The Chimney

My father built the log cabin in which I grew up. It was built beside a Civil War–era farmhouse in the Virginia piedmont. That old farmhouse was in such disrepair that it had to be torn down, but the chimney remained along with portions of the foundation. We re-used many of the building materials and artifacts in our home and work shed.

The presence of the chimney caused me often to wonder about the lives that had gone on before us. It stood there in the evenings, stolidly manning its station as if its owners might return, or were in fact just then going about their lives. I wondered if their lives and dreams somehow became intermingled with our own. Perhaps it is so.


The Chimney

What’s in a chimney
long after the house is gone?
There is a length of rusted stove pipe
fallen into what must have been a kitchen
around which children
might have been dressed
after their bath
in the washtub.

One raises walls here in the forest
for a warm place to sleep, a future.
To sit with Mary after sunset,
the lantern setting off her straight jaw
and the lace against her neck
on the blue calico dress she made.
Maybe children.
Maybe tonight.


from the collection Dancing the Haw

Poetry & Celtic Music at McIntyre’s Books

Come to McIntyre’s Books for a reading by three outstanding local poets and enjoy live Celtic music and dance. This year’s kickoff reading sponsored by the North Carolina Poetry Society is sure to be 2015’s most lively literary event.

January 25, 2015 at 1:45pm


David_ManningDavid Manning

David Manning is the author of eight books of poetry. Twice nominated for the Pushcart prize, he is also a three time winner of the NC Poetry Society’s Poet Laureate award. David will be reading from his just-released book “Soledad.” NC Poet Laureate Joseph Bathanti says, “Manning recognizes each signpost on the plat, claims it, christens it, forgets nothing.” Listeners are fortunate to hear from one of North Carolina’s finest writers.

Alice_OsbornAlice Osborn

Alice Osborn is a Pushcart-nominated poet, editor-for-hire, writing coach and dynamic speaker/facilitator. She’ll be reading from her forthcoming collection “Heroes Without Capes.” These poems about the personal lives of famous and infamous figures from history, including Boba Fett, the Virgin Mary, and the Roadrunner, are sure to delight. Alice is the author of “After the Steaming Stops” and “Unfinished Projects.” She’s also the editor of the short fiction anthology “Tatoos” from Main Street Rag. Alice is an avid Irish step dancer and might be cajoled into kicking her heals if the audience is enthusiastic enough.

tyler_headshot_colorTyler Johnson

Tyler Johnson is an author, poet, and musician whose work revolves around traditional music and dance. Tyler will be reading from his just-released collection “Dancing the Haw,” which features poems set along the Haw River. His other books include “Tales from the Red Book of Tunes (fiction),” and “The Swamps that Close (poetry).” When not writing, Tyler can often be found playing Irish music for contra dances.

Haw BurnHaw Burn

Haw Burn plays traditional celtic dance music. Featuring Jon Amos on fiddle, Jen Hamel on guitar, and Tyler Johnson on tenor banjo, this trio is certain to get your toes tapping.


Click here for a map to the bookstore.


One of the best things I did this summer was visit my local landfill. But this was not a normal landfill; it was a landfill in transition. A time capsule. A tomb.

The Orange County landfill in Chapel Hill is now closed. It’s full. Its history is a controversial one involving environmental justice, politics, money, and garbage. Lots of garbage. But this visit was not about that. This was a funeral. A chance to pay our last respects to the landfill before it was sealed in its grave.

You see, most landfills aren’t sealed. They are just piles of garbage that get covered with dirt. But the good folks at Orange County Solid Waste Management have tried to do this right. Muriel Williman is an outreach coordinator for the department. She met us early one morning to talk about all of the layers engineered into the system.

rubbish03Here’s a piece of the plastic liner that goes underground. It’s moderately rigid but can be rolled up in large sheets. Think one of those red, plastic, rollup toboggans you had as a kid. That’s what’s underneath the landfill. Back before it was a landfill.

rubbish04Now, start piling garbage on top and compacting it. For years. And when the mountain of garbage gets just too high, start covering it.

rubbish02Another liner and several layers of fabric on top help to keep water out. Then it gets covered with dirt. The goal is to create a giant rubbish-packet. It’s sort of like an enormous ravioli.

rubbish06Here you can see the layers of fabric being applied. The foam mesh keeps things springy and prevents the rubbish-packet from being punctured.

rubbish08You know how your garbage can smells? Well multiply that by the county population over the life of the landfill and you can imagine some of the gases this heap puts out. Luckily, the engineers put pipes deep down into the rubbish pile to provide a way for those gases to escape. And then to capture them. Here’s Muriel at one of the gas valves on top of the pile.

rubbish10The gas (mostly methane) is collected and piped away for burning to make electricity.

rubbish05Here’s a view from the top of the heap. It’s the third highest site in the county.

rubbish11It’s interesting to think about that rubbish heap. That packet of garbage. That ravioli of our lives. Inside is a record of what we did on this little part of our planet. What we ate. What we read. Toys the children outgrew. Job offers. Divorce papers. I’m sure you could read the rings by just finding the layers of Christmas paper inside.

I don’t know if we’ll ever open it. Will some archaeologist of the future raise his lamp to an opening and exclaim, as Howard Carter did at Tutankhamun’s tomb when Lord Carnarvon asked if he could see anything inside: “Yes, wonderful things!”

It turns out we don’t have as good a plan for the future as the Egyptians did. This packet is only good for a few decades. There really is no long term plan for our garbage after the gold rush.

Summer is over now and I went back to visit my old friend the landfill. This is what it looks like now.

rubbish13Seems fitting. It was a pleasant day and he was silent in his crypt. Slowly the grass is growing and the dirt settles, as is common among graves.

It is a solemn place to consider our past. Our future.

The Best Way to Eat Figs

Ordinary figs are a delight, but this method is my absolute favorite way to enjoy these end-of-summer fruits. Your mouth will fall newly in love with you.

Cut away the stems and quarter the figs, but don’t slice all the way through. Open the quarters like a flower and place a small crumble of chèvre in the center of each. Drizzle balsamic vinegar on each fig. Cover and heat until the cheese melts and the vinegar infuses the fruit.


Do you have a favorite way to enjoy figs?

Gaelic Festival at Johnny’s

johnnys-logoCelebrate the Celtic New Year at Johnny’s in Carrboro on November 1, 2014.

Gaelic Song Workshop

It all starts around 5pm when Cape Breton stepdancer Stephanie Johnston holds a workshop on Gaelic songs. If you love group singing this will be a real treat. She’ll teach the words to several simple work songs. No previous Gaelic experience necessary!

phrasebookTalk Dirty to Me (in Gaelic)

Noted Celtic scholar Michael Newton will regale us with lowbrow language and inappropriate phrases from his new book The Naughty Little Book of Gaelic: All the Scottish Gaelic You Need to Curse, Swear, Drink, Smoke, and Fool Around. This will certainly come in handy on your next romp in the highlands.


Starting around 6pm there will be a Cape Breton and Scottish dance music session. Bring your instruments and join in! Although this session will focus on music of Scottish origin, we’d not be surprised if some other Gaelic musics crept in. Perhaps we’ll hear some tunes from Ireland, Wales, Brittany and Galacia if we are lucky. You’ll see familiar faces from the local traditional music scene, including Alison Arnold, Trish Hornick, and Gordon Arnold.


Stephanie will be offering an introduction to Cape Breton stepdance while the music plays. She’s been teaching this percussive dance in the area and some of her students may come to practice and show off their steps as well. If you’re interested in Cape Breton stepdance this is a great time to learn more about it.


Johnny’s has great food and drink. The Capp’s Pizza truck will be there as well. (Sadly, Carrboro as yet has no haggis truck.) You can enjoy your food inside or outdoors while listening to the music and song.

A Note for Contra Dancers

TCD is hosting the Wicked Whirlwind dance festival on this weekend. Earlier in the day you can dance to the music of Tickle, Scratch, and Groove with Susan Taylor and Janine Smith at the Carrboro Century Center. Then come on over to Johnny’s for dinner and music. Afterward, you can return to the Century Center to dance to the music of Contraversial with Shawn Brenneman.



See you at Johnny’s!

Photos of musicians and dancers by Chris Florio of FlorioPics. If you need a photographer, he’s the best.

Conversations Among Ruins

CAR_coverI’ve just finished reading Matthew Peter’s new work of fiction, Conversations Among Ruins, that tells the story of Daniel Stavros’ struggle with the dual diagnosis of alcoholism and depression. Stavros is a university literature professor whose tenure track job, and entire life, precariously teeters between success and despair for much of the book, as he careens from one bad decision to another.

You can’t help but root for Stavros. More than once I found myself shouting, “No, Daniel. Don’t do it!” as he is called by darker angels away from a path that would lead him toward a happy future that is so tantalizingly available to him.

He is almost saved by a tender, but deeply wrong, relationship with a charming young woman whose own angels tear at her. Colleagues attempt to support him, at least those who haven’t given up. But the one-two punch of the dual diagnosis proves a very tough adversary. In an ending that is reminiscent of the writings of George MacDonald, Stavros comes face to face with the reality he has created.

The title is taken from the Sylvia Plath poem, Conversations Among the Ruins, and the allusions to that work, and Plath’s own struggles, are not lost in the text. The careful reader will find numerous interconnections among the various parts of this narrative. Peters plays rough with language, and his prose is muscular but accessible. This is an excellent read on its own, but is sure to strike a somber chord with those whose lives have been touched by the dark spirits of substance abuse and depression.

Down East Girl

Down East Girl CoverJulie Davis has just released Down East Girl, a lovely book about coming of age in eastern North Carolina.

The story follows Lily McIntyre, a precocious girl whose family is rumoured to be descended from pirates. Lily delights in this swashbuckling family legend and we are carried along on her girlhood adventures on Harkers Island. Although Lily is bound to the sea, her intellectual nature and the coming of World War II pull her inland toward Beaufort and Chapel Hill, where her life grows more complex as she reaches adulthood.

This is a beautifully rendered story of life on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. It portrays an honest and sometimes difficult struggle of the people of Harkers Island’s fishing villages as they realize that their way of life is passing into the mists and a modern world is emerging around them.

This book is rich with the local dialects and aphorisms of the island, thoroughly researched by Davis. While the book is painted in golden hues, the language brings shocks of color that truly delight.  Each chapter is its own very satisfying story, making it a pleasure to come to. In style and tone it is reminiscent of Laura Ingalls Wilder or James Herriot, though with more adult themes from time to time.

The story arc is gentle and the camera stays up close throughout, but don’t be surprised to find humor and history among the seashells.

5 stars.

The Brothers’ Keepers

brothers_coverMatthew Peters has just released “The Brothers’ Keepers,” the first book in the Nicholas Branson series of thrillers.

“The Brothers’ Keepers” is fiction of the highest order. This thriller keeps the suspense on eleven, but only gets started there. Nick Branson is a scholarly Jesuit who packs a mean left hook. Together with the intriguing librarian Jessica Jones, we are treated to a behind-the-robes look at the forces of the Christian church and their sway on western society. But there’s little time for quiet reflection as we are whisked from Washington, DC to France to Afghanistan in a chase to discover a secret that some labored for centuries to ensure would never be found. This book overflows with political intrigue, action, and the best prose to come along in years.

“The Brothers’ Keepers” held me in suspense through to the last page. That in and of itself makes it a worthwhile read. But the historical bombshell it exposes, and the questions it poses, have sent me time and again to investigate the details presented in the story. The fact that it is so well researched leaves one wondering just what sort of foundations we stand upon.

Hopefully there is someone like Nicholas Branson looking out for us.

5 stars

Musical Fantasy Giveaway

Tales from the Red Book of Tunes is a musical fantasy filled with dancing, fiddle tunes, bagpipes, murderous myths and monsters. Set in the mythical world of Hollean, it traces the development of ten fiddle tunes from their folk origins to modern times, and gives you a glimpse of the lives they’ve touched along the way.

We are giving away twenty copies of Tales from the Red Book of Tunes on the book review and sharing site Goodreads. Get your copy today.

These interwoven tales are for anyone with a love of music and dance. But there’s a bonus for musicians and dancers. Go to the book website to listen to the tunes, print sheet music, and see how people are writing new dances to these tunes!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Tales from the Red Book of Tunes by Tyler  Johnson

Tales from the Red Book of Tunes

by Tyler Johnson

Giveaway ends September 04, 2014.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win

View the book trailer

Dance Writing Contest Winner – Spring 2014

Congratulations to Elizabeth Bloom Albert, the winner of the Spring 2014 Dance Writing Contest. Elizabeth took on the challenge of writing dances to match two tunes from the dance adventure Tales from the Red Book of Tunes. Her dance “A Carriage Works” was selected by Tyler Johnson and a group of experienced callers as the best in contest.

Tyler notes, “the dance is a Sicilian circle, and when viewed from above the dancers form the spokes of a wheel, making the dancers themselves a part of the story. The figures match the music quite well, making it a fun and accessible dance.”

View the dance and listen to the tune at the story page for “A Carriage Works.”

A donation has been made to CDSS in honor of Elizabeth’s winning. Please let her know what you think of her dance.


Chicagoan Elizabeth Bloom Albert has been a contra dancer since 1999, but she’s been dancing–(international) folk dance and (East coast) swing—for a long, long time. Elizabeth began writing contra dances about five years ago; she’d become bored with Sudoku and crosswords and needed a new challenge. When she’s not writing dances, she’s writing prose. Her short stories and essays have won, placed, or showed in a number of writing contests and have appeared in Narrative Magazine, The Baltimore Review, Karamu, Permafrost, Canteen, Southern Women’s Review, Quarter After Eight and elsewhere.


Tyler asked Elizabeth some questions about her involvement with the dance community

– What’s your home dance community?

I do most of my dancing in Chicago with the Chicago Barn Dance Company. I also want to give a shout-out to the Huntsville, Alabama dance, where my husband and I dance 2-3 times a year.

– When and where did you start dancing?

I have been dancing contra since 1999. Before I was a contra dancer, I did a lot of (East coast) swing and (international) folk dance—and still do some on occasion.

– When did you start calling and writing dances? What drew you to that?

I am not a caller. I have been writing dances for about 5 years. I’ve always loved puzzles (crossword; Sudoku; acrostics); writing a dance is the best puzzle there is because when you solve one successfully a whole room full of people get to share the joy.

– What does the dance community mean to you?

When you think about it, social dancing is a cooperative endeavor and cooperation is at the core of any good community. So my weekly dance group is probably the most community-minded thing I do all week.

– Do you play an instrument?

No, but I plan to do so in my next life. (And I really hope my next-life mom steers me to the violin.)

– What do you do when you are not dancing?

In the summer you’ll find me riding my bike or out in our garden, where we grow vegetables and perennials. I also love to cook and bake. And one of these days I will get back to knitting, sewing, and quilting.  But mostly, I am a writer (of short stories and essays). I have yet to have a book published, but I have won, placed or showed in a number of writing contests sponsored by literary magazines. These prizes let me know that I have at least some talent and convince me to keep plugging away (in spite of hundreds of rejection slips).