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Bard is well-versed in Carrboro's character


By Susan Broili : The Herald-Sun
Jul 3, 2003 : 7:43 pm ET

CARRBORO -- It happened once. And, now it's happened again. Carrboro has its second poet laureate.

Patrick Herron, 32, takes over the helm as town bard officially today when he makes his first public appearance at the town's July Fourth festivities at town hall. At 1:10 p.m. "after the square dancers and before the cloggers," he'll read the poem that won him the position.

The first part of his poem is meant to be sung, but Herron plans to read it.

"I have a terrible singing voice," Herron said Thursday during an interview at the Carrboro home he shares with his wife, Janet, boxer Hooch and cats Cobweb and Rosemary.

In his poem, he mixes the personal and the public as he celebrates the town he loves.

It was just these qualities that convinced the town's first poet laureate, Kate Lovelady, to choose Herron as the town's next poet from about a dozen applicants who had to submit a poem based on the theme of Independence Day to be considered for the honor.

"What I liked about his poem was his combination of public and private images in a nice way. He seemed to really love Carrboro but still be able to see it very clear-eyed. It wasn't sentimental at all," Lovelady said. "He was so exuberant to write such a long poem I thought he would make a good poet laureate."

He'll have to see how the reading goes to decide whether his future official poems will be as long, Lovelady added.

Herron is definitely enthusiastic about Carrboro, where he has lived for almost 15 years.

"It's a really progressive, small town with a lot of charm, into arts and music. It's a great town to be a writer or painter or musician," Herron said.

The fact that Carrboro is the only municipality in the state with its own poet laureate pleases him.

"If anything, it's saying, `We value the arts.' I think that's fantastic," Herron said.

He also has a little fun, in his poem, with the town's progressive quirks, such as taking a stand by defending the French amidst the recent criticism that country received here, in which some people took to calling french fries freedom fries.

In his poem, he writes: "We call ourselves the Paris of the Piedmont because we have a sense of humor. Elsewhere under this radiant sky we share, you can get your Freedom Fries."

And he pokes fun at some clichés about Southern writers by referring to four different types of plants by name. "To be a sophisticated Southern poet, one must know the horticulture," he said.

Herron wanted to be poet laureate to share locally the work that has won him success elsewhere in the past two years. He will have poems published this fall in The Iowa Review and Exquisite Corpse.

The poet gained early support and recognition for his poems via the Internet, after he joined an on-line poetry discussion group.

He also wants to use the position to start a poetry series or festival in which he'll invite local and other poets to read, featuring "people who are moving the art form forward but are not part of the establishment."

Although Herron has written poetry since he was 15 and still living in the Philadelphia area where he grew up, he got serious about it after a personal tragedy six years ago when his best friend, Chris Lewis, 26, died in a fire.

Lewis had encouraged him to pursue poetry and told him he would be miserable as a doctor. Herron was enrolled in the pre-med program at N.C. State at the time.

"After he died, I listened to him," Herron said.

So, Herron began writing poetry every day -- a practice he continues even though he is currently working on a master's degree in information science at UNC, where he majored in philosophy and linguistics as an undergraduate. He also works as a freelance computer programmer.

Four years ago, he became one of six poets selected to participate in a master class with poet James Tate in New York. Then, David Kellogg, a teacher at Duke University and president of the Durham-based Carolina Wren Press, introduced him to an on-line poetry discussion group, and he began getting invitations to submit his work.

Lovelady said that she was struck by how different Herron's poetry is from what she writes, and thought the town could use some variety.

For instance, Herron said the poem that will be published in Exquisite Corpse consists entirely of synonyms for death written in a musical form he invented.

But, in many ways, the poem he submitted in the poet laureate contest is different from what he usually writes. His wife, Janet, said she thought writing official poems for the town would be good for him.

"So much of what he writes is so esoteric. This is more approachable and personal," Janet Herron said of the poem that won her husband the title of poet laureate.

Still, Patrick Herron plans to write even official poems as only he can.

"I love ambiguity. It can eliminate the facts of the world and get to a state of feelings," he said. "It's not the facts of the moment but the feelings that are important."

Editor's note: This is the poem that won Patrick Herron the title of Carrboro poet laureate. Carrboro's first poet laureate, Kate Lovelady, served as judge for this year's selection. Herron will read his poem at 1:10 p.m. today at Carrboro Town Hall as part of the town's Fourth of July festivities.

Independence day sky sing us a fire red hue

with your gospel bass notes intoning glacial


Independence night set our hands hearts and

heads ablaze

with the music of fireworks evaporating this thick

evening haze.

It's been ten years today

since I first asked you.

Ten years of waking up

inside you. Ten years.

Do you remember

that sticky July evening

we watched fireworks from

the strip mall parking lot

along the highway?

Independence Day was somehow our

first dependence day and we agreed,

we agreed. We chose to say

we will live here,

together among the loblollies

and the metal sticks that point us

to everywhere else, the signposts

carrying signs that try to remind us

this town is not the only place.

Raleigh, 25 miles. Durham,

12 miles, Chapel Hill, 1 mile.

Some of the signs seem holy,

bullet piercings appearing as if the

wounded DMV signs

were photographed just

before bursting into flame.

It's that hot here in July.

But we discovered why to stick

together, inside each other,

as each other, that is. It had little

to do with the vinyl seat

sticking to us.

That's how some places grow,

in you not on you. The ones that

stay, not go on. `On you' is

parasitic, a fungus, something to

be rid of like an infection

but `in you' is

love, a phrase of affection.

As evidence of that growth

I can offer you only

a handshake or

a wave as you pass by in your car,

or simply my helping hand,

We call ourselves

Paris of the Piedmont because

we have a sense of humor. Elsewhere

under this radiant sky we share,

you can get your Freedom Fries.

Here some still call our fries French

and we all relish the right to do so.

So look here at my palm.

In it is me, it is I;

it is a map of you,

it is you. I can no longer

discern where you end

and I begin. You open your hands,

a silent gesture of submission.

Look here, this is

Hillsborough Road, your heart line,

where you hope and grow and dream

freely, under the willow oak

beside the billow of hydrangea; ours sometimes sky blue when we choose.

Hillsborough meets Greensboro Street,

the brain line, this artery to school,

conducting me to such places as

that apartment on Hanna Street

so many people ago

when you were still here with me

or all those long conversations

about fixing an oppressed world

when the town around us was

working perfectly. Food before

morality. Weaver Street

the life line, of course, without which

I just might not eat.

And this crooked line

intersecting all of them

is my Main Street, my destiny

line. This line is a

scar, actually. It stems from

when I wrecked my bicycle after

a crooked evening on you.

Main Street, o you I love,

`how do you do,' you say so sweetly,

even if your traffic signals

are so poorly timed. It's all true.

That night, the sky drove

a car in the dark. One headlight

was out, but the other glowed

as a disc of mercury, or

like a spotlight outside some giant

auto dealership in the sky.

I remember you, your car wreck.

Under that moonlight we bled.

The same moonlight,

in the same moonlight,

this place, this Main Street

where I wished a part of you,

some say all of you,

goodbye. Don't go. You must

stay here in this place. Here

at this somewhere where

the heaving charcoal clouds

are bearable, this where we

are able to speak happily

among us, we who are passing

by street or by clock. A home

is where we bear

the yoke of life's misfortunes

yet choose to stay a little longer.

Buoyancy is a wonder for us, we

who live to see we are afloat.

Because something better

is soon within reach, because

the whisper of these `Carrburra' streets

is, `we can, we can.' Here is a town

where it is not so important

who we are as separate beings

but as interdependent wrinkles.

folding together on a hand, and

where my end is where you

began. This is the place

where I forget what it is

that distinguishes and separates

me from you, you Carrboro,

you who wishes to infuse

your self among us until

we feel it common for us

to meet upon the streets

of your gentle contradiction

in freedom, hand in hand.

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