The launch party at the Historic Broyhill in Clemmons for the new book of poetry by Lewisville poet Terri Kirby Erickson was a swanky affair for these parts, counting among its attendees a Tony Award-winning actress and a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer.
They came to fete Erickson, whose fourth book, “A Lake of Light and Clouds,” was just published by Press 53. The star power was provided by actress Rosemary Harris, in attendance with her husband, writer John Ehle; and Ron Powers, who was the first TV critic to win a Pulitzer Prize.
To the general public, Powers may be best known for his regular features on CBS Sunday Morning with Charles Kuralt in the 1980s. He is also a best-selling writer, whose books include “Flags of Our Fathers,” the story of the men who raised the flag at Iwo Jima, and “Mark Twain: A Life.” Powers collaborated with Sen. Ted Kennedy on his autobiography, “True Compass,” writing much of it as Kennedy was dying of brain cancer.
Powers introduced Erickson at her party last week, calling her one of the country’s most original rising poets who reflects the language and experiences of common Americans, in the vein of Twain.
Here are some excerpts from a wide-ranging chat with Powers during his visit:
On Charles Kuralt: “I don’t think anybody got to know Charles, but I admired him tremendously and I came to appreciate his artistry. He was a very gentle and humane person, I know that much about him. I came to think of him as a sort of Southern mystic because he was deeper than almost any on-air personality. He heard the music in language, and that was one of his secrets.”
On how he met Erickson: “I met her on Facebook. I had mentioned the title of ‘Let Us Now Praise Famous Men,’ by James Agee, my bible as a model for rooting yourself in a local place and staying long enough to absorb the stories there. And Terri wrote the next day on Facebook, ‘Why do we always have to praise famous men? Why can’t we praise famous women?’ And so I explained to her that this was a masterpiece of social reporting. She was good-natured about it and we got to know each other. I read her poems and I realized that Terri is of that same lineage, meaning she passionately cares about common people. She finds poetry in their spoken language.”
On Mark Twain: “His greatness lay in how he was able to yank us free from the obsequious America, 100 years after the Revolutionary War, that thought of itself as an inferior civilization. High diction was what we taught if you wanted to be a civilized American. You spoke like a Brit. Sam (Samuel Clemens) came back from the West, where he sat out the Civil War, and wrote stories about gamblers and rustlers and gunmen and card sharks and showgirls, and brought that back with him. The Eastern writers sat in their study and wrote high-brow philosophy and poetry derived from the old standards.”
On writing with Ted Kennedy: “I’m not trying to pat myself on the back, but he liked the way I wrote. I made a couple of trips down to Hyannis Port (the Massachusetts home of the Kennedy family compound) but within weeks, he developed his illness. We both knew the clock was ticking. He was a haunted man, a man who wanted to be of use. This is the thing that people underestimated in him, that he really wanted to make a difference. He was the first Kennedy to really tell about the family from the inside. Teddy captured that little universe that was the family, the discipline, the adoration of Joe (his father). In a lot of ways, they were an old-fashioned 19th century Irish family.”