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Poet Laureate of the United States
is Coming to Columbus County

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Tracey smith imageNational Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry is coming to Columbus County, a cultural honor that has never been bestowed on the county before.

The announcement was made by Janice Young, president of the Reuben Brown House Preservation Society (RBHPS), which is sponsoring her visit. She said Pulitzer Prize winning Tracy K. Smith, who was appointed Poet Laureate in September 2017, is scheduled to be in Columbus County March 6-7.

Smith is coming here at the invitation of the Reuben Brown House Preservation Society, a bonus to the 25th anniversary of Reuben Brown House’s A.R. Ammons poetry contest for students next year. Young said Janice Simms and Pat Ray, co-chairs of the project to bring the poet laureate here, had worked diligently to make it happen.

"At 45, Smith is unusually young to receive the honor,” Carolyn Kellogg said after interviewing the lauded poet and educator. "From a childhood in Fairfield, Calif. — which is between San Francisco and Sacramento — to winning the Cave Canem poetry prize for 2003’s "The Body’s Question’ and on to being awarded the 2012 Pulitzer Prize in poetry for her most recent collection, ‘Life on Mars,’ Smith has shown a singular focus and dedication to her craft.”

Young said tentative plans, which are subject to change, are for Smith to have a public reading, along with some students on March 6, with a reception to follow in the Reuben Brown House.

Plans for March 7 are for Smith to interact in reading and talking with seventh graders from all over the county, with a master class at the Columbus County Arts Council building with about 20 juniors and seniors from all over the county, and there may be a session with Southeastern Community College students.

"The poet laureate title often caps off a career, but you’re getting it at 45. What does that mean to you?” Kellogg asked Smith.

"There’s a different kind of weight that I’ve been mulling over in that regard,” Smith replied. "Anytime acknowledgement comes — and this is the greatest acknowledgement that I’ve experienced ever as a writer — it makes me feel like, OK, someone’s listening, and someone wants me to keep doing what I love and need to do. And that feels really good. Beyond that, I try and push away any sense of the external pressure to be a certain kind of writer, and really focus on the work that sustains me, which is quiet, and it’s private, and it’s contemplative. I feel really fortunate that Natasha Tretheway, who was also a young laureate, is a friend — seeing how her work as a writer continues to grow and change, and she’s pushing herself now into a new genre. I feel heartened that this doesn’t have to be the end point of anything in my career, but rather a turning point,” Smith said.

"Being poet laureate includes having a public engagement role. Do you know what you might do?” Kellogg asked.

That’s something I’m beginning to think about,” Smith answered. "Luckily I have a little bit of time to formulate a clear sense of what I’d like to do, and what might be still new for the office. I know my curiosity as a writer and as a person makes me really interested in moving to parts of the country that I haven’t explored through writers festivals or through the kind of campus visits that I do on a regular basis, and engaging with people who may be readers of poetry and may not. And listening to what their reactions to this art form sound like, and what kinds of stories within their own set of experiences are spoken to. What stories get activated by that conversation. I have this idea that this forum of the laureateship might open up inroads to different, quieter kinds of conversations than I’m used to having, in places that have maybe less access to festivals or reading series.”

During another interview, Smith talked about the role of poet laureate and the "power of poetry to break down political and personal barriers.”

Asked if she had advice for young poets, Smith said everybody says "read, read, read, and I think it’s really true. That’s essential. But I think it’s also important to read against your taste, to read the things you don’t love, and see if you can learn how they’re built and what they achieve and whether those tools can be useful to you. And I’m also always urging my students to allow their poems to be a site for them to wrestle with the things that are actually urgent to them as people. Don’t just think that poems have to be about certain beautiful, noble things. Poems can be about what you’re burdened by in your actual life, or what your deepest questions are drawing toward. Even if you don’t have the answers to them, poems can be useful in that pursuit.”

For people who write off poetry as a genre and are intimidated by it, she would say to them to forget everything you’ve been taught about trying to get to the ulterior motives of a poem and just listen to the words. Trust what they make you feel, what they make you remember, and what they remind you of. Those are going to be really useful avenues into an authentic encounter with a poem.

The Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry is appointed annually by the Librarian of the United States Congress.

Reuben Brown House
The Reuben Brown House is a late Federal-era farmhouse built between 1830 and 1840 on farmland in the vicinity of the current Columbus County Law Enforcement Center. The house is typical construction of the period using the lumber from a sawmill on Pine Log Road, which began operation around 1820.

The house has two larger main rooms, both with fireplaces and front doors, joined by a connecting door. Two smaller rooms are attached, one opening off a front room and both opening out onto an enclosed passageway.

Reuben Brown was a school master for the Whiteville Academy subscription school (parents pooled resources to hire a school master and arrange for the school’s expenses) from 1869-1870.

He moved here with his wife and nine children (it appears most and probably all of these children were living at home at that time) and moved into this four-room cottage.

The school was on the east side of the current U.S. 701 North about opposite the present- day Whiteville Cemetery. It is not clear why he lived so far from the school, but it may be that someone donated the use of the cottage and that is where it was.

Reuben Brown served as school master for only one year. He died in 1870 from an incident involving a prowler in the hen house on his property.

There is some evidence he died from a gunshot wound, possibly inflicted by one of his sons who fired a gun, in the confusion, at what he thought was a prowler.

The Reuben Brown House as it sits now on the corner of Franklin and Columbus streets is backwards. When it was given to the Fine Arts Committee in 1967 by the Columbus County commissioners, the members of the Committee borrowed money through the Whiteville Development Corporation to purchase the current lot from Gooley Gurganus and his wife, for relocation of the house to avoid demolition.

The Fine Arts Committee raised the funds to pay to have the house moved. For whatever reason, the committee decided to have the house set up with the former front of the house facing the back of the lot.

The two largest rooms of the house, each with separate front door and fireplaces, opened onto a fairly wide, deep front porch.

What serves as a front door now was the back of the house, opening off the two smallest unheated rooms (one of which was used as a larder or storeroom - the current bathroom).

The covered entrance way was used to hang up brooms and mops, and as a storage place out of the weather for pails, butter churns and similar kitchen and domestic tools. The two largest rooms have large fireplaces and would have been used by the family for cooking, eating and sleeping. The boys of the family slept outdoors in the summer and in a barn loft in winter.

The house has its original exterior siding, doors and windows (with many visible panes of old wavy glass), interior floors and ceilings.

The old interior plaster was replaced after moving, and the roof was replaced again in 2005. The chimneys were demolished before moving, and the original bricks were stolen from the site.

The current chimneys were reconstructed from old brick purchased in Charleston, South Carolina. The current bathroom fixtures were added in 1992, and the house received its first central heating and air conditioning system in the summer of 2002.

The Reuben Brown House is owned by the Reuben Brown House Preservation Society, Inc., a nonprofit organization that maintains the house and uses it as the setting for programs focusing on history, literary and cultural subjects.

The Reuben Brown House Preservation Society (RBHPS) has been sponsoring an annual countywide poetry competition for students of all ages, K-12 and college, for many years. It is a tribute to A.R. Ammons, a Columbus County native who became a college professor and famous award-winning poet. RBHPS even had a Latin poetry reading last year in the Reuben Brown House when internationally prominent Latin poet William Cooper showed 26 people that Latin is not a dead nor boring language.

Members work closely together to host receptions during the Pecan Harvest Festival and other special events. They also roll up their sleeves and clean the house and grounds, sell tickets for fundraisers and do other chores.

A few years ago the organization started a historical plaque program, and anyone who has a historical house or building 75 years or older can make application for a plaque.

RBHPS officers include Janice Young, president; Jeanette FormyDuval, vice president; Hilda Ray, secretary; Tom Leggett, treasurer.

The Reuben Brown House Preservation Society is an IRS Code 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Contributions to the RBHPS are fully tax-deductible for federal income tax purposes.

By Clara Cartrette (claracartrette@nrcolumbus.comm)

Article and Images Courtesy of and as Published November 13, 2017 in The News Reporter www.NRColumbus.com

The Reuben Brown House Preservation Society is an IRS Code 501(c)(3) charitable organization. Contributions to the RBHPS are fully tax-deductible for federal income tax purposes.

© 2020 - Reuben Brown House Preservation Society
Whiteville, NC 28472