Payson Poet Finds Acclaim Invigorating



It's not easy being a poet in an era when many consider it an irrelevant art form.

But Payson resident Carrie Backe is beginning to get just enough critical acclaim for her work to reinvigorate her. And besides, there's the inner satisfaction.


Carrie Backe

"I'm just going to keep on writing poems and trying to get them published," the retired textbook editor, teacher and used bookstore owner said. "If it doesn't happen, at least I've got the satisfaction of knowing I've gotten my feelings out on paper."

Backe likes to call herself a "one-hit wonder" because most of the acclaim she has received of late is for one poem -- "A Bike at the Side of the Road."

It goes like this:

A bike is leaning

Against a tree

Partially hidden by weeds and wildflowers.

The owner must have

Ridden off the asphalt

Away from the speeding cars and trucks

The noises of life

The smells of diesel and chimneys.

He slipped away between the trees

To disappear.

No trace on the forest floor, except

The bicycle.

The farther he walked

The fainter the noise

Until the traffic disappeared.

The sun and trees played

With each other, creating

A kaleidoscope of shadow pictures.

The smells of earth and cedars

Of dampness and mold

Rose from all sides.

Thick and comforting.

He stopped once to listen.

Did he no longer hear a plane, a truck?

A shout, a curse?

No longer smell a pizza, or burning oil?

I think

He heard his own breathing,

The rustle of a chipmunk in

The leaves.

The scolding of a squirrel overhead,

The caw of a nearby jay.

I think

He walked on

To get closer to it all.

I wonder--

Will he come out?

Should I go in?

"A Bike at the Side of the Road" was named "Most Notable Entry -- Poetry" for 2002 in the Annual Literary Expose, a contest sponsored by the Peninsula Pulse, a Wisconsin newspaper. It has also been selected to appear in "Reed" magazine, the literary journal of San Jose State College.

The judges in the Wisconsin competition explained their choice:

"(The poem) opens visually like a black and white photograph, a single moment of discovering something so ordinary as a bike leaning against a tree. The poet pulls the reader in with an almost uncanny ability to tap into the mystery that threads its way through the center of the poem. We can smell the earth, the dampness and mold, hear the rustle of a chipmunk in the leaves, the scolding of a squirrel, the caw of a nearby jay, as though the biker is almost within sight.

"There is a headlong energy to this poem that keeps it moving and the reader reading. The tension in the layering of lines is well constructed, making the last stanza a finely-earned conclusion."

Backe, who was born and raised in the Chicago area, splits time between Payson and Sister Bay, Wis., where she and husband Tom -- a retired principal -- have a summer home.

The Backes bought their Payson home in 1998, after Florida proved too hot.

"We looked around -- at Prescott, Sedona. Nothing grabbed us," Backe said. "Then our kids who live in Chandler told us they heard of a place called Payson.

"Each time we came out we drove up here, and each time we stayed a little longer."

Besides her poetry, Backe keeps busy with Library Friends, putting her extensive knowledge of books to use.

"I work in the bookstore, and also do research in the back," she said. "People donate lots and lots of books and anything that looks interesting that Terry (Morris) doesn't want for the shelves goes to the back. I get on the Internet and research them.

"Most of books in the store are 50 cents or $1. Some of the nicer ones are $4. Then we have a special section called old and dear which goes up to $15.

"Anything over $15 goes on our website. Last year we sold a first edition of the first book Larry McMurtry ever wrote for $700."

Although she uses computers extensively in her research for Library Friends, Backe still writes her poems longhand.

"With that little cursor blinking and the motor running, it's like, ‘Do something, do something. I'm waiting.' I can't write like that."

Actually Backe writes most of her poems while walking or riding in a car.

"One day, early in morning, I was walking into the west with a full moon setting and the sun coming up behind me," she said. "It was all there, and before I got back home I had a five or six line poem in my head."

More important to Backe than the recognition is that people understand her poems.

"If you can get a message across in a few words and somebody can read those words and say, ‘Wow, I never thought about it that way,' then you've made some progress."

While most of her poems carry a serious message, Backe also has her lighter moments when she might even break into rhyme.

Backe believes people who don't like poetry are people who don't know it -- and that it may even be more relevant today.

"It's relatively short and people are always looking for soundbites and sidebars and things like that," she said. "Poetry is that kind of writing, only classier.

She cites the old Burma Shave progressive highway poems and their modern day counterparts as proof that poetry still has a place in our world. She even wrote one of her own:

He saw an elk,

He saw it run.

He couldn't stop,

Now they are one.


Name: Carrie Backe

Occupation: Poet

Age: Old enough to enjoy every day.

Birthplace: Chicago area

Family: Husband Tom, 6 kids, 8+ grandkids

Personal motto: Communication is the key.

Inspiration: God's beautiful world.

Greatest feat: Getting six kids through adolescence.

Favorite hobby or leisure activity: Reading, walking.

Three words that describe me best: Organized, observant, caring.

I don't want to brag but ... I have the greatest husband and we live in the greatest place.

Luxury defined: Being able to travel wherever, whenever.

Dream vacation spot: A hammock on a tropical beach.

Why Payson? Great climate, fantastic scenery, wonderful people.

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