Presentation of Betty Adcock into the Literary Hall of Fame

Betty Adcock’s induction into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame is long overdue. She has published seven collections of poetry including the recent Widow Poems, and has won a dazzling array of awards, honors, and fellowships, including a Guggenheim, and has read at many places including the U. S. Library of Congress. She has taught at Duke University, Meredith College, and with the Warren Wilson MFA Program. She has devoutly served the art of poetry throughout her career. Her language, from the first book to the hauntingly beautiful poems of her most recent volume Widow Poems, unites musicality and concept, real-life occasion, and verbal inspiration. Her syllables pulse with the impetus of poetic idea. Within her lines we feel the pure translation of experience into a language-song, so that we hear what it is to be emotively conscious in a physical world, that both answers our desires and rebuffs them, consoles us with its beauties and brings deep grief.

Her lyric voice reminds me of what I have read about bird song—of its analogy with human speech. Birds are born with the aptitude for song, humans, for language—yet for both, it must be actualized, by hearing the adult bird sing, the older human speak. Betty Adcock was born with the potential for lyric language, and has actualized this in herself by immersing herself in poetry as written and spoken—and in the music that was her late husband’s profession. Now in these Widow Poems words become an elegiac music preserving the occasions and places of memory.

I find in these poems a brilliant poet writing at the peak of her craft, her lyric voice surviving, piercingly beautiful as so sharpened into elegy. Poetry’s lie against time, as Harold Bloom has called it, makes her words of self-consolation a truth, in thus turning pain into aesthetic pleasure for the reader. Poetry must struggle against the chaos of events in its thrust into order, and that union of music and raw fact was never more evident than in these poems. We are reminded of how consistently her word-music has been elaborated from exactingly accurate, yet innately metaphoric occasions. In “Clearing” a hurricane in 1996 comes to mind as a time-marker for this later, sharper grief. Then, when husband and wife were together, “embraced” by the tree tops fallen around them, they felt a kind of richness in the catastrophe, a closeness in those leaves around them, green in their own demise. So did the lost mate seem somehow closer in his death. Now the trees are high and full again but he is gone and the event of his death is two years old, and both times of grief are now gone into “this air that empties/around me again and again.”

So the metaphors of her lines support and explain the larger metaphors of her poems, that reflect to us in their magic mirror the exactness of life as we feel it, while her occasions register the reality within these metaphors. Her poems so translate the ungraspable mystery of our lives in time into the apprehendable beauties of her words, that are also true. She is a very great poet.

And it is my very great honor to present the poet Betty Adcock for induction into the North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame.

James Applewhite
Southern Pines, NC
October 12, 2014