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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
Number of posts: 183
Email address: email
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Posts by Tom Poland:
atomic paradise sequel
During a recent trip to Savannah River Site I toured the ghost town of Ellenton. Since I wrote “Atomic Paradise” Ellenton, an apparition, haunts me. An entire town … moved. In researching “Atomic Paradise” I examined the unexpected exodus of Ellenton’s residents and two things caught my attention. One involves nature; the other human nature.
Nature first. The afternoon I saw Ellenton brushy undergrowth grew where homes had sat. Where people once slept…
savannah river site
Savannah River Site, the bomb plant, sprawls across the land near Aiken—a 61-mile drive from where I grew up. When I was a boy I discovered the woman next door, Miss Ann, made the 120-plus-mile round-trip five days a week. A peacekeeper of sorts, she’d gotten on at the bomb plant. For a long time I knew little about this nuclear reservation.
Years passed. One July day in 1986, a self-assigned writing project took me to Savannah River Site…
In my outings around town I often see people in their thirties socializing. They run in packs and hop from bar to bar like fleas. They cluster up at festivals watching passersby, pointing, and laughing at others. They run together as couples and they break into male and female packs seeking adventure sure to banish boredom. This phenomenon is not new. We did it when we were in our thirties. Some of you did too. It’s been happening as long as men and women itch to escape the same old same old.
gave gouthern boys a fine ski
Back in the 1960s when I hung out at Georgia’s Elijah Clark State Park, the cool guys were into water skiing. I got into it too and learned to slalom. That was a big deal. Learning to take off from shore standing on one leg was an even bigger deal, and I did that despite my most ordinary ski’s limitations. No matter how well you skied though, not having a big name ski rubbed a lot of luster off your accomplishment. A Dick Pope Jr. ski, however, carried cachet. A cheap ski? It might as well be a plank.
life rises from the earth
The day breaks gray, cold, and wet. Rain and mists swirl and shift like apparitions as winds whip them across the highway. Like twin metronomes, my windshield wipers lay down a steady beat … driving north, driving north, driving north. I’m driving to Lancaster, South Carolina, to interview a Catawba potter. To get there I drive up I-77 and peel off on SC Highway 200, a two-lane road running through pine-clad hills. It runs through hard times too.
If you didn’t read my column about how a mule’s kick ended up killing eight people, you are in the minority. Of all the columns I’ve written over the last four years none have generated quit a stir like this one. It began to show up on Facebook. People began to share it all over the place and Augusta radio personality Austin Rhodes came across it. He read the entire column over the air on WGAC. The floodgates opened up.
physician heal thyself!
When I was in college, the hippie kingdom railed against the hated Military-Industrial Complex. The MIC, they felt sure, was more than happy to wage war in Vietnam and rake in beaucoups of money. Making bombs to make a buck. Oh the outrage. Well where are hippies when you need them?
Today we have another MIC wreaking havoc on us: the Medical-Insurance Complex.
every scar tells a story
Back in a simpler, better time… In my case, five scars bring back memories of Dr. Weems Pennington Sr., a doctor who epitomized what a family physician should be. He was smart, kind, funny, and kept many of us rolling despite an excess of maladies, ills, and accidents. He had a way of teaching you to be courageous no matter what bedeviled you. He’s been gone for seven years but he lives on in the hearts and minds of many, and he always will.
book banners be warned
It’s a memory that refuses to die and it took place on the front steps of the old brick high school that overlooks Buddy Bufford Field back home. Angry classmates swarm around Skipper Hardin and me, furious because we had the gall to read Charles Darwin’s books on the theory of evolution. Even worse we were so bold as to talk about Darwin’s theory in class. Blasphemy! They thought Darwin’s books should be not just banned, but burned.
quality of life
From the time I was ten running and biking were part of my life and that led to football quite naturally. Like many Lincoln County boys, I played for the Red Devils. Ran track too.
Not long after graduating from Georgia youth-induced laziness set in. Why exercise when you are young and weight gain is no big deal? I went through a stretch of seven years where I did nothing as exercise goes. Then one afternoon a couple of guys asked me to run with them.
overcoming primal fear
Few animals arouse primal fear like snakes and yet as citified as we are we seldom see ’em. Other than a green snake scooting through the lawn few people encounter snakes, and even fewer cross paths with industrial-strength venomous snakes. The kind that can send you to the next world.
you can't make this up
You can drive by a place 1,000 times and be unaware of its history. Such was the case for a small country store on Highway 378 in Edgefield County. Over the years I’ve passed the little store you see with this column 1,000 times and not once did I stop. That changed Sunday, October 13. I did pass it but I turned around, curious to see what the price of gas was on the old rusty pump, leaning like an old man with a cane.
I must have been around eight when Uncle Carroll handed me a shard of metal. I couldn’t believe what was in my hands. That jagged piece of silver metal, the skin of an aircraft, was about the size of a postcard but in my mind it was big. Really big. A jet had crashed in northeast Georgia and Uncle Carroll had retrieved a piece of it. Holding a remnant of a fighter jet in my hand was one of those moments I’d carry the rest of my life. That torn metal might as well have come from an alien spacecraft. I held it and marveled. “It came from a wing,” I thought.
the night life changed
People talk about life-changing events and most of the time it’s a dramatic event: An accident, a religious conversion, marriage, the onset of illness, the birth of a child, and such life changes generally affect people right away. Sometimes, though, it’s an event whose life-changing implications lie far off in the future. You just can’t know the path fate has chosen for you. And sometimes the change targets a select group of people.
I had heard such places existed but had never seen one. Now I was just two miles from seeing one. Just off I-26 near Ridgeville, South Carolina, I began to see signs. I followed them, took a side road, and the place came into view. Time for a deep breath. Old photographs of Nazi concentration camps came to mind. It was an illusion, of course, created by the way the old cabins sit shoulder to shoulder. Dark clapboards, rusty tin roofs, and stark chimneys strengthened the impression.
Charleston’s sweetgrass basket weavers are legendary. They are as much a part of the Lowcountry as she crab soup, Spanish moss, sea oats, and a crashing surf line. Their baskets please the eye with their symmetrical lines and khaki and tan patterns. A princely sum will buy you a basket but if you think spending $1,195 for a hand-woven basket is too much, hold on for a bit. There’s much to know about that basket and all that goes into it. For starters a rich history attends sweetgrass baskets.
saving a species
In 1980 I wrote a fifteen-minute film script about a subject most people give little thought to: sand dunes. The stars of this natural history documentary were sea oats, pelicans, shorebirds, and loggerhead sea turtles. The goal? Show people how important sand dunes are to wildlife and man. Because of scheduling issues and bad weather, however, a vital part of the film never got shot. Sand Dunes: Guardian of the Coast hit the screen without its true stars, child prodigies you could say.
pit cooked over hickory
One day when you’re starving for traditional pit-cooked BBQ make the drive to Jackie Hite’s Barbecue just off Highway 23 in Leesville, South Carolina. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you park by the tracks and smell the delicious aroma emanating from hogs sizzling over hickory coals. Look for plumes of smoke back of Hite’s wide white restaurant. Inside look for the patriarch of pork, Jackie Hite
a half-day off.
For a long, long time most stores down South have closed at noon Wednesdays. Mexico has its siestas and we have Wednesday afternoons. Closed at noon Wednesday. It’s a custom praised by insightful folks as a more civilized way to live, a way to give everyone a half-day off. All my life I’ve known that Wednesday afternoons were sacred in towns of all sizes. Round about noon places close and the infamous old slow Southern life style crawls to a stop.
small town america is dying
The small town is hailed as a place where values and virtues die with the greatest of reluctance. Mayberry comes to mind. It was a sleepy little town where good people and memorable characters lived. The Lincolnton and Lincoln County I remember from the 1950s and 1960s had the Mayberry touch. Folks who long for the Lincolnton and Lincoln County of the 1950s and 1960s can still have it. “Vintage Lincoln County,” a Facebook page shows familiar places and people long gone. Its creator, Garnett Wallace, refers to it as a “community scrapbook.”
that southern classic
Like the red poinsettia, the red, ripe tomato comes to us by way of Mexico by way of Peru … except that it starts out green. And it’s not a vegetable. It’s a berry, a beloved berry. Botanical correctness mandates that you refer to the tomato as a fruit and being pulpy with edible seeds classifies it as a berry.
There’s something about being a writer that leads people to confide in me. Think about that. Why tell a writer, a person who uses life itself as raw material, your deepest secrets. But tell me they do, and sometimes their secrets break my heart.
Through my writing and books, I meet a lot of people. Some become friends. I’ve come to know women who confided in me just how much they hated their father. They had reason. So they say. Several told me…
Shoals, Smoke & Spirits
Early Thursday, May 30. Robert Clark and I strike out on day two of our western South Carolina explorations. As I drive into Carolina we’re both quiet, thinking.
“Her sun went down while it was yet day,” Jeremiah 15:9. I couldn’t get that epitaph out of my mind. Nor could I forget the photos a woman showed me on a bluff overlooking the Calhoun Mill damn the evening before. Wearing a two-piece yellow swimsuit laying bare the requisite tattoos she walked over, more than a trace of beer on her breath.
Rendezvous with History
With a few holes to fill in our new book Robert Clark and I headed to western South Carolina Wednesday, May 29. We went directly to Lincolnton where we used sister Brenda’s home as a base camp. After a visit with my mom we set out for McCormick. As soon as we turned off Highway 220 onto 378 the sky turned a menacing yellow. Soon the smell of burning woods filled the car and Robert spotted a cloud a bit different from the rest.
It Was Good Enough For Folks Like Annie
I left the Empire State of the South the day after Mother’s Day and headed to the Palmetto State. The border, mere minutes away, brought to mind the Allman Brothers’ “Blue Sky.”
“Goin’ to Carolina … won’t be long til I’ll be there.”
Interactive Journalism At Its Most Delicious
Last Thursday, just before I took my daily two-mile run/walk hunger struck. A few bites of watermelon did the trick. When I bit into that cold sweet watermelon a flood of summer memories rushed in. I recalled the great tastes of summer and with those memories came warm images of youth in the Georgia countryside. I saw stacks of dark green, striped watermelons, red, ripe tomatoes, and heard the beautiful grinding of a hand-cranked ice cream churn. Recalling the great tastes of summer I thought will make a good column.
Enough Is Enough
None other than the Harvard Business Review reports that the ability to communicate is the number one trait top executives possess. The ability to communicate trumps ambition, education, sound decisions, and a capacity for hard work. It’s too damn bad the folks on top can’t delegate their talent.
Way too many business people cannot write. How well I know. My eyes glaze over at their attempts. Check out most corporations’ mission statements and you’ll need a café latte with an extra shot of espresso. Here’s a snoozer for you:
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
Recently a gunman walked into a church with intent to murder, cause mayhem and start a revolution against black people. Instead, his killing of nine church members brought people of all faiths and color together, finding even those closest to the people he shot to forgive him. God moves in mysterious ways. The rampage in Charleston, S.C., known as the Holy City, indeed turned the people of that city not toward recrimination and violence, but to love, grace and forgiveness. While shootings in other cities have turned into rioting and burnings of buildings, instead the people of Charleston saw another way. Their actions Read on →
“In this intimate body of work, she uses mixed media, collage and painting to explore the demands of motherhood, preservation of memory, and repetitious patterns of thought and behavior.” Huh? I recently received this invitation and quickly decided it was probably something I don’t want to even be seen near, let alone attend. Perhaps my reluctance to go has something to do with the description. I just have no idea what the promoters are talking about. Besides, when you use “intimate body of work” to put a fence around “thought and behavior,” I get a bit light headed. Perhaps my reaction was just a quirk Read on →
There’s a pill for everything, you know. Not that that puts pharmaceuticals in any special category. There’s an anything for everything—just a click away. Still, all those meds you see advertised on TV, targeted particularly to people who look to be about my age, people who are “having trouble” breathing or peeing or digesting or remembering. It’s become a cliché: all old people do is take pills.Well, that ain’t me. I have no prescriptions and take no medications. At least that’s what I say every time I fill out medical history forms. In fact, I’m just about a perfect human specimen, accordin Read on →
Does the presidential candidacy of Donald Trump serve any useful purpose? If your first reaction is to dismiss the question because the idea that such an absurd and repellant figure could be taken seriously, it is worth remembering that American voters have elected others just as unlikely to the White House. Ronald Reagan the movie actor and George W. Bush the old money underachiever whose daddy was president were no less improbable early in their political careers. To be sure, Trump’s candidacy might be nothing more than an example of the public attention seeking that afflicts the superrich. Rather like 1%ers p Read on →