A Talk with a Poet Laureate of North Carolina

The Plank House Shelby grew up in

In January of 2015 I learned a poet which Red Dashboard published two years prior was chosen to represent his state of North Carolina. Shelby Dean Stephenson was now a Poet Laureate.

I can’t explain the excitement. In running this publication for ten years (starting with ezines, and moving into a press) I had published a poet laureate, Allan Birchelbach of Texas had submitted a poem into an awards category which he won The Spur Award from Western Writers of American for poetry. His poem was slated to publish in our Cowboy Poetry Press anthology, Unbridled, spring/summer print, and then we were to pick up the award in late June. This was already a highlight for me. I was feeling my endeavors learning to publish and manage were paying off. I had decided to take their work, and without knowing anything about them, I merely loved what they wrote (we do have editors who look over work along with me).

Wanting to write a piece about going to my first laureate inauguration, I barely found time to sit down and speak about mine and Shelby’s next day meeting at his home. Work was growing at a fast rate. On that visit we talked about how it was a shock in some ways, and then he gave me The Plank House tour. I told him how his emails with me back and forth were like poetry. Encouraging me to write about my childhood as we connected over his writing—about being country kids when things were much more simple; he also encouraged me to get another book out. Shelby reviewed my first collection, My South By Southwest (2014), along with many other poets, giving me the thumbs up on the musicality, among other great points. The time wasn’t right for our press, life goes on.

Two years plus, and  on an unusually warm November day my husband and I find our car driving into Benson, NC where I had arranged to sit down and speak to Shelby again. I’m still thrilled to hear him talk about life, about the writing process, other poets (he keeps me on my toes), and about what’s gone on in the two years he began his laureate journey.

EAS: Shelby, do you mind if I ask you a few questions? (I pull out my high tech digital recorder).

Shelby: Wow, aren’t you totally prepared, all twenty-first century.

EAS: Have you accomplished what you set out to do (he mentioned to me what he wanted to get done as PL back in 2015)?

Shelby: Gosh, I haven’t gotten started (he laughs).

EAS: What are the two things that you’ve done in your term as Poet Laureate of North Carolina, 2015-17, and what do you plan to accomplish?

Shelby: It all seems like a dream—one thing I’ve learned, taking poetry into retirement and nursing homes, and farming. I’m an old FFA boy from way back, I live here. Oh what else was I thinking? Oh yes, genealogy. Have you done yours?

EAS: Yes, I have.

Shelby: Mine dropped off about 1651 and drop into a hole. But I’ve learned, Alzheimer’s, music does it. It’s a way to get to the people that way.

EAS: Mine dropped off about 1647, the Scottish side, even later on the other.

Shelby: It’s amazing, I’ve been to Murphy, twice, programs and things, it’s a long state (NC), goes all the way down to TN; you can drive two hours here to there , it’s been fun seeing it all.

I was recently in Sylva, celebrating Kay Byers life. Silva is way way south of Asheville.

Everybody has a story—you know that; this state is lively, and loaded with people who want to write.

EAS: Has anyone coined your writing style in the past few years? I don’t like to use that term, but it seems people do pin you down, in spite of your feelings.

Shelby: Oh gosh (laughing). I don’t think so. Everyone now I’m off hand, and then I riff, get off topic.

EAS: Have you written about Possums lately? (laughing, because he did write two books about them, as his father hunted them)

If you ever get the chance to talk to him, or read his works, it’s about family. About his father bringing home food, like me, we ate what my father fished and shot.

Shelby: Ah, I wrote a Possum poem the other day. I’m writing some forms now. I have a friend who’s writing, a form, Cinquin.

EAS: What’s unique about that form? What caught your attention?

Shelby: Oh someone mentioned it to me, and explained it was created by a woman, Adelaide Crapsey in the 1920s. So I wanted to try it. I thought if my name was…oh, I don’t’know.

EAS: What caught my attention about your poetry, writing about the past, history, and then we discussed cooking. I lean towards experimental writing, and I felt you had some of that in your manuscripts.

Shelby: Some of Shub’s cooking was from my Mother’s own hand on index cards. I had a good laugh when Nin (his wife) and I found one for Thanksgiving stuffing—


There’s not much left to be said about Stuffing.
My mother pretty much settled the offerings. Makes me think of nothing but quaffing!

In her own hand she wrote the recipe.
It came in the late 1960’s – early 70’s − to Madison, Wisconsin, to Nin and me, from the homeplace near Benson, North Carolina (where Nin and I live now):


1 cup celery (chopped)
1 ½ uncooked rice
½ cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon pepper
1 teaspoon salt
5 ½ cups raw popcorn
Broth and giblets of turkey
Mix together and cook until the pop
Corn is all popped and blows
Out the ass of the turkey
It’s ready to serve!

(laughs) But we never got a chance to try this one.

Page 196, Shub’s Cooking, available on Amazon or through our catalog (Shelby’s nickname)

EAS: (laughing) Gosh, I might have to give that one a shot!

Shelby: You bring me to this, what else I’ve learned—family is everything. I’m care taking, learning to wake-up. I’m learning to take care of myself. It’s going to be three years 2018. I drive myself all over (mentions towns again). The writers I meet are so lively. All those writers are great to meet. It’s like the song, “The party is over…”

It’s a different world. Hotels, boy are they an experience. Nin and I did everything together.

EAS: Didn’t have a camper you traveled in?

Shelby: I traded it for the red car over there.

(We laugh, because he was known to travel in that camper, and with his dog.)

Shelby: Someday when you become a poet laureate I’ll coach you, I’ve only said “No” once. It’s better than ice cream when you travel to schools and face elementary students. It’s a challenge. What do you do? Well, you pull out your guitar and kids respond. They actually ask me to sing songs I don’t know. I usually ask them if they know a song I can play (he goes on to sing the song to me).

(About the traveling) One day after the memorial service for my friend, it was raining. I stayed at the Red Roof Inn. I ended up writing a poem for Anne Russell, “The Red Roof Inn Plus.” In remembrance for a time my dog and I stayed with her once. It actually came out pretty funny. You let the words flow and take you where they go.

It’s wonderful not to be bored. I’m having fun. And Cricket (his dog) goes everywhere I go.

EAS: Do you keep the title “Poet Laureate of North Carolina” once your term is done?

Shelby: Well, I’m certainly still me, not former anthing, I haven’t changed, so I’m always a poet. (laughs) Yes, I keep the title.

EAS: I want to end this on one last note. You’ve explained being poet laureate keeps you busy, brings new things to light, like taking care of yourself. My Grandfather always said keep your minds going, he was 99 when he passed, and always writing. What do you say to young writers out there? Even late comers?

Shelby: People didn’t know what poetry was when I was young. It salvaged my life. To be thirteen or fourteen again, somehow words and poems and stories, you respond to stuff you read. You wake up one day and find yourself bored out of your mind, your mind wanders, and you find you have to get it out there. Old or even new stories can come out of you. I certainly never thought I’d be here. I taught, never thought about that either.

That’s the thing—the arts and creative things will still find the children. The digital age takes their attention, but hopefully they find the words. They will turn it into poetry or stories.

My message, is to write, share your life, your words, your family. Be lively.

What a great time I had just speaking to Shelby on the steps of his family’s old plantation plank house, with another Plank House tour (hubs hasn’t seen it, he’s the one on the left in photo). It was like sitting on the porch as my old timer relatives chatted about the old life. Our conversation at times goes in a hundred different directions, but I’ll always love talking or corresponding with Shelby. Some say I have a Laureate crush, and wouldn’t you if you published one!

Shelby Dean Stephenson stumbled into our catalog, into my life. I’m glad he couldn’t stop writing. I’m glad he had manuscripts lying around to send to us. I humbled and honored to say he was one of our authors. As a publisher, I advise you to be open to all writing, in form or in experimental stage. You could be reading a poet laureates manuscript.

Thank you Shelby!

Both books, The Hunger of Freedom and Shub’s Cooking  are available in our catalog Red Dashboard LLC Publications

An Intern-al Perspective

When I first joined the Red Dashboard team, I had little knowledge of what I was in for.

I was introduced by a long strand of chance meetings through people I never expected to know, let alone come to know as something of a second family. Even as the newbie, I have never felt so instantly welcomed into a group of such diverse, talented, and inspiring people. They have each taken me under their wing in a different way to bring me forward and give me my own voice. On October 7th, at Caddyshack Bar and Grille, I attended my first WAMPP event as a host. I had the pleasure of meeting some of the artists I had heard so much about since joining, and watch their performances as they brought their poetry to life. Along with some new faces, and the women from the Plainsboro Library, we captured the attention of not only our audience, but even many of the regulars at the bar, who turned to listen and applauded with the rest of us. I got up to read, very briefly, during the open mic portion at the end of the night. Afterwards, several of us gathered back home for a little after-party celebration, with drinks, laughs, and nibbles. I very much look forward to our next event, and I hope to see more of you there!

I’ll be updating regularly, so stay tuned to see what the Red Dashboard girls are up to.

With love,

Crystal <3

Two Cent Comedy by Matthew Kirshman

Matthew Kirshman’s Two Cent Comedy offers a heady mix of the visceral and the cerebral, not in opposition or even juxtaposition, but in thrilling and sometimes frightening mutual implication. The first-person speakers of these short, imagistic prose-poems think with and through the senses; embody metaphors; and revel in or marvel at the fungibility of body/soul, animate/inanimate, word/idea/object, the one becoming the other as easily and uncannily as (to cite one of the volume’s most striking images) an angel’s back becomes his front without turning around.

The first part, from which the volume as a whole takes its name, narrates the experience of a recently dead soul, free of its corporeal body yet still very much in the realm of the senses, as it makes its way towards Paradise. The poems are deeply allusive—one tastes, as if remembering a long-ago banquet, Dante (from whom the section derives its sense of “comedy”), Milton, the Hebrew Bible, and Shakespeare’s Tempest, as well as the pop-culture world of video games and children’s cartoons. Yet they are at the same time vividly sensory, immersing the reader in a world of light and dark, cold and wet, hunger and thirst, and music both familiar and strange. Though brief, “Two Cent Comedy” is both funny and moving—sometimes at once—and ultimately satisfying as a series of steps into the unknown as well as a completed journey.

Part two, “Coastlines,” is a collection of short poems, mostly prose poems with some free verse intermingled, thematically and linguistically connected to each other and to the volume’s first half. Particularly prominent, and affecting, are motifs of the permeable boundaries between life and death, self and other; the mutual implication of body and thought; and, most of all, the simultaneous urgency and difficulty of interpretation. In keeping with “Two Cent Comedy”’s reimagining of western culture’s great stories, “Coastlines” makes complex use of myth, both explicitly (poems on Persephone and the Minotaur) and implicitly: in one particularly affecting poem a goddess arises from the dirt and transforms into a city. And in a beautiful series of free verses near the end of the volume Kirshman recasts Genesis through/as a sexual encounter that is epistemologically dense but sensually crystalline. This meaning-fraught sensuality is anticipated by poems throughout the volume that use the body, and particularly the sexually responsive body, as a ground for the not always conclusive interpretation of the meaning of familial, social, and cosmological relationships.

As powerful as this technique is, perhaps the most effective poems in the collection are those about their own interpretation, or the mysteries of language as the foundation of self and society. Speakers strive to read and write themselves and their surroundings—or to be written and read. One poem asks “What is the law of talking?” and concludes “That’s why they call the mouth a ‘trap’”; another imagines learning to communicate with alien others not through ears alone but through “organs…muscle and bone.” In one of Kirshman’s most powerful poems, a printing press learns to set its own lines of type; the speaker concludes that it must be functioning as a medium, receiving messages from elsewhere—“How else can a machine speak?” How else, one wonders at the end of this provocative, haunting volume, can anyone speak?

Stephen Cohen, Professor at Central, CT State University

WAMPP & Red Dashboard LLC Presents

Wine Art Music Poetry Project (includes fiction and fiction writers) & Red Dashboard LLC

It’s about time! (WAMPP began 2007-10) we started back up our entertainment leg of the publishing company. Our managing editor ran open mica and performance series to help get authors, musicians and other performers out in the public view. Many of these performers are veterans at their craft, some new, but all are welcoming an audience!
Elizabeth’s experience includes years as an event coordinator and caterer (cookappeal) before going back to her initial college passion as a writer and editor, and then publisher of RedD.

We found not all venues accepted poetry as part of their open mic series, so she began her own. Home venues, if space allows, bookstores, and other spaces are welcome to contact us to organize and host an event.

RedD is hoping to raise funs to help send two individuals to a writing retreat, festival, and or a music/song writing conference. Arts are important to us all, and we strive to make it forefront here in New Jersey, and the Pennsylvania areas. Contact us at editor@reddashboard.com if you have any suggested locations. Many performers will be introducing an alter ego to spice up the day.
June 17th, 2017 in Princeton, NJ, 2-8 PM

Together with Red Dashboard LLC Publications, WAMPP (Wine Art Music Poetry Project, est 2007) is hosting a line-up of Poets, Authors, and Musicians in a beautiful setting just outside of Princeton at The Smith House. It’s Elizabeth Akin Stelling’s (managing editor of RedD) birthday, and her wish to bring these artists together again. Future even dates will follow…

Suggested Donation ($2-5 ea person to help pay for space and raise funds to send two artists to 2018 retreats); picnic for yourself or a pot-luck dish to share with others (BYOB, water, soda, and paper goods will be provided).

(See Line-up of local NJ and PA entertainment below…)

Please RSVP to editor@reddashboard.com or find event on Facebook


Elizabeth Akin Stelling, Emcee and organizer
Rebecca Bonham, asst coordinator

Featured Guests–
Rita Anderson, Texas poet, author, and playwright
Hal Sirowitz, former Queens, NY Poet Laureate
Cheryl Moore, Belmar Beach Poet

Ryan Torres
Vito Natale, music-blues
Lance Scott Green-music
Danielle Steward-music
Kevin J. Allen-music
Freddy Unreal, musician/band
Barry Gross, poet
Eileen Beirne, poet
Reynald Arthur Perry, poet & fiction
Dennis McDonough- Young Wombats, music
KC Bosch, poet
Raul Cortez, Spoken word
Todd Evans, Spoken word
Bonnie Parker Ridge, poet & fiction
Tim Allen, poet
RG Evans, poet/author
John Berry, poet, The Sock Draw Poetry series on WinTv

New books by Nicole Yurcaba and Derrick Paulson

Our managing editor-Elizabeth Akin Stelling and poetry editors were excited to have received Nicole Yurcaba’s Hollow Bottles and an up coming novel manuscript this past summer, after meeting her at the 2015 BIPF (Bridgewater International Poetry Festival). She is not only as one blurb describes her, into Goth, but her words reflect her love for her Ukrainian heritage and her admiration for writing itself show in each line. She is now a professor of English at the very college for whom hosts the festival every two years. You can hear her read this coming January 12-15, 2017.


New books for July

This month, Red Dashboard has published our second book by Smokey Culver and our third book by Rodney Nelson and we welcome our new authors, Kevin Casey and Geoff “Poppa Mac” Mackay.  So now available for your enjoyment:

  • Smokey Culver –  Ridin’ Shotgun
  • Rodney Nelson – Ahead of Evening
  • Kevin Casey – For The Sake Of The Sun
  • Poppa Mac Mackay – Stories From My Side Of The Campfire