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HoCoPoLitSo: The Known Fertile Ground

Poet, publisher, and HoCoPoLitSo board member Truth Thomas takes a look at the year ahead for the organization and sees the promise of fertile ground.

FertileGround 4

Fertile ground is a wondrous thing. That is one of the first lessons I remember learning as a child growing up in Knoxville, Tennessee, along with the fact that my late grandmother could cook anything and make it taste good. Indeed, in the right hands, even a small stretch of land can yield a multitude of edible miracles. In the context of literary activist organizations, the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society (HoCoPoLitSo) represents a similar patch of fertile ground.

The first grand HoCoPoLitSo New Year harvest is the poetry of Derrick Weston Brown, our 2012-2013 writer-in-residence. Brown holds an MFA in creative writing from American University and is brilliance personified. He is a highly published poet, Cave Canem Fellow, Tony Medina workshop alumnus, and the author of an inspiring collection of coming-of-age poems entitled Wisdom Teeth.  It gives me great joy to announce that he will be visiting every high school in Howard County to captivate our young people with the sunshine of his work.

In addition to the poetry of Derrick Weston Brown, the New Year brings the literary bounty of our 35th Annual Evening of Irish Music and Poetry. This year, the award-winning, internationally acclaimed author Colum McCann will be featured. McCann has published five novels, numerous short stories and a storehouse of articles. His book, Let the Great World Spin, won the National Book Award in 2009. I have always loved Irish Evening, because by virtue of it, I have been blessed to see the profound similarities between African Americans and Irish people. Both groups of folks have come through suffering with unbent backs of beauty. The event will be held at 7:30 p.m., March 1, 2013, at the Smith Theatre, Horowitz Center for Visual and Performing Arts on the campus of Howard Community College.

The literary crop of events that will spring forth from the Howard County Poetry and Literature Society in 2013 is one of great volume, quality and diversity. On March 19, HoCoPoLitSo partners with the Howard County Library—the fairest of them all—to welcome Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Edward P. Jones into our midst.

On April 23, HoCoPoLitSo connects with HCC to host the Blackbird Poetry Festival. This year, the festival highlights the sterling poetry and photography of author Rachel Eliza Griffiths—a Cave Canem Fellow, as well as the poetry of author Kendra Kopelke, director of the MFA program at the University of Baltimore. There are many more events planned that I will refrain from mentioning, at this time, because a little suspense makes life worth living. Suffice it to say that one of those events has something to do with the Columbia Festival of the Arts in June, and that the writers invited will stir ovations in every heart. Yes, I think that is enough to say, for now.

Truth Thomas
Poet and board member

 Speak Water, the latest collection of poems by Truth Thomas, is available online from Cherry Castle Publishing. A kindle e-version is available through Amazon.

“Are you on TV or something?” Maryland Crabs with Writers Edward P. Jones and E. Ethelbert Miller

The latest installment in our occasional series of blog posts from members of the HoCoPoLitSo board.

I first met Edward P. Jones in 1994 when he accepted an invitation from HoCoPoLitSo to come to Columbia to read for Howard County residents.  His first book, one of short stories about the invisible people of non-tourist Washington, Lost in the City, had been receiving wide acclaim.  It was my job to drive him from his hotel to the reading venue.  He wrote in my copy of Lost in the City, “Thanks for escorting me around.  This has been one of the best days I have had in a long time.”

Our next meeting was in 2005 when he read for us from his ground breaking novel The Known World.  He had read to an appreciative audience on the campus of Howard Community College on a Friday night and stayed over to appear for a taping of HoCoPoLitSo’s literary program, The Writing Life the next day.  He was to be interviewed by poet, E. Ethelbert Miller.

Saturday morning, I picked up Jones at the Columbia Sheraton to drive him to HCC campus for the taping.  On the way, he asked me if I knew a place where we could stop and get some steamed crabs later on.  He said he doesn’t get to visit Maryland often but when he does, he makes it a point to buy some crabs.  So, while Miller and Jones went into taping, I left the studio to call my wife to ask about a crab place.  She told me that there was an excellent place just off Route 1 in Laurel that served the best crabs between Columbia and DC, the Bottom of the Bay.

When the taping was over, Jones, Miller and I got into my car for the trip to Laurel.  We found the restaurant with no trouble.  It was in an unremarkable strip mall and had both a sit-down restaurant and a carryout store which doubled as a convenience store with the usual fare that convenience stores carry – beef jerky, chips, soda, cigarettes, chewing tobacco and cold beer and cheap wine.

We placed our order of one dozen crabs and asked that they be seasoned with Old Bay.  While we waited, Jones called our attention to the beef jerky on the display and noted that he had never tasted it and wanted to know if either Miller or I had. We both shook our heads “no” and chuckled.

While we waited for Jones’ order of crabs, two young men perhaps in their late twenties entered the store to buy some beer.  One of the men turned to us and asked, “Aren’t you somebody important, or something?”

Being the “host”, I thought I should be the one to answer, so I said, “This is Edward P. Jones and this is E. Ethelbert Miller.  They’re both poets.”

The other man asked, “Are you on TV or something?”

I replied, “They just finished taping a TV show, but they do not have a regular program.”

The young man followed with, “We don’t see folks around here in suits that much, so I thought you were, like, you know, somebody really important.”

At that moment, the man behind the counter announced our order was ready.

I grabbed the steaming bag of crabs from the counter and said to the young men, “Well, we are sorry to disappoint you.”

We left the store, got into my car, and headed for DC.  Miller asked Jones if he was going to eat all of those crabs by himself.  Jones said, “Not in one sitting; but by Sunday evening they should be all gone.” Miller and I laughed, knowingly and perhaps a little enviously.

By David Barrett
Ex-Officio, HoCoPoLitSo Board

Pictured above at the taping of The Writing Life ( left to right, back row to front): David Barrett, Ellen Conroy Kennedy, Tara Hart, Edward P. Jones and E. Ethelbert Miller.
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