Library Friends to launch Barbara Presnell’s new poetry book

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 11, 2016

The Friends of the Lexington Library will celebrate the release of award-winning poet Barbara Presnell’s newest book, “Blue Star,” with a launch party on Sunday, Sept. 18.

Presnell, a Lexington resident and former Catawba College English professor, will read from the new volume, which collects 48 poems describing 150 years of war and its impact on her family. She will also present a slide show and autograph book copies.

The event, at 2 p.m. at the library, 602 S. Main St. in Lexington, is free and open to the public.

“Blue Star,” published by Press 53 in Winston-Salem, is Presnell’s fifth poetry book. Two previous collections, “Snake Dreams” in 1995 and “Unravelings” in 1999, won prizes from the N.C. Poetry Society and the Poetry Council of North Carolina, respectively, as the best books of poetry published in the state in those years.

The new book’s title refers to the stars that families hang from banners in their windows when a son or daughter is in military service. The cover page features a painting by Lee Hall, a Lexington-born artist who exhibited in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s in New York and who now lives and continues to create in New England.

According to a fellow poet who read drafts during the editing process, “Blue Star” demonstrates Presnell’s talent for telling stories through poems, “her passion about family, her curiosity about history and her ability to research the truth, in a way that touches anyone who has ever wondered about the secrets that made up one’s life journey.”

The book is about battlefront and home front, about parents’ fears for children in military service, about children searching for parents altered by war. Inspiration came partly from a 2015 trip Presnell and her siblings made across Europe tracing the World War II footsteps of their father, an Army sergeant who died young.

Chronologically, the collection begins with the Civil War and the struggle of Presnell’s Quaker ancestors in Randolph County, because of their religious beliefs, to decide whether to fight. It continues with the combat of her grandfather, father and uncles in World Wars I and II.  And it culminates with her fervent wish, during the more recent wars of the Middle East, that her son “will never see a battlefield.”

The poetry is documented with military and census records, letters, journals and other artifacts, some of which are presented in Presnell’s slide show.

Presnell teaches writing at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and writes a bimonthly column for The Dispatch newspaper in Lexington.