On a warm Monday morning this summer, Shelby Stephenson is in his office writing a poem about air conditioning, which is not working in the Dial Building at UNC Pembroke.
Stephenson, a member of the English Department since 1978, is teaching this summer and staying busy with several projects.
"I write best when I'm busy. It's a habit with me," Stephenson explains. "I write a little something every day. Most of it I throw away."
Two of Professor Stephenson's creations were published this summer, including Pembroke Magazine No. 33. It is Stephenson's 23rd edition as editor of the revered literary magazine.
No. 33 features Lee Smith, a North Carolina writer with 10 books to her credit.
Also published this summer is Stephenson's book-length poem, "Fiddledeedee" (The Bunny and Crocodile Press; Washington DC; 2001; 76 pages). It is a reminiscence of the meaning of home.
Years ago at the beginning of his writing career, Stephenson's work was described by his friend and fellow North Carolina poet A.R. Ammons as "gutsy North Carolina poems."
Nothing has changed except Stephenson has added a few gray hairs and his singing has improved. His poetry, which is deeply rooted in the sandy coastal plains soil of North Carolina, is as strong as ever.
This sample is from "Fiddledeedee:"
"…and I am leaving to seek new fortunes in the fortuitous faddle with feeling fiddling sweet strains seeking you seeking me,
looking back darling, to see if you are looking back to see, calling my name, the old perceptions laid low, gone over the years
to the shallows, the depth-finders, all the way to the homing ruin of runs rampant in the boxscores, the old families dying out…"
"I still don't know what poetry is, but neither does anybody else," Stephenson said. "Nobody has a monopoly on it."
Before his death in February, his friend Ammons wrote of the poem: "I am very moved by 'Fiddledeedee,' by the accumulating strength of its forward movement as well as by telling details, of the natural and spiritual world."
"Fiddledeedee" is the 8th volume of poetry Prof. Stephenson has published. His 23rd Pembroke Magazine is dedicated to Ammons.
UNCP's literary journal is dedicated to writers new and established. It is dedicated to the art of writing in all forms.
"It is a labor of love," Stephenson has often said. "Journals like this are where writers first publish, so there is a special place in the world for these little magazines."
Pembroke Magazine is not so little at 376 pages although Stephenson put it on a diet after the 449-page No. 32. The journal is also a marvel of longevity.
"I read somewhere that the average life of a literary journal is seven years," he said.
Stephenson came to UNCP in 1978 and assumed the role of editor shortle thereafter. His long-time managing editor Fran Oxendine retired form the English Department last spring.
"Fran was central to this project," he said. "It's a little magazine that takes a lot of work."
The magazine is also a source of great pride for both the university and its editor. Stephenson thumbs through No. 33 searching out gems.
"There is a good piece in here by Lumberton poet Julia Wilkerson Burns," he notes. "John Judson has a wonderful story entitled "The Swamp, 1936."
UNCP writers are also well represented, including English professors Richard Vela, Jesse Peters, Nancy Barrineau, Grace Gibson and Stephenson. Already in the works, No. 34 will feature Lumberton born novelist Jill McCorkle.
For information or to obtain a copy of Pembroke Magazine, call 910.521.6358 or visit www.uncp.edu/pembrokemagazine. For a copy of "Fiddledeedee," orders may be sent to P.O. Box 1223; Benson, N.C. 27504.