By Jim Buice
The Clemmons Courier
Lewisville’s Terri Erickson has always liked writing poetry, but for most of her life, it was something she enjoyed privately —more like a hobby.
Not anymore. Having a daughter grow up and leave home, and attending a poetry reading at Salem College in 2005 changed that.
“I had the empty nest thing that all parents go through when their children leave home,” Erickson said. “Then I went to a poetry reading with a friend and was so moved and motivated with what I heard.”
So she got busy amassing poems and self-published her first book, “Thread Count” in 2006. Since then, she has added two more poetry collections published by Press 53 — “Telling Tales of Dusk” in 2009 and “In the Palms of Angels” in 2011 — along with numerous honors and awards.
Most recently, she received Honorable Mention in a contest regarding the Mayan calendar end-of-world prophesy for her poem, “The End of Time,” and was named the 2013 Leidig Keynote Poet for Emory & Henry College.
“I’ve come a really long way in a short period of time,” Erickson said.
She remembers writing poetry as a young girl but never dreamed at that time of having an audience.
“I started writing poetry in elementary school and kept it up as a teenager with diary-like poetry,” Erickson said. “It was nothing really to share with other people. And I’ve written poetry over the years for occasions like presents for people, but I never tried to necessarily become a published poet.”
Until that night when she went to the poetry reading…
“I thought to myself that this is really what I want to be doing,” she said. “I would love to have this life to able to write my poetry and get it published.”
Erickson decided not to send her first collection to a publisher.
“I thought it would primarily be just family members and friends, but the book did well and sold hundred of copies,” she said of “Thread Count.” “As a result of that book, I was invited to teach a poetry class at Salem College for adult students.”
That was just the start. A story was written about her in the Winston-Salem Journal, and she had magazine interviews and a spot on WFDD’s popular National Public Radio (NPR) program.
As she considered the next step in her budding career as a published poet, she contacted Kevin Watson of Press 53 and sent him some of her work.
“He contacted me and said he really liked my work and wanted to meet with me,” Erickson said. “That was a terrific moment. He said he thought my poetry was really strong and talked to me about sending my work out to literary journals and building my resume. And he said, ‘When you have another manuscript together, I’d love to see it.’ That was wonderful motivation.”
She followed his advice and was published in many journals. And when her second manuscript was intact, Erickson sent “Telling Tales of Dusk” to Press 53 to be published.
That book drew the attention of Sharon Randall, a nationally syndicated columnist for Scripps Howard News Service. Randall ended up including the book with a three other novels in a column she wrote on “four best reads.” Erickson’s book immediately shot up to No. 8 on Amazon and was ultimately No. 23 on the Poetry Foundation Contemporary Best Sellers List in 2010.
She followed that up with her latest, “In the Palms of Angels,” which won a Nautilus Silver Award and the Gold Medal for Poetry in the Next Generation Indie Book Awards.
All three of her book covers have been done by her uncle, Stephen White.
“He is a very well-known artist in North Carolina and the United States,” she said. “His work is beautiful and amazing. Talk about curb appeal…”
A new poem, “At the Bowling Alley,” was one of 20 poems chosen (from 2,000 worldwide submissions) to be in the 2013 Poet’s Market, and she is excited about having one of her poems included in former U.S. Poet Laureate Ted Kooser’s American Life in Poetry column.
“That’s a tremendous honor to have one of my pieces in his column,” she said. “He is my favorite poet.”
In a short time, Erickson has drawn the attention of many accomplished poets and writers along with those looking for a good read.
She covers many topics in her poetry, many based on childhood memories and family connections. Consider the titles on some of her poems: “Wedding Days,” “How to Sing the Blues,” “At the Drive-in,” and “Shrimp Boat Captain.”
On the Press 53 Web site, Judy Lowe of The Christian Science Monitor writes: “In her poems, Terri Kirby Erickson sketches vivid and appealing word pictures that lodge in the reader’s mind.”
And there’s this from Scott Owens, editor of The Wild Goose Poetry Review: “Whether writing about butter mints, the daisy chain of a group of daughters locked arm in arm, or a man burying his dead wife, Terri Kirby Erickson’s poems have the characteristics we all strive for in our poetry.”
Erickson grew up in Winston-Salem and graduated from Reynolds High before heading to Appalachian State, where she was in the Honor’s English program. However, she had to drop out of school in her sophomore year because of her battle with Crohn’s disease but later went to Winston-Salem State as an adult and graduated with a double major in English Literature and Communications.
She has lived in Lewisville for 20 years with her husband, Leonard, and is the mother of a grown daughter, Gia.
Now 54, Erickson looks forward to producing a fourth book, probably in 2014.
“Poetry for me, I don’t want to say it’s an outlet,” she said. “It’s a way for me to communicate in a meaningful way. People who read my work, and from the letters I’ve gotten, writing poetry is almost like a service. I’m always happier when I’m doing something for someone else. When you focus on what you can give, that’s really the secret to happiness.”
Erickson’s work is available through Amazon, Press 53 and local bookstores. For more about Erickson, visit terrikirbyerickson.wordpress.com