Karen Paul Holmes
I’ve been luckily enough to study with Thomas Lux, Dorriane Laux, Joseph Millar, Carol Ann Duffy (Poet Laureate of Great Britain), and others. And because I’m somewhat of a workshop and open mic junkie, I started a monthly critique group in Atlanta and a writers' night out in the Blue Ridge Mountains. I’m also lucky that my poetry collection, Untying the Knot (Aldrich Press, 2014) has been called “a courageous, deeply human book” and my poems have appeared in Atlanta Review, Poetry East, Atticus Review, The Southern Poetry Anthology V: Georgia (Texas Review Press), and many other places.
Teaching Mozart in Stone Mountain Prison
I didn’t know what crimes they committed,
didn’t want to: those 12 guys glaring at me,
wondering what I had in store.
No female had taught there before
so I wore a calf-length, shapeless dress;
no make up; tortoise shell glasses instead of contacts.
Twice a week, iron gates banged behind me,
paperwork shuffled, an armed guard took me down
a warren of halls. He stationed himself by my door.
I needn’t have worried—soon knew, just as told,
if one prisoner caused trouble, he’d be jumped
by the others grateful for the chance of a college degree.
This was music appreciation. None knew the classics,
but one had played William Tell Overture in band.
All began to embrace opera, symphony, sonata—
I think the music transported them, comforted
even as they struggled to study in noisy rows of bunks.
One evaluation stays with me 30 years later,
Thanks be to God for blessing us with Mrs. Holmes.
But I felt blessed early in the semester:
We arrived at Mozart Piano Concerto Number 21.
Their books covered just the first movement, yet
I left the record playing into the second, saying,
You’ve got to hear a bit of the andante.
Muted violins conjured the ethereal melody while
repeated notes in the violas mesmerized.
After the pianist took up the solo for several bars,
I reached out to lift the needle... Twelve students
—no longer thief, mugger, murderer—
sang out in unison, No, leave it on!
First appeared in POEM, November 2013
CLICK HERE TO HEAR Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 21
©2016 Karen Paul Holmes