When Poetry and Sports Cross Paths on Field

While spending a few days in Blythewood last month to attend a S.C. Press Association workshop with other staffers at The Voice newspaper, I stopped by the Blythewood Library to check out the newly renovated building. A little paperback on the front desk, titled Fall Lines, snagged my attention as I walked in. It appeared to be a literary journal, which was all the encouragement I needed to pick it up and flip through the 108 pages of poetry, fiction and essays.

I recognized several of the writers as professors from my time as an English major at The University of South Carolina in the 90’s. I also noticed another familiar byline – Worthy Evans.

While I didn’t know Evans personally, I recognized his name as a freelance sportswriter here at The Voice since 2012, and I knew he covered high school sports for The State newspaper as well.  What I did not know is that he is also a compelling poet who is both published and acclaimed.

Curious about his divergent writing interests and prompted by our common bond with The Voice, I called him, introduced myself, congratulated him on his poem’s acceptance in Fall Lines and started asking questions about how he ended up writing both sports and poetry.

“I’ve been working with poetry since I was 16,” Evans, 46, said. But he went on to say he didn’t turn out much verse after he earned a degree in History from the College of Charleston.

“Right after college I enlisted in the Army, served as a Combat Engineer and, from there, found my way to writing for newspapers. For 14 years, my poetry life was dormant. I just couldn’t find a place for it.”

Evans wrote sports for several South Carolina daily and weekly papers between 1996 and 2006.

“I started from zero, not knowing anything about newspapers other than that I needed to type up a story that had 200 to 300 words in it,” he said with a laugh. “But over the years, I went from that knowledge base to being the assistant sports editor for the Sumter Item.”

He said the journey wasn’t easy and that a connection to poetry was what ultimately brightened his path.

“I’d almost gotten fired from my sports writing job at the Beaufort Gazette because I just wasn’t picking up stuff,” he said. “Then I realized that a lot of what my poetry teacher taught in college, about how to craft a piece of writing, had a lot to do with sports. Because sports is a lot about imagery, trying to capture action that’s happening right in front of you in concrete words, and shaping it into a story that people will want to read. Everything that my poetry teacher had taught, I applied to writing a sports story or editing on a deadline. And it meshed perfectly… one thing helped another.”

In 2006, Evans took a day job as a communications specialist for a Medicare contractor in Columbia, a position he still holds.

“A couple of years after I started there,” he said, “I found a steno notebook at Staples that looked like it would be good for writing – really heavy and thick. But it just sat in my backpack for 3 or 4 months, until one day when I was sitting in my truck at lunch. I just started writing this weird thing – it was the first thing I’d written in 14 years that I could consider a poem. And it worked. I was so happy. I was under a lot of stress at the time, and it lifted a weight off me. From there, I started filling out notebooks again like I’d never stopped.”

After a few months of writing, Evans entered some of his poetry in a contest.

“There was a call for manuscripts,” he said, “and I thought, well, shoot, I’ve got a manuscript. So I typed it up, printed it out, mailed it in and forgot all about it.”

The submission was to the Poetry Initiative of South Carolina, and three months later, Evans learned that he’d won.

“That changed my life,” he said. “It sent me in a new direction. That manuscript became my book, Dream Revolver, which was published by USC Press in 2010.”

Evans’s poetry has since been widely published, and he’s won several awards, including the Saluda River Prize for Poetry in 2015 and the South Carolina Poetry Prize for 2009.

“Having a life full of experiences, both good and bad, is what seasons a writer,” he said. “It’s great advice for a writer to just open your eyes and look around.”

Evans maintains a daily practice of both reading poetry and writing longhand in his notebook.

“I’ll just think of a word or two,” he said, “put it on the page and start writing. It doesn’t have to be good. I think when you can get over the idea that you need to write like Keats, immediately, all the time, it’s liberating. You can write about anything you want. And you know you’re going to fail sometimes.”

After writing a poem, Evans said he usually lets it sit for a year or more before typing it up, a stretch of time that often facilitates a new, deeper perspective.

Evans lives with his two children, ages 13 and 15, who attend schools in Blythewood, and he’s currently finishing revisions on his next book of poetry, which will be published by Third Lung Press in Hickory, NC.

You can also find his work in the current issue of Fall Lines (available at the Blythewood Library), which is published annually by the Jasper Project in Columbia in partnership with the Richland Library and One Columbia for Arts and History.  And, most weeks, you will find his riveting high school sports stories in The Voice.


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