Every other Thursday evening, when I can make it to Doc's Gumbo Grille down in Columbia's Vista across the street from the State Capitol, I take my guitar and harmonicas and join the miscellaneous group of musicians who gather for what is dubbed a "bluegrass jam," though the songs often range far afield from bluegrass. Some of the playing tests my musical limits; on occasion, I struggle to keep up. But I always have a good time, even if the jammers packed onto the cramped stage often outnumber the folks in the audience dining on Doc's delicious creole fare.
Two of the mainstays in the group are Jack McGregor and Debra Daniel, who are members of a band that plays regularly around town. I've know Debra at least since 1994, the year we were both on the South Carolina Readers Circuit--a group of 8 poets and fiction writers chosen by the Arts Commission to be available for readings around the state. Last year, we invited Debra to visit the University as a guest writer. Her work (both fiction and poetry) is terrific. She's recently had a chapbook (As Is) published by Main Street Rag. See sample poems and author bio here.
The collection is filled with references to young love, old love, parents, and the rural south in which the poet grew up. Good poets must skirt sentimentality without falling victim to it, and Debra does that well, aided by humor and razor-sharp irony, as seen in this excerpt from "Hymn of Invitation:"
When the lights dimmed for the sermon,
he pulled a pen from his pocket, leaned forward,
drew on the length and meat of his thumb,
a hula girl; and as his knuckles bent and swiveled,
she danced a crimson sway.
His gaze angled at me, brown eyes
so humid, I wanted to lift my hair, let air cool
the nape of my neck. He straightened, crossed
his arms so that his hands were hidden. We sat
not quite touching, the service edging to invitation.
And then his index dinger slow and sure as sin
found and grazed my sleeveless skin,
tracing a line down and up, down and up;
while the girl he had drawn lay folded
and curled tight against his palm.
Profile of Debra on Southern Artistry site, including excerpts from her writing
"Impressionists" (flash fiction from Smoke Long Quarterly) and an interview with Debra