Southern Scribe
       our culture of storytelling

 

Featured Poet     

 

      

        Frances Brinkley Cowden:
        Grandmother Earth
         
          by Robert L. Hall
 

What does a great supporter of writers and the writing profession look like?  You are looking at one right now.

Practically an institution in Memphis, Tennessee, where she resides, Frances Brinkley Cowden is editor of Grandmother Earth and Life Press, a small publishing company that she founded in 1993.  Local poets praise her and Christian writers adore her.   

As editor/publisher of Grandmother Earth and Life Press, she has done the layouts for 15 books and numerous other promotional projects.  She has conducted writers’ conferences for the past three years.

Frances is author of several poetry books including View from a Mississippi River Cotton Sack, Etchings across the Moon and Of Butterflies and Unicorns.  She edited Voices International, a quarterly literary magazine for three years when she lived in Piggott, Arkansas. She has published and edited an annual literary magazine, Grandmother Earth, for seven years; and has edited two collections of children’s writings, To Love a Whale and Windows to the World. Other collections she edited include: Our Golden Thread, Toward Imagery and Form, and Angels: Messengers of Love and Grace.  

Cowden is back teaching art in Memphis City Schools after over five years of retirement.  During those years she built her publishing company and worked with The Memphis Arts Council teaching creative writing in Memphis area schools.  She has taught English and Art and is a Career Ladder III teacher.

Cowden has served on the board of the following and was President of all but one and served as newsletter editor of PST and NLAPW (Chickasaw Branch) for over ten years in each organization: The Poetry Society of Tennessee, Memphis City School Art Teachers Association, National League of American Pen Women (arts and letters member), Memphis Association of Craft Artists.  She served as local and district officer of the United Methodist Women and taught Bible studies in her church. In 1989, she was named Poet Laureate of the Poetry Society of Tennessee.  1999--Named Honorary Member of the Poetry Society of Tennessee. 1999--Woodlawn Award for Excellence in Poetry given by the Cookeville Creative Writers Association to one poet each year.  2000-- Purple Iris Award given to a business women for contributions to the community by the National Organization of Business Women in Memphis and Her Business News and other Memphis Businesses. She was featured as one of 50 ‘Women Who Make a Difference’ by Memphis Woman Magazine in the July, 2001 issue.  She has won state, regional and national awards in poetry, including the Louisiana Award in 1999 given by the National Federation of State Poetry Societies. Her work has been published in a variety of literary magazines and anthologies.  She was born on June 30, 1939 in Mississippi County, Arkansas, is married to Coy Dean Cowden.  The mother of four children, she has three sons who have businesses in the Memphis area and a daughter who is an attorney.  There are 25 grandchildren. She and her husband are members of Colonial Park United Methodist Church.

 

WATERMELON TREASURE
 
I cannot wait for summer sun to bring
Sweet fruit that melts much faster than I eat.
Even the birds echo our thoughts and sing.
"Eat watermelon to forget the heat."
Ruby crimson like sun captured
just before sunset and held with a green leaf--
Some rot upon the vine in summertime,
Although we eat as much as we can hold.
If we are thoughtful, we preserve the rind
To capture bites of summer for the cold.
Grandma's hot biscuits smeared with
savory preserves make me forget the snow outside.
We cannot choose the season or the day;
There is a time for melon--time for snow—
We taste sunshine; and when it goes away,
We share its sweet remains and hope to grow.
I miss my grandma's loving touch
but I kiss my grandson and smile inside and out.
We treasure seasons so that we may learn
Seeds can be planted; melons will return.
 
Frances Brinkley Cowden, Memphis, Tennessee
Printed in Tennessee Voices, 1999

 

Frances, I understand that you are a great promoter of writing talent in the area,
with poetry, religious non-fiction, and even a sponsored writer's
conference that you host once a year. What led you to support local writers
in this way?

It has been an evolving thing. I have volunteers who help me. They include Patricia Smith, who is Editor of Grandmother Earth and Frances Darby, who is the Editorial Assistant.  We are basically non-profit though not legally. The writer’s conference started when I attended a Christian Writers Conference that was way too expensive.  I figured I knew people that could put on an event that was less expensive and more rewarding.


Please tell us about your Grandmother Earth poetry, printed every year.  I know that poets in the Mid-South wait for it breathlessly every year.

You can also get information on the web. If you have a question that needs to be addressed on the web, let me know.  A copy can be ordered on the site.


What do you try to do in your annual writer's conference?

We have good workshops, a chance for individual critique and fellowship. We have a national contest and a contest that is open only for those who are attending the conference.  This includes a newcomer’s award.  New writers have a chance to talk to published writers.  The keynote address is a highlight.  It includes someone who has published nationally.  The first year it was Phyllis Tickle.  Often it is a minister who has published a book. So far, everyone has been pleased and inspired.

Why don’t you come?  It is August 4th at Colonial Park United Methodist Church, 8:30am–4pm.
 
Thank you for the invitation.  I will attend.  You are originally from Arkansas? What about your upbringing do you think makes you want to write, or influences your style?

I am from Mississippi County, Arkansas and graduated from Wilson High School and Arkansas State University.  I wrote much about my childhood in View from a Mississippi River Cotton Sack. I used to sit on my partially filled cotton sack and make up stories. I had to work in the fields as a child. This was before the cotton picker and right at the end of the time when farm labor was expected of all rural children.  I also had a place in the attic where I wrote stories when I could escape there. I was the oldest of six children and I had to find a hiding place to hear myself think.

 

Eve’s Fruit
 
It was Eve’s fault
So Adam said—
But faithful men
Can’t be mislead.
 
Haiku
 
Butterfly with wings
Like paintings lights on blossoms
Bringing rainbow spring.


 

Daddy’s Girl
I never considered myself Daddy’s girl—        
I was just one of four,
the one that was always in trouble.  
After my grandma died I saw her                             
in every white-haired woman in a crowd.    
But I never see Daddy.
His bald head will never catch me unaware.
Only in photographs on my wall and in my albums,
loose in my drawers, in boxes.
He was not a person to put in boxes, no easy definition.
I know he loved me yet his way of showing
it was so different from what I read in books
which he never read
he said because of his eyes.
I’ve heard him sit around
and laugh telling stories and teasing
like he was a lot of fun to know.
I ate the fatten calf and
all these years I’ve eaten the fruit from his gardens.
After his funeral
I came home and ate a raw turnip
from his last patch.
I never see him in crowds—
crowds look empty like farmers waiting
for the drought to end.  Rain does come at last,
but Daddy’s face is only on the walls. And I never knew how
empty his arm chair would be.

First Place, Mid-South Poetry Festival, 2000, Forthcoming in Tennessee Voices

 

I read an article on the Internet that was posted in reference a tragic accident you were involved in, where a boy on a motorcycle struck your car and was killed. You wrote an inspiring book about the incident. Please share a bit of that, if you can? 

You are referring to Our Golden Thread.  I felt very led to compile a book about grief. I asked people from all walks of life to contribute and received entries from professional writers as well as people in my church. All of this time, about four years, I was not sure what I would write about since I had all of my immediate family including Mother, Father, and all five brothers and sisters and their families. I had lost my grandmother who had been a lifelong inspiration.  I thought that would be my only contribution to the book until God underlined II Corinthians 4:4 ...

"In whom the god of this world hat blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” 

I then realized that I had been in denial about the grief of dealing with the accident and the death.  I had let that grief deny me joy for over thirty years.
 
As an editor, how do you decide which works are published through your auspices and which ones are not?

Since we have limited resources, we only publish those works that connect to the themes we are trying to promote. We publish the prize-winning work in our national contest and then choose from the other finalist those poems and prose pieces, which represent what we consider to be the best.

What project are you excited about working on presently?

I have been working on a book about prayer, Person to Person to God, which is similar to Our Golden Thread in that there will be a variety of contributors.  I will have more of my own writing in this book. Prayer is a very difficult topic to write about, but so important.

What do you see as the future for your site and yourself in particular?  

I am back into teaching junior high art for about three years so there is no telling what might happen.  I will have less time, but more money to devote to literary endeavors.
 
Please name several exciting authors/poets in the Memphis are that you want us
to know about and samples of their work.
 

I would hate to start naming writers, I am afraid I would leave too many out.  The writers listed on my life press brochure, of course.  Malra Treece and Russell Strauss are two that should be noted.  You will see sample of their work in every issue of Grandmother Earth. Rosemary Stephens is another local poet whose work attracts the attention of Judges.


You can order any of Mrs. Cowden’s works and those of other Mid-South writers on her webpage at: www.grandmotherearth.com

Contact Frances Brinkley Cowden at  grmearth@gateway.net


© 2001 Robert L. Hall, All Rights Reserved