Who Am I Writing For?

Betsy Sharp—Dickson, Tennessee.  Her end of our conversation.

(names may be changed to protect privacy)


“That colon cancer’s a straight up bitch.

We’ve been through it haven’t we?

I sat there and read every one of the Psalms while Momma died.

Wasn’t but two months ago I got my estheticians license. I got to have a job real soon, been tied up taking care of Momma.   Why, thank you. I’ve always been told I have smooth skin.  Got it from her. Yes, Lord. 52 years old, March 5th.  Aren’t you sweet. Thank you .  You want stories, oh, I’ve got a bundle.

My baby boy died at 17. His daddy was riding him around on the riding lawn mower, and…(Betsy pauses– tucks her chin into her neck)….well the accident happened during the March Madness basketball when U-Conn was in overtime. (Big breath then  quickly pours another cup of coffee). Yeah, I still can’t talk about it. Don’t want to.

It’s quiet out here in White’s Creek. And we still got us a drive- in theater.  Yep  At least property taxes aren’t an arm and a leg.

I worry that I’ll just let these stories eat me alive, they’ll bury me good in a potter’s field.

I’ve got a drawer full of poems I’ve written along the way, never showed them to anybody. They’re nothing special, but it ‘s something I’ve done since I was little bitty. I’ve seen your shows. Personally me, I’ve always been drawn to poetry but it can be a little uppity around the edges, you know what I mean. Words jumbled up into a gogglely mash . I like hot words, strung out like a cat fight.        Salt.         Fire.         Death.             Religion.

I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m just spilling my guts all over the place –aren’t’ I? (Her hand trembles as she tips over the purple carton of Half and Half into her “Don’t Worry Be Happy” coffee cup) I’m just wondering if any of these things that happened might ease up off my chest if I scratch ‘em down on a piece a paper.   I wrote a lot in high school, a whole lot, but I put that aside when Henry my boy, popped out. Hank, that’s my husband, says I gotta do SOMETHING and fast. Else, he’s gonna lose his mind right along side me. B0th of us, together. Yep. We’re high school sweethearts.   Still got my name inked on his bicep.

For my birthday he gave me a Sharon Olds poetry book. Have you ever read her?  Now THAT woman’ll tell the God’s green truth won’t she? I cried like a damn baby. Never read a writer who could strangle a page barehanded. like Sharon. She’s somebody I’d like to be like. Her naked self shows up in every line. I love the poem about her dragging her bosom across a mirror. Don’t that beat all?

Just between you and me I’m afraid I’m going to get sick like my momma if I don’t flush out some of this stuff onto a page.   I can feel what’s missing in my life, but I can’t name seem to name it yet.”



Thomas Transtromer

One of my favorite poets, Thomas Transtromer, wins the Nobel Prize for Literature in poetry for 2011.


2am: moonlight.  The train has stopped

out in the middle of the plain.  Far away,

points of light in a town,

flikering coldly at the horizon.

As when someone has fallen into a

dream so deep

he’ll never remember having been there

when he comes back to his room.

As when someone has fallen into an

illness so deep

everything his days were becomes a few

flickering points, a swarm,

cold and tiny on the horizon.

The train is standing quite still,

2am: bright moonlight, few stars.

Season of Story

I love Dorothy Allison for telling us at the Fellowship of Southern Writer’s gathering this year, “you are every story you have ever survived”.

The holidays have begun.  It’s a magical time of family and friends around the fire with a slice of secret recipe fruit cake and a hot cup Marleen Ash’s apple cider, regaling one another with foregone conclusions and the one about Aunt Nell and her best friend wearing matching floor length mink coats at Nell’s father’s funeral, because they shared a generous ex-first husband.

What is happening…I mean what is really going on at your house over the holidays?


Writing and Performance Institute

Saturday at the beautiful Scarritt Bennett campus in Nashville we moved into the second of nine workshops as part of the Writing and Performance Institute.  The class is comprised of professional writers and first time storytellers.  We will be inviting guests songwriters/poets/actors/choreographers in order to see how family stories fit into the history of the performing arts.  Next workshop is August 25th, 2012.