THIS BLOG IS NO LONGER OPERATIONAL. PLEASE ENJOY WHAT IS HERE, AND DO LEAVE A COMMENT IF YOU WISH. NORTH CAROLINA'S NEW POET LAUREATE IS CATHY SMITH BOWERS. SHE WILL SOON HAVE HER OWN WEBSITE THROUGH THE NORTH CAROLINA ARTS COUNCIL SITE. I WILL BE SHIFTING MY ATTENTION TO HERE, WHERE I AM, (SEE SIDEBAR)USING IT TO DRAW ATTENTION TO WRITERS WHOSE WORK DESERVES ATTENTION. I INVITE YOU TO VISIT ME THERE. For a video of the installation ceremony, please go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0xAk6fOzaNE.
Go to http://www.yourdailypoem.com/, managed with finesse by Jayne Jaudon Ferrer, who says, "Our intent is to make visitors to Your Daily Poem aware of the joy and diversity of poetry."
Friday, December 5, 2008
Southern Appalachian Poetry, ed. by Marita Garin
Southern Appalachian Poetry An Anthology of Works by 37 Poets Edited by Marita Garin
ISBN 978-0-7864-3429-9 photos, glossary, notes, index 275pp. softcover (7 x 10) 2008 Price: $39.95
(Go to http://www.mcfarlandpub.com/book-2.php?id=978-0-7864-3429-9 )
Marita Garin began this anthology of Southern Appalachian Poetry many years ago. What set it apart for me at the time was its incorporation of essays by the poets themselves, bringing to their poetry a voice having little to do with any editorial bias. Then its title was "From Bloodroot to Summit," what I considered a resonant image for what she was trying to do in this gathering of poets. To be honest, I hadn't expected the book to reach the summit, if that's what one wants to call it, of publication, considering the difficulty of placing such a collection.
Marita, however, was stubborn, and now, thanks to her determination and hard work, we have what must be considered a definitive collection of poetry from the Southern Appalachian region, from a particular time in the region's literary renaissance. Several of my poems, for example, are from much earlier books. My current mountain voices are a shade darker, starker, and more contemporary in their concerns about environmental destruction and loss. As Marita points out: *The essays were written in the early 1990s, years before publication of the anthology. Many of the poets have since moved to locations or jobs other than those to which they refer. (Updates on their publications and awards are available in the Notes on the Poets.) What they chose to write then retains its significance in their insights into and documen-tation of many aspects of Appalachian culture, much of which was, even as they wrote, in flux, eventually to be altered by social forces intruding, bringing inevitable change."
A second collection might be called for now, letting the poets respond to those earlier pieces in both essay and recent poems.
Here is an excerpt from Marita Garin's Introduction. Following it will be some of her own poems. Too often we forget that those workhorses of anthologies, the editors, are themselves writers of poetry, fiction, and essay. Marita Garin is one of the region's best poets, as you will discover.
(A recent wintry view from Newfound Gap in the Great Smoky Mountains)
To describe a region: that is my purpose in bringing these poems together. When I first undertook this project, I was certain the literature of the Southern Appalachians had evolved to the degree that the material would be available. The area was to include north Georgia, western North Carolina, east Tennessee, West Virginia, eastern Kentucky, and a corner of southwest Virginia all of which share an historical and cultural identity apart from the rest of the Appalachian mountains. The poets were to be native-born writers who still live in the region, those who have moved away yet for whom Appalachia still has a claim on their imagination and emotions, and newcomers whose sensibilities have been shaped by the region and who write about it with insight and sensitivity.
As poems arrived in my study, a collective voice began to emerge, so compelling in its variety, honesty, and intensity that I needed to let it speak on its own, to tell me what it wanted to say about Appalachia. I trusted what would take shape would be a balanced view of an extremely complex region yielding on close examination human qualities with much deeper roots and finer sensibilities than are usually attributed to it.
...A few generalizations may be helpful for readers not well-acquainted with the area. Incorporated into the poems as naturally as any item in a familiar landscape, poverty has been (and still can be) a fact of life. Intimately known, it has at times been an exhaustion of the land—steep hillside farms that lose their good soil within a few years after the land is cleared—and of the people. The struggle to survive may involve the imposition of external regulations concerning land use and mineral rights or dealing with welfare and black lung disease benefits, coal mine owners, unions, and a volatile coal economy; or it can be a more personal conflict with neighbors or kinfolks (as in the notorious feuds of the past). Another way to talk about poverty in Appalachia is to mention the historic exploitation of natural resources by timber and coal interests and also of the people—their lifestyle, values, crafts, and music—by outsiders that can leave them feeling the poorer—vulnerable and defenseless.
(Roads through the mountains were difficult to engineer. This is one of the tunnels on the road through the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.)
...Isolation has been unmistakable in the region. Given the difficult terrain, enormous finances are needed to build roads and railroads. Until recently, these often did not exist for areas that could not yield an economic (or political) return for the investment. Isolation was a truth about early pioneer life all over the country, but in Appalachia it persisted through much of the 20th century and has shaped the inhabitants’ sense of self... .
...[This] identity comes from a deep sense of belonging to the land, such an intimate alliance that it is felt to be an extension of self, a bond that may persist long after one leaves the region. That sense of origin exerts a primal pull with all the power of the natural imagery in many of the poems.
(From Newfound Gap)
Family is another deeply rooted value in mountain life. Kinfolks, ancestors, one’simmediate family--all contribute to who one is, but links with the past are especially strong. At times, past and family, along with the land, are inextricable in their grip on the individual and result in conflict—feelings of grief or disloyalty—when choices are made to discard the old ways or to sell land that has been in the family for generations.
Another characteristic of the region...is that time flows differently here. That dreamy blue haze off in the distance where ridge upon mountain ridge becomes an endless ocean stretching to the horizon may account for a charged effect on mind and body, literally drawing the senses beyond physical limits.
(Autumn view from the Blue Ridge Parkway) Marita concludes her essay by pointing out that "Self-revelation is well-suited to poetry, given the intensity, inner musical demands, focus, and brevity of the form. Certainly the act of centering one’s consciousness invites any writer to work in areas beneath surface realities in a never-ending effort to discover truths. If life is to be regarded as an initiation into the higher mysteries of selfhood, then Appalachia might well be seen as one of its difficult testing grounds. In “Remembering Wind Mountain at Sunset” Chappell says, “Here is the place where pain is born." There is always, though, the "driving need to sing the pain, to sing through the pain, and to let the singing become an expression of pain transformed into something that rises above the hardship and eases it, at least for awhile.
(Ice along the road through the Smokies, driving toward Gatlinburg)
And now the question that I and many other writers have had to grapple with in workshop and interview:
"While working on this project, I was seriously questioned as to whether a truly regional literature is possible today given the mobility of the American population and the enormous technological changes reaching into every home and affecting life in even the most out-of-the-way places.
(Pigeon Forge, TN. The future of Appalachia?)
Her response? " I strongly believe regional literature is possible for Appalachia because Appalachia still exists in the mind, memory, imagination, and even the life of its writers in very powerful ways."
No matter how hard we resist labels, we carry within us an interior landscape that defines us, a landscape that sustains and moves us to song and story-telling.
(On the Blue Ridge Parkway, outside Blowing Rock, NC)
Here then, are some of Marita's own poems.
"A Yard Near Elizabethton, Tennessee"
Where Tin Can Hollow Road crosses Minton Road and runs back into the hills, where joe-pye weed guards the established trash, a mound with its dog, its bottles, its cracked, prominent sink, five birds in flight fold into one fugitive shape and I want to ask why we who do not love these hills, drive the blind violent curves past Harmony Baptist Church, past the starved look of bare-wood porches, back into the hollow where the hill’s flank is cold, protective, the yard isolated in which a retarded boy, fastened to a wheelchair, his hands held like broken wings, talks to air, to insects pulling bright strands of light between the trees and grass, repairing something torn, the boy instructing them, then raising the perfect fabric in his arms to catch nothing we could see plummeting toward earth without weight, without wings.
"From a Ridge in Eastern Kentucky"
A man is standing alone looking down into the Cumberland Valley where the land folds in on the thin gash of a road. He watches a woman carrying a child, her husband has the baby. They climb to a stray clump of daffodils, too far for him to see her face as she bends to flowers, color rising in her hands like music plucked from a dulcimer, one bloom given to the father, one to each child. Then they are gone, past the desolate car rusting in weeds, the scraps of coal, the mud yard. Night begins its claim on the valley the way absolute grief absorbs the living beside a grave. Above them, the man thinks there is nothing here he could want, not this interval binding them, returning him to himself.
"Taken Near the Jocko River, Montana – 1932"
They stand together, unchanged, not now but then, in a clearing beside the river while their horses graze nearby. Both wear jodhpurs and boots. Having drawn apart, they still clasp each other’s waist, fastened like halves of a hinged shell in a moment so private and faded it appears to be twilight except that this is a beginning—my parents, a few months before marriage, before the assault of years and children and only a river is rushing past in this dream where they see no tragedy in the multiple arms of dark spruce held out to retrieve them nor in sunlight as it shears away from water with such blinding clarity they believe the river has stopped, they will be here forever.
I've lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina since 1968, though I'm a native of SW Georgia. My paternal grandmother was born in the Blue Ridge, and I grew up wanting to live here. Where I am.
I've published five collections of poetry, the most recent 4 being with LSU Press, and have published poetry in magazines ranging from The Atlantic Monthly to Appalachian Heritage. But I also hike, bang pots and pans around in my kitchen, and love several dogs who leave fur all over my carpets. I write poetry because it's my way of singing back to the world both within and without.