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Posts Tagged ‘Julia Nunnally Duncan’

Four Poems by Julia Nunnally Duncan

In Arts & Letters, Books, Creative Writing, Humanities, Literature, Poetry, Writing on July 26, 2017 at 6:45 am

Julia Nunnally Duncan is an award-winning poet, novelist, short story writer and essay writer who has authored nine books of poetry, fiction, and nonfiction. Her works often reflect upon people and events from the past, and she draws inspiration from her Western North Carolina upbringing. She holds an M.F.A. from Warren Wilson College and lives in North Carolina with her husband and daughter.

The following poems come from Julia Nunnally Duncan’s latest book, A Part of Me, published by Red Dirt Press.

Note:  Julia Nunnally Duncan will read poetry from her latest book, A Part of Me, at Malaprop’s Bookstore and Cafe in the Poetrio event, 3:00 p.m. on August 6, 2017, Sunday. Address: 55 Hayward Street, Asheville, NC. For more information contact Malaprop’s at: 828-254-6734.

Click here to purchase on Amazon

His Song

He sat at the back of the classroom
during the weeks of our course
and remained quiet,
a student older than the rest.
He put forth his best effort
at grammar exercises and essay writing—
the Composition and Rhetoric assignments
that must have seemed unfair
to a man whose life work would be
to install and repair electrical systems.
Yet he was eager to learn,
occasionally staying after class
to ask if he was on the right track.
And when for his process speech
he came in with a guitar
and pulled up a stool,
I feared it would be hard
for him to speak in front of the group.
But after a few words about how to string
and tune a guitar,
he began to sing a country ballad
with lyrics so romantic and a voice so tender
that I blushed.
When he finished his song,
the class was hushed for a moment
and then burst into applause.
All I could whisper was beautiful
and ask, “Where did you learn to sing that way?”
He didn’t say anything,
and his eyes didn’t meet mine.
His face down, he went quickly to his seat
to reclaim his humble place
at the back of the room.
That was years ago,
and though now I don’t recall his name,
that day and his song
will stay in my memory.


December Evening

I was young and a little afraid
of the residents at the nursing home
who sat in the dining hall,
awaiting the Christmas treats my church had brought.
A white-haired lady growled, “I don’t want no cake!”
but devoured a hefty piece and would have eaten more
if not for the staff who feared it would make her sick.
They all ate quickly,
then gathered in the common room
where an upright piano stood beside the decorated tree.
I played Christmas carols and familiar melodies—
“Away in a Manger” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.”
A man stooped over me and crooned perfect lyrics
while others in their pajamas made up words as they went.
And so we spent time sharing food, and gifts, and song,
my fear of them gone,
that December evening forty years ago.


Paul’s Prayers

Often the preacher asked my uncle Paul
to lead us in prayer,
and our Baptist congregation grew still.
But when Paul’s baritone voice filled the sanctuary,
those compelled by the Spirit exclaimed Amen.
Paul proclaimed our gratitude for God’s blessings
and begged protection for our boys in foreign fields,
the Vietnam War having spilled the blood
of some from our community.
Two decades before,
Paul had been a young man
serving in North Africa in another war
that mangled his shoulder with shrapnel.
For weeks he lay in a VA hospital
and then fell back into his dissolute life.
But one day he found salvation
and thus began to pray for himself
and for all the rest of us.
Paul knew how to do it well.


President Ulysses S. Grant Three Days Before
Death From Throat Cancer July 20, 1885

Maybe because he was a skilled horseman
or that he loved his wife Julia so dearly
or that his last name was the same
as that of my great-great grandfather Samuel Bruce Grant
who also fought in the Civil War,
though on the opposing side—
maybe these are reasons why
I have looked at Ulysses S. Grant
not as an enemy of my Southern ancestors,
but as possible distant kin.
In the photograph
he sits in a rocking chair
on the front porch of his country home,
and he is surrounded by family.
His shoulders are draped in a shawl,
his face looks pale and gaunt,
and his beard has grown gray;
but his shiny top hat
seems a fashionable affront to the disease
that will soon take him away.
While the young girls in the picture look bored,
the women smile lightly,
as if to add an impression of gaiety to the scene.
But it is in Grant’s face—
his weary expression—
that I glean the truth.

Allen Mendenhall Interviews Julia Nunnally Duncan

In Arts & Letters, Creative Writing, Humanities, Literature, Poetry on April 3, 2013 at 8:45 am

Julia Nunnally Duncan

This interview originally appeared here at Southern Literary Review.

AM: Thank you for taking the time to do this interview, and congratulations on your forthcoming book, Barefoot in the Snow. This is, I believe, your third collection of poetry. How does this one differ from your earlier books of poetry?

JND: Barefoot in the Snow reflects a more mature vision and perspective of events and people because these poems were mostly written in the past two or three years. Some poems in this collection, such as “His Hands” and “My Uncle’s Grave,” took a longer time to germinate and more courage to share. I can’t imagine having tackled these poems earlier in my life.

AM: T.S. Eliot once said that genuine poetry can communicate before it is understood. Do you try to communicate with readers, or do you write for yourself? The answer to that is probably both, so let me rephrase the question this way: do you have a particular audience in mind as you write poetry, or are you more consumed with the craft, with “getting it right,” so to speak?

JND: Unless I am writing for a specific magazine theme or contest, such as the poem “My Mother’s Elm” that I wrote to submit to the Joyce Kilmer Poetry Contest (and for which I was thankfully named a winner), I write only with the intention of composing the most honest and polished piece I can. But even with “My Mother’s Elm,” the poem took over once I started it, and I forgot the contest until I finished it. My goal was, most importantly, to capture a particular tree’s place in my childhood and to select my most poignant associations with the tree.

AM: Why do you write poetry?

JND: To capture memories, to record reflections, and to work out intellectual and psychological puzzles and give them tangible form that others might recognize and be moved by.

AM: You have written in a variety of genres. Which comes easiest for you?

JND: A poem is easiest because, in general, it takes shape and is completed more quickly than a short story, an essay, or a novel. I have also discovered that my poems tend to find a readership more quickly too. My novels might have garnered me wider recognition and usually more regional response, but poems have allowed me more comfortable expression of what’s in my heart.

AM: Do you find that poetry demands a certain economy of language that sets it apart from other forms of writing?

JND: By the nature of the poetic form—the condensation of language and attention to rhythm and line structure—I would say yes. However, my poems are narrative, often telling stories, so they’re somewhat similar to my prose. I think my prose is lyrical, too.

AM: Who are the writers that have influenced you, and to which writer would you say you owe the greatest debt?

JND: My first response to this question is always D.H. Lawrence, mostly because of his novel Sons and Lovers, which was the first work of his that I read as a young teenager. At that time, I was moved by the romance, especially between Paul and Miriam, but now when I read it as an adult, it’s obvious that the relationship between the son and his parents and the dynamics between Paul’s parents are most compelling and what have affected me.

The English midlands setting of Lawrence’s work, especially as described in Sons and Lovers, has always reminded me of my Western North Carolina landscape, particularly as it was in my childhood. Lawrence’s boyhood coal mining village of Eastwood is reminiscent of the Clinchfield Cotton Mill village where my mother grew up.

As far as poetry goes, Dante Gabriel Rossetti’s “Alas, So Long!” is a favorite, and Poe’s “Annabel Lee,” with its internal rhyme and alliteration—devices I use in my poems—has no doubt influenced me.

AM: Tell our readers where they can buy your latest book.

JND: Readers can order Barefoot in the Snow from the publisher World Audience Publishers at Online distributors such as will also offer my book. If readers are interested in getting a signed copy, they can check my web page at for an ongoing schedule of my appearances in WNC.

AM: Thank you, Julia, for taking the time to do this interview, and best of luck with everything.

JND: Thank you, Allen, for allowing me to share this information about Barefoot in the Snow and for giving me the opportunity to reflect upon my life as a poet.

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