Saturday, May 30, 2009

For those of you who don't know, this venerable gentleman is John Quinnett (click on the photo), an aging flower child from California who ended up in these "storied mountains" in the '70's where he sought employment as a bookmobile driver for Fontana Regional Library and, eventually, as a social worker for the Cherokees. He married a local girl and carved himself a niche in the town of Bryson City where he is recognized as a self-made guru, eccentric, storyteller and poet. He isn't interested in literary organizations and rarely participates in them (except as an amused observer). However, he is an accomplished poet and goes quietly about the business translating his experience into cunningly crafted verse modeled after the Japanese haiku and its variations.

Quinnett has been my friend for some forty years now and has been present at most of the disastrous, tragic and joyful events in my life. He has repeatedly attended performances of my plays, provided support when I had by-pass surgery, visited me in the crisis center when I "lost it" for a while, and sat before my TV while we watched (and argued about) hundreds of movies. Last night, he, Jim Cox and I watched Mickey Rourke in "The Wrestler," a movie that provoked a three-hour discussion about writing, the dangers of technology, Cherokee culture and DNA, loneliness and the darkness in the human heart. It was a lot of fun.

It seems altogether fitting that I should finally use the meager resources of my blog to showcase John Quinnett's poetry (which he quietly publishes in national haiku quarterly and journals on a regular basis). Take a moment then, and read each of the following. Then, read them again.

last rites spoken
the preacher
zips up his bible

adrift on the pond
she lets the moon trail
through her fingers

more news of the war
looking deeper
into my dog's eyes

autumn rain
news of his death

first kiss
their noses don't know
which way to go

"credit or debit"
the clerk speaks to me
in frog

walking each other
the old man and his dog
on the same leash

slow rising mist
my first morning
of retirement

white roses
in a cut-glass vase
first night of frost

whisper of leaves
how tender the light
through the pup's ear

stepping outside
to empty my bladder
full moon

child in the backseat
the moon follows
her home

releasing the trout
a part of myself
swims away free

And here are some tanka:

a flower child
gone to seed,
that's me...
I dig up some bulbs
to give to a friend

on the porch
snapping green beans
for supper...
granny's gnarled hands
and swollen knuckles

slowing down
I allow the squirrel
to decide:
when to zig
when to zag

spring Harley rally...
the bumblebees are back
roaring among
the tender white blossoms
of my apple tree

dividing the bulbs
father sent me long ago...
he warned me
there'd be fewer blooms
with each passing year

the old stray
would rather be petted
than eat -
I extend my hand
before filling his bowl

a train whistle
echoes through the hills
first one hound
then another
and another

I'll throw in a couple of longer short poems, as well:


Growing old in these hills
I have lost all memory
Of youth. It matters not.
Though its branches be gnarled
The tree dreams new leaves
Into being each spring.
We live not for the for the past
But for this green moment.


In the clearing, brambles now,
A blue tangle of thorns.
Tilted against the hillside
Only the chimney remains,
A headstone
Marking the site.
Daffodils bloom unseen.
The creek trickles
Like a faucet left running.
There is no one home.
The folks have up & gone.
Long ago
Long ago
I hear the branches
Singing in the wind.


When Jimmy came home from the war
his hair was streaked with grey
and nightmares haunted his sleep.
We kept waiting for him
to pick up his twelve-string guitar
but the music inside had died.
Or maybe he was just afraid
it would hurt too much to play.
Instead, he took to sketching
the tortured faces of Vietnamese
peasants he'd seen overseas.
The sketches all came out looking
like portraits of himself.
This helped. Still it has taken him
years to find his way out
of those jungles where he was lost.
Of course the Jimmy we knew
never returned. Not the boy.
We would never see the boy again.


  1. Wow! These are wonderful -- exactly in the Japanese spirit but very much of these mountains.

    '...she lets the moon trail through her fingers ... this green moment . . . Jimmy . . . Wow!

    Thanks, Gary, for the introduction!

  2. These are wonderful, John, and inspiring, and even better on second and third reading.

    By the way, because of your philosophical and inspirational enthusiasm about gardening last year, I beefed up my garden this year, and I even bought plastic chairs at Wal-Mart to place here and there "for reflection" (your stated purpose!) amongst my squash (4 kinds), tomatoes (2 heirooms), fennel, peppers (3 varieties), kale, cucumbers (2 kinds), leeks, and garlic. I now find myself resting and reflecting out there in the garden more than on my deck. Sometimes the short view is more satisfying than the long view.

  3. Great to see John's poetry again. And to see John looking like himself in the photo! I love "looking into my dog's eyes. Oh yes.

  4. I really like " Passing By An Old Home place"
    and "Jimmy " reminds me very much of my husband Eric who is a Vietnam Vet. Great work!
    Thanks Gary for the heads up!

  5. Thanks for sharing John's poetry. Passing by an old Homeplace is a reminder of many I've seen in my life, nothing but the chimney left.
    Has John published a book of poems? If these are samples of his work, I'm sure I'd love to have a collection.

  6. I was at an event recently where I suffered through an unhealthy dose of what Jonathan Williams called "McPoetry." Pretty depressing stuff.

    In contrast, these intuitive expressions of humanity feel absolutely necessary. John's poems say just what should be said, or what asks to be said, or capture an resonant moment with a small net of words. How do you write about good poetry anyway? I can't do it. I almost think we shouldn't try, but just grab others and say look, look at this. I wish I had a large book full of John's poems. I would carry it everywhere.

    Thanks for this, Gary. Your blog is Aces.

  7. John, thanks for sharing your poetry. It is exquisite and Neal is right, put it in a book and share with everyone. Looking forward to our next meeting.
    ben f. eller

  8. Hey,
    These zen beauties are a real treat. I especially like the credit debit frog.
    Keep it up John.

  9. "A flower child gone to seed" eh. That's a good one John. I won't comment on whether it's apropos or not however! Seriously though, I've caught myself thinking of your "speaking in frog" line more than once standing at various checkout counters. By the way, it was interesting that Kathryn Stripling Byer immediately understood the haiku about "looking into my dogs eyes" when you had to explain that to the rest of us. I guess that's why she's the poet laureate of NC. Duh! Beautiful images throughout. By the way, I keep all the pieces you've read over the past several years at Mountain Voices in a binder in my writing room.

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