Showing posts with label Southern Appalachian Poetry. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Southern Appalachian Poetry. Show all posts

Friday, August 12, 2011


Few poems speak to our love of place and the way it can enrich and enlarge our spirits as well as Mary Ricketson's Lost in the Roar of Big Santeetlah.   When we fall in love with a place, as Mary  reveals in this poem, we want to carry that love with us, giving it away generously to the world at large.  This is how we will save our places from degradation, this is the legacy we will leave to our children.  

Mary's poem recently won the poetry contest sponsored by the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, itself a legacy of what remains of the old growth forests that once flourished in our mountains.  Only a few stands remain now.  Big Santeetlah Creek runs through this beloved landscape.  Mary's poem is a fine and appropriate way to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the Kilmer Memorial Forest.  

Mary lives in Murphy and has been an active member of the Writers Network West for years.  She published a chapbook, I Hear the River Call My Name, with Finishing Line Press in 2008, which I featured on my North Carolina Laureate's Writers & Books site.  You will find out more about Mary there.

Lost in the Roar of Big Santeetlah

I cross a wooden bridge.
A stand of dark red trillium
waits for my attention.
White violets and crested dwarf iris
sit quietly at trail’s edge.  Birdsong begins.
Butterflies dance. Jack in the Pulpit presides.
River birch, pine and poplar stand tall.
Rippling water stills my thoughts.
I can taste the wind.

Soon pink lady slipper will bloom,
then purple rhododendron.
I know every season at this forest.

I fell in love here long ago,
found comfort on this path,
met parts of me I did not know,
told secrets never spoken.
Trees made promises
then asked for mine.
I fill myself with peace and hope when I am here
then give it all away when I am gone.


Monday, July 12, 2010


For the next couple of weeks, I will be featuring selected authors from ECHOES ACROSS THE BLUE RIDGE on my Here, Where I Am blog.

The first author is Rosemary Royston. Please drop by and enjoy!

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

North Carolina Literary Review: NC Appalachian Literature

The new issue of NC Literary Review will be out at the end of this month. Here is a list of contents for our Appalachian feature. A reception will be held at Malaprop's Bookstore on August 14. Please join us.
Margaret Bauer, Editor

The Land Breakers, a novel excerpt by John Ehle art by Will Henry Stevens
"wonderfully simple, yet complex": The Mountain Novels of John Ehle, by Terry Roberts art by Will Henry Stevens

Love Affairs and Family Feuds in the Smoky Mountains, an Ehle review by Jonathan Yardley

Lion on the Hearth, a novel excerpt by John Ehle

Cry Naked, Purple Hands, Dew, and Listening to Clouds, four poems by Robert Morgan art by Will Henry Stevens

Robert Morgan’s Peripheral Vision: "the point beside the point" in The Hinterlands, by Sylvia Bailey Shurbutt== photography by Horace Kephart

As If She Listened, a poem by Laurence Avery photography by Horace Kephart

"We’re still here": Eddie Swimmer on Cherokee History, Life, and Outdoor Drama in the Appalachian Mountains, an interview by Gina Caison

The Gathering, a poem by Joyce Compton Brown

"what I feel I was put on the planet to do": An interview with Wayne Caldwell, by Jerry Leath Mills

Looking Back into the Undergrowth, a review of Wayne Caldwell’s two novels, by Chris Green

Ron Rash’s Serena and the "blank and pitiless gaze" of Exploitation in Appalachia, by Joyce Compton Brown with Mark Powell photography by Horace Kephart

"Look here, world, look who this woman [is]": Silas House Interviews Pamela Duncan, introduced by Joyce Compton Brown

Drought Days, a poem by Kathryn Stripling Byer art by Noyes Capehart

Hook and Eye, a short story by Kathryn Stripling Byer photography by Rob Amberg

Mountain Tunes and Tartini Violin Concertos, a review of Julia Nunnally Duncan’s new novel, by Mae Miller Claxton
Into a Strange Country, a review of Tony Earley’s Jim sequel, by Tim Edwards art by Will Henry Stevens

Praise Poem for Our Mountains, a poem by doris davenport photography by doris davenport

Resplendent, Ingenious Forms, a review of Fred Chappell’s new poetry collection, by John Lang art by Will Henry Stevens

The Poetry of Southern Appalachia, a review by Jeffrey Franklin photography by Rob Bousa

Sorry, a poem by Michael McFee art by Will Henry Stevens

Controlled Burn, a short story by Charles Dodd White photography by Rob Amberg

A Cozy Conspiracy, a review of Kenneth Butcher’s The Middle of the Air, by Brett Cox photography by Rob Amberg

Breaking Line, creative nonfiction by Christopher Wrenn photography by Rob Amberg

Blind Faith, the 2009 Doris Betts Fiction Prize story, by David McGuirt

Thursday, April 1, 2010



When images of people become real, and speak clearly to me from the poet's words, I feel connected to the writer in a unique way. "Yes!", I want to say; "That is the way it is, isn't it?" Glenda Barrett has written truthfully about the joys and sorrows of her life in Southern Appalachia. "When the Sap Rises" is a collection of her powerful poetry. In her honest and simple way, Glenda can bring you to tears, or make you smile. You feel her deep love for her family, and for the land where she put down deep roots. It is a small book, with huge rewards for the soul. Carole R. Thompson


Carole Richard Thompson has been a member of the NCWN for over 10 years. She writes poetry and short stories, a number of which have been published. She and her husband, Norman, retired and moved to Blairsville, GA 20 years ago. She has taken several writing classes from Nancy Simpson Brantley, and hopes to take many more!

Sunday, March 14, 2010



By John Lang

Southern Literary Studies
Fred Hobson, Series Editor

ISBN-13:978-0-8071-3560-0 PAPER
Page count:240
Trim:5 1/2 x 8 1/2
Published:April 2010


An LSU Press paperback original

In the most extensive work to date on major poets from the mountain South, John Lang takes as his point of departure an oft-quoted remark by Jim Wayne Miller: “Appalachian literature is—and has always been—as decidedly worldly, secular, and profane in its outlook as the [region’s] traditional religion appears to be spiritual and otherworldly.” Although this statement may be accurate for Miller’s own poetry and fiction, Lang maintains that it does not do justice to the pervasive religious and spiritual concerns of many of the mountain South’s finest writers, including the five other leading poets whose work he analyzes along with Miller’s.

Fred Chappell, Robert Morgan, Jeff Daniel Marion, Kathryn Stripling Byer, and Charles Wright, Lang demonstrates, all write poetry that explores, sometimes with widely varying results, what they see as the undeniable presence of the divine within the temporal world. Like Blake and Emerson before them, these poets find the supernatural within nature rather than beyond it. They all exhibit a love of place in their poems, a strong sense of connection to nature and the land, especially the mountains. Yet while their affirmation of the world before them suggests a resistance to the otherworldliness that Miller points to, their poetry is nonetheless permeated with spiritual questing.

Dante strongly influences both Chappell and Wright, though the latter eventually resigns himself to being simply “a God-fearing agnostic,” whereas Chappell follows Dante in celebrating “the love that moves the sun and other stars.” Byer, probably the least orthodox of these poets, chooses to lay up treasures on earth, rejecting the transcendent in favor of a Native American spirituality of immanence, while Morgan and Marion find in nature what Marion calls a “vocabulary of wonders” akin to Emerson’s conviction that nature is the language of the spiritual.

Employing close readings of the poets’ work and relating it to British and American Romanticism as well as contemporary eco-theology and eco-criticism, Lang’s book is the most ambitious and searching foray yet into the worlds of these renowned post–World War II Appalachian poets.

John Lang, professor of English at Emory & Henry College in Emory, Virginia, is the author ofUnderstanding Fred Chappell and editor of Appalachia and Beyond: Conversations with Writers from the Mountain South.

Friday, December 12, 2008

FULL MOON, by Kathryn S. Byer


Full moon says look I am
over the pinebreak, says give me
your empty glass, pour
all you want, drink, look
out through your windows of ice,
through the eyes of your needles
observe how I climb, lay aside
what you weave on your looms

and see clouds fall away
like cold silk from your shoulders,
be quiet, hear the owl coming back
to the hayloft, shake loose
your long braids and rise up
from your beds, open
windows and curtains, let light
pour like water upon your heads,

all of you women who wait, raise
the shades, throw the shutters
wide, lean from your window ledge
into the great night that beckons
you, smile back at me
and so quietly nobody can hear you
but you, whisper, "Here am I."

by Kathryn Stripling Byer, from BLACK SHAWL, LSU PRESS, '98

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Southern Appalachian Poetry, ed. by Marita Garin

I know this book has been posted before, but I thought folks might like to see more about it, particularly the introduction, and especially Marita's own poems at the end of it. It would make a lovely gift this season, and certainly a welcome addition to local libraries, whether public or college/university. KSB

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 )

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 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.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008


Congratulations to Netwest Consultant and past Program Coordinator, Nancy Simpson. Her new weblog, LivingAbove the Frost Line is listed on as one of the top ten blogs representing Appalachian culture.

And even more kudos to Nancy. Her poetry, and that of Netwest Consultant and NC Poet Laureate, Kathryn Stripling Byer, Fred Chappel and other outstanding mountain poets, is included in a new book edited by Merita Garin.
SOUTHERN APPALACHIAN POETRY has been published by McFarland Press as No. 20 in its Southern Appalachian Studies Series.
Read more about this book on Nancy's blog.

Nancy Simpson lives above the frost line on a mountain in Hayesville, NC where she writes free verse poetry and is working on an historical novel. Her poetry collections include Night Student and Across Water published by State Street Press.