A Tribute to Kathryn Stripling Byer

Kathryn Stripling Byer

Almost from the first moment you met her, Kay Byer made you feel like an old friend. Her directness and disarming frankness asked you to meet her where she was, just as she was meeting you. She titled her blog, appropriately, “Here, Where I Am”: http://kathrynstriplingbyer.blogspot.com/, a comment too on her fierce attachment to her adopted home in the mountains of western North Carolina. On her blog she featured countless writers, the sung and unsung, bringing us together in the NC literary community she had a large hand in making and sustaining. The first woman to hold the post of Poet Laureate in North Carolina, she served for two terms, and that role gave her generosity of spirit and her passion for social justice full scope. We looked to her for the poems of place, of witness, of sensuality, of joy. We looked to her for eloquent and dignified responses to political corruption and abuse of power. We looked to her for friendship and support. It was a lot to carry, and most especially in our current era of plunder and discord, but she did it with grace, humor, and heart.

Having been through the treacherous and uncertain process of cancer treatment myself, I know about the fragility of life, the vulnerability of that liminal space where everything can turn quickly. Kay supported many of us as we went through treatment with an empathy and attentiveness that became part of the healing process. None of this felt separate from nurturing us as poets and as women and men whose work mattered. I hope that she felt our love and gratitude. I hope she feels it still.

I don’t know any better way to honor Kay Byer than to keep speaking up and speaking out, writing the poems and stories that transform us, and caring for each other in the just civil society she never flinched from defending. I dedicate this issue of Cold Mountain Review to her. Thank you, Kay, for the beautiful poems and the beautiful life.