The gift of poetry from a friend
Libby Bernardin and I met in 1983 when she joined me to work on the first public fund-raising campaign for the SC State Museum having just completed her stint as the staff writer for religion for The State newspaper. Libby’s expertise and knowledge as well as her participation in community activities and her creativity and enthusiasm were just what was needed to complete this pre-opening phase of the State Museum.
Since our meeting 36 years ago, we have shared many adventures in South Carolina and beyond, often spurred on by our dream group study and travel as well as seeking new projects to tackle, whether individually or together.
I am incredibly grateful that Libby introduced me to the world of poetry, something I had never understood or appreciated before. I’m doubly grateful for the many tips she shared from her study with poets from coast to coast.
Libby and I co-created several poetry-dream workshops and presented them together in several settings both near and far. She even convinced her acclaimed poet-friends to offer poetry workshops at my family’s Broad River retreat.
It has been an absolute pleasure to witness as each of her works have been published.
The Stealing, Libby’s first full-length novel published in 1993 by McGraw-Hill, was written while Libby was teaching at the University of South Carolina. Even before the novel appeared, her poem “Name Day,” inspired and written to honor her Alabama grandmother, had won honorable mention in the Porter Fleming contest three years earlier.
Her first chapbook, The Book of Myth, was published in 2009 by The South Carolina Poetry Initiative. Former SC Poet Kwame Dawes described the poems in this collection as “rooted in memory and the quest to find meaning in the remembered past … to help answer the tougher questions of fear, birth, and life are always connected to the personal narrative that is told with honesty, insight and risk.”
A second chapbook, Layers of Song, followed in 2011. Reviewer Pat Riviere-Seel commented, “Just as the legendary Dreaming Tracts of Aboriginal people called the landscape into being, these poems call forth a deeply layered emotional landscape using rich descriptions of the natural world, fresh images, and lyrical language.”
In Libby’s most recent full book collection of poetry, Stones Ripe for Sowing (2018), her new poems were drawn from personal journal entries written twenty years earlier just after the death of her husband John when writing poetry became impossible. Instead, recording only her current thoughts during that time began her healing from grief.
Poet Curtis Derrick described the collection: “Instead of withering, there’s a great blossoming – from the long growing season of a life loved and lived deeply – an equal and reassuring current of renewal that releases you from the undertow of grief.”
A poem in this collection, “Transmigration,” won the NC Poetry of Witness Award and was nominated for the 2017 Pushcart Prize.
Libby is by no means serious at all times. Often playful as well as joyful, she has written some hilarious poems. “Goat Hill” is one laugh-out-loud example chosen for Diane Lockward’s 2018 third book of Craft Tips, The Practicing Poet: Writing Beyond the Basics.
Libby’s commitment to continue learning and teaching both formally and informally and sharing with others so generously is remarkable. I am grateful to be among the lucky people who have benefited so much from a longstanding friendship with Libby.
A poem in her most recent book, Stones Ripe for Sowing, suggests a final wish that will just have to wait for this busy poet.
Take my cremains to a field of sunflowers,
on a day when rain refreshes the parched,
extravagant heads, reverently bent
for a moment of ceremony,
sowing my ashes like seeds,
as rain moistens to a gritty puddle
where beauty roots.
I want to have counted as something fertile,
to have birthed something,
even one flower, in the universe.
Susan Hendricks is a Certified Journal Therapist and instructor for the online Therapeutic Writing Institute. She leads personal writing groups and workshops approved for CEU credits by the SC Social Work Examiners Board. Read all of her Columbia Star Newspaper columns at: www.susanhendricks.com/columbia-star-news.
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