Praise for Elegies for Small Game

In these poems Shelby Stephenson continues his celebration of place, family, and memory. But here there is a new eloquence and authority of rhyme and ballad form, with laments for those who have gone on, and odes to hunting dogs, songs for game like possums and rabbits, a gallery of portraits of people and loved pets, and even imaginary pets of childhood. In poem after poem Stephenson catches the exuberance of childhood, the romance of hot-rods, the delight of barnyard basketball, and the poignant poetry of birdlife in the countryside. In dialogue and hymn, this singer and laureate meditates on issues of race, history, and the bonds of abiding love.

— Robert Morgan, author of Dark Energy

“My father’s gun propped in the corner of my closet where sunlight falls on it,” serves as the memorial for what happened in the same place, but back in time when men bonded during the hunt while achieving the utilitarian reward of feeding their families. Elegies for Small Game, like his father’s gun brought to light, represents grief and joy all at once, transformed into forgiveness. Nostalgia balances remorse where the once-hunted doves now “relax around” the feeder outside the plankhouse, his childhood home. Because this is Shelby Stephenson, these poems exude the music of the farmstead, its people and animals, and eases the experience that becomes the reader’s own—of hunting animals in the past juxtaposed with wanting to give back to them—always with a hopeful note of the spiritual when bluebird eggs “hold the earth’s truest blue” and where, “The dogs of my father run free.” 
—Hilda Downer, author of  Sky Under the Roof

In his prose poem “Meditation on Guns,” Shelby Stephenson lets loose a profusion of memories and weaves the narrative around a multitude of devices, including the haunting words of country music singer and songwriter Leon Payne’s “The Selfishness in Man,” and a recipe for fried dove that will have your mouth watering. In seriousness, humor, economy of language, Stephenson demonstrates respect and affection for the spoken word, and he somehow gets it all in—every atom of his being—lifting the reader above the illusion of reality and beguiling us with an inescapable intimacy. Elegies for Small Game is a collection of uncommon excellence.
—Stephen E. Smith, author of A Short Report on the Fire at Woolworths

Book and CD 
Press 53 . PO Box 30314, Winston-Salem, NC 27130-0314

Shelby Stephenson
Poet Laureate of North Carolina
Press Fifty-Three

560 N. Trade St, Ste 103
Winston-Salem, NC 27101


Shelby Stephenson

ISBN 978-1-941209-17-2
​8.5 x 5.5 paperback
72 pages
SHELBY STEPHENSON is the eighth Poet Laureate of North Carolina and lives on the small farm where he was born near Benson, in the Coastal Plain of North Carolina. “Most of my poems come out of that background,” he says, “where memory and imagination play on one another.” Educated at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill, University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Wisconsin-Madison, he is professor emeritus at the University of North Carolina-Pembroke, and served as editor of the international literary journal Pembroke Magazine from 1979 until his retirement in 2010. His awards include the Zoe Kincaid Brockman Memorial Award, North Carolina Network Chapbook Prize, Bright Hill Press Chapbook Award, and the Brockman-Campbell Poetry Prize. He has published a poetic documentary Plankhouse (with photographs by Roger Manley), plus ten chapbooks, most recently Steal Away (Jacar Press). Family Matters: Homage to July, the Slave Girl won the 2008 Bellday Poetry Prize, and the 2009 Oscar Arnold Young Award. The state of North Carolina presented Shelby with the 2001 North Carolina Award in Literature, and in 2014 he was inducted into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame. 
Praise for Fiddledeedee

Shelby Stephenson can walk out his back door—even in his sleep, it seems, so tithed to the land is his subconscious—and see what lies hidden before our very eyes: in the roods and plowsoles, the tree bark and creek beds, in his beloved spectre ancestors forever singing in his head. He writes about the mystery of the dirt—what it yields, what it reclaims—with more precision and prescience than any poet I can think of. I can hear him now, whispering his sacramental litany, his invocation: “it is nothing but a song—the long journey home.” Fiddledeedee is Shelby at his best. Blessed be his wholly liturgical verse—the bard, the very voice, of North Carolina. 
     — Joseph Bathanti, former Poet Laureate of North Carolina

I am very moved by Fiddledeedee, by the accumulating strength of its forward movement as well as by telling details, of the natural and spiritual world. 
     — A.R. Ammons, winner of the 1973 and 1993 National Book Award for Poetry

“What can we do but sing?” Shelby Stephenson writes in Fiddledeedee. In this long poem, he has enriched and deepened the themes of previous books, among them, Middle Creek Poems, The Persimmon Tree Canal and Poor People. We often have poems of memory that are rooted in the poet’s rural upbringing in North Carolina, rustic, elegiac, comic, grim. In Fiddledeedee, memories or homage are not an end in themselves. The poet continually seeks to connect who he was with who he is—exploratory riffs that can surprise his understanding—and therefore ours. The result is a compelling poem of meditative complexity that at the same time is poignant, lyrical, and philosophical. 
     — Merrill Leffler, author of Mark the Music

“Where is the word that holds ALL I am trying to say?” asks Shelby Stephenson in the Prologue to Fiddledeedee. He unleashes a poetic answer that plays and keens, singing its long journey home, immersing us in the living language of a place, the East Carolina flatlands. With three-line stanzas, often breathtaking, Stephenson leads us through the lay of his ancestral land. He gives voice to his place and its people and does so unashamedly, with passion and precision, and, yes, with real country music. 
     — Kathryn Stripling Byer, former Poet Laureate of North Carolina

from Fiddledeedee

I went back home and held my eyes on the hill
and it said You need a word deeper than I

so I took the old fencerails the lizards ran
and my family’s tongue came out of the Mouth
of Buzzard’s Branch, the sound of that one story,

everywhere, in the marshes, in the fields
and lowgrounds, and I said Where is the word
that holds All I am trying to say?—

and the cows lowed through their cuds over
and over it is nothing but a song—the long journey home:
Slow Man Barbour rode his Cushman

pooter-scooter and parked it when we played
cow-pasture ball: I used to run in from the hayfield
to see what Ralph Kiner had done that day:

he was my man to break the Babe’s homerun
mark, a chance to have somebody stand up
to bat for me: can I make a motion

for home, motion, the third-base coach might say
is slow, out of time, the squeak and sound of
footsteps—my wife coming home, coming to a place

we call home? The shifting winds catch her voice
full in her breasts; dark-throated locusts
dusk their beasts of sounds—home in the spine

which sitteth uneasily, the body
sensual still, all those mockingbirds
riffling feathers at the first suggested intrusion,

the low footage, getting a toe-hold this place
will be yours someday and here we are, the workers
mostly gone, the Bee Martin

out on the marker at the end of the drain,
catching insects come home to rest: I was
born in that house in the hedge, the dogyard

outback, the mulestables, chickens running
free, the hogpen homey with grunts and
tail-twitches—that’s it, the tall pile of wood

Percy Bolling cut for the stove in the kitchen,
the Home Comfort Range, that’s it, home,
the humming presence of overriding lips

the hymns my mother would sing while stirring
the soup: coming home is a hard row to hoe,
middle to bust, blossom to top, barn to fill,

road to pave, push to shove: the tractor’s
ready for the pasture, the bush-hog levels the field:
the lay is home, the lying down to sleep,

counting sheep, roughshod hooves grazing the top
rail of the fence hum on Percy would say,
Butler and Tony trailing the possum

hum on home, you good dogs you (of all those
thirty-five hounds we never had a dog
named Blue): the cotton’s tied up in burlap

Editor's note: Fiddledeedee consists of a Prologue (the first seventeen stanzas of which are offered above as a sample) followed by a single poem that reads like one long of breath of conscious thought.

Fiddledeedee is an experience you don't want to miss.

Cover artist Hayden Tedder has been drawing since childhood and began painting seriously in the fall of 2011 when she began studying acrylics with Steven Hopkins. Since then she has been working to improve her skill and style. She is a member of Delurk Gallery in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and has shown her work in galleries, restaurants, and coffee shops. She has assisted in body painting and curates art shows for the Community Arts Café and other art spaces in Winston-Salem. She says, “I find inspiration in the movement, connection, and communication of humans through nature and technology. I believe that life is lived in the ways we allow it and that anything can be done if we refuse to let excuses block our paths to fulfill our dreams and plans.”
Photo by Keith Sherard
Two-CD audio recording, read by Shelby Stephenson, produced by Grammy Award-winning producer Steven Heller.
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Elegies for Small Game 
​Shelby Stephenson

ISBN 978-1-941209-41-7
9 x 6 paperback
88 pages
Cover art by Nancy Sandgren
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Beaver Damn Swamp
from Elegies for Small Game

I will get up and walk out to the plankhouse,
And take in the health and sickness of the past
And turn my craft to verse for the mouse
Scrambling toward the crack in the window-sash.

Peace shall come and sit down for a long spell
On the porch where my father’s hunter-stool sits,
Empty, his gun in the modern house, well
In the corner-closet, silent in the clock-ticks.

I will stand on the high plank-porch and see as far as I can
Into sacrifices my ancestors made for the road,
Their low way through and round, the traces, the land—
Oh the faces on the wall—voices—my tongue’s load.

Winner of the 2016 Roanoke-Chowan Award for Poetry