Brenda Moossy

ffw-0212-brendaJulie Rickard, Brenda Moossy and Amy Wilson at a 2008 benefit.

Photo: Tony Boyd

By Mohja Kahf
There’s a small home in south Fayetteville where folks could stop in anytime. That was Brenda Moossy’s place. “Come by the house,” she’d say. And they did: nurses and poets, hippies and academics, old-timers and the new in town. Drop by on an evening, and you could be in for moonflowers and rosemary, iced Fresca and baklava baked to the music of Bach, big slobbery dogs and no-holds-barred conversation on art, politics, religion and the beautiful darkness of the psyche. Inhibitions sloughed away; with Brenda you learned to be your truest self.

We should all be naked for this.
Gates of the prisons opened.
A flood of spirit pulsing through the streets — like blood loosed from the heart.
We should all be naked unbound angels,
no robes to tangle in rapid feet, in criss-crossed legs.
(”Naked,” Brenda Moossy)

The lights were on at Brenda’s house Saturday as her friends and family swapped Brenda stories and cried in each others’ arms, after a memorial at the Town Center earlier that afternoon, a fitting place for a tribute to a woman who gave so much to Fayetteville.

I have opened like a bowl for you
I have split my skin like a wet, ripe husk
(”Anaconda,” Brenda Moossy)

Brenda was born Jan. 21, 1949, and raised in Gladewater, Texas, of parents with roots in the village of Marjayune, Lebanon, by way of a first generation in Oklahoma. “We were Catholic, but everybody thought we were Jewish,” says her brother Robert, because of their Arab looks. Her father died when she was 13.

By night, she crouches
on jutting parapets older
than her name.
Her split tongue ululates
a spiral song to the moon…
pulled from her throat like string,
the waves carry it to the sea
(”I Can No Longer Care for the Dying,” Brenda Moossy)

At 18, she split for Austin, where she discovered feminism, hippies and the Age of Aquarius, not necessarily at the University of Texas, where she matriculated for a time. Choosing a spot in the Ozarks out of The Whole Earth Catalog, Brenda and a group of friends moved to Arkansas in 1971, intent on getting “back to the earth” by creating Red Star commune. Thing was, none of them knew much about living off the earth; they took to calling the commune “The Blunderosa” before disbanding.
Brenda came to town. She was 22. She got a nursing degree at the University of Arkansas. A few years after her mother died in 1976, Brenda became a mother and raised a son, Peter, on her own.
Over the years, Brenda guided at-risk teens in a Fayetteville home for troubled girls, chose to specialize in HIV patients in the early days of panic and prejudice against them, helped the terminally ill live comfortable last days as a hospice nurse, ministered urgent care at Washington Regional’s ER, and created a vortex of poetic activity in this region.
Brenda helped to found the Ozark Poets and Writers’ Collective in 1993, the first venue of its kind in our area, ushering in what some call “the golden age of poetry in Fayetteville.” It was a decade that cultivated local talent and attracted features with national acclaim, the scene burgeoning as spin-off venues started up.
Goddess of the open mic for years, Brenda welcomed fledgling and experienced poets to the stage. She also criss-crossed Arkansas inspiring schoolchildren to write through her work with Poets on Tour, established an official venue for competitive performance poetry and served as its “SlamMaster” for years, which enabled Northwest Arkansas to send a team to the National Poetry Slam.
And she wrote. She filled eight chapbooks, and deserves to be more widely published. She crafted short stories and poems that are spine-shiveringly truthful, and recited them in a voice we loved to hear — now lilting, now thundering, now trembling and vulnerable, always full of potency.
Her poems appear in Marc Smith’s “The Spoken Word Revolution,” Nathalie Handal’s “The Poetry of Arab Women,” and the journal Runes. One of her short stories won the 1999 Qalam (Quest for Arab-American Literature of Accomplishment and Merit) Award from the Radius of Arab American Writers (RAWI). She won a spot in the National Poetry Slam as part of Team Ozarks almost yearly from 1995 to 1999.
From the Nuyorican Café in Manhattan to City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, Brenda and her poetry — sensual, gut-honest and ecstatic, tapping Southern Gothic and the collective unconscious — toured the country. Her east Texas drawl, exultant and dark, electrified crowds. Thank God we can hear it still, online reading “Anaconda” at
She, who nursed so many through terminal illnesses, was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer in October 2007. In March 2008, her friends hosted a poetic and musical benefit at Newmarket Naturals to defray her medical bills. On Jan. 29, at 4:30 a.m., Brenda Moossy died peacefully in her sleep, in her beloved home, tended by two friends and warmed by woodstove against the ravages of the ice storm. “This disease doesn’t taste so bad” she’d said, a few days earlier.
She leaves her son, Peter, who lives with his wife, Jennifer Price, in Georgetown, Ky., and their two little boys, Brenda’s grandsons, Jacob and Eli; her brothers, Robert and Victor, of Florida’s Gulf Coast and Dallas, Texas, respectively, a niece, and many nephews and cousins.
She also leaves a community brimming with people whose lives she beautified, heartened and charged with life-force. The Ozark Poets and Writers Collective thrives today, featuring monthly readings at Nightbird Books. Local youths who enter poetry slams have Brenda to thank for putting Fayetteville on the map as a registered venue. Former patients, and friends of patients who died with more grace because of her treatment, praise her.
Long ago, artist Bill Flanagan painted her back porch in his famous deep blues, in a large gorgeous painting that evokes the vibrant glow of her home that brought hearts together. The lights may turn off at Brenda’s house, but the energy she poured into our community continues to dance and flame. Peace to your heart, dear friend.

Categories: Legacy Archive