Sunday, March 23, 2014

Robert Morgan and the Chapel Hill Beatniks

I fear plans for the day may be shot.
I allowed myself one peek at the first chapter of Robert Morgan's just-released paperback, "The Road from Gap Creek," the sequel to his bestselling 1999 novel, "Gap Creek." One peek. Right. Like eating one jelly bean.

To delay gratification, I went in search of interviews with Morgan. This excerpt from a 2013 chat with William Wright, founding editor of Town Creek Poetry almost brought tears. It's about a turning point in Morgan's writing as an undergraduate at UNC Chapel Hill.

Two important things happened to me that fall of 1964. I fell in with a group of students, all from the Northeast, who had gone to the finest prep schools in New England and been kicked out for various reasons. They had come to Chapel Hill to be beatniks and poets. They knew far more about poetry than I did. They could talk about metaphor and line breaks, French poetry, and William Butler Yeats. Every day we met and talked about poetry, read poetry aloud, lived and breathed poetry. I read Robert Lowell and Robert Bly, James Wright and Gary Snyder. Because my friends were so much more sophisticated than me, I was reluctant to show them the poems I was trying to write. But the best poet among them, Dudley Carroll, insisted that I show him some of my stuff. One day I gave him a sheaf of the things I’d done, with little confidence in their reception. That night around 2:00 am there was a knock on my door. Dudley and his friend Tim Perkins stood there holding my poems. Dudley said my work was so good, so exciting, he had to come tell me. I don’t think any review, any award, any honor I’ve ever received since has been more thrilling than that. Dudley’s praise gave me a new confidence—an energy—that reinforced the momentum already building in me. I wrote a few more short stories, but my real concentration from then on was poetry.
Morgan has written eight works of fiction, 14 collections of poetry and three works of historical non-fiction. He'll talk about his most recent book, "The Lions of the West: Heroes and Villains of the Westward Expansion," at 8 p.m. Wednesday at the Hilton Garden Inn, 425 Towne Center Boulevard in Pineville. Tickets are $20 for the program and $30 for a 7 p.m. reception and the program. Reservations: (704) 889-7145 or Proceeds will benefit the James K. Polk Historic Site in Pineville.