'Possum': Shelby Stephenson's little book of poetry
By Scott Bigelow
grew up with possums," Shelby Stephenson said of the title and
the hero of his latest book of poetry. "We hunted possum, and we
"Possum," a chapbook or little book by the UNC Pembroke
English professor, was published in August by Bright Hill Press of Treadwell,
N.Y. It is a poetic ode to the lowly critter.
"There is a little possum in all of us, and I've fallen in love
with them," Dr. Stephenson said. "They are astonishing and
adorable things, I've found."
There are no possum jokes in Dr. Stephenson's tribute to North America's
"This is a serious possum," he said. "I did not want
any jokes at poor possum's expense."
As North Carolina's Poet Laureate Fred Chappell wrote of "Possum,"
"At every turn, possum the animal and 'Possum' the chapbook invite
allegorical, symbolic and emblematic readings that the critter and the
Besides its quirky physical attributes and unusual survival instincts,
Dr. Stephenson said the possum is a survivor and a living witness to
the rise of mankind, suburbs and all.
"The possum has seen it all," he said. "I was born
in a plank house on a dirt road, and we were more involved with animals.
That world is gone."
Dr. Stephenson wrote "Possum" over a period of "a year
or two," he said. The series of poems represents a complete story.
"I wrote this all at one time," he said. "It is a complete
story with a beginning and an end."
The poems were submitted to the annual Bright Hill Chapbook Poetry
Contest and won first prize that included publication of the little
"Bright Hill is a wonderful little success story, and they did
a great job with the book," Dr. Stephenson said.
Several of Dr. Stephenson's chapbooks of poetry are in print, including
"Fiddledeedee," "Middle Creek Poems," "Carolina
Shout," "The Persimmon Tree Carol," "Finch's Mash"
and Poor People."
On UNCP's faculty since 1979, Dr. Stephenson has edited the literary
journal Pembroke Magazine for 25 years. He is also a recipient of the
UNC Board of Governor's Award for Teaching Excellence.
"Possum" may be purchased online at www.brighthillpress.org.
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