Poetry fills Evelyn Bales' soul, as she says, "with the sheer joy of accomplishing something and by connecting me to my past, by preserving memories and stories of family, by finding a new way to present an idea or story. I like to draw my readers into a poem in order that, as one reader said of one of my poems, they feel they are walking right beside me.
"I wrote several poems in high school, but I don't remember them and hope no one else does," she says. "The earliest poem I remember writing is "Rainbarrels and Wiggletails,' which was actually a song/elegy to my childhood place. I wrote it to honor that place, which now lies under Interstate 26 and to keep it alive in my memory. It was published in 1986 in The Tennessee Sampler, edited by Peter Jenkins. That publication encouraged me to begin writing again and submitting my poems.
"In the beginning, I wrote poetry because I loved reading poetry, and because I could get an idea down on paper quickly and revise it later. Just as reading poetry grows on you, so it is with writing poetry. I usually write lyric or narrative poetry. To me there is nothing quite as satisfying as writing a poem, the images it evokes, the way it looks to the eye on paper. I enjoy working with words."
The Appalachian region and the regional poets and writers inspire her. "I am inspired by nature, folkways, music, memory, storytelling, spirituality and the culture of this area and how it is related to the Scots-Irish who settled here. I am inspired by the poetry of Irish poets, William Butler Yeats and Seamus Heaney, Jim Wayne Miller and James Still, as well as contemporary poets Jeff Daniel Marion, Linda Marion, Rita Quillen, Jane Hicks and Jim Clark. A small book by Albert Stewart, "The Holy Season: Walking in the Wild,' inspires me daily with the premise that everything is holy. This book reminds me to seek the holy in ordinary daily life."
She may write of ordinary life, but she thinks the voice of poetry is important to society, because it moves the mind to think in new ways.
"Poetry can quickly bring a reader into an idea or experience, because it appeals to the senses. The figurative language is likely to draw the reader into the emotion of the poem. Poetry, as with all the arts, feeds the soul of a people. For students and readers, poetry quite often increases the vocabulary.
"I believe poetry is beginning to get more recognition than in recent history. I understand that more poetry books are being published than ever before. However, there are still folks who have a negative view of reading poetry, possibly because learning about poetry in school turned them off or they think they cannot understand it. Another thing that keeps poetry from getting the recognition it deserves is that most poets have to publicize their own work; they don't have large publishing houses with budgets directed toward advertising."
Bales writes late at night when there are fewer interruptions. Since she became a grandmother, her life doesn't lend itself well to a writing routine. She carries her iPad with her and writes down ideas as they occur to her. Later she moves to her desktop and works on her poetry.
She encourages other poets by reading their poetry and suggesting places for them to submit their poems. She publicizes their poems and books on her Facebook page and encourages them to attend workshops. She also buys their books and provides feedback to the poets.
"My high school English teacher Pearl Hite and Dr. Jack Higgs at ETSU encouraged my writing in general. Later, Ruth Trimble, Kingsport poet, directed me to the Appalachian Writers Association, where I became a member of a group of like-minded folks and was able to learn from Jim Wayne Miller, Kay Byer, Rita Quillen, Jane Hicks, Jim Clark, Ron Rash and so many others. It was also encouraging that my poems began to place in competitions at the Appalachian Writers Association.
"Winning first place at the Chautauqua Arts Festival in Wytheville, Virginia, was great encouragement as well, because it gave me confidence to submit to other groups and magazines. Highlights have been four poems published in the same issue of Appalachian Heritage and having a poem in "The Anthology of Southern Poetry: Tennessee Edition,' as well as my chapbook "Kinkeeper' being published by Finishing Line Press."
She recommends that after budding poets have written a poem, they research various journals to determine where it might fit based on subject matter and the kinds of poems the journal has published in the past. Other options are sending a poem to a competition such as the Chautauqua Arts Festival competition or one of the many contests sponsored by the Knoxville Writers Guild or Tennessee Mountain Writers, among others.
"We have a vibrant, nurturing community of poets and writers in the region. It can be beneficial to join a poetry group like the Poetry Society of Tennessee: Northeast Chapter. We meet the second Saturday of the month at Northeast State. We also have a Facebook page. Lastly, subscribe to a poetry magazine or online site such as poetry.org or pw.org. It is much easier to find places to submit than it was before the advent of the Internet," she says.
Bales taught high school English before retiring in 2013. She has various responsibilities at Bethel Presbyterian Church in Kingsport, Tennessee, including elder and Sunday School teacher. She likes to sew, garden, cook, play the autoharp, attend plays and spend time with her family, especially her grandchildren.
By Evelyn M. Bales
To her it falls to keep all the scattered children
lined out like words of a Sacred Harp song,
each shape to its own sound.
The cousins swept away by other melodies,
uncles gone to Texas in fifty-five,
great-aunts alone in Yancey County,
she verses with the old ones
resting now at Cross Anchor or Doty's Chapel.
Back, back, back the music floats
to the harmony of the Auld Brothers,
Lowland Scots, come here by Ulster Way.
Lost, all lost, save by the shaped whisper
of her heart's song.
Reprinted with permission
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