The Hog Poems
Shelby Stephenson served as Poet Laureate of North Carolina from 2015-2018. He is Professor Emeritus, University of North Carolina-Pembroke, where he served as editor of Pembroke Magazine from 1979 until his retirement in 2010. He lives at the homeplace on Paul’s Hill, where he was born, near McGee’s Crossroads, about ten miles northwest of Benson, North Carolina.
A freezing cold winter day, a disemboweled 250-pound hog hangs over a vat of hot water in the farmyard. The carcass will be scalded and scraped clean. A few neighbors have come to help and the women are already cleaning the chitterlings that will encase the sausage made from meat scraps.
Making sausage was my favorite part of the day. After the meat has been ground, then comes the seasoning: salt, red pepper, and sage from a nearby bush. The women mix it, then fry up a few “try pieces.” “Needs more salt,” one woman will say. “More pepper,” says another. “You need a little more heat in there.” The samples are passed around to get everyone’s opinion – even a child’s if I’m lucky because with so much going on, I’ve long since run off my lunch.
In Shelby’s Lady: The Hog Poems, Shelby Stephenson has captured all the hard and often dirty work that goes into prepping and preserving a slaughtered pig before refrigerators were common. I remember salting the hams, drying the links of sausage or rendering the fat for lard. Shelby shows us again a way of life that has almost completely disappeared.
—Margaret Maron, North Carolina Literary Hall of Fame
Poet and singer, minstrel of hog-killing and connoisseur of barbecue, memoirist of affectionately named hogs, of family, work, and love – Shelby is a storyteller who can touch you like a sad Carter Family lyric or an old gospel song.
—Robert Morgan, author of Dark Energy
There’s a gentle presence in Shelby’s poems, a crowd of the dead and gone who urge the poet into a wise exploration of the complex relationship of life to art.
—Stephen E. Smith, author of A Short Report on the Fire at Woolworths
These poems ache with remembrance, shimmer with possibilities, and somehow teach us not only about rural life in Stephenson’s North Carolina childhood, but also the larger truths of human connections to one another, to the land, and to the animals that live and work alongside us.
—Malaika King Albrecht, editor of Redheaded Stepchild and inaugural Heart of Pamlico Poet Laureate
Stephenson’s rhapsody, episodic with agony and joy, inspires with the beauty of pigs while celebrating barbecue in a world that “never tires of love.”
—Hilda Downer, author of Bandana Creek and Sky Under the Roof
This book sings, and wallows, and hollers, and then coos like a mourning dove. The poems take you to where they took place.
—Clyde Edgerton, author of Papadaddy’s Book for New Fathers