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Hanging with fellow Georgia writers (from top, l-r) Tracy Walker, Heather Kolich, Donna Bowman, (bottom, middle) Janice Hardy and Paula Puckett
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Susan Rosson Spain, Robyn Hood Black, Elizabeth Dulemba, and Myra Meade at the Hall Book Exchange in Gainesville, Ga.
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Southern Breeze Kudos Kites 09 - Donna, Robyn, Heather, Sarah, and Peggy

Robyn with Kathleen Duey, author extraordinaire

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Life on the Deckle Edge

Poetry Friday - Wandering with J. Drew Lanham

March 9, 2017

Tags: Poetry Friday, poetry, poets, birds, nature, J. Drew Lanham, animals, Penn Center

A few months ago, our dear friend Lane Glaze (who happens to be our pastor) gave me a poetry chapbook by a friend of his, Dr. J. Drew Lanham . Lanham is a wildlife ecologist and professor at Clemson, on the other side of the state. (Go ahead and Google him after you read this; you’ll be impressed.) I was smitten with Sparrow Envy (Holocene, 2016) and hoped our paths might cross at some point.

Last Saturday, they did.

You might know that the amazing and generous Pat Conroy called Beaufort home, and now there is a Pat Conroy Literary Center here. On the one-year anniversary of Pat Conroy’s death, last Saturday, the Center sponsored an event called “March Forth/ March Fourth: A Day to Wander and Love the Land” at Penn Center out on St. Helena Island. You’ve heard me mention Penn Center before. It’s a treasure: a hub of African-American history since housing the country’s first school for freed slaves, keeper and promoter of Gullah Geechie culture, and sacred ground upon which leaders of the Civil Rights movement – black and white – could assemble freely under its moss-heavy oaks and beside its gentle waters.

Back to Saturday… Lanham first led us in a chilly but sun-drenched birding walk through the woods and to the water, next to the cottage built for Dr. Martin Luther King, who retreated in this special place several times. (This cottage was completed after his death, though it is said he penned at least part of his “I Have a Dream” speech at Gantt Cottage on the premises.)

[Note: On January 12, President Obama announced the establishment of Reconstruction Era National Monument as a unit of the National Park Service “in recognition of the role Beaufort County, South Carolina played in shaping the historic period of Reconstruction,” including Penn Center.]

Saturday’s event was a tribute to literature, history, and the incomparable natural surroundings of this spot in the Lowcountry. I was struck with how Lanham effortlessly wove into and out of his store of natural facts (and his ability to recognize even the faintest bird call, sharing life history tidbits of several species), ponderings of the human condition, and his reverence for those who had gone before, on the very ground we now walked upon. He shared a quick wit as well, and I imagine he is a tough but terrific professor.

Like a good teacher, he reiterated a theme in his “conservation conversations”: first comes noticing (what is that bird? that sound? etc.); second comes sympathy, and finally, empathy, which leads to the desire for preservation. If you ever get a chance to hear him speak, by all means, go!

The day also included a wonderful presentation by Victoria A. Smalls, Director of History, Art and Culture & Public Relations. She is a St. Helena Island native who now helps share its rich Gullah heritage.

Several members of the Conroy family were also on hand. They were welcoming and friendly on what had to be a challenging day for them. A screening of the 2014 Conroy Family Roundtable video —featuring Pat Conroy with siblings Mike, Jim, Tim, and Kathy— was available to Saturday’s attendees, as well as free time to tour Penn Center and Pat Conroy’s gravesite, a short distance from the campus.

The day ended with a Q&A with Drew led by the lovely and ever-sharp Margaret Shinn Evans, publisher and columnist for Lowcountry Weekly. They discussed Lanham’s book, The Home Place – Memories of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature (Milkwood Editions, 2016), which Kirkus Reviews calls, "A shrewd meditation on home, family, nature, and the author's native South." (Click here for more about Lanham’s books and links to other publications.)

I’ll leave you with a poem from Sparrow Envy. I picked this one because these little birds featured are among my favorites, and they are so very busy now establishing nests in all kinds of nooks and crannies around our homes, aren’t they?


fleeting dreams
pass on morning’s first light
mist lifting off a mental bridge to nowhere probable –
but all points beyond possible
reality is the wren that wakes to each sun’s rising
with only the moment before it
no plans to skulk
or explore the next darkest crevice or crack
it sings heart full to the limits of the bounds it know
– the rotting woodpile in the northeast corner
the honeysuckle tangle westward
satisfied in that half acre universe
it sings to meet the day
tucks its wings satisfied in some second of accomplishment
It scolds a plan
and flits away
a wanderer in the present tense
future perfect does not exist
the past makes little sense
that I should live as wisely as wrens
is lesson one
carpe diem
ad infinitum

©J. Drew Lanham. All rights reserved. Posted with permission.

For more great poetry, flit on over to Today’s Little Ditty, where the Marvelous Michelle is Rounding up this week. And then circle on back here next week, when I’m hosting! Forgive me this weekend if I’m slow to respond to comments – I’m bound for our wonderful SCBWI Southern Breeze Springmingle in Atlanta. (I know… Lucky me AGAIN for another inspiring weekend!) AND – Still a few days to enter to win a copy of HERE WE GO! from Pomelo Books by leaving a comment on my post last week, here.


  1. March 9, 2017 10:06 PM EST
    Sezie the day indeed. Love the poem, and enjoyed the chace to wandr with you alongside the poet. thanks for sharing.
    - Sally Murphy
  2. March 9, 2017 10:36 PM EST
    Thanks for joining in the wandering, Sally - something akin to a "walkabout"? :0)
    - Robyn Black
  3. March 10, 2017 12:33 AM EST
    What a lovely story, from gifting, through to meeting. I love that line, 'It scolds a plan'. I can see and hear it! Thanks for sharing, Robyn.
    - KatApel
  4. March 10, 2017 7:07 AM EST
    I like spending time with this poem, savoring it from top to bottom. "reality is the wren that wakes to each sun’s rising
    with only the moment before it" -- lovely. Feeling "heart full" myself.
    - Tabatha
  5. March 10, 2017 7:52 AM EST
    Hi, Kat - great to "see" you. That's one of my favorite lines as well.

    Lovely thoughts, Tabatha - "savor" is the perfect word. Thanks for coming by.
    - Robyn Black
  6. March 10, 2017 10:22 AM EST
    Sounds like a rich and fulfilling day, Robyn. And how wonderful that you were able to meet Dr. Lanham and witness his connection with nature first hand. I, too, love the poem—especially the lines Tabatha quoted. Have fun at your Springmingle!
    - Michelle Heidenrich Barnes
  7. March 10, 2017 11:18 AM EST
    Your experience sounds so lovely. I am hoping to one of these days take in nature as well, as I am am growing more and more appreciative of it.

    The poem is wonderful and vivid. thank you for sharing it.
    - iphigene
  8. March 10, 2017 12:15 PM EST
    Thank you for introducing me to this marvelous new poet, Robyn, as well as the existence of Gantt Cottage.
    - Tara
  9. March 10, 2017 5:44 PM EST
    I saw and notices a lot on this walk in your atmospheric and historic Gullah Low Country Robyn. Appreciations for bringing this poet and his books to me.

    The SpringMingle is dear to my heart - I know you are learning lots, leading lots & loving it all.

    My weekend is family full on the other side of the state where it feels like summer!
    - Jan/Bookseedstudio
  10. March 10, 2017 7:43 PM EST
    Spring must be in our hearts. I wrote about birds today, too. This is a special post/experience and thank you for sharing so much, links and people and poems. Pat Conroy's books are favorites. I didn't know the history you shared, but was saddened when I heard of his passing. What a beautiful place that must be.
    - Linda Baie
  11. March 10, 2017 8:45 PM EST
    Oh what a fabulous event. How fortunate. I will be rereading Wren R.E.M. lovely.
    - Jone
  12. March 10, 2017 10:49 PM EST
    Thanks on all accounts, Michelle - and thanks so much for hosting this week! XO

    Hi, Iphigene - you are appreciative of so many things, and the natural world provides endless avenues for exploration and learning, doesn't it? Thanks for visiting.

    Tara, glad you enjoyed. So much rich history in this corner of the world, both natural and cultural.

    Hello, Dear Jan - thanks for coming by during your busy weekend. Springmingle is off to a lovely start. Have a rich and wonderful visit with your family!

    Linda, I look forward to making my way over to your twittering post. I didn't get a chance to meet Pat Conroy, but his presence and generosity are legendary here, and books beloved by a world of fans.

    Hey, Jone - you would have loved the walk and talks last Saturday, probably camera-in-hand! Glad you enjoyed the poem.
    - Robyn Black
  13. March 11, 2017 11:11 AM EST
    It always feels like the more I know about the natural world, the more I know what I don't know. The more I realize the absence of knowing things. I've always wanted to be able to identify bird sounds, and I just don't have the knack. I'll have to settle for identifying trees, which I'm better at today than I was 10 years ago. Great post. I hope I get there one day.
    - Brenda at friendlyfairytales
  14. March 11, 2017 11:44 AM EST
    "...first comes noticing (what is that bird? that sound? etc.); second comes sympathy, and finally, empathy, which leads to the desire for preservation." Words to live by!
    - Diane Mayr
  15. March 11, 2017 5:53 PM EST
    Love these lines:
    "a wanderer in the present tense
    future perfect does not exist"

    Your birder-poet sounds like a real treasure. I need lessons in listening and recognizing bird calls!
    - Violet N.
  16. March 11, 2017 6:01 PM EST
    Brenda - come on down, and you can help me with tree i.d.'s I'm not so great with those, but not too bad with the birds. ;0) Thanks for dropping by!

    Diane, thanks for coming over, and Amen to that.

    Hi, Violet - I love those lines, too! And my bird call recognition could use some expansion, though I do know a few. Lots to hear this time of year!
    - Robyn Black
  17. March 11, 2017 7:45 PM EST
    Wonderfull post, so many layers here to take away. I enjoyed the journey with j.Drew Lanham, and especially liked the closing of his poem,
    "that I should live as wisely as wrens
    is lesson one." I woke to the lovely songs of house sparrows that are busy gathering nest material unperturbed by our cold Chicago temps. A lesson to follow and find where it takes one.
    - Michelle Kogan
  18. March 11, 2017 8:25 PM EST
    What a delightful and power-packed post. I did not know about Penn Place. Now, I want to go! What an amazing visit to share with all of us. Your smile in the photo says it all. You were filled up on your visit with birdsong and poetry and nature. It looks good on you! Thank you for the poem. I especially love:
    flits away
    a wanderer in the present tense
    future perfect does not exist
    I'm slow catching up on PF this week. March is just so packed with wonderful activity!
    - Linda Mitchell
  19. March 12, 2017 2:56 PM EDT
    I love "a wanderer in the present tense."
    - Ruth (
  20. March 12, 2017 4:52 PM EDT
    It sounds like a wonderful day. I love the bird poem. I've been watching the sparrows and wrens at my feeder today.
    - Doraine Bennett
  21. March 12, 2017 6:06 PM EDT
    Carpe diem! Live in the moments. I shall not let my plan scold me!
    - Heidi Mordhorst
  22. March 13, 2017 1:10 PM EDT
    Michelle, those hardy sparrows are braver than I in that kind of weather! Thanks for sharing all these lovely thoughts.

    Dear Linda, thanks for coming by and leaving all these delicious breadcrumbs. (You're ahead of me with posts this week, since I was at an SCBWI conference!) ;0)

    Ruth, isn't that a perfect phrase? Great to see your name!

    Hi, Doraine - our sparrows and wrens don't have quite the temps challenges Michelle's do, do they? You would have enjoyed the day, too.

    Heidi - ha! Carpe diem without scolding - yes. (Stay warm this week - brrr....)
    - Robyn Black
  23. March 16, 2017 8:37 PM EDT
    Robyn, this post rings of positivity. I enjoyed every part of it, especially the poem. These lines are so poetic and philosophical at the same time: a wanderer in the present tense
    future perfect does not exist
    the past makes little sense
    Thanks for sharing.
    - Carol Varsalona
  24. March 16, 2017 8:47 PM EDT
    Glad you enjoyed, Carol! Thanks for bringing your own positive words by. :0)
    - Robyn Black

Quick Clicks

bio, photos, interview links, etc.
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In schools or other settings, Robyn shares her passion for writing and encourages creativity. Presentations for all age groups.
In addition to writing books, Robyn has sold her writing to major children's magazines.
A rhyming tale of a young boy's knightly adventure with an imagined dragon.
Nonfiction, interactive book on wolves featuring giant pop-up and tons of info!