"Chuck Sullivan knows his own trade, to the point where he is not afraid to be wounded by his own tools....his is a skill that looks steadily, and reports plainly, the flakey, edgy, bizarre, violent.....with irony and steady eyed humor."
-Father Daniel Berrigan
"Chuck Sullivan's poems needn't be read in a spirit of solemn duty or responsibility. They please at once, continue to please, and are so immediately alive that one is delighted just to be in touch with them."
-A. R. Ammons
In 2004 Chuck was awarded the Mary Frances Hobson Award from Chowan College in recognition of his achievements in literature http://www.chowan.edu/cac/hobson/2004.htm
In 2005 Chuck was honored with the Sam Regan Award for lifetime achievement in arts and letters from St. Andrews College
The Remarks, made by Edward M. Gomez at Sam Ragan Award ceremony honoring poet Chuck Sullivan, St. Andrews Presbyterian College, Laurinburg, North Carolina, January 27, 2005:
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Poets are artists and the best ones, the real ones -- this goes for all real, authentic artists, not the poseurs or the wannabes -- are what they are and do what they do because they absolutely have to; for them, it’s as essential as breathing.
Chuck Sullivan is the real deal.
Do you remember a tourism-promotion campaign here in North Carolina several years ago? Its slogan was: “I like calling North Carolina home. It’s like living in a poem.”
Rumor has it that those advertisements may have lured Chuck this way to pursue his craft and romance his muse in a setting more relaxed -- and more perfumed by the aroma of the world’s finest barbecue -- than the mean streets of the concrete jungle from which his precocious, prodigious talent emerged, and where it was first nurtured.
Other clues as to why Chuck headed south as a young man can be found in his poems, of course. And what a fruitful change of locale it was for him artistically, too, and for the countless readers and listeners who would become familiar with his work, through his books and live presentations. (For years, Chuck has crisscrossed the Carolinas, like a circuit-rider for the cause of verse.) What good fortune it has been that Chuck did decide to make his home in this Carolina poem.
What do poets do?
Like us journalists and essayists, they observe the real world, filled, as it is, with human beings, being human, compelled by their needs, desires, hopes, fears and dreams to do the things they do, however wondrous or wacky the results.
Poets make their observations of the real world and, often, plumb the depths of their imaginations, too. Then they come back to us with their analyses, assessments, criticisms and interpretations of their subjects in verse. The filter through which they report back to us from the front lines of humanity’s funhouse -- and foibles -- and from the depths of their souls is, in effect, the ineffable, magical, secret weapon of their art that sometimes the best poets will confess even they don’t understand.
The prolific American novelist, essayist and poet John Updike once said in an interview that real writers cannot and do not sit around waiting for inspiration to strike or for their muse to come calling for a brainstorming make-out session that will necessarily lead to high productivity. “Being a writer -- it’s a job,” Updike noted. The biggest real disadvantage to having an office at home, Updike said, was the constant temptation to ditch both muse and job responsibilities to run downstairs for a handful of cookies or a ham sandwich.
With Updike’s observations in mind, it can be said that the remarkably, consistently fine and unmistakably original body of work that Chuck has produced over the years is both a testament to his professionalism as a writer (something of which I would encourage St. Andrews’ aspiring young writers to take note) and the expression of a rich and unrivaled talent. (Some might even call it an unbridled talent: Chuck has been known to pack half a dozen subjects into the same poem, from the Bible to basketball; very often, whatever else appears in one of his poems, you can count on finding references to the Bible and basketball!)
“All men are mortals,” the post-World War II French writer Simone de Beauvoir observed. (Her classic study of the status of women in Western society, The Second Sex, made it clear just what kind of a world mortal men had made for women.) All men are mortals, and all poets are human. (We’re still waiting for the computer program that will generate a Shakespeare sonnet or Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky.”)
But if all poets are human, not all of them are necessarily humanists. Thus, as a reader, as a critic and as his friend, I’m especially aware -- and deeply grateful -- that, in his life, throughout his work and in the expression of his artistic vision, Chuck has never hesitated to confront or, ultimately, to embrace, the divine comedy of the human family in all its complex, confounding, messy, predictable unpredictability. I’m grateful for Chuck’s fascination with and his keen insight into what makes us tick, what makes us fear and tremble, what makes us dream, and what makes us marvel at the sounds of things that go bump in the night.
In these cynical, media-driven -- “Brad and Jennifer are splitting up!” -- fast-fed, telemarketed, pay-at-the-pump, one-size-fits-all, touch-screen, touch-tone, Touch Me Elmo, don’t-touch-me-Father-priest, postmodern, post-punk, Post-It-Note times, Chuck has dared to make the human condition -- his own human condition, as well as ours in general -- the subject of his art, and to let us in on his struggles and strike-outs, his joys and his considerable jive -- with his mother and his muses, with lovers and strangers, with the telephone company, and with his god.
“To be or not to be…,” Shakespeare’s Hamlet pondered, sowing the seeds of poetic reflection -- and self-inspection; it was the great bard, after all, who gave us modern, psychologically self-aware characters as we’ve come to know them -- that have flourished for generations.
“To be or not to be…” -- that really is the big question, and, for me, Chuck’s poetry has examined it exhaustively and richly from many angles.
Perhaps the best key to understanding Chuck’s work -- the great gift of his art that he has shared with us for so many years -- is to be found in his own words in one of his poems about the girl Norma Jean who grew up to become a pop-culture icon and Hollywood legend as Marilyn Monroe. Here was a creature, Chuck writes, who was merely and always “on the lookout for love.” That, in a nutshell, is the great observation -- and wise counsel -- and maybe even the central message of Chuck’s uniquely accomplished, enduring art: the gentle, friendly, even encouraging reminder of our collective vulnerability.
We humans really are a kind of vanishing species, after all, Chuck reminds us. His poetry offers a vivid reminder, too, that it’s okay, even essential, to trust our instincts, open our eyes and listen to our hearts. Because, when it comes right down to it, we’re all “on the lookout for love,” too.