“If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry,” wrote celebrated American poet Emily Dickinson. Experience for yourself poetry’s head-topping, invigorating power as the Litchfield Tea and Poetry Series returns to the Waccamaw Library for its eighteenth year.
Beginning on Thursday, Jan. 11 at 10 a.m., the venerable series features an impressive slate of writers, all of whom share connections to the South Carolina coast. In addition, this year’s series will feature four open mic sessions to inspire local writers to share their work. Immediately following each of the four scheduled readings will be an open mic session. All who attend are invited to read one of their own poems. Participants are asked to keep their reading to a single poem no longer than a page. All programs are sponsored by the Friends of the Waccamaw Library, and are free and open to the public. The Library is located at 41 St. Paul Place, Pawleys Island, SC 29585. The schedule is as follows, with all programs beginning at 10 a.m. Readings also include audience Q&A and book-signings with the poets.
- Jan. 11 -- the series begins with a stalwart Lowcountry poetic voice: William P. “Billy” Baldwin. An award-winning novelist, poet, biographer, and historian, Baldwin is a coastal South Carolina literary institution. He has spent nearly all of his life in McClellanville, where he worked as a shrimper, an oysterman, and a shipbuilder. His poems reflect this in-depth knowledge of local landscapes and histories, as he explores the workings of an “all-encompassing life-force” through the marshlands and creeks, and out onto the open water. His first novel The Hard to Catch Mercy (Algonquin, 1993) won the Lillian Smith Award, and he coauthored with Genevieve “Sister” Peterkin the memoir Heaven Is a Beautiful Place (University of South Carolina Press, 2015). His recent work, Carolina Rambling: A Visual and Poetical Tour (Class Publishing, 2018), continues a collaboration with photographer Selden B. “Bud” Hill that commingles Hill’s images and Baldwin’s poems to capture “a touching elegiac look at the Lowcountry’s holy places—from abandoned homes, disintegrating barns, tiny churches and forlorn cemeteries to the shrinking livelihoods of farms, cotton and shrimp.” Two prior collaborative books, The Unpainted South (Evening Post Books, 2011) and These Our Offerings (Evening Post Books, 2012) won awards from the Independent Book Sellers Association.
- Feb. 15 -- Jessica K. Hylton, Artist in Residence at Coastal Carolina University, is the author of the chapbook The Great Scissor Hunt (Headmistress Press, 2017). Her work appears in East Coast Literary Review, Lavender Review, and Panoply, among other venues. According to Jess Hager, Hylton’s poetry is “full of turbulent inner dialogue—a war within the poet’s mind—stuck straddling the fence between lust and love, forgiveness and hate, grand images and mundane trivialities of daily life, and an intense, almost childlike longing for home, coupled with an overpowering desire for adventure and the unknown.” She received her Ph.D. from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette and previously directed the M.F.A. program at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. Hylton is founding editor of Fermata Publishing and organizes the Funky Fish Camp Reading Series at Between the Antlers Restaurant on the harborfront in Georgetown.
- March 14 -- The Series welcomes Murrells Inlet resident Hastings Hensel, whose poetry collections include Ballyhoo (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2019); Winter Inlet (Unicorn Press, 2015), which won the Unicorn Press First Book Contest; and the chapbook Control Burn (Iron Horse Literary Review, 2011), which won the Iron Horse Literary Review Single-Author Competition. Mary Jo Salter counts Hensel as “one of the most accomplished young poets now writing in this country,” while Andrew Hudgins adds this praise: “I did not know that the Carolina coast needed its defining poet until I read Hastings Hensel’s Winter Inlet and realized it already has one.” Hensel earned his M.F.A. from Johns Hopkins University and is a Senior Lecturer in English at Coastal Carolina University. His writing has appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including Gray's Sporting Journal, The Greensboro Review, New South, storySouth, The Hopkins Review, Cave Wall, 32 Poems, South Carolina Wildlife, and many others. He is the owner of River Reader Kayaking and is currently pursuing his Winyah Master Naturalist certification as part of the South Carolina Master Naturalist program.
- April 11 -- the series will come to an exciting conclusion with another notable coastal poet, Myrtle Beach writer Richard Allen Taylor, as part of the Library’s celebration of April as National Poetry Month. Taylor is the author of three poetry collections, including Armed and Luminous (Main Street Rag, 2016) and the recently published Letters to Karen Carpenter (Main Street Rag, 2023). His poems, articles, and reviews have appeared in numerous publications, such as Rattle, Comstock Review, The Pedestal, and Litmosphere. Taylor’s work has been described as “traversing the music of his universe while navigating the complexities of love, loss, aging and dying” with “poems created not as comic relief from sorrow, but as natural reflections on life, myth and art.” A Pushcart Prize and Best of the Net nominee, Taylor formerly served as review editor for The Main Street Rag and as coeditor of Kakalak, a journal featuring writers, artists and photographers of North and South Carolina. He holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte, and he and his Kakalak coeditors received the Irene Blair Honeycutt Legacy Award for service to the writing community. What a fine way to celebrate National Poetry Month!
All told, the 2024 Series will present a can’t-miss opportunity to engage with dynamic representatives who prove that the state of poetry is strong right here along the Hammock Coast!