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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: 168
Email address: email
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Posts by Tom Poland:
North v. South
The Song That Started A Feud
It’s one of the more popular Christmas songs. It’s also a song that lends itself to all sorts of versions and lyrics. Back in my boyhood school days, classmate Carl Ivey would sing “Jingle Bells” come Christmas time. He’d alter the lyrics to go “Jingle bells, shotgun shells,” and from there memory fails me. Carl, however, was not the first fellow in Georgia to experiment with the words of this popular Christmas song.
Sunday afternoon I had the pleasure of joining eleven authors at a holiday book signing the Preservation Society of Charleston hosted. The Society’s bookstore and gift shop sits at the corner of King and Queen Streets, a royal location. There we convened from 1 P.M. until four to sign books and meet people.
The event coincided with “Second Sunday,” an event where the city cordons off King Street for blocks and people fill the streets. Musicians do their thing and restaurants set tables in the streets so people can dine with views of the Holy City’s steeples.
Ecologists love remnant habitat: places where time has yet to ruin what nature so carefully assembles. Generally we can thank isolation for pockets of remnant habitat. The self-centered modern world builds highways far beyond them and then forgets they exist. Here and there you can also find remnant habitat for man: communities of the past. Danburg is such a place. Glance at the map and you clearly see that Danburg sits off the beaten path. If you pass through the community of Danburg you are lost or you come there for a reason.
In elementary school, Mrs. Murray Norman praised me one day for my ability to keep up with current events. As a kid I watched the Today show. I watched the Huntley-Brinkley Report. I watched local news on Augusta’s WJBF and WRDW. I knew what was going on and I could answer Mrs. Norman’s current event quizzes.
I no longer watch the news. The news lost me by taking a long slow slide into a big puddle of ineptness. Never have we had so many ways to be informed but never have we had such a clueless bunch of faux journalists. Maybe the news has lost you too.
Back in the 1980s when I was the managing editor of South Carolina Wildlife magazine a lean, tall drunk staggered into my office one afternoon. He wore a big cowboy hat, fancy boots, and a string tie adorned by a silver and turquoise clasp. He looked like a Texan, an older version of Josey Wales. He was sun-and liquor-burnt and burning mad.
“You got to do something about folks killing snakes,” he said, red-eyed, agitated, and smelling of Jim Beam. He had just seen a car swerve across a country lane to deliberately run over a rattler.
Never Ceases to Amaze
My earliest memories of Charleston, South Carolina, go back to the mid 1960s when I would spend two weeks with my Aunt Vivian and Uncle Joe in Summerville. We’d make daily trips to Folly Beach and Charleston, and those trips made for memorable times. We’d hit the beach, crab in the marshes and creeks, and sometimes tour Fort Sumter and the Charleston Museum.
Being a landlocked kid the chance to go to the beach excited me to no end. And crabbing was fun but filled with fears that the claws of a blue crab would nip me. The museum I remember as a dark musty place filled with oddities none of which I recall with detail. What was important however was that I remembered the overall experience.
Notes From The Grave
You read where there was a forty-year celebration of the movie Deliverance this spring up in Clayton, Georgia, and Longcreek, South Carolina. It wasn’t all fun and games. Some folks didn’t appreciate the festival dredging up bad blood. Deliverance casts a long shadow along the banks of the Chattooga.
If someone wrote a novel depicting the people of your county as toothless, murderous rednecks would you take it in stride?
The Old-Fashioned Way
Some folks were talking presidential politics last Tuesday, that ugly subject that’s the new pornography. The economy and jobless rate came up, of course, and one fellow commented on the sorry state of affairs we have these days. “Americans themselves, as individuals,” he added emphatically, “don’t make useful stuff anymore. We got folks sitting around doing nothing.”
He went on to say that the Chinese and big companies manufacture way too many things people used to make themselves.
With A Little Help From The Jukebox
I went to high school in Lincoln County, Georgia, during the dwindling days of the Jim Crow era. I’m too young to remember Jim Crow’s salad days, that strange time of strange laws separating the races. I do recall that Elijah Clarke State Park was for whites and Keg Creek State Park was for blacks. I don’t recall separate water fountains and restrooms, and the only bus I rode was a yellow schoolbus, segregated until my last year of high school. No one cared who rode in the back. In fact it was cool to ride in the back. We wanted to ride in the back.
We had our Jim Crow moments though…
Teasing the Eyes
For five months I’ve been the first person to see the magnificent photographs Robert Clark is taking for our fourth book on South Carolina. Each day is long but good. For about nine hours a day, with breaks of course, I sort and evaluate images and place the ones with most potential in the appropriate chapter, Lowcountry, Upcountry, Pee Dee, and so forth.
From the moment you’re born you begin to die. So the saying goes. It’s true in a way but life sure holds promise when you’re young. Everything is in front of you. And then the calendars come and go, each year passing faster than the year before. One day you look in the mirror and you’ve aged.
How long must a person live to say they had a good run? How long is too long? Studies indicate we are living longer and longer but just how long do you want to live? It comes down to three words: “quality of life.”
Rock of Ages
When I was a boy back home one thing that caught my eye was a pile of crushed blue granite, kindly deposited by the highway department along the shoulder of the road. Cone-shaped, the critical angle of repose at work, the pile of blue-white stones glittered like diamonds. I’d get a bag and load up on the smaller rocks, the ones that worked best in my slingshot. Then it was target time in the woods back home.
Knowledge Comes In Unexpected Ways
My old girlfriend, Linda, emailed me recently. She had heard I’d written a book about the shag. “I am totally shocked that you of all people wrote about the shag and beach music. I just cannot believe it!”
She had reason to be astounded. In the early 1980s when she and I hung out, the shag was beginning its comeback from the infamous Dark Ages and she and I mocked the older shaggers as they twirled, dipped, and slid across the dance floor. We had no idea how they had suffered and how they fought to rescue their dance. It was part of the story I would write.
Recollection & Personal History
A woman acquaintance said something one afternoon that struck me in a bad way. I was giving her a ride to pick up her car. As we drove up to the shop, two mechanics were outside looking beneath a hood. Casually and icily she said, “I’ve got no interest in any man whose work requires him to wear a shirt with his name on it.” Had she known me better she would have kept her mouth shut, but she knew little except that I write for a living.
A Southern Classic
Fourth of July brings picnics and lake outings aplenty, and it means fried chicken, all the fixings, and gallons of iced tea, a southern tradition. Before we proceed with this exposition on tea let’s take care of a slightly irritating matter. I hear this great beverage referred to as “ice tea” and “iced tea.” Which is correct?
I prefer “iced tea.” After all it’s the ice clinking in the glass that chills tea, giving it the cool, refreshing taste we love so much on a summer day. “
Southern Aurora Borealis
In the pantheon of great night-sky spectacles, you’re sure to find meteor showers, lunar eclipses, the Aurora Borealis, mysterious fireballs, and the uncommon comet. Lattices of lightning make my list too, but there’s one conspicuous absence, absent possibly because this show clings to the horizon and many miss it. Out of sight, out of mind as they say.
One of the unsung joys of summer is a star-filled evening softly underlain by heat lightning.
Before Toilet Paper
It stood a strategic ways from the house and no home could do without one. People loved using it when the time was right. This staple of life never failed to make people feel better. In a way it was a luxury. About now young folks reading this are shaking their head. “What’s he talking about? The pool?” Hardly. I’d wager most young folks have never seen an outhouse, much less used one unless they live in the deepest recesses of Appalachia. I have and I bet a good many of you veteran readers have too. I recall the outhouse at my granddad’s place. It sat a calculated ways back on a slope between his home and store. (How far away you placed your outhouse had to be carefully planned, as you’ll see.) That old outhouse served people well. It had a smell of course but the truth is it […]
Over here across the Savannah there’s an old road that makes for a great Sunday drive. In no time at all, you can see historic sites, get the feeling you are in the mountains, and yet feel you are at the coast, all at the same time. More than that you’ll come across the ghosts of historic characters, some of whom will surprise you.
Old SC State Route 261, birthed by an Indian path and widened by public act in 1753 became “The Great Charleston Road.” What feet have trod this path that connected Charleston with Camden. Festooned with old churches and plantations this passage hosted a Civil War diarist, governors, Revolutionary and Confederate generals, and just off its path a man rests eternally, a man we should think of come Christmas.
Julie wouldn’t look me in the eye. She tore off bits of paper napkin and rolled them into little balls. Every few seconds she’d glance at her girlfriend pleading for help. She was trying to explain what happened to her marriage. And then she broke down. Tears welled up in her eyes and she put her head on my shoulder. Her girlfriend reached out and stroked her blonde hair.
Julie’s 41 with two teenagers and she’s alone and scared, not to mention devastated. A neighbor ended up with her husband. The road to love and happiness: what a brutal road.
I can’t speak for crooks, drifters, and others standing before a judge, but law-abiding Georgians love their courthouses and well they should. Georgia has one of America’s great collections of courthouses. The buildings range from Greek Revival to International Style. In fact, just about every architectural style imaginable can be found in Georgia’s 159 counties.
What’s interesting is that although Georgia is the twentieth largest state, it is second in number of courthouses. Only Texas has more. Without doubt, Georgia has a reputation for having some of the more beautiful and historic courthouses in the country.
The Good, Bad, & Ugly
How often we drive along giving no thought to the road we travel. And more often than that we give no thought to how the road got its name. In my case, I’m often forced to learn why or how a road got its name. Generally it makes for interesting reading. Over the years I’ve profiled several highways for magazines. Some of these profiles have worked their way into books. All the roads you’ll note have numeric names: Highway 378, Highway 17 the coastal byway, and Highway 76 a road that crosses South Carolina from the Peach State to the Tarheel State.
Simpler Good Times
Despite the high price of gasoline the summer vacation lives on. A lot of families will vacation at the beach this summer. Over here, across the Savannah, that usually means a trip to Myrtle Beach, Pawley’s Island, Charleston, or Edisto. When I was a boy, it meant a trip to Florida. I recall Silver Springs, Daytona, and much later tours of Cape Canaveral and days at a house near the sea in Ormond Beach.
What have man wrought? Well let’s start with iron, wrought iron. Favored for ornamental fences and gates it’s an aspect of the South that’s as southern as biscuits and molasses, as southern as sunshine and magnolias.
For a long time I thought wrought iron had one purpose: to give cemeteries a secure and attractive enclosure. My earliest memories of wrought iron fences go back to the cemeteries in Lincoln County. I saw enough of these stately fences around cemeteries to get that notion firmly in my head. And I well remember a wrought iron fence up at Lincoln County’s Beulah Baptist church because my cousin, Larry Walker, gashed his leg climbing over that fence when he was a boy.
Made in the Shade
How fine the Southern sun and yet how strong. Sunlight in the South is one and half times more intense than in the North. How damaging that Southern sunlight can be to the eyes, a fact apparently lost on the Texas boys, ZZ Top, who didn’t worry about cataracts when they wrote “Cheap Sun Glasses.”
“When you wake up in the morning and the light hurts your head … go get yourself some cheap sunglasses. Now go out and get yourself some big black frames … With the glass so dark they won’t even know your name … And the choice is up to you cause they come in two classes: Rhinestone shades or cheap sunglasses.”
When I worked in film one of my early assignments was writing a script about Carolina bays, perhaps North America’s most unusual landform. The subject intrigued me on two levels. One, I have always found swamps alluring. Two, Carolina Bays, so the speculation went, resulted from a massive bombardment of meteorites.
Our film was to explore the possible origins of these swamps and present them as rich oases of abundant wildlife. I mentioned this project to a city slicker and his response was subdued and predictable. “If you see one swamp, you’ve seen them all.” I never saw this unenthusiastic fellow again. Too bad. He could not have been more wrong.
Early daylight is our god.
We are disciples all. We go where the light leads us, and it leads to a crumpled, carved land where the earth flexes rock-hard muscles. Here, in this uplifted land of tangled greenery, early light uplifts the spirit. No place slakes a thirst for wanderlust like these conflicted highlands and their crusade eternal — water versus rock.
Every man’s memory is his private literature. —Aldous Huxley
When you live a piece from your childhood home you seldom see reminders of your early years but when you do it’s a revelation. Just one word can jump-start a string of memories with nothing in common but that word and you, the memoirist.
One word. That’s all it takes,
Worthy of Comment
Also on the Dew
The Republican Party, I have said here, has been taken over by a destructive force. Time now to flesh out more of the picture showing the relentlessly destructive nature of what now animates the Republican Party: It's a force that's insatiable in its lust for power and wealth. Even though we have the greatest income inequality that we've had in living memory, this force works continually to widen that gap still further. All their budgetary proposals would take from average Americans to give more to those who already have the most. As they protect those who have tripled their share of Read on →
Readers of my articles on LikeTheDew will know that I’m not an advocate of defying the law, but I’m about to encourage this where necessary. Often focused on the joys of my grandchildren, this time I’m focused on yours too. I’m talking about Climate Change and our need to DO something about it. I was heartened to read about two activists who set an example in May 2013, protesting about the burning of coal in an attention-seeking move, by taking a small lobster boat named “The Henry David T,” (a reference to Thoreau) to picket the Brayton Point Power Station off the Massach Read on →
Over the past few weeks since the shooting of Michael Brown the discussions on the various cable channels have been quite interesting. It truly illustrated that your perception of the shooting all comes from your point of view. If you are conservative, whether black or white, you find every reason you can point to Michael Brown’s past and actions on that day to justify the officer’s shooting of that young man six times. You strive for every fact to prove your point that the shooting was justified. If you are liberal, you are doing the same thing except it is too Read on →
The mass killers came as stowaways aboard ships about the time the Wright brothers first took to flight along a North Carolina beach. Although these assassins were merciless, they probably did not even know themselves the great destruction they were to bring. Thus began the near complete killing of all the American Chestnuts in this country. The pathogens that had probably slipped into the country on infected nursery stock consumed relatively little time in destroying the forests of American Chestnuts ranging from Maine to the southern Appalachians. It took fewer than forty years. This past weekend I had the privilege of Read on →