A Black Cat Writes A Book
Black Cat Poets. Though decades old, even outlasting its original home at Black Cat Books (sigh), this loose collection of poets continues to be an up-swelling of creativity in Truth or Consequences. Two of the newest Cats, my friend Ranimo and I have the honor of putting out the signboard and setting up the mic on the first Sunday of the month. The group now meets at a local coffee shop, Ingo’s Art Cafe, and Ranimo and I switch off wrangling writers who are drinking coffee and catching up on the week's news. When the hour of 1:00 comes around, we pass the clipboard and remind the group 3 poems or 5 minutes. Please read all haiku twice through. There is always quiet anticipation, then rousing applause; it is a warm, generous group. No critique, just encouragement, and acknowledgment of how scary and vulnerable it is to put your heart on paper, then get up and read it aloud.
Last summer, one of the most beloved Black Cats, Beverley Manley, was deep in the middle of self-publishing a book of poetry, Seasons of the Soul, 38 Lyric Poems. This is a remarkable endeavor at any age, but Beverley is 87 years old. She had found fresh inspiration and renewed energy in the form of a love affair of the heart. This may seem unlikely at her age, but Bev is a hopeless romantic. When love hit her, she didn’t hesitate; she wrote!
I came into the picture after finding her almost in tears. Her publisher was requesting a short bio and a blurb to be used on Amazon and other book-selling sites. I offered to help with this modest task, and my reward was spending hours with a truly extraordinary woman. When Seasons of the Soul, 38 Lyric Poems was finally printed, Black Cat Poets held a book signing event, and we focused our monthly gathering on her writings. Many of the poets asked her to read their favorite poem from her book after they had read their own writing. Bev often had something to say about the poem's origins or a short story about the inspiration behind a particular piece. She held the room spellbound.
Afterward, several people came up to me, expressing the same sentiment, “Beverley's poems are great, but they move to the next level when she reads them. We need to record her.” Indeed. Amazingly, there are three recording studios in our little town, so if we pulled together some money, this was a possibility. The more I thought about it though, the more I wanted people to SEE Bev as they listened to her poems. There is something so engaging about her face, the joy in her eyes, the wry little smile she casts your way. I wondered if I could just record her with a tripod and my iPhone? Get a little lapel mic to amplify her soft voice? Well, that is just what we did.
She welcomed me into her home, and we set up our own little recording studio right there in her living room. I would hit the record button, give her the NOW signal, and off she would go. We re-recorded two or three in the beginning, but mostly, Beverley would read with perfect inflection and timing. It was such a joy to be with her, asking about her life, what circumstances brought about this writing, or what heartache produced that set of words.
Figuring out how to download things from my phone to my computer in the right format and then saving them in another format, then uploading them to a YouTube channel, is a woeful tale for another day. But it got done, and I am more honored to be a part of this effort than almost anything in my life. It was a lesson in - Let's do this thing, not just talk about it. Now Beverley Manley's love, wisdom, and humor will be there for the Black Cat Poets and many, many others to enjoy for years to come.
Below are two videos. The first is one of my favorite poems Beverley wrote. It contains all that is Bev: humor, clever word usage, insightful musings, and extraordinary wisdom. The second is her impromptu thoughts (at my urging) as to why she wanted to publish this book at 87 years of age.
I have also included links to her youtube channel and sites where you can purchase a copy of her book. You will not be disappointed.