Remembering Kathryn Stripling Byer, Former North Carolina Poet Laureate

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It has been announced on the Facebook page of Kathryn Stripling Byer, the former North Carolina Poet Laureate, that she passed peacefully at hospice yesterday (June 5) at 5:30 p.m. Kathryn has been a force for poets in North Carolina and beyond for a long time, and I was lucky enough to communicate with her via e-mail and social media for years. In fact, I finally met her at the Poetic Asides face-to-face that Nancy Posey and Jane Shlensky hosted a couple years back.

Kathryn was always very supportive, and she will be missed. Since Nancy Posey was the one who introduced us originally, I think it's fitting that she share her remembrance below.

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 Kathryn Stripling Byer

Kathryn Stripling Byer

Kathryn Stripling Byer, “Kay” to her friends—and she has lots of friends—died this afternoon, and the world is poorer for the loss. North Carolina prides itself on being “the Writingest State,” in recognition of the nurturing atmosphere of the writing community. Kay embodied that nurturing, generous spirit. After a career writing and teaching, she served as state poet laureate for a number of years. When her tenure ended, however, her generosity of spirit did not.

I first met Kay when I served on the board of the North Carolina English Teachers Association. After she was recognized by the organization, receiving the Ragan-Rubin award for a North Carolina writer of distinction, she became interested enough in the organization’s encouragement of student writers to endow an annual award to a high school and middle school poet laureate. She loved poetry and poets, so whenever she was invited to take part in a reading or workshop, she said yes.

Kay was responsible for the first poem I ever had published in print, including it in a chapbook she called First Light, and when I published my first chapbook, she featured it on her blog, putting me in the company of so many poets I admire.

 Byer and Posey at Fall Face-to-Face in the Foothills

Byer and Posey at Fall Face-to-Face in the Foothills

When my North Carolina poet friends decided to undertake the Fall Face to Face in the Foothills poetry conference in September 2015 to bring together writing friends who had only met online at the Poetic Asides site, she joined Robert Lee Brewer, NC current and former poet laureates Shelby Stephenson and Joseph Bathanti, along with Scott Owens and Joseph Beadle to present sessions. She was in the majority of presenters who got lost navigating the crazy streets of Hickory before finding us at the corner of Third and Third.

Like so many of her admirers, I return to the poetry of Kathryn Stripling Byer for inspiration and for the beauty of her words. One of my favorite memories, though, comes from my participation in NC Writers Networks Squire Residency, held on the campus of Western Carolina University near her home, where she had served as Writer in Residence for years.

She led our poetry group that week, and when we came to class the morning after our first night in the dorms, we all complained about the unseasonably cold rooms. (As I recall, I slept with my arms stuffed into the legs of my blue jeans that night.) When we broke for lunch, she disappeared, returning with her trunk loaded with quilts for us all, perfect symbols of her own genuine warmth. She had a gift for finding the best in all of our poems, while guiding us to make them better. The group of writers around that table left good friends and stronger writers thanks to Kay.

Over the last few days, I’ve seen the tributes, the posts, the prayers, and the grief of so many individuals who knew her not only for her excellent work but for her encouragement and support of ours. The world lost a poet today, but like so many others, I lost a friend.

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Here's a link to some of Byer's poems on her website.

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 Nancy Posey

Nancy Posey

Nancy Posey lives in Brentwood, TN, after more than 20 years in North Carolina. She found poets in her new hometown before locating a dentist or hairdresser. A semi-retired teacher and a long-time Poetic Asides regular, she writes poetry, book reviews, and essays.

Her blog, the Discriminating Reader can be found at her website: http://nancyposey.com.

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