Created to Perform

It is impossible for Carolyn Pennington
to tell a story sitting down. “I like to
move, make faces, use my hands, all
kinds of things,” said Carolyn, a poet
and storyteller who happens to also be
the children’s services coordinator at the
Burleson Public Library. “Standing and
seeing those faces that are looking up at
you engrossed, it is total magic!”
Never nervous when telling a story,
Carolyn’s knees shake after her
performances.

Usually there are 50 people
in the library’s meeting room for story
time, ranging in age from babies to the
elderly. “It’s a very mixed group, and I
try to appeal to all of them.”
Her challenge as an artist is to show
imagination and sensitivity in her work.
Whether the stories and poems she tells
and sings are actually art is quite another
story. “I actually looked up the definition
of art,” smiled Carolyn. “Art is ‘human
works of beauty with an aesthetic value,
related to the appreciation of beauty.
Art pieces do not have any intrinsic value
in and of themselves. Art has no value,
other than the fact that it’s beautiful.
It’s not valued because it’s beautiful. It’s
beautiful because it’s valued. Other
people can see that it’s beautiful. It
doesn’t mean that everyone sees
everything as beautiful.”
Beauty, as they say, is in the eye of
the beholder. While a member of The
Society for Creative Anachronism
(SCA), where she first performed her
original medieval-flavored epic and
free-form poems, Carolyn’s beholders
granted her several awards for her
stories, poetry and songs. “Once again,
the awards themselves have no intrinsic
value. But it was one of the most
valuable experiences of my life,”
Carolyn said. “I love sharing stories and
poems with people.”
Most of her poetry, written on
scraps of paper and in notebooks about
whatever momentary event captured
her interest, was created to be performed.
A lot of Carolyn’s poems are sung,
which heightens their emotion. In
1995, she wrote a song called “The
Banshee,” dealing with women who
are left when their men go off to war.
When she sings, Carolyn closes her
eyes and shares the emotion behind
her story of a woman left to weep alone,
and of her man dying far from home.
“It gives me cold chills even when I
perform it,” Carolyn said. “Poetry
makes words sing and dance through
your brain!”
There was a time in Carolyn’s life
when she thought it impossible that
she could entertain people. Then, while
visiting the Scarborough Renaissance
Festival in Waxahachie, she learned
about the SCA. “One of the things
they do is reproduce the Middle Ages,
during the period after the Dark Ages,
from about 600 C.E. — 1650 C.E.
SCA is a teaching organization; we did
school demonstrations about life in the
Middle Ages. I recreated the Bardic arts,
poetry, stories and songs, hopefully
done in a period fashion. Basically,
what I did was talk about the lives of
children in the Middle Ages.”
Her own childhood in 20th century
Texas involved lots of stories told by
various family members. “My dad
especially could make up a story that
fast, about anything. It was usually
total nonsense, but always fun,” Carolyn
remembered. “My grandmother and
aunts and I would sit around telling
stories, usually family-related, sometimes
not. I grew up with a good sense [of]
how my family lived when they were
children, what it was like during the
Depression, what it was like to lose a
child. I’ve always made up stories for
my children at bed time.”
Carolyn has two children, and is
rearing a granddaughter. “Right now,
she likes to hear family stories, real
ones about the things that happened
to family members,” Carolyn said. “Her
great-grandfathers are both deceased,
and she likes to hear about them.
‘Nanny, tell me about when you were
growing up!’ is one of her most frequent
requests right now” — an easy request
to fill, since telling stories is one of
Carolyn’s favorite things to do.
“Stories can relate to history, emotions,
imaginary things. Stories also evoke
emotions that reading a book does
not,” Carolyn said. “Children react to
the spoken word differently than they
do to books they read. When you read,
you have descriptions in the words in
front of you. When you tell a story, a
child’s mind evokes those pictures. It’s
a different process of learning and
understanding the world around them.”
Carolyn continues to fill notebooks
and paper scraps with poems and ideas
for stories. As she performs stories for
the children at the library and for her
granddaughter, Carolyn hopes to ignite
the storytelling spark in a few of her
audience members. “Storytelling is not
a dying art,” Carolyn said.
Especially important is to write
down those ideas that come into your
mind, cautions Carolyn, who has at
least 100 poems and stories in her
body of work. “If you don’t write it
down, there’s something wrong with
you,” she winked, “because it was a
gift and who knows if you’ll remember
it tomorrow.”