Pierce Freelon

The Penland-Inspired Poetry of Pierce Freelon

Pierce Freelon, musician, educator, poet, and activist, performed a specially-commissioned series of spoken-word pieces at the 26th annual benefit auction on August 13, 2011. In preparation, he spent a few days at Penland in June, exploring the studios, meeting students and staff, and taking in the mission and atmosphere of the place. He did quite a bit of writing as well, completing several of the poems during that stay.


The performance itself was a great success, earning a standing ovation and opening the Saturday live auction with a spirit of generosity and excitement.





The Conductor

*inspired by the upper and lower metals studios and the iron studio


click bang klank
click click bang klank

click bang klank
click click bang klank


music to my ears
welding melodies
with methodical precision
these musicians wield metallic instruments
sculpting copper and silver
like a classical composer
students write steel symphonies
and metal is the conductor


slamming hammers into anvils
like xylophones creating notes and tones
that send chills through my bones


I feel like I'm in a jazz club
during the Harlem Renaissance
artists are all around me
improvising, collaborating and synthesizing
connected like the links in a chain
breathing life into brass like Coltrane


but instead of blowing saxophones
they hammer notes out of cold stones
older than pterodactyl bones 


creating jewels of various hues
I've watched them bend wires
like guitar strings singing The Blues
with a pick and metal pliers
I'm inspired by the love
it seems blacksmiths have
just a little more iron in their blood


whether you design rings that
look like they were meant for Mayan kings
or melt metal into golden streams
as architectural structures
emerge from your dreams

I love to listen when your hammer


click bang klank
click click bang klank


how does one grow glass flowers?


how does one grow glass flowers?
it starts with an idea
when a seed is planted 
within you and grows like a weed
waiting to blossom in the sunlight


glass flowers are born 
of the same soil that produces all flora
you nourish the sand with a blow torch
much like the suns rays
and watch while heat waves
transform energy like photosynthesis
blowing glass like trumpets for royal empresses
two lips breathe life into crystal tulips
and the seeds of inspiration reach fruition 


dragons are not fantasy
they live and breathe fire in glass studios
with lungs full of hot coals
these young artisans blow
I've watched flowers glow
like a molten hot rose


and though I petal prose
and spit piping hot lyrics 
and blistering flows 
I still stand in awe of the beauty enclosed
in a glass flower


African Seamstress

*inspired by Penland’s upper and lower textiles studios and my grandmother, the late Queen Mother Frances Pierce


I'm comfortable in my own skin
because my grandmother was an African seamstress
she stretched cinnamon fabrics over my bamboo bones
wrapped me in bronze flesh hemmed in crimson
stitched the finest traditions into my linens
I wear her heritage with border line arrogance


wrapped in ceremonial African melanin
I'd stand as silent as a mannequin
starring as my grandmothers hands
plucked the strings of her loom like a mandolin


her womb must have been full of beautiful fabrics
because my mother resembles a quilt
hair of wool stitched into black silken skin
with a cotton white smile
Queen Mother was a master of textiles


four brown grand-babies busting at the seams
she bundled us in her kente cloth
and carried us around with her wherever she went
threading us through flea markets and festivals and venues
she would then use
those experiences to deepen our hues


saturate us in madder so we could know our roots
and emerge from our burgundy baptism
ready to tailor our dreams
and adorn the world


like an African seamstress


watch the thrown

*inspired by the upper and lower clay studios at Penland School of Crafts


for thousands of years human beings have thrown things
ancient Greek Olympians threw javelin and discus
we throw coins into fountains
frisbees and fishing lines
I teach at UNC where students throw parties 
and people drink until they throw up
while watching athletes throw footballs


but here at Penland
when I first walked into upper clay
I felt as if I were in a middle school cafeteria 
students sat at their desks 
fists full of what looked like mashed potatoes 
ready to throw with reckless abandon
I felt the overwhelming urge to duck


one man sitting on a clay caked stool
told me that when his wife 
gets really mad at him she throws things
all different types of things 
she throws plates 
she throws cups bowls and vases
whatever she can get her hands on
but this is not domestic violence, see
this is domestic vibrancy


my friend Bobby Kadis told me 
he likes to throw things too
he throws sculptures and pots and mugs
until his fingernails are stuffed with clay
like God's fingernails must have been
when she first sculpted her son Adam from the dust


in throwing classes
two hands and an open mind can transform the Earth
literally transforming the earth beneath our feet
by rotating it 360 degrees on a wheel 
much like the Earth's axis - what power


the Blue Ridge Mountains 
remind me of Mount Olympus
I've watched apprentices of Zeus 
burrow through boulders 
and throw from their thrones
they eat dinner off tectonic plates 
carving fault lines into the Earth's crust 
they serve us a slice of life
fresh from the furnace 
glazed and burnished


one man told me he quit his job as a banker
exchanged earning pay and owning stocks
so he could mold clay and throw pots
his latest piece is a gravestone 
he sealed his past life in a ceramic sarcophagus
and ascended from the kiln 
like a clay phoenix 
ready to exhume his soul from its tomb 


free from his porcelain prison
he scaled the Appalachians 
to study under a sage emperor 
and learn how to produce China 
like a terra cotta warrior
he dug into the experience 
and now shapes and molds his own destiny 


years later he appreciates the ability to throw
having thrown himself into the experience at Penland