coast and found one that he had painted of the Big Sur area. Viewers of the photographs can even see two human figures climbing around in the rocky area. Still, none of his paintings show the wild ice plants that grow along Big Sur highways we traveled during California visits.

However, I happily remember those pink carpets covering the Big Sur area. The ice plant, a native of South Africa, was brought to the California coast during the 1970s to control erosion, but State Park officials no longer find the plants attractive or useful and encourage Big Sur residents to get rid of them. So much for aesthetics, they say, as the plant is very aggressive and can quickly cover large areas, crowding out attractive native flowers.

My Window Box Ice Plant

During May, if you drive along the Big Sur coast and look toward the surrounding mountainsides, you feel uplifted by seeing those pink carpets. I always liked vacation travels to the Pacific Coast, where the ice plant’s blooms engendered feelings of freedom and uplift in me.

The plants I bought yesterday are drought-resistant, which means I don’t have to worry about watering daily, so I find ice plants even more attractive. I look at the photo of brother Paul’s painting, imagining Big Sur, then back at my kitchen window box flanked by ice plants and feel my Tennessee imprisonment slowly lifting.

It’s peak ice plant season along the rocky coast of California and near my kitchen window box, so perhaps I’ll celebrate my birthday month by buying more mementos of past adventures along the California coast to satisfy my constant wanderlust. But I have serious doubts.
Photograph by Victoria Sullivan. Painting by Paul E. Marquart.