George Fox, impresario extraordinare, has made Mondays on Folly Beach a day not to dread but one to look forward to. His open mic Singer/Songwriter Soapbox, which features original works, is attracting nationally known artists such Sierra Hull, Joel Timmons, Sally George, and the poet Chuck Sullivan, who published in Esquire Magazine in the Seventies when Gordon Lish ruled that literary roost and introduced readers to the likes of Raymond Carver, Cynthia Ozick, T. Coraghessan Boyle, and Richard Ford.
Here’s a clip of Chuck reading his poem “Juggler on the Radio” at the Soapbox on 8 November 2022.
Taking the backroads from Allendale to Statesboro, I spotted a hand painted road sign that read
“Hoodoo Honky Tonk two miles ahead.”
Beneath it, nailed to the same post, a smaller sign, with two words:
It was just now getting dark. I was about halfway there. Hey, why not? A couple of beers might do me good, so I slowed down so not to hurtle past and have to turn back around.
There it was, just ahead, on the right, a tar paper shack with a rolling sign up front, a couple of letters missing: Ho Doo Honk Tonk.
The door was propped open with a brick and a window with a lit-up Bud Lite sign.
Dark inside, a roughhewn bar in the back. Against a wall sat a conked-out jukebox you could tell quit working a good whiles back.
One customer on a stool. A fat boy behind the bar. The customer a woman facing out. Couldn’t of weighed more than eighty pounds. Something bad wrong with her, late-stage cancer I would guess.
“Hello, stranger,” she said.
Her voice – how to describe her voice? – imagine two sheets of sandpaper soaked in ‘shine scarping against one another rasping raspier than a rasp.
She wore an Atlanta Braves cap, her stringy grey hair pulled back into a ponytail, a fashion faux pas cause you could see her jug ears sticking out like a satellite dish.
“Good evening, Ma’am,” I said.
“All we gots is beer. Pabst, Bud Lite, Miller, Miller Lite, and Schlitz Malt Liquor in a can.”
“A Bud,” I said, “that sounds alright.”
“Lonnie” she rasped, “get this gentleman a Bud.”
“I ain’t deaf.” he snarled.
“You own the place?’ I asked.
“Yep, but not for long. Doc says I got days left, a week or two at the longest.”
Damn, what do you say to that?
“Damn, sorry to hear,” I said.
“Look, Mister. I need a favor, a huge one. I wouldn’t ask if I wasn’t desperate.”
“Oh shit,” I thought, “stopping here was a mistake.” I could see now she was all drugged out or drunk or both.
“I need you to make love to me, a man to make love to me one last time, to remember what it feels like. Ain’t no one come in here no more. I ain’t got to kin, no friends, just Lonnie over there who is as sick and tired of me as I am of him.”
Damn, what do you say to that?
“Um, I wish I could, could accommodate you, but I have this fiancée. (A better lie would have been that I was gay, but I’ve never been too good at thinking on my feet).
She sort of snarled a smile. “It would be a saintly act, but I understand.”
In the long silence, a couple of trucks swooshed past.
“How much do I owe you,” I asked.
“On the house, baby doll. Money don’t mean nothing to me no more. Nothing means nothing to me no more. No friends, no kin. In a year my memory will disappear, nobody will remember that once I was a pretty good looking redheaded gal. No trace of me left. Nobody will remember me.”
“Wait, a minute,” I said. “I’m a writer who sometimes gets shit published. I could write this story, and in the story make love to you, pick you up and carry you like a child to that trailer across the road. People would read the story for years maybe. You’d be remembered.”
She looked at me long and hard.
“Fuck you,” she said. “It’s time for you to run along.”
When you get to be my age, i.e., the ol’ “three score and ten” of Psalm 90, the years can seem like a blur, so when I opened Facebook this morning, I was surprised that already nine years have passed since the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney’s death at 74. Although it is commonplace now to hear somebody call 70-something sort young for death, Heaney’s mortal dress was more than a little tattered – he looked frail, every bit of three score and fourteen – and it appears that a mere fall did him in.
I first became enamored with Heaney in 1978. Ashley Brown, a former professor, invited me to dinner at his house on Barnwell Street not long after he had garnered a bit of fame for appearing frequently in The Habit of Being, a collection of Flannery O’Connor’s letters. It was a memorable evening with Dr. Brown as he hauled out personal photographs of him and O’Connor and also of his dear friend Elizabeth Bishop, whom he had brought to South Carolina for a reading when I was still in graduate school. During the evening, he asked me if I had heard of Heaney, and when I admitted I hadn’t, he whipped out a couple of poems, so as soon as I returned to Charleston, I purchased Heaney’s second collection, A Door into the Dark.
Of course, the 60’s were the decade of confessional poets like Plath and Lowell, poets whom my teacher James Dickey once referred to in class as “scab pickers,” poets who more often than not wrote in free verse and who demanded from the reader – at least in Lowell’s case – the patience to unravel seemingly random associations, many of which pertained to his private life.
Heaney’s verse was different – musical, earthy – its subject matter a mixture of the mundane and the political strife of Northern Ireland. Here he is in “The Outlaw” describing in loose iambic couplets a bull mating with a cow:
Unhurried as an old steam engine shunting.
He circled, snored, and nosed. No hectic panting,
Just the unfussy ease of a good tradesman;
Then an awkward unexpected jump, and
His knobbled forelegs straddling her flank,
He slammed life home, impassive as a tank.
Dropping off like a tipped-up load of sand.
“She‟ll do,‟ said Kelly and tapped his ash-plant
Across her hindquarters. “If not, bring her back.‟
I walked ahead of her, the rope now slack
While Kelly whooped and prodded his outlaw
Who, in his own time, resumed the dark, the straw.
Many of his poems deal with childhood experiences on the family farm right outside of Castledawson in County Londonderry. Here’s a segment from the title poem of his first collection, “The Death of a Naturalist”:
Then one hot day when fields were rank With cowdung in the grass the angry frogs Invaded the flax-dam; I ducked through hedges To a coarse croaking that I had not heard Before. The air was thick with a bass chorus. Right down the dam gross-bellied frogs were cocked On sods; their loose necks pulsed like sails. Some hopped: The slap and plop were obscene threats. Some sat Poised like mud grenades, their blunt heads farting. I sickened, turned, and ran. The great slime kings Were gathered there for vengeance and I knew That if I dipped my hand the spawn would clutch it.
Of course, Yeats is the standard for any Irish poet and an impossible one at that, but it’s certain that Heaney was the greatest Irish poet since Yeats and one who belongs in the same pantheon with the postwar English master Philip Larkin. Heaney is one of the four Irishmen to receive a Nobel prize in literature along with Yeats, Shaw, and Beckett – rare company indeed. His loss is a great one for poetry and for Ireland – for all of us really – but old men are destined to die as Yeats reminds us on his very tombstone.
Nevertheless, like his hero Beowulf, Heaney will live on in his verse.
for Michael Longley
As a child, they could not keep me from wells
And old pumps with buckets and windlasses.
I loved the dark drop, the trapped sky, the smells
Of waterweed, fungus and dank moss.
One, in a brickyard, with a rotted board top.
I savoured the rich crash when a bucket
Plummeted down at the end of a rope.
So deep you saw no reflection in it.
A shallow one under a dry stone ditch
Fructified like any aquarium.
When you dragged out long roots from the soft mulch
A white face hovered over the bottom.
Others had echoes, gave back your own call
With a clean new music in it. And one
Was scaresome, for there, out of ferns and tall
Foxgloves, a rat slapped across my reflection.
Now, to pry into roots, to finger slime,
To stare, big-eyed Narcissus, into some spring
Is beneath all adult dignity. I rhyme
To see myself, to set the darkness echoing.
 Brown had also in his youth visited Ezra Pound at St. Elizabeth’s, so being in Brown’s presence put me a mere two degrees of separation from my heroes Joyce, Eliot, and Hemingway. You can read about Elizabeth Bishop’s visit to USC HERE.
 I witnessed a dual reading featuring Dickey and Lowell in 1974. Afterwards, I learned that Lowell detested Dickey, so there’s that.
A aged man is but a paltry thing, a tattered coat upon a stick, so what shall I do with this absurdity, O Heart, O Troubled heart, decrepit age that has been tied to me as to a dog’s tail? What am I gonna do? Make a fool out of myself, that’s what. Here’s exhibit A. The Old Scarecrow Boogie.
Ain’t Got You
I’m sixty-five, got cataracts, Hump-forming on my back, A candidate for a heart attack, But I ain’t got you . . .
Got nurses to the left of me, Nurses to the right of me, Nurses all around me, But I ain’t got you.
Got a wheelchair, a walk-in tub, Teeth ground down into little nubs, Got a membership to the Rotary Club And you lookin’ good in your hot pink scrubs!
Got a closet full of robes, And no matter where I go Got hair in my nose. But I ain’t got you.
With apologies to DuBose Heyward and George Gershwin
Let us swear an oath, and keep it with an equal mind, In the hollow Lotos-land to live and lie reclined.
Tennyson, “The Lotos-eaters”
Summertime, And the living is queasy, Traffic’s stalled, And the rent’s sky high. Our landlord’s rich And constantly bitching, So, c’mon, sweet baby, Let’s stiff the bitch and fly.
Up ‘26, there’s the hipster haven of Ashville with its majestic mountains ‘neath a blue Carolina sky. But come to think of it, We’re pretty awful lazy. So, never mind, sweet baby, We’ll stay right here and get high.
 Gershwin wrote the song “Summertime” on Folly Beach.
Although she doesn’t publish, my wife Caroline Tigner Moore is an elegant, accomplished poet, one who embraces Archibald MacLeish’s dicta in “Ars Poetica.” MacLeish argues that poems should embody abstractions in images rather than merely stating themes.
A poem should be equal to: Not true.
For all the history of grief An empty doorway and a maple leaf.
For love The leaning grasses and two lights above the sea—
A poem should not mean But be.
Archibald MacLeish from “Ars Poetica”
Caroline is a craftsperson, one who eliminates every extraneous word so that her final product is imbued with meaning.
He quit watching the news, quit his book club, quit shaving. Let the subscriptions lapse.
Sleep became a hum, dreams dubbed like foreign films, the phlegmy rasp of his breathing a cause of concern not broached by Mama or me. He did trudge off to lecture until the dean dismissed him.
Near the end he called out from his bed Mama was out running errands. “Yes sir?” I said, cracking open the door. “Sleep, I need to sleep.” I was fifteen. “My dreams,” he said, “all take place in this room, ghosts, floating above the bed, gossipy whisperers.”