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Sunday, September 21, 2014
Southern Weather Radar


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    SC Writers' Essays

    A New Book—Favorite Places

    by | May 9, 2013

    Your favorite place … For many it would be home, that safe harbor we have shaped to our own needs and likes, that refuge from the world’s ills, stresses, and bothers. Home makes for an easy choice. Suppose, however, an editor asked you what your favorite place is other than your home, and what if she said, “Write about it and we’ll put it in a book.”

    That’s precisely what happened to me. Three years ago the former editor of Sandlapper magazine, Aida Rogers, emailed me asking me if I would write about my favorite place in South Carolina. And I wasn’t the only writer she approached. Thirty-six others were asked to write about their favorite place. The result is a wonderful book. Now forget that it is about South Carolina. This book could be about any state. The title in fact identifies the right state: state of the heart.

    State of the Heart: South Carolina Writers on the Places They Love (A University of South Carolina Friends Fund Book)For me the book is special because nine of my friends contributed to it. The writing is excellent, as it should be. When an editor tells a writer they will publish him it brings opportunity and stress: you know that what you write had better be good.

    Aida Roger’s anthology, State of the Heart, is hard to put down. When I got my contributor’s copy I read it from cover to cover, 217 pages.

    You might not recognize many of the names … yet. You’d for certain find the writer of the foreword familiar. That would be Pat Conroy. Other notables include Nathalie Dupree host of more than 300 television episodes airing on PBS, TLC, and the Food Network, Starkey Flythe a former managing editor of Saturday Evening Post, Dori Sanders, author of Clover, and Marjory Wentworth, poet laureate of South Carolina.

    And what are the places? A historian reflects on church ruins and old forts, a food writer pays homage to a restaurant serving local oysters, one writer recalls his days helping build Savannah River Site, and another writes of his transformational days at the Citadel. That’s but a sample of the engaging essays. More than anything the book serves up illustrations of how memories make us who we are or more precisely who we are to become.

    In addition to Pat Conroy’s glowing foreword where he writes of an albino porpoise swimming in the Harbor River, novelist Mary Alice Monroe’s back-cover blurb describes the book as a “rich collection of personal stories, reflections, historical facts, and front porch yarns as colorful, timeless, and inspiring as the people and landscape of the Palmetto State.” I paid attention to what Monroe wrote because she has graciously agreed to write the foreword for mine and Robert Clark’s new book, due out may 2014. Monroe is the New York Times best-selling author of The Summer Girls and Beach House Memories as well as thirteen other books.

    Among my favorite essays in State of the Heart is one that flows from the pen of J. Drew Lanham, a native of Edgefield and an African-American. Lanham is a professor of Wildlife Ecology at Clemson but unlike way too many professors he writes like an angel. His essay, “No Forever for Old Farms,” is a thing of beauty. Consider this opening paragraph:

    “There is something about an old farm that wants to be broken down. As time tests tin and weather wears wood, barns and outbuildings begin to lean and falter. Like old men teetering on canes, they rest feebly on stone foundations that hold them up despite the failure of everything else around them. They wobble in the wind, barely balanced on posts and pillars that keep them from falling flat on their faces. Their impending demise is hastened by loosening joints—mortise separating from tenon and nails falling out like rotten teeth. And yet, some old barns and sheds linger on. They were constructed not so much with neatly drawn plans to spec and scale, but rather with what was on hand. Aesthetic was never in the plan. Form was function. Were it not for something stronger than what we see, they would fail. Their underpinning of stones, bricks, blocks, and mortar are the souls of silos and sheds, and they stand for something durable—no matter the decaying timber they support.”

    Anyone who loves old farm buildings will appreciate Lantham’s dirge whose conclusion touches the soul. “Old farms help me to remember what was. I can feel the struggles and triumphs that come with each season—spring’s hope, summer’s surge, fall’s senescence, and winter’s dying. Whether it is my Home Place or someone else’s, each time I linger in the shadow of a rusting silo or search for sparrows in the rank fencerow of an old pasture, I learn something about my own being and what will come. It is as sure as the leaves falling in October and birds flying south to warmer climes. Nature will have its inevitable way. Even as buildings are erected to last for generations—what some might call forever—I know that there is no such thing, especially for an old farm.”

    State of Heart 2

    This book will do well. It’s filled with wisdom, beauty, and sentiment. One woman writes of her fallen father, another of losing a home place to the BMW plant, another what’s it like to be an Army brat and at long last finding a place she can call home. A man writes of floating a river, another of his favorite spot on the Chattooga—a river Georgia claims as well. And me? I wrote about a special place at a special time in my life only I didn’t recognize it at the time. “For The Birds” recalls a time when my hair was still dark and a man could be alone on an immaculate island and get a measure of what the coast, unspoiled, looked like when wild creatures alone owned it.

    State of the Heart … I think it will touch a few hearts. If nothing else you will get a sense of what matters in life to a small group of people who spend a lot of time alone thinking.

    ###
    Tom Poland

    Tom Poland

    A Southern writer, Tom Poland’s work has appeared in magazines throughout the South. He’s published five books and more than 800 columns and magazine features. In 1996, Reckon magazine published his literary feature, "Deliver Me from Leviathan," on James Dickey. Excerpts were published in The World As A Lie–James Dickey, the Dickey biography by Henry Hart. The University of South Carolina Press has published three of his books, most recently, Reflections of South Carolina, now in its third printing.
    For six years, Tom worked as a scriptwriter and cinematographer, working primarily along the South Carolina Lowcountry and its barrier islands. While filming on a primitive barrier island one evening, fog rolled in trapping him overnight. That experience led to his novel, Forbidden Island, and the mythical Georgialina. Currently, he’s working on two nonfiction books.
    A Lincolnton, Georgia, native and University of Georgia graduate, he lives in Columbia, South Carolina. Read more at www.TomPoland.net.
    Favorite Quotes On Writing and Creativity:
    "Writing is a kind of smoke, seized and put on paper. "— James Salter
    "I never wanted to be well rounded, and I do not admire well-rounded people nor their work. So far as I can see, nothing good in the world has ever been done by well-rounded people. The good work is done by people with jagged, broken edges, because those edges cut things and leave an imprint, a design." — Harry Crews

     

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    • Eileen

      Tom, I like your review so much, I went to Amazon to order it. There are several items listed under this name. I suggest you post a link on LTD to help your readers go straight to it.

    • Tom Poland

      Thank you Eileen. There is a link to Amazon in the narrative but here is a link to the book. http://www.amazon.com/State-Heart-Carolina-Writers-University/dp/1611172500

      • Eileen

        Thank you. I’ve ordered it.

    • Darby

      This is probably not a book I would have stumbled upon, thanks for the heads up.

      • Tom

        YW. Good to hear from you.

    • Dennis McCarthy

      Another great choice, Tom. I’ll look for a copy. You’ve never steered me wrong. I’m still enjoying Deep Enough for Ivorybills.

      • Tom

        Thanks Dennis … great to hear from you.

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