Kathryn Stripling Byer, first woman to be named North Carolina poet laureate, died peacefully this afternoon after a struggle with cancer. Her friends have kept vigil on her Facebook page by posting favorites of her beautiful poems.
Kay was been a tireless advocate for the arts and for social justice and she worked to bring poetry -- the reading and the writing of it -- into the schools.
I met Kay some years ago when we were both teaching at a writing retreat and was instantly drawn to her, partly because we seemed to share a love/hate relationship with our Southern upbringing and a delight in our adopted home in the mountains of North Carolina.
For several years we followed and commented on each other's blogs and Kay reawakened my love of poetry as she shared her own beautiful, sly, singing verse, as well as that of other poets.
Her generosity as a friend and a teacher is legendary and her going -- too soon -- leaves an empty space in the hearts of those who were privileged to have known her.
But we have her beautiful poetry . . . Read this following poem aloud and imagine Kay's wonderful smile lighting up the room and her body swaying to the music of the words.
Little by little, the earth sheds
her veils. Lets her white blossoms
tremble. The river shakes out her blue
shimmy and scrubs it to smithereens
over the singing rocks, leaving her
sunny side up, such a tease
that I sway to her music
as if I were Salome's sister
and not an old woman who knows
that the inkblot of sky on this page
of my daybook will soon begin fading,
because how can anyone, even Great
Grandaddy Death stay asleep
amid so much awakening?
Kathryn Stripling Byer
Into the Light, dear Kay.