• Jared Felkins: In memoriam of Hazel Cothran, The Lebanon Democrat’s poet laureate

    By Jared Felkins -

    “I decided that it was not wisdom that enabled poets to write their poetry, but a kind of instinct or inspiration, such as you find in seers and prophets who deliver all their sublime messages without knowing in the least what they mean.”

    — Socrates

    For several years since I became editor of The Lebanon Democrat – longer than I can remember or foolishly decided to keep track – I received a small crumpled envelope through the mail about once or sometimes twice a month from an older woman named Hazel Cothran. 

    I determined she was older from the contents of each envelope, and I grew fond of each one’s arrival. Inside, I would find a handwritten poem each signed Hazel Cothran at the bottom. 

    Since we really didn’t have a place for poetry in the newspaper and since I had no other way to get in touch with her except by mail – and who writes letters these days anyway – for purely selfish reasons, I would read each one and then throw it away. My thinking at the time was that Hazel would scan the paper for her poem, not see it and discontinue sending them to us. That happened until about two years ago when they just kept coming. So I started saving them. 

    Also at about the same time, I started to share them with folks in the newsroom. It became a regular event to feature Hazel’s poetry read to the group of three to five gathered on any given day each month. My selfishness subsided with the ability to share Hazel’s work with others, even though we still really just couldn’t find a place for poetry in the newspaper. 

    At one point, we even kicked around the idea to record the poetry readings on video and share them, but it never really got off the ground. 

    Sometime around April and for reasons I can’t really pinpoint right now in my memory, we all got really busy in the newsroom. Hazel kept sending us poetry, and instead of me sharing with the group, they just started piling up on my desk. The last poem Hazel sent was postmarked June 26. 

    Well, that is, until a week ago when I discovered Hazel’s obituary included among those in The Tennessean.  

    Sadly, I posthumously discovered much more about this poet who chose to share her work with us with no expectation of anything in return. 

    Hazel Marie Cothran, 79, lived in Antioch. She is survived by a son, daughter-in-law and three grandchildren, who all also live in Antioch. She graduated from Central High School in Nashville in 1957 and received a bachelor’s degree from Middle Tennessee State University in 1962 and a master’s degree from Memphis State University in 1964. She was a published poet – no thanks to me – who enjoyed a career as an English professor at Western Kentucky University and Tennessee State University. Her funeral was last Sunday. 

    What I already knew about Hazel prior to this sad discovery was that she really enjoyed to share her art. As a study of English and literature when I was in college, I appreciated her integration of Christianity and transcendentalism into most of her poems. It’s probably best just to give you an example of Hazel’s last of the nearly 40 poems I kept that she sent to us. 

    Spiritual Value

    Evil and good seem woven into one.

    Cheating the small may make the body strong, 

    But it eventually turns into what it is fed;

    And if it is garbage, it will rot away. 

    The wealth of the spirit is empathy,

    Which one should feed to make his body to make it pure.

    Material wealth tends to hasten spiritual death. 

    But if one feeds his soul spiritual gold, 

    It will be strong enough to reach a heavenly home.

    Hazel, even though it’s too little and too late, you can add The Democrat to your list of publishers of your work. We appreciate your contributions over the years to make our days here just a little brighter. 

    Jared Felkins is editor of The Democrat. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @paperboyfelkins.

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