Although I have written the majority of the many articles, poems, columns, and even a book, about Lee County, Texas, where I grew up, I have actually lived in Wharton County much longer than in the County of my younger years. Having taught at Wharton County Junior College for 22 of the 54 years of being a County resident, I have lived in both Wharton and East Bernard. Always in the back of my mind during those 54 years, I had an idea for an article about the area, with the theme, “The Poetry of Wharton County.”
Now that theme has two connotations. One is to describe literally the poets, poetry, and those who love the literary arts in Wharton County; the other is to see, in a figurative sense, the pecan groves, cane brakes, splendid rivers, and other natural beauty as the “poetry” of Wharton County. The latter would sort of be like the dedication of my book of poems, Open Prairies, to the memory of my father: “not because he was a poet, or even that he liked poetry, but because his humble, gentle, kind, and caring nature was itself a beautiful poem.” So far, I’ve never written that article about Wharton County, unless this present column counts as such.
WCJC hired me to teach English in 1966 after I had taught in three different Texas high schools, and I was very thrilled to teach in a college where my colleagues loved literature as much as I did. I was surprised and felt honored to be asked to organize and sponsor a poets’ club on campus. It amazed me to discover how many young students were interested in writing poetry and joined the group, which they voted to call “The Bards of Pegasus.” In later years, another group of poets voted to change the group’s name to “The Try-Pens,” since by then we were publishing a literary magazine called “Try Magazine” (after Montaigne’s “Essai,” meaning “Try”). Eventually adults in the community wrote poems for us and supported the publication of Try. Over the years, I discovered that there were many townspeople who were poets, some even having published their own book of poems and belonged to the Texas Poetry Society. I decided that poetry was alive and well in Wharton County, and we even held poetry readings for the community.
Clarissa Northington from Egypt was one of our most avid supporters and supported the Bards of Pegasus with her presence and her financial support, meeting with us in the old, shabby barracks building, still on campus in those days. She befriended and inspired a lot of young people, and loved to listen to their poems and read her own from her book of poetry, entitled The Long White Road, which also included reproductions of some of her paintings. Many of her poems were short and simple, and reminded me a little bit of Emily Dickinson, such as this one:
Far out across the prairie,
I see a little gray house.
I wonder who lives
In the quiet place;
I withdraw into my own citadel,
And wonder . . .
Clarissa B. Northington, from The Long White Road
A good poem suggests more than it explicitly states, and “Houses” does that. The poets’ club dedicated a special issue of Try to her, because of her inspiration and faithful support.
In those 20 some years I met many Wharton County poets, many very good writers of both prose and poetry, some (unfortunately) whose names I cannot remember, some who have now published their own books. Mentioning all whose names I remember would take up more space here than I am allotted, and I would also run into the unforgiveable possibility of leaving someone out.
As I said at the beginning, Wharton County has another kind of poetry. There is the poetry of its rivers. The short San Bernard moves with its mythical music, as it sparkles in the sunlight. The mighty Colorado, roaring under the great bridge, brings fear-tinged wonderment to your heart. The pecan groves are lush with a dark mystery about them in their ancientness. The Milo fields, having golded up the roadsides from north to south, east to west, are illuminated in the blazing sun. This is the poetry of natural beauty, more exquisite to see than to read about.
Ray Spitzenberger is a retired WCJC teacher and Lutheran pastor, and has published two books, It Must Be the Noodles and Open Prairies.