Denton Loving is the author of Crimes Against Birds (Main Street Rag) and Tamp (Mercer University Press). He is also the editor of Seeking Its Own Level: an anthology of writings about water (MotesBooks). He holds a Master of Fine Arts in Writing and Literature from Bennington College. His work has appeared in Iron Horse Literary Review, The Kenyon Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, The Threepenny Review, and Ecotone. He is a co-founder and editor at EastOver Press and its literary journal Cutleaf.
D.H. Lawrence was born in 1885 in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire in England, and he died in 1930 at Vence in the south of France. Though Lawrence is best known for his novels—he’s the author of Lady Chatterley’s Lover and nearly a dozen others—he also published short stories, plays, essays, criticism, and more than a dozen collections of poetry.
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Welcome to The Beat, Knox County Public Library’s poetry podcast. Today we’ll hear Denton Loving read his poems “Copperhead,” “Foundation,” and “Hurtling.” Loving will also read a poem by D.H. Lawrence called “The Humming-Bird.”Denton Loving:
Dead: the copperhead
that slipped down the ridge
in summer's elongated dusk
to forage small prey
and taste cool creek. And me,
racing against the sun
on its path beyond the mountains
to end my task mowing tall grass
between apples, pears and peaches.
Before the snake, I had been looking
without resentment at the day
well spent, a day devoted
to necessary labor. Later, memory
of cold blood spilled on steel blades
lingered in the night air
like honeysuckle and regret.
Unable to stand in our hillside orchard,
too weak to swing a mattock or to wrestle
with dirt, my dad wants to plant peach trees.
For him, I tear the earth open.
Rocks bleed out from the poor mountain soil,
and I unwrap swaddled peach roots.
Before I scrape the dirt back and tamp it down,
I return the largest rock under the young roots,
a surrogate for what I fear. I bury it back,
imagine the roots encircling the rock,
enclosing it, building from its foundation.
Like the hard stone buried in the sweetest fruit.
I’m five again, and it’s so dark I can't see
the road. Are we going through a tunnel?
My dead father says, No. Go back to sleep.
He reaches across the bench seat. The weight
of his hand quiets the starlings in my belly.
I know I’m safe as long as he’s close.
Within the darkness, stars pinprick the horizon.
The small blue egg inside my breastbone
cracks with understanding: we’re not sweeping
through a tunnel under the crush
of a mountain. We’re hurtling across the heavens
on the wings of an ancient, magical bird.
Like my own father, D.H. Lawrence was the son of a coalminer, and his writings about his early life in a mining community have always reminded me of my father's stories about the coalfields of eastern Kentucky. There's a poem in my collection Tamp, where the hummingbird becomes a vehicle for my father's soul. So I was very happy to recently discover this poem by D. H. Lawrence. This is "Humming-Bird."
I can imagine, in some other world
Primeval-dumb, far back
In that most awful stillness, that only gasped and hummed,
Humming-birds raced down the avenues.
Before anything had a soul,
While life was a heave of Matter, half inanimate,
This little bit chipped off in brilliance
And went whizzing through the slow, vast, succulent stems.
I believe there were no flowers, then,
In the world where humming-bird flashed ahead of creation.
I believe he pierced the slow vegetable veins with his long beak.
Probably he was big
As mosses, and little lizards they say were once big.
Probably he was a jabbing, terrifying monster.
We look at him through the wrong end of the long telescope of Time,
Luckily for us.Alan May:
You just heard Denton Loving read his poems “Copperhead,” “Foundation,” and “Hurtling” from his most recent book Tamp, which was published in April by Mercer University Press. He followed with “Hummingbird” by D.H. Lawrence. Loving was kind enough to record these poems for us at his home in the Cumberland Gap region. Denton Loving has published two books of poetry. He holds a MFA in Writing and Literature from Bennington College. His work has appeared in The Kenyon Review, Tupelo Quarterly, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, The Threepenny Review, and Ecotone. He is a co-founder and editor at EastOver Press and its literary journal Cutleaf. D.H. Lawrence was born in eighteen eighty-five in Eastwood, Nottinghamshire in England, and he died in nineteen thirty in the south of France. Though Lawrence is best known for his novels, he also published short stories, plays, essays, criticism, and more than a dozen collections of poetry. You can find Denton Loving’s book Tamp in our online catalog, along with books by and about D.H. Lawrence. Also look for links in the show notes. Please join us next time for The Beat.