HUNTERSVILLE – Something about the inherent beauty of horses captured Ann Campanella’s young imagination, and eventually, found a way into her poetry.
A 1982 graduate of Davidson College, Campanella recalls having her heart set on attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill until her minister sent her a news clipping about someone donating a few horses to Davidson.
Deciding that she wanted to take care of those horses at the school’s lake campus and teach neighborhood children to ride in the summers was easy. Deciding what to study proved more frustrating.
Campanella said she “went through every single subject and checked it off,” including sociology, psychology, biology and history, before zeroing in on English.
“My grandmother used to fall asleep reading to my brothers and me. And I wrote my first poem in the first grade, something like ‘a car bumped into a jar, and it didn’t go very far,’” she said. “Didn’t I have a clue I should be an English major?”
Campanella’s mother, Elizabeth Williams, was a newspaper writer and encouraged her daughter’s literary spirit by delivering big stacks of library books to her bedside.
Fun literary romps turned into challenging analysis classes, and later, a career in writing.
After marrying a fellow alumnus, Joel, Campanella spent a year and a half writing for magazines in Atlanta before editing three weekly newspapers, and later a daily, in Houston.
“The last year of editing a daily paper plum wore me out,” she said. “I couldn’t keep up with the pace. Journalism wasn’t in my blood.”
Campanella turned instead to poetry and wrote four published collections, “Outrunning the Rain,” “What Flies Away,” “Young & Ripe” and “Riding Out: Poems of Grief and Redemption.”
In 1999, she won the North Carolina Poet Laureate award through the N.C. Poetry Society for “The Chase,” a poem about her mother’s descent into Alzheimer’s disease. The society runs an annual contest, with one poet selected by the state’s Poet Laureate, in Campanella’s case, Fred Chappell.
The Poet Laureate position lasts for two years and is run by the N.C. Arts Council. Governors appoint laureates, who become “an ambassador of N.C. literature,” participating in various literary activities during their term.
Lightning struck again for Campanella in 2001, when her poem “How to Grieve,” one she wrote about carefully approaching a horse in a pasture, won the same honor.
These days, Campanella’s penning a memoir called “The Long Ride Home.” It will explore how she dealt with her mother’s diagnosis while simultaneously contemplating motherhood.
She enjoys life on a quiet horse farm just 15 minutes from her alma mater. Yet her house, high atop a hill with its glass windows looking out upon woods, a barn and a serpentine, dark fence, feels worlds away from campus life.
“I’ve always been a deep thinker, but not a fast talker, so writing gives me the time to think and compose things into words in the way I want them to come out,” she said.
Want to Read? Both “What Flies Away” as well as “Young & Ripe” can be bought at Main Street Books, 126. S. Main St., Davidson or at www.mainstreetrag.com by clicking on “bookstore.”